Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day Five”
Posted by therebelprince on July 25, 2009
Also below: thoughts on the future of Torchwood, and a bit of a rant about why I like Gwen Cooper.
“Civilisation is about to fall to hell. You want to start that descent a little earlier? Go ahead.”
– John Frobisher
When Day Five dawns, there seems to be no hope for the children of Earth. The schools have reopened, and governments worldwide announce an inoculation program to begin at midday. In reality, the military will be taking away selected schools full of children to selected points from which the 456 will abduct them. It’s a horrific sacrifice, and the British Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) tackles it with as disconnected an attitude as possible. General Pierce (Colin McFarlane) is disdainful of the practice, as are many of the Cabinet, but in the end there really is no choice. As each minute ticks down in this final installment, it becomes more and more glaring that there is no way of stopping the invaders.
In a startling early scene, UNIT Colonel Oduya (Charles Abomeli) holds a meeting with the 456 envoy, in which he learns that the children are essentially drugs to the aliens. The chemicals they release “feel good”, in the 456’s words. This is it: this horribly petty thing – a drug trade – is going to claim the lives of millions of children. This fact adds to the feeling of self-loathing in most of the government officials, even Mr. Dekker (Ian Gelder).
As they prepare for the abduction, it becomes clear that nothing is going to go as planned. A solid number of parents keep their children home – out of fear or suspicion – and even the military have had to be coerced into complicity. Among them, Rhiannon (Katy Wix) and Johnny (Rhodri Lewis) who – thanks to the advice of the late Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) – take in all of the neighbourhood children rather than sending them off to school. While the government deals with the unexpected setbacks, the surviving Torchwood members find themselves at a bit of a loss.
Jack (John Barrowman) is taken into police custody, where he joins Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo). Before he does so, Jack convinces Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen) to get out of the city. It is all Jack has left now; he’s taken too many lives for his goals. He’s lost his lover, his closest workmates over many decades, and his family’s safety is no more secure. Perhaps the only thing we can assume he’s thankful for is that Martha Jones was on vacation and wasn’t there to give her life alongside Ianto’s.
Russell T. Davies has spoken about the necessity for Ianto’s death in some detail. I’m not sure I agree that we needed it to keep up realistic levels of suspense: we lost two Torchwood members last year. But, on the other hand, I accept it as a device to move Jack to his darkest place yet. Here is a man with very little to lose, who can only accept that the lives saved must outweigh those lost, no matter how much they may mean to him. As he sits in his prison cell, Jack is shaken and speechless: he’s given his all, and has received only pain in return. He is not the Doctor; he is not the man sought after by governments when things go wrong. People on planets near and far do not shout out “Jack Harkness” when trouble draws near. He is a bringer of death and sorrow, and getting Gwen Cooper away from him is the greatest gift he can give her. He’s always been torn over the countless sacrifices, but the dilemmas brought about by the 456 may have just pushed him too far. (Reportedly, Ianto was originally supposed to die in “Reset” until the producers decided that Owen – as a true lover of life – would be more effective in the storyline)
“Those kids on the street corners. They finally got rid of them.”
As the clock ticks down to midday, things fall apart. In a devestating scene, the Prime Minister informs Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) that his children will be publicly inoculated to increase public trust. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the government needs to look like victims as well and, as we already know, Frobisher is expendable. Nicholas Farrell is sobering as he shows the Prime Minister’s cold need to think about the political reality, while at the same time shrivelling up inside from how revolting a task he is committing. Frobisher has no choice: if he speaks out, the girls will be taken anyway but with knowledge of their fate. If he stays quiet, he loses them.
Intercut with a moving monologue from Bridget Spears (Susan Brown) in which she explains to an imprisoned Lois the kind of man Frobisher was, we see him head home. His wife (Hilary McLean) is waiting with the children. We hear none of their conversation, but it ends in the only escape he has left: Frobisher takes the family into one room, pulls out a gun, and shuts the door. There are three successive shots, and then a fourth. It is the first gutwrenching moment of the episode, but it won’t be the last.
(On a side note, in her blog Maureen Ryan argues pointedly that the choice of Frobisher’s children is illogical at best. While I don’t entirely agree with her argument, I think she makes a good point that perhaps choosing a few lackeys rather than one well-placed advisor would be wiser.)
Over in Rhiannon and Johnny’s housing estate, meanwhile, Gwen and Rhys arrive, accompanied by PC Andy (Tom Price). They’re there to break the news about Ianto’s death, but the clock strikes midday and the military arrive to collect the truanting children. Of course, no one is going down without a fight. While Gwen and Rhys abscond with the children, the mothers and fathers fight back. Across the country and the world, armies face uprisings from desperate parents, and the 456 coldly reject the Colonel’s pleas that they accept only 80% of the required children. It is exactly what was bound to happen, and emphasises the naive stupidity of the cabinet ministers. How was this supposed to work? Did they really expect this to go down without a fight?
There are some wonderfully suspenseful moments as Gwen, Rhys and a few dozen children attempt to evade the military. If their charges are captured, they will indeed “live forever”, as jaundiced playthings for the 456 and anyone they trade with. Gwen records her thoughts into a video camera, so that someone one day can witness the end of the world. I’m not sure if I think the “end of the world” is quite the likely outcome, but I do think that its relevance to humanity is also the relevance to the future of the Whoniverse, but I’ll discuss that below.
Anyway, back in the centre of London, Jack Harkness claims that he can stop the aliens. Johnson (Liz May Brice) – who has been waiting out the world’s end with Alice (Lucy Cohu) – joins Jack and Dekker in solving the equation. (There’s a great moment when Dekker disdainfully tells Jack that “We hacked into Torchwood years ago”. It puts things in perspective, and reminds us that Torchwood has spent years on the outside of the more official agencies). The answer, inevitably enough, is technobabble: by fighting back on the same frequency, using a pitch related to Clement (Paul Copley)’s death, they can destroy the aliens. What they need is a child through whom they can broadcast, and the nearest one is Jack’s own grandson Steven (Bear McCausland). The plan works and the 456 envoy is destroyed and beamed away by its fellow aliens, but Steven is killed in the process.
Across the country, parents are reunited with their children. In London, Alice Carter cradles her dead son. And Jack watches tearfully: he sacrificed the boy, and the worst part was he knew before he started that that would be the outcome. It’s the right thing to do, but not the correct thing. Now he’s left alone.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, receives his own comeuppance: after Ms. Spears reveals that she has now been using the Torchwood contact lenses to record his every damning comment, he must cede his power to Denise Riley (Deborah Findlay). Lois and Ms. Spears are free to go, and the PM knows his political days are numbered. I feel a bit sorry for the guy, since his position was an impossible one: he had to choose the lesser of two abhorrent evils, and he adopted an unemotional, rational political view to distance himself from his actions. I’m thinking that perhaps Ms. Spears should be the new member of Torchwood: she’s smart, ruthless, and brilliantly played by Susan Brown.
Of course, by the looks of it there won’t be a Torchwood anymore. In a coda six months later, heavily pregnant Gwen says her farewells to Jack. He has travelled the globe in hopes of finding redemption and has failed. Now, he leaves Earth – thanks to the time travelling armband which miraculously escaped the Torchwood hub explosion – in search of answers elsewhere.
“I have lived so many lives. It’s time to find another one.”
– Jack Harkness
So, what does this mean for Torchwood? The world itself doesn’t actually know much about what happened. Even the fact that there were aliens remains unclear. Perhaps things will settle down again quite quickly, but I hope this is the beginning of “Everything changing”, as Jack warned us in Torchwood‘s first episode. In Gwen’s monologue, she states that “the doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame”. She’s not wrong, but in this situation it wasn’t a literal end of the world, but potentially a figurative one. In Arthur C. Clarke‘s Rama series, the world begins its space defense program in the startled aftermath of a devestating meteor akin to the Tunguska incident. I think that the 456 need to create a similar reaction in the Whoniverse. UNIT and Torchwood have been a wonderful first line in the battle, but Earth now knows that they are not strong enough to take on alien menaces. We can’t expect the Doctor to show up at the last minute every single time. And I’m not sure that Torchwood as a series can ever expect him to do so. Jack can cross over to Doctor Who, but the Doctor – with his clearer morals and his penchant for climactic speeches – seems out of place in Gwen Cooper’s Cardiff. (And I’m not sure that Matt Smith will exude that same slightly bisexual vibe that made David Tennant – and even Christopher Eccleston – such a fitting companion for Jack.)
Was the “solution” to Children of Earth entirely effective or perfect? No. But let’s be honest: this was never about how to defeat the 456. Of course they were never going to get away with 10% of the Earth’s children. Nor was our planet going to be engulfed in a worldwide class war. What this was about was what it means for Jack and, to a slightly lesser extent, Gwen.
For Gwen, she’s now seven months pregnant. When the fourth season starts (if we get one), she will assumedly have had the baby. So how do you raise a child in this post-invasion Earth, particularly when you’re the one fighting back? After an off-the-cuff comment about terminating her pregnancy, Gwen later assures Rhys that she wouldn’t get rid of the baby; “I wouldn’t do that to you”. Maybe I’m looking into it too much, but it seems like – while she’s happy to be sharing this with Rhys – she’d prefer the Torchwood life to the motherhood one. Will this create tension between the couple? Or will Russell T. Davies allow them to remain a beacon of hope in his world? If we get the show back, I hope it’s dealt with well. Doctor Who will inevitably never consummate relationships. By his nature, the Doctor must continue travelling. Companions must inevitably come and go. It would be a mistake for him to ever settle down, because the Doctor – and the series about him – will keep going, and eventually things would have to end tragically. (Hence, Rose Tyler ends up in a parallel universe from which she can never ever escape… except for anytime Davies decides she can briefly drop back in again) But Torchwood‘s characters exist in one plane of time and space. Their relationships must be given more merit, and we’ve already had so much tragedy that Gwen deserves happiness.
If we don’t get the show back, I hope we see Gwen again in some future instalment of Doctor Who. I’ll never understand that Gwen-haters who allegedly make up such a large part of Torchwood’s fanbase. I almost feel like an idiot defending her because I simply can’t understand the enemy’s argument. She’s a naturally complex character (much more so than Ianto, Tosh or Owen ever were) who has made choices, right ones and wrong ones. She’s repented for her sins, found her place, and settled down. She’s wonderfully characterised by the very talented Eve Myles and has proven herself to be Jack’s equal. If I’m honest, I have to assume that some of the hatred stems from the same people who disliked Donna Noble: she wasn’t going to meekly adore the Doctor like Rose, Martha, Peri, Sarah Jane, Adric or any other Companion. She bravely chose to challenge him, and the writers bravely chose to pick a character who would require understanding, rather than one whose unsullied virtues could allow the audiences to adopt them as a friendly surrogate who never posed a threat to family-friendly black-and-white morals. Did Gwen make mistakes? Yes. Did she sometimes make decisions that adversely affected others? Of course. But isn’t that why at the end of the day, we’re invariably more fascinated by Tony Soprano, Jimmy McNulty or Al Swearengen than we are Lennie Briscoe?
Anyway, lest I continue, let’s move on to Jack.
With Children of Earth, they’ve not just taken Jack Harkness to a dark place, they’ve taken him to hell. He’s lost everyone, including Alice. It may have been the easy choice of one kid or a million, but no one could ever expect Alice to forgive him. I doubt we’ll ever see her again, and I’m not sure we should.
Jack will travel, but can he ever come back? Will he ever again be the passionate, cock-eyed Jack who knew that everything changes? Russell T. Davies has said that he has season four all ready to go, and I must admit I’m actually looking forward to it in light of this. If we can continue to explore the changing atmosphere of an Earth on the galactic political stage, while not forgetting the things Jack has done, the series could finally find the stability it has been searching for.
All in all then, I’d say that Children of Earth has been Torchwood’s most successful outing. I know now that we lost Tosh, Owen and Ianto primarily to ratchet up the believable suspense – and that’s fine. But whoever replaces them needs to be as charismatic and dynamic as Jack. If next season sees a quirky science geek, a one-note new love interest for the Captain, and keen-eyed Lois Habiba joining the team, it’ll be a pity. Torchwood has been at its strongest when it gave us the character insight and complex decisions that Doctor Who’s timeslot would rarely allow. Let’s see that be the series’ hallmark. And that might just make the Doctor proud.
I’m not yet sure if I’ll be recapping any further Torchwood or if I’ll add Doctor Who to my lineup, but any thoughts would be appreciated!