The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

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.

Jack

“Civilisation is about to fall to hell. You want to start that descent a little earlier? Go ahead.”

– John Frobisher

On Day One, they threatened. On Day Two, they announced their presence. On Day Three, they came. And On Day Four, they claimed their first lives.

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.”

– Johnson

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.

Lois

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.

Thanks for joining me in these reviews: check out Grey Woolfe’s review and the final analysis over at TV Squad and Two Cents Corp.

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!

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11 Responses to “Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day Five””

  1. […] See the rest here: Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day Five” « The Rebel Prince TV Blog […]

  2. Glenn said

    I’ve been reading your reviews with great interest all week.
    In fact I’ve been reading many reviews about Children of Earth all week, but even against other very laudable recounts of the series I think yours has been the most insightful.
    I’m in England and so enjoyed the series two weeks ago, providing a certain distance and perspective I can apply to the experience.
    And given the fact I’m still fascinated by all things COE it shows what a lingering effect it has had on me.
    I have never felt as emotionally involved with a ‘TV Show’ ever. I didn’t think I could be, that’s not my character at all, but the themes, the emotion and the scale of it has gripped me ever since.
    Clearly, it engaged many other people as well.
    And while I love being part of this shared experience, I can’t get my head around some of the more vociferous negative opinions on the subject.
    Those declaring that Torchwood died for them at the same time as Ianto.
    That’s Jack’s gift to the 456 of the children in 1965 is unfathomable as is his sacrifice of his grandson
    But in a story where potentially Mankind could be extinguished, do people think there shouldn’t be consequence to those fighting against it, that drastic, terrible actions aren’t required by some.
    And therefore some say that RTD has no regard for his viewers as long as he’s happy.
    But why shouldn’t he put his creative instincts before our needs as viewers. Would those that say this not reserve the right to this so called ‘arrogance’ to write the story they wanted to write as well.
    And good grief, those that complain, let them try to write and mastermind something like Children of God before passing sweeping judgement.
    Plus for nitpickers who point to things ‘that wouldn’t happen in real life’ it’s a bloody story!
    Storytelling involves plot devices, things are there that may not always stand up to absolute logic but nevertheless propel the story to it’s conclusion. You have to stand back and avoid microscopic scrutiny of the small stuff as long as the whole stands examination.
    And it certainly achieved that, I can’t recall any other program that has focused us to examine ourselves faced with the same sort of impossible situation. It’s provoked shock, revulsion and debate that’s nothing to do with an alien storyline, but about the nature of human monsters.
    And there I will have to end it, I’ve already spent much longer than I intended expressing my appreciation of Torchwood and my bewilderment about some of it’s viewers
    But it’s been a hell of a ride both offline and on, but thanks Rebel Prince, I’ve enjoyed all your reviews of COE and I’ve enjoyed finally getting that lot of my chest as well.
    Glenn

    • therebelprince said

      Wow, Glenn, thankyou very much for your compliments on my blog. I’m only new to the reviewing game, so it’s wonderful to hear that! And I COMPLETELY echo your sentiments about some fans’ bizarre responses.
      Yes, I agree that it can occasionally feel cheapened when you grow to care about characters who then die, but… isn’t that the nature of fiction? (Not to mention, for that matter, reality?) People who want this kind of black-and-white world in which we can be assured that our main characters will live until the series ends and only be slightly changed by the experience (unless of course the actors want out) should go back to watching “Charmed”.
      I’m not ecstatic that Ianto died. I think that he and Jack had a nice relationship which could have been further explored given that it was a new challenge for both of them. But the fact is that his death happened, and it has had a profound impact on Jack.
      And at the same time, I agree wholeheartedly with your wonderful statement about the “human monsters” in the series. It’s been refreshing to experience truthful storytelling: as I said above, I found the cabinet scenes to be endlessly fascinating, and I think television needs to grow up and ask impossible questions more often, rather than solving everything with sonic screwdrivers.
      Thanks for your comment, Glenn!

  3. Glenn said

    Not at all Prince, you earned the praise.
    To write 5 very lengthy thoughtful reviews as you did in a blog that’s not moneytised at all warrants a little appreciation.
    And if you are fresh to reviewing, then may I say you’re extremely good at it and deserve to be doing your work professionally.
    I think soon, with the same quality as you show here, that’s very likely to happen if you wanted it.
    Good luck,
    Glenn

  4. john schulenburg said

    What amazes me about your review and others I’ve read about COE, is the predicate that each makes, i.e. that the authorities had no choice but to agree to give the 456 the children. I saw nothing in the series that allows a conclusion that the 456 could carry out their threat to wipe out humanity, or that no one could come up with a defense against the 456 (in fact the 456 are defeated in the end). What in the story makes it clear that the 456 could not be stopped (in fact they were ultimately). Consequently it was not an impossible choice that was given the authorities at the time. Their willingness to sacrifice the innocents so early on, is just further evidence of their knee jerk appeasement response and the corruption of their moral being. None of the reviews I read mentions the argument that to give in to the demands of the 456, notwithstanding the risk–perhaps the probability (although not supported by the story)– that humanity may otherwise be destroyed, is to lose one’s soul (and more importantly the soul of humanity as a whole, if one can claim that a decision supported so broadly by the regimes of the world can affect the image of each society of the earth for themselves and for each other, whether or not they believe in a spiritual existence). Apparently no one even thinks it worth discussing (in the series or in the reviews), that it might be better to lose every person on earth in a fight to the finish, rather than sacrifice the innocents (and as a result, forfeit any legitimacy to an argument that humanity is worthy of existence). The only close mention of the subject is the allusion that the Doctor would be ashamed. It is not lost on me that Captain Jack makes a similar choice on a smaller and even more personal scale, when he sacrifices his grandson, and again, it is without the story having set up any basis for a reasonable conclusion that there is no other way to transmit the sounds needed to neutralize or destroy the 456.

    • therebelprince said

      John, thanks a lot for your comments. If nothing else, the Torchwood crew have managed to provoke a great level of debate which I think is one of the primary functions of television like this. In response to your comments, I have to say first that I don’t think either of us can be conclusively right. The decisions we make for an entirely hypothetical situation, feeling safe in our morals and assumptions because we are removed from the situation, can never equal what we would do if given a day and a half to save the entire world. However, I do like your moral point: much like I would argue against the use of torture even if sometimes – as Jack Bauer on “24” has shown us – it may be the only way to coerce answers in a desperate time. In this case, we are given the choice: do we torture someone even though it is against our morals? Or do we run the risk that their information, which may prevent an impending act of violence, will never be found out?

      Of course that’s one person and not several million, but I think the situation applies. I somewhat agree with your second point: that Jack sacrificing his grandson seemed a bit contrived and also not very well thought out (it did seem to only take about ten seconds, with no debate about any other possible ideas). On the other hand, I recognise that it was only a matter of minutes until the children were taken, and in Jack’s mind it was better that he choose a child he is partly responsible for, rather than taking a child from someone else which he would justify as a worse action.

      As for your point about the overall crimes, I think I stand by my original comments. It was well established in the fourth episode that Earth had no way of locating the “mothership” and so therefore couldn’t use a weapon, even if they had one strong enough to fight off an entire alien invasion (the weapon used in the early “Doctor Who” Christmas special perhaps?). I think it was also reasonable to assume that the 456 could carry out their threat because a) they had already proven their great power with using the children as transmitters, and b) well, why would they be doing this otherwise? And I think that by day five, after the release of the virus, it was also safe to assume that humans just spreading the word and fighting back would be no match for this deadly pathogen that could kill in minutes.

      With all that in mind, it appears that there really are just two simple choices: fight back even though it will likely lead to the extinction of the human race, or give in now in the hopes of saving 90% of Earth’s children, and preparing the battleground for next time. Of course, I would rather believe in the first of those choices. I would rather believe that we would not “lose our soul” as you elegantly put it. But do I believe this would ever happen? No. Partly because, let’s be honest, politicians are designed – both in a good and a bad way – to think about what is best for the majority. When it comes down to it, 90% is a helluva lot better than 0%. But also because I don’t think that it is fair. I don’t necessarily support the “Sacrifice one to save many” idea, but in this situation I really can’t see any other option. When it comes down to it, perhaps this is the best way to put it: in the scenario posited by Torchwood, until they get what we want, EVERY SINGLE CHILD ON EARTH is in danger. As it stands, the threat applies to all of them (and the adults, but that’s beyond the point). If you can save most of them, you’re doing better than the worst case scenario. (It’s nice to imagine that we can be as utopic as The Doctor and somehow be more clever than any threat that comes our way. But sometimes, as with the greatest of Earth’s enemies – the Daleks, Hitler, swine flu – you have to use either violence or submission, not smarts.)

      Even looking at what I’ve written, I am disgusted by the idea. I don’t want to sound as if I would ever support the massacre of millions upon millions of innocent children. But if in doing so, I would save nine times as many from such a horrible fate, and if by not doing so I was condemning every single one of them to death, then I can safely (but hypothetically) state that my scales would have to weigh definitively in that direction.

      (I recognise that what you really said here is that we should be discussing this, and I agree. But I think from the producers’ perspective that is for the show to provoke, rather than provide. I’ll freely admit it’s a shortcoming of myself and many other reviewers!)

      In conclusion: would humanity have lost its soul if this happened? Well maybe not humanity since most of us didn’t get a choice, but probably the few dozen people at the top who made the decision. And perhaps most of the military would deserve guilt (but in the end, and this is both spiritual and evolutionary, if your children are being threatened, you’ll do what you’re told by those above you). Do I think humanity would ever recover entirely from this? No. It would be an horrific black mark upon our record. But by the very concept of evolution, we fight for survival, not morality. It may not be the preferred priority, but it’s the truth. And yes, I firmly believe that after this, humanity would focus every single spare dollar it had into a better weapons program; a better satellite detection program; perhaps an alliance with other lesser planets (in fact, I think this is the direction the show needs to go in). I do not believe that the government would dare do this twice. Every person in that room will spend the rest of their life making sure that no single child on Earth is ever in danger again. But the position in which we were placed this time was incredibly imminent. In the end, 90% trumps 10. At least for me. Perhaps my soul will not recover. Perhaps it’s a good thing this situation is only a hypothetical one, no?

      • john schulenburg said

        Thanks for your reply Rebel Prince. I appreciate your thoughtful address to the issues I raised. For those who would establish a policy that bans torture under any circumstances, even to save countless lives, I am always skeptical for one reason. I doubt their personal allegiance to that policy would hold up in the face of a circumstance where such torture would elicit information, without which their own child would die. In contrast, under slightly different circumstances, Captain Jack made that similar choice concerning his grandson, and decided the sacrifice was worthy, even though his action may put him beyond redemption. It’s obvious that the government authorities would not have made that same choice if their child were on the sacrificial altar, under an order from “on-high”, to “wield their knife” against them if you will (given that the “board” of authorities declined to make random, the selection of the children). That’s the problem I have in politicians or bureaucrats establishing such a policy, when they expect it to be followed by others, but which politicians or bureaucrats would not follow it when a more personal sacrifice is required.

        Back to Torchwood COE itself, perhaps it was difficult given the constraints of screentime and plot, but it is disappointing that such a production assumes (by virtue of the fact that it did not appear on screen) that faith, with a capital “F”, would have no place in decision making by world authorities, to sacrifice millions of their specie’s children. It should not boil down to a simple cost- versus-benefit analysis when it comes to such a choice.

  5. […] Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day Five” […]

  6. randy Johnson said

    I wonder too if Torchwood will get another season. Today’s economic climate may preclude that. I hope not. Children Of Earth was perhaps the best televised science fiction in recent years.

  7. Torchwood’s Season 3 started on 6th June 2009. This season has all five episodes and you can follo all these episode from this source….Watch Torchwood Episodes

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