Children of the Earth
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ack when I wrote the review for Season Two of “Torchwood,” I threw out bold proclamations like “If this material doesn’t make you a fan, then nothing the series will ever do is likely to grab your attention,” and “it’s unlikely to ever reach such perfection again.” Before even the first hour of the miniseries “Children of Earth” was over, all those words felt hastily chosen. Here’s a show that has consistently gotten better and better with each passing block of episodes, and now, looking back at the antics of Season One (which I dearly loved at the time), the material presented three years ago seems rather silly in comparison to this masterpiece. This really is the must-see TV event of the year, and what a treat it is to be able to own it on DVD or Blu-ray so soon after its broadcast on BBC America. The even better news is that it’s fairly self-contained, so if you’ve never seen “Torchwood” before this, here’s an excellent jumping-off point, sure to leave you wanting more as the end credits roll.
The action turns on, as the title suggests, the children of the Earth, who one day begin speaking in unison: “We are coming. We are coming.” It lasts mere moments, and when it’s over, the children remember nothing. Needless to say, the planet shifts into full-on panic mode, and behind closed doors, the British government knows more than anyone else. Aliens known simply as the 456 are behind this, and they’ve visited once before in 1965, at which time they took 12 British children. Now they’re back, and they want more – a lot more. What they intend to do with the children of Earth is utterly horrific, and although I had doubts in the months leading up to this miniseries that something engaging involving children could be produced under the “Torchwood” banner, it’s almost hard to believe how well Russell T. Davies and company pulled this one off. If you have children, this will leave you with a feeling of hopelessness and despair, as you watch the government’s attitude toward the situation grow increasingly self-serving and inhumane.
Behind the larger backdrop, Team Torchwood works to remedy the situation, although Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) knows more than he’s letting on, which leads to the special ops group being put on a government hit list, and through each passing episode, their tools are quickly diminished until all they have left are their wits. The series manages to take time out to explore the personal lives of our heroes as well, including the bizarre revelation that Jack has a daughter and grandson, and that Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) is pregnant (an ideal development given the 456 storyline). And it must be said that the mini has an absolutely outstanding supporting guest cast of alternately colorful and shady characters, each of whom bring something entirely different to the goings-on. I could list them all, but instead I’ll make specific mention of Peter Capaldi’s civil servant John Frobisher, who is sometimes ruthless, sometimes heartbreaking, and always fascinating throughout. It’s a performance that will stick with you.
Some, who are weaned on the “Independence Day” template of alien invasion, may find the ultimate solution to the 456 problem a letdown, since it doesn’t involve lots of spaceships and ray guns. But for anyone who appreciates their sci-fi with ample doses of moral uncertainty will find themselves moved, hurt and broken by the time the story concludes. This isn’t a tale with easy answers and there is no pretty bow to tie it all together at the end. It is, as a friend of mine said, “a punch to the gut.”
While watching these events unfold, I kept thinking to myself, “If only the Doctor (from “Torchwood’s” parent series, “Doctor Who”) were here! He’d fix this in an instant – and with gusto and panache.” In the fifth and final episode, Gwen delivers a speech to a video camera that directly addresses that thought pattern. She speaks of Jack’s mysterious friend the Doctor, and concludes that, “Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.” It’s a chilling, emotional moment that packs a serious punch. In the real world, there is no Doctor to take care of us, but if he did exist, he likely would be ashamed of us much of the time. Therein lies the difference between the two series. While “Doctor Who” offers up exciting adventure yarns in which most situations finish up with upbeat endings, “Torchwood” doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. It’s at its best when forcing us to question our own humanity, and “Children of Earth” excels in that department. Now that Russell T. Davies has moved on from “Doctor Who,” he’ll likely be concentrating more on “Torchwood,” and I’m beginning to wonder if “Torchwood” has the narrative power and flexibility to ultimately outshine its parent series, as it most certainly does this time around. At the time of writing, a Fourth Season of “Torchwood” has yet to be commissioned. I’d happily settle for a miniseries each year over full seasons of 13 episodes if they were of this level of quality. This is smart sci-fi, mixed with plenty of adventure, thrills, chills and scares. It can’t be recommended highly enough, and (this time for sure!) if this doesn’t make you a fan of “Torchwood,” nothing will.
Special Features: The only extra is an installment of “Torchwood Declassified” that runs just over 30 minutes and covers the making of the mini, as well as thoughts on the narrative from the cast and crew. It’s a huge shame there’s no commentary track, as it would have been welcome, but the mini itself is so damn strong the set won’t be faulted for being lean on extras.