Spread over five one-hour chapters, Torchwood: Children of Earth marks the return of British science-fiction series best known for its connection to its parent series, Doctor Who. When the children of earth (a nice play on the classic people of earth) begin to simultaneously channel alien transmissions and act as their conduit, chanting “We Are Coming” in unison, the questions begin to flow. But the focus is soon squarely on Britain, whose government may know more of these strange communiqués than they are letting on. Intrigue, suspense, and possible alien activities? Sounds like it’s time to call on the Torchwood crew!
Those wondering if previous knowledge of the show is necessary to enjoy this five-part miniseries (effectively Torchwood Season 3) needn’t worry, as Children of Earth essentially functions as a self-contained adventure set in a world in which aliens are real, and the government plans accordingly. The surviving members of Torchwood, led by the indestructible (not for lack of trying) Captain Jack, the sensitive Gwen Cooper, and love-smitten Ianto Jones, soon find themselves on the outs with the British government, labeled terrorists after the alien communications begin to transmit instructions for the humans to follow. Stripped of their government clearance and on the run, our heroes will soon have to rely on their wits if they want to make it through these events alive.
What makes this production so compelling isn’t its flashy effects (admittedly low-key) or its uncanny ability to give the legions of Who/Torchwood fans out there much to discuss and argue over, but in how believable the process is portrayed. When the full depth of the alien’s demands are fully revealed and considered, the focus shifts to internal government haggling and rationalization. Conspiratorial and clever to a fault, one can only watch these proceedings with the sense of their very possibility, that if the events portrayed here were to ever manifest this is how it might go down. Of particular note is the idea that to help society, one needs to due one’s duty, even in face of the most inconceivable and unthinkable choices. Perhaps this is something unique to British politics, an intricate system of non-elected civil servants whose role in political society is to buckle down and keep working, giving all for the greater good.
Filtered through the experience of Permanent Secretary to the Home Office John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) the effects can be chilling to watch unfold.
Make no mistake; this is science-fiction of the highest and most intellectually demanding caliber, the likes of which are seldom seen in any filmed medium, television or otherwise. While some have noted the surface-similarities to the British horror/science-fiction thriller Village of the Damned, I think the better comparison would be to the fellow 60s-era suspense Fail-Safe, which dramatizes the efforts (and rationalizing) just how far the government would be willing to go in order to avoid total annihilation.
The main cast (or what remains of them, following season two) performs admirably, although I think much of the fawning over John Barrowman’s Captain Jack has more to do with his sexuality-skewering charisma than his actual performance. Those new to the scene may be startled to see his open relationship with Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), but such things are par for the course in a series that enjoys smashing barriers and expectations, and if you’re willing to accept alien intruders you might as well get used to a little guy-on-guy smooching.
Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) continues to be the emotional core of this franchise, easily balancing the domestic (with hubby Rhys/Kai Owen) and the fantastic challenges of her day job. Her tenure on the series has always been my favorite, and that sense of warmth and compassion continues throughout this mini-series. Although it would have been nice to see Martha Jones return (away on honeymoon, apparently), newcomer Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) fills in nicely as the increasingly brave civil servant assistant.
While Torchwood was never cited as an acting tour de force, several performances in Children of Men stand out and deserve citation. Nicholas Farrell as ghoulish Prime Minister Brian Green is especially effective, while Susan Brown (Bridget Spears) as the somewhat protective assistant brings a surprisingly effective emotional heft to her role. But it’s Peter Capaldi as permanent secretary John Frobisher that stands out most, as his tortured and obedient performance leads to the series’ most shocking and heart-breaking moment, one I wouldn’t spoil for the world but you’ll know when you see it.
How the events of Children of Earth will affect the future of Torchwood remain to be seen, but let’s just say that if the series were to return (and after this, I can’t see how it won’t) there’s bound to be massive changes. There’s really no doubt about it, but like fellow British scifi-series Doctor Who, its not difficult to imagine a repopulated Torchwood crew, having further sexy adventures and exploring the rifts between a universe that’s constantly expanding. Let’s hope they take the lessons learned here and apply them to their fullest, as the thought of a fully-engaged Torchwood series in the future sounds damned exciting.
Those opting to catch the whole thing on DVD may have made a wise choice, as the 24-hour intervals between the five chapters would feel torturous for those impatient-types. Torchwood: Children of Earth feels like a spiritual renewal for the franchise, a new beginning for the Doctor Who spin-off that seems to have (finally) found its own pace and rhythm that should please longtime fans and make a few new ones in the process. This is science-fiction to savor, unflinchingly intelligent in its execution and superbly acted by a cast with something to prove. In short, this is future television, courtesy of the BBC.
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