Torchwood: Children of Earth

(BBC America, this Monday through Friday 9 – 10:15 p.m.)

Jul 20, 2009 Web Exclusive
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Fans of intelligent and exciting science fiction, and of compelling TV drama in general, will be well rewarded if they tune into BBC America this week for the five part Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth. It will be airing every night this week at 9 p.m. and is certainly the best five hours of science fiction television in recent memory and will also go down as one of 2009's most memorable television events. Even those who have never seen Torchwood before, or who were left unimpressed by the show's early episodes, would do well to tune in. Children of Earth is a quantum leap in quality over Torchwood's sexed up first season and even makes improvements on the show's excellent second season. Viewers who are uninitiated to the world of Torchwood and Doctor Who (which Torchwood is a spinoff of) will likely still find themselves gripped by these extraordinary five hours.

It begins with every child on Earth stopping in their tracks at the same time and chanting in unison, and in English, regardless of their native tongue, the phrase "We are coming!" This being Torchwood, the "we" are some sort of alien force. But why are they coming? And why are they communicating through our children? And what does the British government have to hide?

Torchwood is an ultra secret division of the British government who are tasked to investigate and stop the threat of hostile aliens. They are lead by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a man who has lived for centuries and simply cannot grow old, nor die. You can shoot him, you can bury him alive for a thousand years (which actually happened in season two), and still you cannot kill him. That immortality is certainly put to the test in Children of Earth in several harrowing ways. After the tragic events of the season two finale, which resulted in the death of two team members, Jack is now backed up by the two remaining members of Torchwood: Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Gwen's husband, Rhys Williams (Kai Owen), is also along for the ride and is much more involved in the action than in previous seasons. While Torchwood are the experts in dealing with otherworldly creatures, there are members of the British government who actually want them out of the way, for fear that they will uncover a disturbing secret that traces back to a 1965 secret alien abduction of 12 orphaned children. This leaves the Torchwood team on the run from their own government as they also try to help stop the looming threat from the skies, while Earth's children sporadically deliver more creepy messages from the aliens.

But Children of Earth is not your average hostile-aliens-threaten-the-Earth type story. Independence Day this is not. Over the course of the five episodes several of the characters, and members of the British government, face some stark moral dilemmas and don't always make the decisions you expect or agree with. The entire miniseries is filled with genuinely surprising twists and turns. The Prime Minster and his advisers have a devastating and heartbreaking decision to make and, in light of the recent expense account scandal that has swept the British Parliament, the level of duplicity involved in that decision must have resonated with U.K. audiences when Children of Earth aired there two weeks ago.

Without going into major spoilers territory, it's save to say that Children of Earth is much darker than any previous Torchwood or Doctor Who story. It's certainly darker than anything you could imagine American network TV or basic cable greenlighting. Torchwood was originally advertised as a more adult spin on the Doctor Who universe, but in its first two seasons that more than often meant such creatures as aliens who killed via sexual intercourse, as well as lots of same-sex kissing between the characters. With Children of Earth, Torchwood truly grows up and comes of age and if there is a fourth season (and there damn well better be after this), then there's no turning back. Having one story spread out over five episodes allows not just for a more complex and epic tale, but also greater character development. As well as fabulous work from all the regular cast members, fantastic British character actors populate Children of Earth. Peter Capaldi, for example, is tragic as an expendable government civil servant who is simply trying to do his best for queen and country; despite the choppy moral waters he'd wading in. Every performance in Children of Earth is believable. Writer and series creator Russell T. Davies is to be commended for outdoing himself this time and he'd be wise to frame future seasons of Torchwood within five episode story arcs. Director Euros Lyn keeps the pacing incredibly tight, so much so that after the first two episodes so much has happened that it's hard to believe there is another three hours to go.

The only problem with Children of Earth is that it is so entirely gripping that you'll likely spend the whole next day waiting with bated breath and counting down for the next installment. You might want to save yourself the anguish and DVR the whole thing, so that you can watch all five hours in one sitting. Viewed that way, Children of Earth is more compelling, entertaining, and bolder than most of the blockbusters that Hollywood has had on offer this summer. It's also bleaker and more daring, and all the better for it. (www.bbcamerica.com)

(Torchwood: Children of Earth will also be released on DVD and Blu-ray July 28th. Read our interview with actress Eve Myles on Children of Earth here.)

 

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Wendy Redfern
July 20th 2009
6:01pm

This was SO good!!!!

Laura Studarus
July 24th 2009
4:25am

Counting down…freaking out. Come on Friday!