Torchwood: Children of Earth

Friday, July 10, 2009 by

BBC1Having prematurely washed my hands of this latest series of Torchwood (at least in print), it seems only fair that I should redress the balance.  So let’s go on record to say that after a shaky first episode, Children of Earth actually turned into everything I never expected Torchwood to be – an excellent Quatermass Conclusion­-inspired thriller.

While many of the series’ perennial problems with characterisation and performance remained (after three series Jack Harkness still works better as a supporting character in Doctor Who than a lead in his own show), here was at last an alien invasion plotline that felt appropriately epic and significant.  Perhaps it helped that this storyline didn’t require any unconvincing FX shots of aliens storming the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal, instead the invasion was neatly kept at the conceptual level.

Having dealt with the business of dismantling Torchwood – and indeed Torchwood - as we know it, the remaining four episodes in this mini series were free to delve deep (perhaps deeper than we have ever previously seen in the Doctor Who universe) into the difficult politics of “greater goods” and impossible decision-making, revelling in protocol and pseudo-authentic sounding bureaucratic speak.  Perhaps the highlight of the whole week was the protracted sequence in which the cabinet sat around discussing the most appropriate selection criteria by which they could choose their sacrificial 10% of the world’s youth population.  This was utterly gripping, not just because of the impossibility of the task, but for the amount of screen time the debate was allowed to eat up – for a moment there Torchwood came to resemble a superior stage play in which a great moralistic issues is scrupulously weighed and examined, each protagonist adopting a different intellectual position and locking horns with one another.

The portrayal of the “456″ was equally well measured and balanced.  As a viewer we instinctively knew their effect would be all the more menacing if they remained enigmatic.  Strange tentacles aside, it was to the production’s credit that we never actually got a proper look at them.  Nor did we ever get a handle on where they came from, or their wider motivation, beyond looking for their next hit.  Being denied any understanding of the 456′s psychology kept us all on our toes.

Let’s be clear, so good was this series that for once it didn’t seem to matter that Captain Jack’s initial plan to vanquish the 456 consisted of nothing more than telling them to sling their hook, nor did we really care that any organisation sufficiently advanced to create spy camera contact lenses would surely be able to come up with a sufficiently undetectable microphone.  Set against a properly serious and ambitious story that put its characters into genuinely difficult physical and moral situations, any objections to Peter Capaldi’s somehow unrealistic looking attire couldn’t help but melt away.

While Doctor Who has shown there is a way to do science fiction on telly that will appeal to a mass audience, Torchwood: Children of Earth showed us that with the right storyline and the right schedule, you can lead a mass audience into an appreciation of the kind of serious television sci-fi that many thought lost since the heyday of Nigel Kneale.  Now that’s a shock ending.


14 Responses to “Torchwood: Children of Earth”

  1. Nick H on August 1st, 2009 12:21 pm

    Never judge a book by it’s cover, particularly in reference to your polemic on the Big Brother bashers…

  2. Jack Kibble-White on August 1st, 2009 2:51 pm

    I am not sure I understand your point Nick H.

    I didn’t like previous series of Torchwood, and when I watched the first ep of Children of Earth I didn’t like that either, so wrote about it accordingly. But I stuck with it and by the end of the week found the series as a whole to have been really good, so wrote about that accordingly too.

    My point about Big Brother is that there seems to be loads of people saying this series is rubbish without having even watched any of it.

  3. Nick H on August 2nd, 2009 10:19 am

    Yes, based on previous experiences. They allowed predjudice to cloud their judgement, just as you did for Children of Earth…

  4. Jack Kibble-White on August 2nd, 2009 6:06 pm

    I didn’t like the first ep of Children of Earth and still don’t, so reviewed it accordingly. I did watch the rest of the series, and liked it, so said as much. Yes of course prejudice (or shall we say previous experience) will influence your judgement when you sit down to watch something, but that’s surely not the same thing as slagging a series off without watching it at all? Or is it?

  5. Nick H on August 3rd, 2009 11:22 pm

    I still can’t see why you can’t see the connection between prematurely writing off a programme like Torchwood and then getting all huffy when others have not shown consideration to BIg Brother 10.

    ‘Oh they’ve not seen it’ is the line of defence, but really Jack, the first ‘episode’ would have been seen by the critics as they are still required to at least sample what was in store. And what did we get: The usual rag bag of contestants, all carefully chosen to match Channel 4′s demographic. How where they to know what the series would actually be like? Just as how were you to know that Children of Earth would turn out to be one of the TV events of the year?

  6. Jack Kibble-White on August 4th, 2009 12:55 pm

    I’d take your point if I hadn’t posted another review of Torchwood at the end of week which basically conceded that my initial opinion had proven to be wrong.

  7. Nick H on August 4th, 2009 8:55 pm

    You should have waited till the end of the story. It was only four days away, not 13 weeks like Big Brother!

  8. Jordan on August 5th, 2009 4:47 pm

    Right, first things first.
    1. My god, you talk a load fo crap, don’t you. All those fancy phrases that no one has really heard of or knows what it means, i mean, you could of put supercalafragilisticexpialidosius in that waffle and no-one would of realised!!
    2. What the hell does Torchwood (best programme ever, i might add) have to do with Big Brother??? They are absolutely completely different! (I’m not saying though, that i ain’t completely obsessed with Big Brother) but how can you compare two totally different shows!!
    3. You may not have liked the previous series of Torchwood (how!! are you insane??) but obviously a majority of people disagree with you on that one, otherwise the show would not have been promoted from BBC 3, to BBC 2 then eventually BBC One. That obviously shows how brilliant the show is!!
    4. Also if you don’t think the show is very good why are u slaggin it off! Just because you don’t like it don’t try and ruin it for the rest of us who do!!
    5. Torchwood is one of the best sci-fi shows around at the mo (aside from doctor who, but nothing beats that) and as i may add is form BBC WALES!! shows pure welsh spirit!!
    I would like to add about Johnny (ianto’s sister’s husband) and his friends form the estate showed a perfect portrayal of a typical welsh estate!! Brilliantness in a jam jar me thinks!!
    Any way, i shall end on this one final statement

  9. Ian Jones on August 5th, 2009 7:06 pm

    Let me see if I understand Nick correctly. You’re not allowed to express an opinion on a programme until it has finished its run. Ah well, I hope Coronation Street gets axed soon, I’m dying to say what I think about that episode from May 1982…

  10. Nick H on August 5th, 2009 11:53 pm

    Ganging up eh? I sure sign that the argument has been lost…

  11. Nick H on August 6th, 2009 12:02 am

    I’m not suprised you’ve butted in Ian. You always put the boot in. You should look back on your ‘reviews’. It’s as if you didn’t even fucking like TV!

  12. Jack Kibble-White on August 6th, 2009 12:59 am

    Hello Nick – I’m giving up on this thread after this post, because clearly we’re not going to agree – and restating our opinions time after time isn’t going to change that. I don’t have a problem that we don’t agree, and I hope you don’t either.

    I wouldn’t want this to turn into one of those combative message board threads that just exists for the sake of having an argument. As for Ian’s contribution, it’s a public forum so he’s welcome to say what he likes (as is anyone – including those who might agree with your opinion). However, his post certainly wasn’t part of a coordinated plan, so we are not – as you say – “ganging up”. I presume Ian posted because he felt he had a valid point to make.

    Anyway, you can now either decide that this post is also a “sure sign that the argument has been lost”, or you can take it for what it really is, which is an attempt to draw a line under a thread that isn’t really going anywhere productive. Over to you…

  13. Julie Twaddell on August 6th, 2009 1:24 pm

    “It’s only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”…wouldn’t Oscar Wilde have been a fantastic BB houseguest?

  14. Nick H on August 6th, 2009 11:14 pm

    Whatever you say Jack, I’m sure you think you’re right, whatever counter -argument has been put forward. However this….

    Might explain Mr Jones’ little contribution to this discussion. If that article wasn’t pre-judgement, I don’t know what is.

    And that’s my final say on the matter…