Torchwood: Children of Earth (Wed & Thur)
Well, this is turning out to be quite a good idea, isn’t it? Don’t forget to pop back over to the original article to catch-up with the esteemed Mr Lacey’s (delayed) reaction for the first two Days of Children of Earth, before we plough straight on with the action…
After the action-packed second day of the series, the conspiracy theory elements come back into play, delivering a superbly gripping hour of television. The quality-level is just a fraction below yesterday offering, but this is still superb stuff.
The reduced main cast have been gelling quite nicely so far, so it’s interesting that Davies and Moran immediately foreshadow the conclusion of the episode, by sowing a bit of conflict in there. Fortunately, Gwen and Rhys’s making-up is glossed over, in much the same way as Clem’s release from the cells courtesy of PC Andy is sensibly cut. CoE is certainly making the most of its not-quite use of the real-time format, revealing in the story’s ability to skirt around the more obvious elements of the plot. Speaking of the new inhabitant of ‘Hub 2’, the campaign to have Clement McDonald drafted into the team starts here. Paul Copley is giving a superb performance, and hopefully his character arc won’t conclude with his sacrificing himself to destroy the 456. Having previously dismissed the idea that the aliens would be a returning old or new Who monster, I disturbed my flatmate by pointing at the screen and shouting ”Gas! Claws! Macra” at several points during the episode, but we’ll just have to wait and see. I still hope that my initial instincts were right, however. CoE is turning into a beautifully distinctive piece of work, and having such a fanboyish conceit at its heart would change my opinion of it in a way that I’m not sure I would welcome.
With the second script in a row which kept Captain Jack at arm’s-length from the action, it seemed at first that John Barrowman’s schedule was affecting the scripts, but thankfully the conclusion of the episode confirmed that there’s more than production necessity at work here. It’s nice that the character’s progression isn’t a completely linear journey, as it seemed a little too contrived that we’d now been given a picture of a happier time in the character’s life in the form of Alice, which had to be retconed into the darker semi-suicidal Jack who existed from The Parting of the Ways up until Utopia. Whether Jack seeks redemption by rescuing his child or going all-out to save the world remains to be seen.
After delivering an undertone of angst, Peter Capaldi proves his mettle in the episode, with some magnificent acting in his effective soliloquies when negotiating with the 456. It’s the political drama episodes which have defined this episode, and the fact that its here that the series verses closet to its US inspiration is offset by the fact that we’re seeing a distinctly British take on the skulduggery we’re used to from 24. Euro Lynn milks the lighting in the ambassadorial suite for all it’s worth, and generally delivers a superb job. It wouldn’t be Torchwood without a couple of minor production niggles, with the re-use of the warehouse that housed From Out Of The Rain’s Electro Theatre back-lot and the fact that the contact lens camera appear to have magic software that prevents blinking becoming evident both join that illustrious list. Somehow these little elements end up being endearing, and it’s hard to find any serious fault with the episode.
It’s funny. I’ve watched every single episode of Torchwood. Read every single one of the books. Faithfully downloaded all of the plays. But I’ve only just realised why it has to exist. Why that light-hearted, joyous, radiant and wonderful TV series that makes Saturday nights glow so brightly for thirteen weeks of the year needs this companion as surely as it needs whatever adventurous young person has stepped into the blue box.
It’s there to complete the metaphor, in a way that the family show never can. The crazy, magical world and the perfect character who inhabits it literally makes people better. But that’s as far as Doctor Who can go. It can’t take that concept to its conclusion.
Because they’ve become better people, they give their lives for others.
Davros got it wrong, last year. The Doctor doesn’t make people into soldiers, he makes people into fighters. When Jack, Martha and Sarah Jane stood facing the tyrant, each wielding their own doomsday options, they weren’t simply threatening to kill the monster before them. They were a man with wild hair, standing next to a baffled San Francisco motorcycle cop, pointing a gun at their own hearts in an effort to save the world. Each of the weapons that those three companions held would have killed them as surely as their enemies if they pulled the trigger. But because they’d seen how perfect the universe could be, they were willing to take that chance if it meant it could continue. Gamble long enough, however, and chance is sure to desert you. But Doctor Who can never show that happening.
So Torchwood has to.
Like the deaths of Tosh and Owen last year, there’s an entire gauntlet of emotions tangled in the death of Ianto Jones. The cold-blooded clinical numbness, as a fan’s eyes sees another member of the Torchwood family sliced away, another link to that fit of giggles as Gwen walked into the Hub from Jubilee Pizza severed forever. The uncertainty, as a character we’ve watched being slowly worked from a walking double entendre into a dark brooding freak into a responsible ‘family’ is broken beyond anything we’ve seen before. And then, slowly sinking in as the fiction reasserts its grip, as the skill of the director and the starkness of the imagery takes hold, the shuddering knowledge that this isn’t even a pyrrhic victory, that the world of Russell T Davies Doctor Who still stands on the absolute edge of destruction in a show where death means death and the only retconning permitted is in a magic pill that induces psychotic rage in an uncertain percentage of its victims.
Jack and the 456 were both right- this is a war, and the medium of Torchwood is the only part of the new Who universe where it can be fought, where the leash can be removed and truly adult debates can be held. Not the fake maturity that brings us orgasm monsters and a lesbian alien succubus, but the crushing weight of responsibility that adulthood brings. Where the deaths of millions of children can be discussed not with rayguns and cloaked villains, but with busses and paperwork. Where the military aren’t just props to get writers out of tight corners, but living, thinking, moral people just as capable of taking an intelligent view.
If the goal of Virgin’s New Adventures novels was to create joy in adults in the same way that the original TV series did in children, then Torchwood serves a purpose higher than a crutch for a bereaved fandom. This is where the gloves come off, where possibly the single best dramatist in the United Kingdom can unleash his full ability without having to leave the world he’s so perfectly recreated. A show that makes adults fear like children do when watching Doctor Who, with no jump-shocks or chainsaw yielding psychopaths in deserted cottages.
Ianto Jones died a pointless, painful death. But he showed why the programme that gave him life has to exist.
Rest In Peace.