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Torchwood Children of Earth: In Perspective

Guest contributor Mark McCullough takes a look back at the 2009 series.

torchwood-coe-gun

It is difficult to believe that it has almost been five years now since Torchwood: Children of Earth first graced our television screens. Budget cuts had necessitated a change from the traditional ‘story of the week’ format, with creator Russell T Davies instead opting for a single narrative drawn out over five episodes. This allowed for the series to be more character driven with the aliens predominately taking a back seat. This was a risk given that in the finale of the previous series, the main cast was cut to sixty percent of its usual value. With the departing cast members not being replaced, we were left with just Jack, Ianto and Gwen. This had its advantages however as it allowed the story to develop several interesting supporting characters, including development for Rhys.

This shift of emphasis allowed a large part of the narrative to be played out within the political world.  This gave rise to intriguing storylines focusing on secrets and the natures of those in charge of our country. This makes for thrilling, edge of the seat viewing. Another interesting change in the dynamic is the destruction of the Torchwood hub during the first episode. This forces the team out of their comfort zone and emphasises the use intellect, instead of relying solely on an excessive array of gadgets. The risk in changing the format of the show paid back enormous dividends producing a television masterpiece.

torchwood-children-of-earth-posterWhat really stands out about Children of Earth and leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the audience is its horror. It excels by taking the most common aspect of humanity and turning it into something terrifying. Childhood is something we have all experienced, and I’m sure we all have been exposed to a child at some point. The maternal and paternal bonds are some of the strongest in nature, and not just in humans. For a parent their child means the world to them, if this bond is broken the consequences are disastrous. One needs only to look at a grieving parent to see this first hand. Even for those who are not parents themselves, there is a feeling that it is unnatural for something to happen to a child. It is this human instinct which Children of Earth exploits to achieve its scares.

The concept of having an alien race able to control children and use them to transmit a message to humanity is spine chilling on so many levels. As an idea, it is a complete stroke of genius by Davies and his fellow writers. The political setting allows for another layer of terror and complexity to be added to the situation. The government, a group of people elected by the public to serve in their best interests, should be an institute of trust. This makes their decisions in Children of Earth all the more incomprehensible. Self-preservation is fundamental aspect of human nature; we are inherently a selfish species. The narrative exemplifies this by showing the politicians make decisions based on their interests rather than those of the public.

It shouldn’t be shocking, yet the writing and timing of developments make it so. Where Children of Earth shines is in its realism. The writing is so intelligent that you could actually see it happening, should such a situation arise. The scenes in the meeting where the action plan as to which children are selected is being discussed, ideas are offered which I am sure the vast majority of viewers were thinking at the back of their minds.

torchwood-children-of-earth-gwenWith a smaller Torchwood team; the writers had the opportunity to flesh out the remaining characters. They made use of this using family as a centre of focus. For Gwen and Rhys, it was her pregnancy and the prospect of starting a family of their own. This is consistent with Gwen’s characterisation and the development of her relationship with Rhys throughout the previous series. Gwen who started out as the unfaithful partner, developed into a loving devoted wife. It was only logical for the next step to be pregnancy. Gwen’s pregnancy provides a focus for the discussion of a few ethical issues, namely the idea of having a child into the world depicted in the series. Rhys becomes almost the fourth member of the Torchwood team and fits into the role with relative ease.

The development for both Jack and Ianto involves the introduction of new family members. For Ianto it is his sister who is a pleasant and relatable character. She gives an insight into Ianto’s personal life and is there for him when he needs her most. Jack’s family is revealed as him having a daughter and a grandson, whom he has kept hidden. The relationship between them feels strange and unnatural, yet it is obvious that they care for each other in some way. Jack’s family is introduced more as a potential plot point, first becoming a pressure point for Jack before playing a large part in the resolution to the series.

The antagonists of the story are the enigmatic 456, named only after the wavelength upon which they broadcast communications. Their motives are unique within the Whoniverse and take on a darker adult theme. The issue of drugs and substance abuse is one which has a real prominence within the world we live. It is a problem which doesn’t go away, so it is nice to see Torchwood raise awareness albeit in an unconventional way. The idea of an alien race using Earth for drugs is frightening enough, but to include the fact that their drug of choice is human children, it becomes incomprehensively terrifying.

torchwood-john-frobisher-peter-capaldiThe supporting cast in this series is one of the strongest Torchwood has ever had. Of these, the standout character has to be Peter Capaldi’s John Frobisher. In a world of corrupt politicians, Frobisher stands out as a good man. Devoted to his job, he finds himself on the frontline of the 456 situation as the fall guy. When he is betrayed by the prime minister, his passion to both his family and his job leaves him with only one option. He makes a heroic decision to save his children from the 456. This moment is made all the more poignant by the fact that due to Jack’s actions defeating the 456, it was unnecessary.

The rest of the cast offer a strong performance too: Bridget Spears (Susan Brown) is an intelligent woman, and the only true friend to Frobisher. She stands by him throughout the series and helps him when he needs her most. Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) acts as an audience surrogate, she is likeable, empathetic, and honest. She does what she can to help Torchwood regardless of the personal implications it may pose. Rupesh Patanjali (Rik Makarem) was a great tease by the writers and a twist which I did not see coming. I can’t help but feel the idea of a spy within Torchwood was too good an idea to end as early as it was terminated. Agent Johnson (Liz May Brice) is excellent in the villain role throughout the series. She is motivated, driven and focused on delivering what her country needs of her. She is cold impersonal and ruthless, but recognises what is in the best interest for the people in the end. The Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) gives a cold and intelligent performance, and perfectly sets himself up for his eventual fall. There are other strong supporting characters too: Mr Dekker (Ian Gelder), Clement MacDonald (Paul Copley), and Denise Riley (Deborah Findlay).

ianto-deathThe events towards the end of Day Four are perhaps some of the saddest within the Whoniverse. I am of course talking about Ianto’s death. This came as a real surprise, given that the cast had already been reduced, I doubt anyone was expecting another character to be killed off. Ianto was always a likeable character and his relationship with Jack proved to be one of the highlights within  Torchwood. So it is understandable that the fans were heartbroken at his death, this lead to a lot of emotional backlash and the formation of the ‘Bring Back Ianto Jones Campaign’. The timing of Ianto’s death was unusual, in that the death of a main character occurred in the middle of a story. This worked well however as it prevented the moment from being overshadowed by the dramatic conclusion to the series.

Day Five opened with a chilling monologue delivered by Gwen. This gives the viewer cause to think about the Doctor’s motives and if humanity really deserves his help. This foreshadows the events of the episode as those in power make shameful decisions which offer a poor reflection of humanity. In the dénouement to the series however, it is Jack who makes the most human decision of them all. A decision based on common sense; the life of one, to save the lives of the majority. It was a commendable choice, but also one which bore an immense personal cost for Jack. In the instant of saving the children of Earth, Jack ensured the relationship with his daughter was destroyed beyond repair. To save the world at such a cost is the hallmark of a true hero, and with Jack he also shows the qualities of a good man. His internal conflict and guilt over his actions show who he truly is.

Conclusion

Children of Earth was Torchwood at its best. Taking the characters and furthering their development, whilst introducing new memorable characters. The story was simple, yet dark gritty and typical of a tone we have come to associate with Torchwood. If we are lucky enough to ever have another series of the show, I would hope for something like this. I feel the format was just right, not too long, but a bigger story which was heavily invested in by its viewers. A true masterpiece!

Step back in time...

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77 comments
OncomingAvenger in a Browncoat with a stake
OncomingAvenger in a Browncoat with a stake

Totally loved this. Awesome awesome awesome. So sad. Capaldi was amazing, I cried at Ianto's death, and the ending. Brilliant premise, using children for drugs, did not see that coming! I love Eve Myles, she's my favourite. 

Earthborn
Earthborn

As a younger viewer of Torchwood I only watched COE last year, I was already quite scared of watching it as I was completely freaked out by the trailer. When the 456 motive was introduced I must have been frozen in a fixed state of shock.


On another note I don't see why people are so against MD. It was out of the normal theme of Torchwood but I still found it enjoyable. It was trying to play on the corruption of government thing again. The only thing that spoil it was the ending. With that move it basically buried its own grave for fan who already were displeased by the series.

thedragonego
thedragonego

I hated it! It sucked so much just because of Tosh and Owen not being there, but Ianto's death?! Seriously, when Ianto died so did Torchwood. I'm not sure i even want to watch another season without him (miracle day was just... too terrible for words). And this is coming from someone who loves Torchwood.

alyzu
alyzu

After watching COE when it first aired, I was completely blown away and pretty sure I never wanted to see it again, lol!  I was shattered,  particularly by Peter Capaldi's performance.  But it was re-aired on BBC America last summer, in order to familiarize American audiences with Mr. Capaldi, and I watched it.  And was again blown away by it.  IMHO, PC's performance as John Frobisher is like a master class in acting.  :)

TheOncomingFish
TheOncomingFish

Children of Earth is great. If only the rest of Torchwood was that good. 

gwylock1
gwylock1

I have to be honest, of anything RTD did that was Doctor Who-related, I think Children of Earth niled it best. It may have its flaws, but the overall effect is memorable and works well.

DawnTime
DawnTime

Yes a true masterpiece and a very chilling watch. Shame it went downhill after this one.

YaelMoise waits for the trees to take over
YaelMoise waits for the trees to take over

Children of Earth was actually how I started watching Torchwood. I watched the first episode of the first series when it came out, and I wasn't all that impressed. It wasn't my kind of thing. So I let it go for a year or two, and then this came along. And it was genius. And it was wonderful and horrible. And it rocked me to my core. So I went back and I watched the rest of it.


It still didn't compare, to be honest. I actually never watched the end of Miracle Day. As far as I'm concerned, it's THAT BAD.


But this was genius. It was wonderful and horrible. And it rocked me to my core.


I wish they made 'em like this more often.

VERITASERUMUK
VERITASERUMUK

I have a bad feeling that Miracle Day was the death of Torchwood. It is a shame because Children of Earth is a masterpiece but it set the bar for which every future series had to match. MD just didn't live up to COE. I would like to see Series 5 return Torchwood to its roots and maybe finish of the cliffhangers from MD. Get a whole new team working alongside Jack and Gwen.

Jamesss
Jamesss

I wouldn't say Children of Earth was just Torchwood at its best. It was one of the best sci-fi stories in the entire genre. I know that may sound like hyperbole, but that is genuinely how I feel about it.


Superb performances, gut-wrenching horror, fabulous broadcasting decision (once per weekday in a single week was amazing), and it climaxed with an alternate look at The Doctor and who he is and what he stands for.


Not to mention the superb Peter Capaldi.

tarotx
tarotx

I just recently started watching Doctor who and Torchwood. I just finished Season 4 of Doctor Who and this week I watched Torchwood Children of earth. I loved it.  I think Torchwood worked best in this Mini series format. Having the show be one plot just gave the work and lives of these characters the kind of pressure and drama that Everyday would be for such an agency. These characters don't grow much because their lives are always in hyper drive and having the plot drawn out over 5 episodes really left room for real moments between the small cast and guest cast. Even though the guest cast were brand new and I didn't know Jack had a daughter. I felt the emotion at the major decisions for everyone. And in some way I think Children of Earth would have been a good book end to Jack's first Doctor Who episodes. A message coming from a child. Somewhat his responsibility. But I love Jack so I'm glad for the potential for more episodes and I still have Miracle Day to watch.




Polyphase
Polyphase

I never understood why everyone was so afraid of the 456, Why they didn't just kill it

Pat108
Pat108

Love this Article! I watched Torchwood after Smiths Finale. This was by far my favorite part of the series. Capaldis finale scene made my jaw drop. Great show!

DaftDalek is Kavinsky, the Great 80's Annihilator
DaftDalek is Kavinsky, the Great 80's Annihilator

Ah I remember when I was first watching this. Here in Greece, it was broadcast at 1 AM during my exams. The exam programme was loose then and I was praying so as not have an exam the next day. What a magnificent series of episode it was. It blew my mind and I was surprised by that because until then my opinion on Torchwood was meh. But that wa  sgenuinely fantastic.

Nightmarish
Nightmarish

Wow, this article really sums up what Children of Earth is. It was genuinely scary, something that doesn't really happen much in the Whoniverse, because it was so realistic. I still find it hard to rewatch, especially Day 4.

Ivegotkidneys spoiler everybody dies
Ivegotkidneys spoiler everybody dies

Stories like this kind of make me wish wish sometimes that Doctor Who is a series of 5/6 episodes with this quality and the christmas special 

Ood Michael
Ood Michael

although this was by far the best Torchwood series, it was still pretty bad. It started pretty strongly, but fell off at the last couple of episodes. The conclusion was some lame RTD techno-babble nonsense, it was full of plotholes and redshirts only there to be killed off for shock value (jacks grandson), iantos death was pointless and didn't advance to plot atall, and needlessly annoyed the fandom. I wasn't particularly fond of ianto but he was BY FAR the best and most realistic character on the team; jack is pretty bland and JB's hammy acting isn't helping either; as for Gwen - MARY SUE or what? I rolled my eyes so much at her mary sue-ness, they almost got stuck at one point. Capaldi was the best thing about COE, he completely outclassed the whole torchwood cast, no sweat.

Pockydon
Pockydon

In my opinion, Children of Earth is one of the best pieces of Adult Sci-Fi to ever grace television. It is a true masterpiece, and is a shining example of what Torchwood can (and should) do.

Aztecs, Daleks and Cavemen
Aztecs, Daleks and Cavemen

It was very stripped back. The main character list was reduced to three, yet it worked. Children of Earth was compelling drama and despite being a spin-off it really found its feet as individual and separate.

MrGuymanwatch
MrGuymanwatch

Children of Earth is by and large my favourite Whoniverse story, and one of the most magnificent pieces of television I have ever seen. I have always enjoyed every series of Torchwood, but it is Series 3 that elevates the show beyond just "good sci-fi" into the realm of true masterpiece. Every member of the cast was on top form, with John Barrowman giving by far his most layered performance as Jack and Peter Capaldi turns in one of the most stunning performances I've ever seen from an actor, and I do not say that lightly (RTD himself called it the greatest performance in anything ever). Ben Foster also really stepped up his game, and gives the score the perfect amount of action, suspense and sheer emotional gravitas that the story needed. It's once in a blue moon that every aspect of a production aligns and clicks together perfectly, but when it does happen, you get something like Children of Earth.


Looking back now, it only makes me more saddened that Torchwood has been abandoned so coldly and without conclusion. I liked Miracle Day, despite the flaws, but one need only look at Children of Earth to see just why Torchwood warrants proper attention. Whether that be bringing the show back entirely or having it cross over with Doctor Who again, or both, we need more Torchwood on our screens, if only to give it the ending it deserves. Thanks a bunch for writing this!

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

I like to think of "Children of Earth" as "the good series". Absolutely stunning television, particularly given the mediocrity of the previous and following seasons.

Clara Laurinda
Clara Laurinda

Thank you Mark for another beautiful piece of writing! Your comments about the supporting performers are particularly perceptive and moving, especially regarding Capaldi's impeccable performance as Frobisher. Thanks Mark!

Special Weapons Dalek
Special Weapons Dalek

Brilliant Article! I was only nine years old when I first watched this... It terrified me more then any Horror film could ever :D      Will there be a Perspective Article on Miracle Day? I always thought it was underrated   :)




TheOncomingHurricane
TheOncomingHurricane

A terrific piece of storytelling. Russell T Davies, James Moran and John Fay outdid themselves. And well done Mark, really really good article. 

MrThorfan64
MrThorfan64

I agree it was good, but Miracle weeks too long was Seasonal Rot.

ulvmor
ulvmor

Can't read this yet. I have been watching Torchwood, I got easily thought season 1 and two, but Children of the Earth is different. I have been able to watch Day 1, 2 and 3, but it has took me two weeks. It it GOOD, but it tears me apart. I just can't... 

I KNOW what will happen, I have two more days to go (and they'll take more than two weeks, I just can't watch Jack loosing Ianto).


I know, I'm too much emotionally involved.

TimeLordLiam
TimeLordLiam

I never got to watch any series of Torchward because I was too young when it originally came out. I now feel like I want to watch it but not sure where to start. I am familiar of the concept of the show and the characters but don't know whether I should pick the story up from like series 2, or just start out from the top to get the whole picture. Can anyone recommend what I should do. 



Cheers :) 

VERITASERUMUK
VERITASERUMUK

I loved Torchwood: Children of Earth. I watch it every so often and still enjoy it. Miracle Day was, in my opinion, an average story that was dragged out for too long. I enjoyed it, but it should have been over 5 nights like COE. I've said it once and I'll say it again - episodes 2-4 were pointless. The story told in them could easily have been 1 episode. The remaining episodes had bits of filler as well - take that out and they could easily have told MD in 5 nights.

TimeLord22
TimeLord22

Great article, I love Children Of Earth. On a sadder note, R.I.P. Kate O'Mara (The Rani)





Mattdream
Mattdream

CoE was so brilliant and horrifying I still refuse to watch the last two episodes. 

C19M
C19M

Can never get over Ianto going, he was my favourite, just like Children of Earth was my fav series, less said about Miracle Day the better!!  R.I.P Kate O'Mara (The Rani)  :(

Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

The uk is not very good at electing PMs in the Whoniverse, Harriet jones to Harold Saxon to this guy

Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

I enjoyed this season very much but where the hell was the doctor also during miricle day?

Regenerated Catterson
Regenerated Catterson

I loved Children of Earth. I was fascinated into that series and I have to say, I say it’s one of my favourite arcs related to Doctor Who. Yeah I know, call me silly but I was always gripped into the Children of Earth storyline. That being said, I have a soft spot for Torchwood, I just find it great. And I’ll even say Miracle Day was great for me.

By the way, I know this is off-topic, but I have sadness to inform everyone that Kate O’Mara has sadly died :( R.I.P The Rani


DavidChippa
DavidChippa

Since the BBC are pulling money from BBC THREE, and we have characters left from Children like Lois, a new series of Torchwood is totally plausible! Add Rhys, plus a new love interest for Jack and some good writers and we're off!

Mithrilneth
Mithrilneth

@MrThorfan64  I was very disappointing with Season 4. After Children of Earth it seemed like it could of had so much potential...

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

@TimeLordLiam  Start from Everything Changes. Quite a few important concepts and things from character's histories appear throughout Series One, plus there's quite a few great episodes (Ghost Machine, Small Worlds, Countrycide, Greeks Bearing Gifts, They Keep Killing (using its original spoiler-free title there), Out of Time, and the fantastic two-part finale).

Ivegotkidneys spoiler everybody dies
Ivegotkidneys spoiler everybody dies

@TimeLordLiam  I'd started watching when I was 10 countrycide scared the s*** out of me series 1 is good but at times its a bit immature, series 2 is an improvement and series 4 is good but the science is wrong at times and there's a few plot holes and inconsistancies with Doctor whos canon  

Baker Street is In the Forest of... Earth!
Baker Street is In the Forest of... Earth!

@TimeLordLiam  I'd definitely start from Series 1. While Series 1 isn't brilliant (although episodes like "Cyberwoman", "Small Worlds", "Countrycide" and "End of Days" are brilliant), it's much easier to follow. And it only gets better - Series 2 is my joint favourite (episodes 6, 7, and 8 are perfection, and the series stays at that high standard from then on) with one of the best finales to anything ever, and then Children of Earth is… well, I'll just end up repeating this article. But it's stunning. Miracle Day is a bit of a disappointment, however. It's still worth a watch and has some pretty decent stories in it (and some really great twists), but it's not as high a quality or as gripping as the previous two series. Nevertheless, it's still better than most things on TV nowadays!

I hope you enjoy it!

MrGuymanwatch
MrGuymanwatch

@TimeLordLiam  I'd strongly recommend starting from the start, at Series 1. Yes, the writing is inconsistent and not that great at times, but there are a few gems in there, and ultimately it's worth getting to know the characters and see how they develop over the next few series. Series 2 is a significant improvement in writing over the first, it's clear sailing from there.

KingOfTheInterWebs is a Tree
KingOfTheInterWebs is a Tree

@VERITASERUMUK I never noticed that but you're right. I did find myself getting fed up with miracle day by the end of it. As a 10 episode series it was way too long, it felt extremely boring at times and it started out good but then lost its pace which it only got back roughly 6/10ths of the way though in my opinion. If anyone who hasn't watched it wants to, bare in mind it has its fair share of duds and while this isn't too bad in a series that's relatively stand alone or relatively stand alone but with an overarching plot hidden through-out the series but in something with a continuing plot over 10 episodes, it can tend to be crippled by it a tad.

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

@VERITASERUMUK  Every episode of Miracle Day could have been stuck together to form five hour-long episodes. The problem Miracle Day suffered from was that it didn't have an actual plot, just a tagline from which the episodes were constructed. Take Dead of Night, for instance: only the beginning and the end of the episodes have anything to do with the rest of the series.

MrThorfan64
MrThorfan64

@VERITASERUMUK I agree. Miracle Day was a good idea, but it was too long, large parts of episodes felt like padding. The term TV Tropes uses is Seasonal Rot.

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

@DavidChippa  The reason we haven't had a new series isn't financial (Starz's CEO has said he'd loved for the show to return) but because RTD has been busy what with his new shows on Channel 4, Wizards vs Aliens and personal matters.