I warn you that the following is a bit of a rant and it contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen Torchwood: Children of Earth, I wouldn’t recommend reading any further.
BBC America aired the five episode mini-series “Torchwood: Children of Earth” last week. I tuned in night after night, eager to see Captain Jack Harkness, Ianto Jones and Gwen Cooper. At the end of the second season, we’d said goodbye to the other two members of Torchwood Three: Tosh and Owen. Unfortunately, despite all the previews and the excitement, Torchwood: CoE fanned the flames of dissatisfaction.
Let’s start with the simple premise. An alien race known only as the 456 use Earth’s children to let the governments of the world know they are coming. In an absolutely creepy set of scenes, all the children stop. Then start. Later they all speak simultaneously. Bit by bit, we learn that the children are speaking English all around the world, no matter where they are. The first message is “We are coming.” Then “We are coming tomorrow,” and finally “We are here.”
Elsewhere, a man named John Frobisher of the civil service is made aware of the 456’s signal and orders to construct a specialized chamber. The civil service lackeys inform the Prime Minister who decides that he’d rather pretend he doesn’t know what’s going on (you know, accountability and all that) and puts Frobisher in charge.
For reasons unknown (and seriously defying logic in a world grown very familiar with aliens), Frobisher issues a blank page on several key figures including Captain Jack Harkness. In the meanwhile, Gwen, Ianto and Jack are checking out a local doctor for possible recruitment even as they are investigating the odd behavior of the children.
We learn that Jack has a daughter named Alice. Her mother used to work for Torchwood in the 60s and 70s. She got her daughter placed in a witness protection type program so that she would be safe. The mother died a couple of years previously. Apparently both mother and daughter pushed away from Jack because he does not age. Alice has a son: Jack’s grandson. Jack’s grandson is reacting the way the other children are. Alice doesn’t want him to know that “Uncle Jack” is his grandfather. In fact, she’d rather Dad didn’t come around much. It’s too hard to feel and look older than Jack does.
We meet Ianto’s family. His sister, her husband and kids. They are all great. They tease Ianto about Jack. Ianto insists he’s not gay, but he is in love with Jack and it’s only Jack — not all men. They share a restrained reunion and apparently Ianto was abused by his dad. Meanwhile Gwen and Rhys are house shopping, but Gwen has to check on a man in a care hospital who is reacting like the children are and she finds out she’s pregnant.
Meanwhile, the 456 are still coming.
The Blank Page
Through a series of events, Jack is shot and ‘killed’ twice. A woman leading a special military unit orders a bomb to be placed inside him. When Jack recovers, he finds the dead doctor next to him and heads back to the Hub (Torchwood headquarters). Apparently Jack’s immortality is an open secret, but the government thinks it’s related to the Hub. So they figure blowing up Jack and the hub will do it.
Gwen and Ianto barely escape as Jack and the Hub are blown to smithereens. The crater left by the explosion is pretty spectacular. Gwen and Ianto go on the run because the blank page includes killing them.
Now, I’m not going to go into the rest of the details, a LOT happens. Jack’s ‘remains’ eventually regenerate and the bitch in the black suit encases him in concrete. Gwen and Ianto eventually rescue Jack and they are now on the run. Jack finally figures out why the government wants to kill him (because he knows the 456 were there before — in fact he was the one who turned 12 kids over to them as part of a government order).
Apparently the 456 were doing some type of protection racket. Negotiations continue, the 456 want 10% of the Earth’s children turned over. Apparently they snort the kids like drugs, incorporating their physiology for some bizarre reason (hormones most likely).
Lots of arguing and political maneuvering occurs, but the governments begin to cave. Jack and the Torchwood team along with Lois Abeeba (a secretary in the Civil Service Office) continue to try and resolve this. But the resolution involves Jack and Ianto walking into the MI-5 building where the indistinct green vomiting alien is encased in his special chamber and trying to pull a Doctor.
You see, when the Doctor walks in and says “Knock it off or I’ll destroy you.” You believe him, because he’s The Doctor — he’s been around for eons and he’s very good at destroying entire species. Jack just doesn’t have that kind of cred and he couldn’t back up his threat. If that had been the Doctor and his companion, the companion wouldn’t have died.
Now Ianto is dead and Jack goes to pieces. He just stops fighting. He ends up in prison until Alice advises the bitch in black (never did get her name) that if she really wants to protect the realm she needs Jack Harkness. The soldiers get Jack out and bring Jack to the special base. He figures out a signal that can be turned back on the aliens, but it needs a child to send it.
So Jack kills his own grandchild to save the world.
Flash Forward Six Months
Gwen and Rhys (loved Rhys through all of this, he was smashing) are heading out into the middle of no where. Gwen is really pregnant. Hey look, there’s Jack. He’s been wandering all over the world, running away, but Earth is apparently too small. He needs his watch band because there’s a cruiser in the solar system (no idea how the hell he knows this) and if he has his nifty watch, he can hitch a ride and start over elsewhere.
That’s right folks, Jack Harkness tells Gwen good bye and disappears.
If I’d been Gwen, I’d have punched him in the face.
Now, I can suspend disbelief to a point and there are some very powerful moments: Lois Abeeba (the secretary) is just fabulous. Her boss Ms. Spears is brilliant. John Frobisher (the civil service gremlin) is both horrible and sympathetic. He’s so completely screwed from the beginning but doesn’t seem to realize it. When the PM basically serves up Frobisher’s kids to the aliens, Frobisher chooses to kill them rather than let them suffer like that.
That’s wildly powerful and painful stuff.
I get the rock and the hard place analogy. I get the terrible idea of giving up the children. It hit several right notes, but Jack Harkness came off as a coward, a terrible, empty coward and not remotely a hero. Where can they go from here? What’s more, do I want to go there with them?
Will Gwen run Torchwood now with Rhys and Lois? Will Jack come back? Why didn’t Earth put up more of a fight? I mean the aliens were in a locked room created by the British. Empty the foul toxic air and flood it with Oxygen: boom they die. And considering the 456 could control the children, why were they negotiating?
Too many potholes in the plot and too many places where the ugliness outweighed the power of the story. I’m sorry Russel T. Davies: Torchwood CoE is a powerful piece of fail in a library of epic goodness.
I don’t need a happy ending, but this was a crap ending by any standard. What did you think of Torchwood CoE?