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July 26, 2009
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July 28, 2009

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.

Jack’s Past

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.

Unfortunately for Ianto, the alien calls Jack’s bluff and kills everyone in the building including Ianto.

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.

This is how Torchwood: CoE ends.

Final Opinion

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.

  • But Jack killing his grandchild?
  • Ianto’s very pointless death?
  • Jack running away?

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?


  1. RKCharron says:

    Hi Heather.
    Another great blog.
    I loved the "bitch in black". What a great character – and yes, I never got a name for her either.
    I agree with the plot holes but overall I really enjoyed the it. The acting was great. The characters had depth and arc. I also enjoyed the darkness of it. But there will be no more Torchwood. Even if they do another season, why bother? Everyone is dead but Gwen & Capt. Jack is gone. (side note the actress who plays Gwen has another series she is doing now so I don't think SHE'd be back either).
    Love from Northern Ontario
    PS – I think I'd watch a spin-off series The Bitch In Black 🙂

  2. Heather Long says:

    I have to confess,I loved the "bitch in black" as well and I never heard her name — even when Alice asked for it. Assuming she was not supposed to have one.

    Part of my passion for this show is that I care so damn much for the characters. Ah well — maybe Jack will show up in the last couple of Doctor's with David Tennant — that might help heal this rift I feel.

  3. Rowan Larke says:

    I think the "bitch in black" IS the new Torchwood.

    I…didn't have as much issue with Jack's behaviour as other people did. Frankly, Jack…always seemed to be the tortured martyr type. I always thought of him as a bit of a coward for not seizing his relationship with Ianto. (ala Princess Bride – you had true love in your hands, and you threw it away like it was garbage.)

    Which means I thought it was completely keeping with his character to sacrifice his own grandson (& the love of his daughter) in order to save the world. Because, seriously, who else should suffer /but/ him? Should he have asked someone /else/ to make that sacrifice?

    I do agree 100% that Lois and Frobisher both took over CoE. Frobisher with his twisted sense of honor, and Lois with her wide-eyed bravery. I hope she's in future Torchwood, because she was just phenomenal to watch.

  4. RFLong says:

    I was horribly disappointed with CoE Day 5. I could see it was tremendous drama. It was chilling and harrowing and moving, but at the same time it completely destroyed a character I'd come to love. Contrary to what other people have said I didn't think it was true to his character to sacrifice his grandson.

    Terribly, terribly disappointed. And frankly, I'm not entirely sure I'll be watching in future regardless of the new characters they introduced.

  5. Tina says:

    I have season 5 taped and I've heard what happens, just need to actually watch it. But I'm reluctant because I know I'll be pissed when I'm done. Sigh… I love Captain Jack and I love Torchwood.

    I do hope they somehow continue the series though…

  6. After night 5 of CoE, I sat in front of the telly in a daze, thinking "WTF was that?"

    I wanted to punch RTD in the nose.

    How could he destroy Jack like that?

    Granted, Jack has always had a much worse bark than his bite, unlike the Doctor, but I really don't think he would have caved like that. He does have a cowardly streak, but not so much that he'd fall to pieces afer Ianto, Tosh, and Owen. If that was true, he'd never had been married or fathered a child at all.

    There are supposed to be other Torchwoods out there, particularly one in Scotland, so I think that's where the series is heading. New location – new team – new everything.

    Anyway, didn't they prett much establish at the end of series 3 of Doctor Who that Jack ends up becoming the Face of Boe? He has to get to that place somehow, I guess.

  7. Cora says:

    I loved Torchwood season 1 and was enormously disappointed by season 2 for killing off Owen, who was my favourite character, and Tosh and for marrying off Gwen to Rhys, a useless character that should never have been kept on beyond season 1.

    However, season 3 was worse than my worst imaginations. Ianto didn't deserve to die, even though all that outcry about his death makes me feel somewhat vindicated, because that is exactly how I felt about Owen last year and no one seemed to mourn him, not even his supposed friends. But it makes me angry that a worthless windbag like Rhys is still alive (and actually came back from the dead – so much for "dead is dead" RTD), while Owen, Ianto and Tosh are dead.

    As for Jack, season 3 destroyed any credibility he ever had as a heroic figure. Heroes don't kill children period. And does Barrowman honestly think he'll ever be able to appear as Jack in Doctor Who again. A childkiller in a family show, yeah, that will happen. As for the supposedly so noble Frobisher character, the bloke kills his wife and children for heaven' sake. And on top of all that, Gwen doesn't get the abortion she wants, because apparently abortion is still taboo, while killing actual living children is okay.

    I don't know what's wrong with RTD, but he's betrayed my viewer's trust so badly that I'll never watch anything he is involved with again. And I used to love his work long before Doctor Who.

    Either RTD was wanted to capture the young male SF audience, which generally disliked Torchwood because it contained emotions and – gasp – sex, so he turned it into something like the new Battlestar Galactica. Or maybe he hates the characters and wants to punish them by the worst fates imaginable, hence Owen, Ianto and Tosh are killed needlessly and painfully (and Owen's character is pretty much assassinated beforehand), Gwen is tied to a loveless marriage and Jack is turned into a monster.

    I honestly wonder how something so disgusting ever came to be made much less broadcast. I suspect that the reason the BBC decided to broadcast it in July (after it was supposedly ready to broadcast sometime in spring) is because they wanted to bury it at the height of summer, where people would be too busy frolicking at the beach to watch. Unfortunately, they broadcast the damned show in a week where the weather in the UK happened to be cold and rainy.

    Maybe someday I'll be able to rewatch and enjoy season 1 and pretend season 2 and 3 never happened and that Jack, Owen, Gwen, Ianto and Tosh are still alive, happy, unmarried and never killed any children.

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