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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Children of Earth: Day One”

Warning: spoilers ahead. Assumes you’ve seen all five episodes of Children of Earth

(Before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood.)

(previous: Season 2, Episode 13: “Exit Wounds”)
So, this is only my second go-through of Children of Earth. I watched the whole five-hour shebang in one sitting just as it finished in July (I wrote about that here), and I haven’t watched it again since. Part of the reason for that is a lack of time… but part of the reason is the dread that gripped me when I thought about sitting through this again. That first viewing was just too devastating.

But it was time to get the episode-by-episode blogging out of the way, so I finally just watched “Day One” again. And I found myself focusing, early in the episode, on some of the little things, the nice touches. Like how Gwen is in such a good mood as the episode opens, joking with the guy outside the Hub entrance about sea monsters in the bay. Like how she says good morning to the photo of Tosh and Owen on her computer:

Like how Ianto and Jack are pretending to be “such good neighbors” of the dead old man, when they really just want to dig an alien hitchhiker out of his chest, which may not even be a bad hitchhiker, some people say they’re “positively beneficial…” And Ianto’s dealing with the strangeness of being a couple with Jack. He’s not squicked out when cute doctor Rupesh treats them like a pair — he’s just not used to it yet. (I love how Ianto explains it to his sister: “It’s not men, it’s just him — it’s only him.” Maybe that’s a way that any guy would justify falling in love with another guy for the first time when all along it was just a normal possibility that the guy had never acknowledged… but that seems like the perfect way to explain Jack: there is something very special about him.)

It’s all as normal as weird gets.

But then it gets as weird as weird gets. There seems to be extra creepiness in the very way Russell Davies structured this story: it’s all about children being used, children in a kind of danger that no one can even begin to imagine, it’s that awful… and this from a show that’s a spinoff of what was a children’s show from the beginning. There’s something almost perverse about that, and I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way. It’s just… it’s like an extra little notice that this is not your father’s Doctor Who. This is something that is going where Doctor Who would never, ever have gone.

It’s funny, though, too — funny ha-ha and funny ironic — how hardly anyone even seems to notice that first instance of the kids being taken over. Ianto’s niece and nephew staring at the TV… have they been taken over by aliens, or are they just enraptured by a cartoon? The Home Office guy Frobisher and his wife: they don’t appear to see that their daughters are just staring off into space. It’s like people barely notice their kids at all, well, except when they’re causing trouble, like freezing in the street when mommy’s got to get to work. You almost want to berate the parents for not noticing the kids, except, of course, why would anyone notice?

It just sort of underlines in advance how much notice people will be taking of their children in later episodes.

Ooo, and I do remember, watching this first episode a second time, how it doesn’t register at first — and again, why would it? — that the little blond boy is anyone special at all. But Jack… he has a grandson, Steven. And a daughter, Alice. (Who was Alice’s mother?!) And now that you think on it, it’s probably obvious enough that Jack has had lots of other children and grandchildren: It’s easy to imagine that he might not have taken special care not to have had children when he first arrived on Earth as an immortal in the 19th century, and so he would have had children, and would have discovered all the heartbreak that comes with outliving your own progeny. But he’s still having children. Alice can’t be more than 40 or so, which means Jack was still fathering children a century after he arrived on Earth and knew full well that he was going to outlive everyone. Is this a special instance of hope triumphing over experience? Have any of these familial relationships gone well for Jack?

Sneaky bastard, Russell Davies, dropping in a little something that blows wide open Jack’s character, and yet doesn’t give us any of the answers to the questions it raises…

Oh, the foreshadowing! Alice knows Jack’s a “bastard” who would experiment on her son. But she doesn’t know how far he’ll go…

But then other things aren’t harbingers of anything. Like Lois. She’s super nosy and super curious, and yet is so sweet and harmless than Bridget, Frobisher’s executive assistant or megasecretary or whatever she is, trusts Lois enough to give her a secret password. She instantly asking prying questions — “What’s his uniform, that’s not British army, is it?” — that I was sure she had to be a reporter, a Sarah Jane Smith for the 21st century, or a spy, or something. But she turns out in later episodes to just be a nice office worker with no hidden agenda. At least not for starters.

(On the other hand, even the second time around, I was convinced that Rupesh would turn out to be a good guy, the new Owen coming aboard to deal with Torchwood’s medical issues. *sigh*)

And the Torchwood SUV gets stolen from outside Ianto’s sister’s house… and it never shows up again, not for the rest of the story. I was sure it’d have to reappear just at the moment when all hope seems lost — like, maybe some vital piece of equipment was in the back of the SUV and escaped being blown up. But no. It’s stolen, and it’s gone, and that’s that.

Other portents that turn out to be not at all the sources of suspense we expected them to be:

• Gwen is pregnant… and is still pregnant (and not tragically no-longer-pregnant) by the time all is said and done.

• “I can survive anything,” Jack says, and how can you not wonder that he could possibly include in that “getting blown apart”? But he does.

• Government weasels like Frobisher know — or think they know — what’s going on with the children, and they’re more concerned with covering their asses than anything. And it turns out they’ve got good reason to be.

• “We are coming… back.” Yup, they’re not kidding.

Random thoughts on “Children of Earth: Day One”:

• Hmmmm. Why does this:

make me think of this:

Hmmmm… (If you play this episode backwards, you can clearly hear, “Paul is Jack, Paul is Jack…”)

• Jack found a gray hair! So perhaps he’s aging after all, only very, very slowly…

• I love listening to Gwen talking about the obscene largeness of her paycheck. That’s a switch from the typical: “the pay sucks but you love the work” thing.

• Does Gwen have a sonic screwdriver?

Neat.

• Hello, security goes totally out the window when you start handing out secret passwords like candy:

Sheesh.

• There are so many untold UNIT stories out there. There must be, for Frobisher to plead to Colonel Oduya, “Just for once, tell me it’s easy.” To have created such a pissing contest as the one Oduya suggests exists between UNIT and Torchwood. For there to be an active “UNIT based in Washington,” as Jack mentions. I want to hear some of these stories.

(next: Episode 2: “Children of Earth: Day Two”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • The spoilers below are really old (like 2 years) but I might as well say it: *Spoilers*

    Jack found a gray hair! So perhaps he’s aging after all, only very, very slowly…

    Yes… if he’s not careful he won’t live to become a giant head in giant glass jar.

    This is really the one thing that almost ruins the show for me; they’ve got this guy who can’t die, and he gets killed in every episode (that’s getting really old). And yet of course we have already SEEN him die, far far into his future. As much as I just hated what they did to Jack in Children of Earth, at least they gave him something to do that didn’t involve getting killed and coming back to life… it’s tough to inject new blood into the “who wants to live forever” archetype, and this was a hell of a way to do it… but it adds a fascinating dimension to the character and I am genuinely excited to see where they go next year.

  • Chuck

    Loved the COE series. Interesting to explore just how dead Jack can get and still come back. Blowing him up was a masterstroke especially in combination with Ianto asking if he felt it. Wasn’t it SCTV that had a pair of country boys blowing up celebrities each week, “He blowed-up reeeaal gud”.

    I also liked Clem’s ticks, completely unnecessary to tell the story but was a nice touch that made it more creepy.

    The SUV has had a death mark on it for sometime. James Moran wanted to kill it in “Sleeper” but it never came about.

    The naked fat guy was completely unnecessary and I am still trying to banish that memory.

    Sealing Jack in concrete, again, always interesting to see just how bad things can get for someone who can’t die.

    Jack really did need to move on, since his primary motivation for hanging at Torchwood was to find the Doctor. Once that was done there was nothing else to do but chase aliens and diddle the help, which I guess wouldn’t be all that bad of a job, unless of course you are an ex-time agent and prefer a more varied lifestyle.

  • Kathryn

    So, no-one else is disturbed (in retrospect) that Jack is apparently willing to leave his (presumably many) children and grandchildren behind on earth, both at the end of CoE and TW season 1?

    He tells the Doctor that he’s decided to go back to Torchwood for his team – what about his kids and grandkids? He doesn’t seem very interested in them!

    I know this is most likely because Alice and Steven weren’t invented yet when DW season 3 were being written, and that no-one had thought about him having kids, but it does make Jack seem a proper bastard. And now that we’re aware that he probably does have descendants all over the place, it does seem weird in retrospect that he’s never spared a thought for them before.

  • Gee

    Newbs – Jack isn’t necessarily the Face of Boe. He could just have been messing with the Doctor or it could be a nickname based on knowledge of the real Face of Boe.

    I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, but there is something else regarding Stephen. Before he changed it, Russell T Davies’ birth name was Stephen. What does that say?

  • Bravo, MaryAnne for braving the CoE a second time. I bought the blu-ray and watched the specials but have not attempted a second viewing (this time in HD!) because I am not sure I could bear it.

    The first time was a glorious orgy where I found myself saying amidst tears, “just one more” and when it was all over – 5 episodes later – having a manly cry and thinking “Well, thank God it is over now”

    Something in the back of my head says that any attempt to do Torchwood Series 4 by RTD would break my heart beyond repair, but the addict in me wants more.

    I am glad to hear there are joyful notes to be found, Lord knows a story that dramatic needs them.

  • Lisa

    the thing about the computer password does not surprise me – in an age where government computer disks containing the personal details of millions are routinely left on trains!

    Also I remember being on top of the Arc de Triomphe this one time and the two guys standing beside me worked for 2 different hightech firms (i’m assuming they had just met there that night). They were complaining about their log-in password systems. Thye had to change their passwords every six weeks – they weren’t allow to repeat passwords and it was getting so complicated that both of them had their logins and passwords stuck on their computer screens on a post-it note. One of them said if anyone broke in they would have no trouble logging in to the computer. So the surprise for me was that Lois had to be given the info!

  • MaryAnn

    it does make Jack seem a proper bastard

    Is that such a bad thing? I mean, yeah, it sucks for Jack’s family, but it sure does make him a far more interesting character!

  • i have to say, as i told maryann when we first watched CoE, that i always assumed that jack *couldn’t* have children! i don’t know why… in thinking it over for the last few weeks, i know it was a strange assumption. as to his leaving Earth and being a proper bastard — why are we assuming that jack has *abandoned* his family (families)? it is quite clear that his estrangement with his current living child was her wish, not his. i can well imagine that this happens to him time and time again… the ones he loves cannot deal with what and who he is — or maybe even what he does. and we know so little of his past relationships that, for all we know, many of his wives, lovers, children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren could well be dead and buried through old age, accidents, illness.. murder and mayhem. his final act with steven certainly severs all family ties with that family forever — and his Torchwood family are gone as well.

    sure leaves lots of room for fan fic.

  • Kathryn

    I know it makes him a more interesting character, but it also makes him a radically different character from what he was before. I guess I’m grousing because we didn’t get to see the evolution, and so it seems a leap. If we’d had more hints in S1 that Jack had kids that he was estranged from – and that was part of why he was so bitter and depressed – then it would have made perfect sense.

    Lol. How dare RTD not be omnipotent and anticipate in S1 what he was going to write in S3!

    But seriously, though, I do think the Torchwood team needed more of their backstory fleshed out before the show started, so that they could draw on it consistently – it has felt like they filled in the gaps retrospectively.

  • Rupesh was a doll. I was cheering for him to come on board as the next Owen and was crushed when it became terminally obvious it wasn’t happening.

    Maybe he has a twin…

  • Jim Mann

    Newbs – Jack isn’t necessarily the Face of Boe. He could just have been messing with the Doctor or it could be a nickname based on knowledge of the real Face of Boe.

    Though one other point in favor of Jack being the Face of Boe is that, during the whole scene at the end of season 3, as Jack talks to the Doctor and Martha — and before he mentions his nickname — the background music is the Face of Boe theme. (When my daughter first watched this episode, she noticed this before I did and asked “why are they playing that music now?”)

    Jim

  • Jim Mann (Thu Sep 10 09, 9:02AM):

    Though one other point in favor of Jack being the Face of Boe is that, during the whole scene at the end of season 3, as Jack talks to the Doctor and Martha — and before he mentions his nickname — the background music is the Face of Boe theme. (When my daughter first watched this episode, she noticed this before I did and asked “why are they playing that music now?”)

    Of course. The Face of Boe revelation is ridiculous if it isn’t true; there’s no reason for Jack to “mess with” the Doctor in this way. And using this sort of a revelation to just tease the audience is a little too cruel, even for Russell T. Davies (despite his public waffling on whether it’s actually true or not). Besides, it’s just a fucking fantastic idea… the writers would have to be complete idiots to cast it aside.

    Used to be a posterboy, when I was a kid living in the Boeshane Penninsula — tiny little place. I was the first one ever to be signed up for the Time Agency; they were so proud of me. “The Face of Boe” they called me. Hm. I’ll see you.

    – Jack Harkness, “Last of the Time Lords”

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