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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

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

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: Episode 2: “Children of Earth: Day Two”)
Oh man, I don’t know if I’ve watched a more excruciatingly suspenseful hour of television that this one (except maybe the two episodes of CoE to follow). Even on a second go-round, I kept finding myself hunched over in dread, though now, it was partly a matter of knowing exactly how awful it was all going to be. But I’ll never forget watching this the first time, and the sense of absolute, total anxiety over what was gonna appear in that tank in Thames House.

And then… the noises from the tank, the grumbling, rumbling, biological noises. And the voice! (Damn, if that’s just a synthesizer, then why couldn’t the Home Office geeks pick a nice voice instead of a mean, scary one?) And then the screaming and the vomiting or whatever the hell the 456, um, ambassador is doing:

Ugh. The 456 are really really alien and really really disgusting and I hate Russell Davies and I love him for being so demented. And that’s before we even get to why the 456 want the children, which is extra sick and twisted and so not like anything I was constructing in my head, because I was incapable of not trying to work out what the hell could be going on. I was thinking, maybe, I dunno, the 456 took those kids in 1965 so they could, you know, raise ’em up to be culturally 456ish but still human, too, so that they could serve as ambassadors to Earth, someday, and wouldn’t that work out so well since the kids would have a foot in both worlds and everyone would understand everyone else and it would be hugs and embassies all round, and we would send, like, the Moscow Ballet to planet 456, and the 456ers would send their national glurkball heroes, and everything would be so awesome.

Ha. Was I wrong. But that turned out to be a delicious feeling, too, not to be able to predict what was gonna happen.

(It did just occur to me that the 456 in the tank is less like an ambassador and more like that something out of a Cheech and Chong bit: “Open up, it’s Xjklop, I got the stuff.” “Xjklop’s not here, man.” Yes, I know I’m sick and twisted too.)

Frosbisher is really kinda of awesome in his own way, isn’t he? A weasel, but still awesome. That little addendum to his own introduction of himself:

My name is John Frobisher, permanent secretary to the Home Office of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland… Earth.

He gets it, at least. And maybe it’s because he gets it that he’s such a weasel:

“We would speak… with the world,” the 456 says, and you know that Frobisher is absolutely crapping his pants right about then, for fear that word of Earth’s previous encounter with the 456 is gonna get out. We don’t know much about that encounter yet, but we know it was so bad that Whitehall is collectively crapping their pants that word will get out.

(Also: Peter Capaldi is awesome. See him in In the Loop for the flip side of Frobisher.)

And Jack was involved. Our Jack. And not in a good way. Oh my god. Jack gave those kids to the aliens:

“In 1965, I gave them 12 children… as a gift…”

Jack Jack Jack! Are you bad? Are you evil? What the fuck? What other nightmarish secrets are in Jack’s past? Oh, the looks of shock and disappointment on the faces of the Torchwood gang — I think my face must have looked like that, the first time around, at that moment, too.

This idea that you can’t trust the people you’re, theoretically, supposed to be able to trust is at least as insidious a theme running through Children of Earth as the shocking alienness of the aliens is. The Prime Minister tells his nation, “I thank you for your trust, and for your faith,” but everything he’s doing is about keeping secrets and covering his ass, and it’s every man for himself here.

All the human foibles on display here… and treated with such casualness, too — as if Russell Davies is saying, “What else should we expect, really, from people?” I sort of cheered on Lois when she got to tag along to the meeting of the 456 by insinuating to Frobisher’s senior assistant that she’s been sleeping with Frobisher — which would be quick work, she only just arrived two days ago! And Bridget believes it, because “you’re not the first, you know.” Perfect… and yet: ugh. And the Downing Street conference room, the pissing contest that goes on there: the U.S. is upset that the U.K. has taken charge and has alien ambassador on its soil, and then they’re all agreeing to make Frobisher the cannon fodder and the fall guy. It’s like: crap, the whole world, the entire human race, could be at risk, and we’re all still willing to sell out our fellows. Jesus.

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

• Just wondering: If Rhys is pissed off that Jack knew about Gwen’s pregnancy before he did, how pissed is he gonna be when she wants to name the baby Jack?

• Leave it to the American TV news to blare on about “the children! the children! won’t someone think of the children!” *sigh* I mean, of course everyone’s worried about the children, but at this point, it’s probably the collective ass of planet Earth on the line, doncha think? Sheesh.

• The BBC News Web site that Gwen checks out is chock full of little Easter eggs:

Some of the headlines down the righthand side read: “Tube closures cause disruption,” “Flower Show still blooming,” “Film Premiere delayed,” “[illegible] School remains open,” and “Mobile Phone networks working as normal.” So the gardeners and the flower nerds aren’t letting the arrival of aliens ruin their big day, but celebs are scaredy cats… or else they don’t want to have to compete for headlines with aliens. Yeah, that’s probably it.

• “Don’t make a sound, just like those games your gran used to teach you,” Alice says to Steven when she’s trying to get him out of the house. So, Grandma Torchwood taught Steven how to be a secret spy, huh? “Gram always said there’d be trouble,” he says. Oh boy, holiday dinners must have been fun at the Carter house…

• UNIT is mentioned on TV:

So people know its name, at least.

• Ianto can read shorthand? I didn’t think anyone under 50 could read — or write! — shorthand anymore. (So I guess I should be surprised by Lois’s shorthand abilities, too.) But Ianto is Super Teaboy: he can do anything.

• I love that woman who runs out of the room with her hand over her mouth like she’s gonna vomit when the alien in the tank does that vomiting/tentacle-slamming thing:

I bet some of the men wanted to do that, too.

• Great quotes:

“I’m a fixed point in time and space — that’s what the Doctor says.” –Jack (and ah, the first mention of the Doctor!)

“What did it feel like, gettin’ blown up?” –Ianto to Jack (can you call that morbid curiosity?)

“Ianto, the world could be ending.” –Jack to Ianto, to his suggestion that they stop to take time to make love
“The world’s always ending.” –Ianto

“So one day you’ll see me die of old age, and just keep going.” –Ianto, to Jack (oh, Ianto, no, honey, there’s another possibility, isn’t there?)

“We want your children. We will take your children.” –the 456

(next: Episode 4: “Children of Earth: Day Four”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Les Carr

    I think you’ll find that the illegible headline is “Faith School remains open” – which I like to think is deliciously ironic jibe at faith-based education.

  • Er, I can read and write the Teeline shorthand used in this episode and I’m only 40. Anyone who does a vocational course with the UK’s National Council for the Training of Journalists has to pass a 100wpm test. I don’t know what the situation in the US is, but here it’s illegal to take a recording device into a council meeting or a law court.

    I can do 120wpm, btw. It’s so ingrained that when someone’s talking to me, or I’m watching TV or a film or listening to the radio, I automatically convert what I hear into shorthand symbols in my mind.

  • Oh, and in his nervousness Frobisher gets the name of his own country wrong. It’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  • ecostar

    Davies’ alien is one of the creepiest aliens ever put on screen. It was the very definition of horror. And I don’t mean the jump out and scare you horror, I mean the psychological terror of what it is, what it represents, what it wants and why.

    CoE is Russell T Davies finish work to date.

  • Caro

    I was just thinking yesterday… I wonder if MA will complete her reviews of COE and here it is!

    My favorite part was when Steven said the Gran always said there would be trouble. Of course Alice’ mom “left” Torchwood, but she still knows what’s out there. I love that she prepared Alice and Stephen to run.

    The Fabulous James Moran wrote this episode and I can’t thank him enough for making Alice so human. I loved watching her defend her life, her son with a knife, cutting board and her wits.

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