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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

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

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 3: “Children of Earth: Day Three”)
I didn’t mean for there to be this much time in between blogging about episodes of Children of Earth: my original plan for to run through them over the course of a single Monday-through-Friday week, which was overly ambitious, of course. (I’m always overly ambitious.) And then I did actually take the DVD with Episodes Four and Five with my on my recent trip to England, thinking I’d get the chance to rewatch them and blog about them while I was away. That didn’t happen either.

So, apologies. Here’re my thoughts on Episode Four…

Oh my. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt a greater sense of abject hopelessness than I do at the end of this episode. Gwen’s “There’s nothing we can do” — the line that closes it out — is so apt. We can’t fight the 456, we tried and failed, and now we have no choice but to surrender. Clem is dead, after a final few hours of life that were filled with terror. Ianto is dead, after coming to a conclusion that is hard to deny, that “in a thousand years’ time,” Jack won’t remember him.

How much worse can it get? I remember thinking the first time I watched this, and even now — now that I know how very much worse it can get — I still feel a wretched dispiritedness. Man, this is so not something I should have watched on a day when I was already feeling miserable and depressed.

And where the fucking hell is the Doctor? That’s an intriguing addendum to, well, the entirely of the revived Doctor Who franchise that Russell Davies has given us: he’d already taken the Doctor to a place where he’s nowhere near as powerful and invincible as he used to seem. (It was the rare story in the past that saw that Doctor losing in the end, or questioning his actions, or not having things go almost exactly his way, or leaving him with no doubts or regrets.) I don’t want to say that Davies reduced the Doctor to something less than he was, because of course the Doctor is far richer and more complex a character than he ever was. But with Torchwood, in giving us another show set on Earth but not focusing on the Doctor, Davies creates an even more potent image of the Doctor as fallible and imperfect and someone not to be relied upon. I mean, the new Doctor Who was already doing that — as with the whole Harriet Jones story, in which she is forced to do things to defend the Earth in the Doctor’s absence, which has dramatic reprecussions — but here… here’s a show that is absolutely not about the Doctor, and yet, never more so than in CoE, the Doctor is so conspicuous by his absence. This is exactly the kind of thing he should be around to fix, and he’s nowhere in sight.

And what happens when we’re left on our own? The end of the world gets decided in a conference room:

Okay, maybe not the actual end of the world, but the end of something huge: humanity’s innocence, perhaps. Humanity’s isolation, perhaps. Here they are, these bureacrats, discussing “camouflagable contributions” of “units,” and how to spin giving away a significant portion of the planet’s population would be good for the environment, and exempting their own families, and opting for “the lowest achieving 10 percent” of children… Is it the most horrifying meeting ever? It’s certainly totally chilling, how they think they can hide perfidity in euphemism. But is it worse than, say, what Hitler did? The fate of the planet is at stake. But how can we say that it’s not worse?

This is Davies’ perfidy (of the best kind), that he doesn’t make it easy for us to think about this in black-and-white terms. (The 456’s suggestion that humans don’t care about the infant mortality rate that kills tens of thousands of babies every day stings: why do we care less about the indirect results of our actions, or inactions, than the direct ones? Do the indirect ones make it easier for us to lie to ourselves? There are no answers to this, of course.) Sure, these people around this conference table are covering their asses and protecting their own, but they’re also, probably, doing what they think needs to be done to protect what matters. (Though the same could be said for Hitler, too…) I was thinking, at first, that what Jack did in 1965, giving away 12 children in exchange for the cure to a flu virus that could have potentially killed tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, was more justifiable, and harder to judge as wrong compared to what’s being decided at that conference table, but the more I think about it, the less certain I am. I thought, at first, that there was nothing selfish in what Jack did and too much selfish in what these political operators were doing, but maybe I’m wrong: maybe everyone is selfish, or no one is.

I just don’t know. And this is one of the things that haunts me about Children of Earth: that there could be a situation in which there was no right thing to do.

And this is the other big thing that haunts me about this episode:

“Come in,” the 456 invites… and ugh, the dread. What is that poor soldier (or whatever he is) in the suit, in the mist, going to find…?

Oh, no… And yet we still don’t have an answer to Jack’s question: “What does it do with them? What does it want them for?” Man, the suspense is almost intolerable.

• Great quote:

“It was a protection racket.” –Gwen on the 456s’ demands. Makes me think of that Monty Python sketch: You’ve, er, got a nice planet here, humankind. Be a pity of anyfink were to ’appen to it…

(next: Episode 5: “Children of Earth: Day Five”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • NorthernStar

    I haven’t been able to rewatch this. I’m too scared to.

    I can’t remember the last time, if ever, when a tv programme has actually made me afraid for my family and our safety. Because it’s all so plausable. There’s no comfort zone of “oh it wouldn’t happen like that…” The choices made here are all so very understandable, even though they’re choices that make you sick.

    Excellent drama. Some of RTD’s best work. But utterly bleak.

  • Caro

    I am still heartbroken.

    This story is off to me. It seems like RTD wrote a creative mini series in his mind, couldn’t get a budget and then just used the Torchwood characters to play it out. After years of practice and attempts to “be ready” for invasion, the Torchwood team basically falls on their asses and never gets back up.

    Disapointing after such a long wait and high expectations.

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