Finally watched Torchwood: Children of Earth. It wasn’t as good as everyone says. It was better.
I can’t be sure it was all down to RTD stepping in and taking charge again; clearly a lot of people brought their very best to bear on it, including Euros Lyn and all of the leading and supporting cast. It’s easy to single out Peter Capaldi here in a role so distinct from Malcolm Tucker and the 12th Doctor that I kept forgetting it was the same actor, proving how formidable the man is (and how wasted he was on that role in “Fires of Pompeii”). But then you have to give due to so many others: both of Frobisher’s assistants, Jack’s daughter, Ianto’s sister and brother-in-law, the Prime Minister, the American general and the UNIT colonel…apart from maybe a handful of somewhat cartoonish Torchwoody roles (Johnson, Dekker, and, sorry, Clem), there is a lot of weight this thing is slinging.
That’s even before you get to the script and the visuals, which are pretty perfectly conceived and executed. At one point it’s observed that the surrender of the children is a bit like a virgin sacrifice to the gods, and indeed that’s exactly what we’re shown. A power from the heavens turns the children into oracles, issues precise instructions (in cubits?) for a temple to be built, and then descends in a pillar of golden fire to manifest there and demand sacrifice. And the sacrifice is in the form of human flesh, to which it will grant eternal life and from which it will extract eternal tribute. When defied, it sends a plague as punishment. It would be so easy for some part of this to fall flat, but none of it does; the childrens’ fate is every bit as horrifying and ugly as you might fear, without also being predictable or trite or gauche. The monster is kept mostly out of sight in a cloud of poison gas, but we see as much as we need to see of it to feel both its reality and its inscrutability. It’s a god in every relevant respect, and yet also as terrible and squalid and evil as those of us who do not worship gods expect them to be.
It’s interesting, too, that here Torchwood finally explicitly talks about the Doctor, to point out his absence. It’s a good question, a sort of Superman question: if the Doctor has all of time and space at his feet, why doesn’t he appear here and help? Why, indeed, hasn’t he appeared at every holocaust humanity has inflicted on humanity? Then we have to ask about those on every other planet in the universe and realize that the Doctor is not a god: he’s just a man, from one of the most powerful civilizations in existence but a man nonetheless, and he can’t be everywhere at once. It may be that this is one of so many crises that, for the sake of the fabric of time, must be solved by someone else (in this case, Jack), or it may be that he simply can’t avert them all himself. Il faut cultiver ton jardin.
Everyone is quick to accept that the 456 are as powerful as they are presenting themselves to be, and that they cannot be attacked by conventional means (handguns can’t break the glass that was specified in the blueprints, but surely something more powerful could), and they are much slower to think about attacking them by any other means. It’s possible that if they’d realized sooner that the communication through the children was two-way, Clem would have been the conduit instead. But the idea of striking back against a god doesn’t come naturally to most people. It’s a powerful image: the children screaming back at the evil that seeks to exploit them. Jack’s own sacrifice, which I’d been spoiled for but hadn’t known the details of, seems at once inevitable and unutterably sad. The character makes a lot more sense to me now; even if he’d done nothing else with Torchwood that had scarred him in the past, his actions in 1965 would surely have been enough to take the rogue out of him and give him the heaviness we see throughout this show.
So much more to love about this miniseries: Torchwood on the run and turned petty criminals, the courage of Lois Habiba, Ianto at the last finally getting a glimmer of personality. I could go on, but I’m sure so many others have before me, in reviews I avoided due to spoilers that eventually leaked through anyway, and ended up not really spoiling anything. Sitting through the first two seasons of Torchwood wasn’t as unpleasant as I’d feared, but even if it had been, it would have been well worth it to get to this.