Torchwood episode 29: Children of Earth – Day Three (8/7/2009)
‘We want your children. We will take your children.’ The first half of this episode is a mash-up of various popular TV shows of the 2000s. The Torchwood team turning out their pockets and going out to add to the stash is Hustle, Johnny’s own hustling is like something from Shameless, and the scenes set in the corridors of Whitehall come from any number of political thrillers (although Capaldi’s presence inevitably recalls The Thick of It). And is Hub 2 the same warehouse the Doctor, Jack and Martha hid out in during The Sound of Drums?
The pace of this first half is great, as Gwen calls on Andy’s help to rescue Clem from police custody, and Jack’s daughter and grandson are hunted down by Agent Johnson. And then, halfway through – at the halfway point of the series – the 456 arrive in a pillar of fire, and the tone changes. All the dynamism and action of the first half is replaced by watchful stillness, as Frobisher, the representatives of the UN, even Torchwood wait for the aliens to respond to questions. This is conscious: the composition changes from great crowds of children pointing to the skies to lots of shots of people huddled together around screens or conference phones with nail-biting anxiety.
It was a wise choice to keep the 456 enigmatic even after their arrival, shrouded in smoke, glimpses of appendages bashing against the glass of their tank, spewing bile. There’s a hint of something obscene, without outright showing it – which could stand as a metaphor for their whole MO: taking children as ‘gifts’. Grimmest of all is the cliffhanger reveal of Jack’s complicity in the 1965 event, as the middle-man last time the 456 came to visit.
This is like Last of the Time Lords with the Master’s supervillainy disturbingly replaced by human weakness: in a year without the Doctor, what sordid compromises would be made? The Master decimated a tenth of the world’s population as a show of strength; would our leaders decimate a tenth of the world’s children as a pollical tactic? Once again, our heroes cower among industrial decay and their families are menaced by British agents. Once again, the USA remain furious that the UK has made unilateral contact with aliens. But whereas in The Sound of Drums President Winters muscled in, here the US and UK are happy to step back if it gives them plausible deniability around any grubby deals Frobisher is forced to make. One thing seems clear: there’s no paradox machine to save the day this time.
Next Time: Day Four