‘There’s nothing we can do.’ The first half of this episode is Torchwood Gogglebox, as the team watch the negotiations with the 456 and the British Government’s response. At first, they bargain with the lives of the easily forgotten: failed asylum seekers, one child for every million people. When the aliens reject the offer, and stick to their demands for 325,000 kids, the discussion descends into squabbling over exemptions and throwing the underprivileged under the bus. That’s one way to level up, I suppose.
‘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?
‘If you’re the good guys, who am I working for and why do they want you dead?’ The 456 remain noises off in an episode that focuses on Torchwood as fugitives, fleeing a conspiracy to take them off the board ahead of the aliens’ arrival. This makes for a gripping interlude as Gwen and Rhys hide out, Ianto makes covert contact with his family, Jack demonstrates his most remarkable restorative powers yet, and Lois flirts with becoming Torchwood’s Deep Throat.
‘I can survive anything.’ Almost a different show, this feels less like a sexy version of Fringe and more like a 21st Century reimagining of Quatermass, with a Nigel Kneale-ish streak of brutality. The cold open, children encountering what looks like an alien spaceship in 1960s Scotland, flips to present-day Cardiff and Gwen going about her business while around her kids on the way to school suddenly freeze and without much preamble we’re straight into the story.
‘This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.’ The cliffhanger resolution sets the tone for the episode. The Doctor regenerating into himself is a neat trick that cleverly avoids having to deliver on the implication of the previous episode. And all the way through, RTD pulls off similar feints: ‘Everlasting death for the most faithful companion’ becomes “Donna gets a mind wipe”; Rose is reunited with the Doctor forever – except it’s a meta-crisis duplicate. The Children of Time come together at the end, only to stand around and watch while the Doctor/Donna saves the day. There’s something vaguely unsatisfactory about this – not exactly the audience being cheated, but being given less than expected.
‘Someone tried to move the Earth once before, a long time ago…’ The closest Doctor Who has come to one of the Marvel Avengers movies, as the ‘Children of Time’ assemble. At the time, this was true event television – possibly the last time my whole family watched TV together. Even my mum, permanently sniffy about the series, was drawn in. Years later, it’s easy to pick flaws with this. The TARDIS zipping about gives an illusion of movement that’s not really present in the script, which unfolds as a series of scenes on the guest stars’ stock sets: Sarah Jane in her attic, Torchwood in the Hub. Martha at least gets to teleport from New York to her mother’s front room, but this is a way from the vertical chases of Army of Ghosts, or the thriller elements of The Sound of Drums.
‘It’s always the same: nobody cares until you tie them up.’ On the one hand, it’s much better than End of Days, with some genuine stakes that flow from story ideas seeded through earlier episodes: Jack’s relationship with his brother; Owen and Tosh, even Rhys and Andy. The return of Captain John provides a link to the beginning of the series, and Marster’s performance is more impressive as he takes John from being a sniggering chaos monkey to something more nuanced and sympathetic.
‘There are opportunities here, with the Institute.’ A portmanteau explaining how each of the team came to join Torchwood Three, wrapped in a framing narrative reintroducing Captain John in time for the series finale. It’s a neat enough way of spending time with the whole team before writing two of them out, but like most of the vignette episodes none of the individual elements has the time or character development required to make it anything more than passable.
‘Why are you doing it? What are you trying to protect? What are you fighting for?’ A script that plays to the show’s strengths, with a focus on Gwen and Rhys’ relationship impacted by Torchwood; Gwen putting her police skills to practice to solve a mystery, and real lives intersected by the Cardiff rift. The result is easily Chibnall’s best work for the series, and a template of sorts for Children of Earth, with Jack’s involvement in a longstanding cover-up.
‘All those acts performing for us. Part of history, trapped on film forever.’ P.J. Hammond’s second Torchwood script feels more like Sapphire & Steel than his first, with creepy circus acts stepping out of fading silent movies to hunt the living. Ideas of film capturing living history even as it supersedes it (the point being, travelling shows lost their audiences to the picture houses), and film being a medium where the past and present collide and allow malevolent Time to break through are exactly the kind of mystery medium atomic weights might have been assigned to investigate.