EPISODE REVIEW: Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day 3” (Season 3, Episode 3)

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Does it make me a really bad person that I was never able to get in to Torchwood? Or, conversely, does the fact that I was unable to get in to Torchwood make me a really *good* person?

I’ve been accused of being homophobic in my dislike for the show, but I don’t think that’s really a fair judgement. Firstly, I don’t dislike the show, I don’t lie awake wishing it would go away, I’m just rather disinterested in it. Secondly, as you can see from pretty much any review on our site of “Kings,” I’ve actually got nothing against gay characters or themes in SF, provided they’re handled in a non-didactic fashion, and they’re germane to the plot. In the first season of Torchwood, it was so amazingly didactic that they only occasionally thought to put in a plot, and most of the plots they did throw in were….uhm….to put it politely: bad. (“Cyberwoman” anyone?) My hunch is that the show was hoping to get by entirely by appealing to the gay community in much the same way that Petra gets by entirely on appealing to the Christian Community: Whether you like it or not, it’s your duty to watch/buy an album and rave about it to your friends.

The show massively improved in the second season, and they backed off the “All Sexual Deviants All The Time” mandate a bit, it became less of the He-Man Breeders-Haters Club, and more of a decent show, which, I suspect, means that club members watching the show weren’t enough to make it a hit, or perhaps they simply recognized the limit in telling stories that exclude 97% of the population. Though it was unquestionably better in the second year, the damage was kind of done for me, and nothing I saw or heard was good enough to rope me back in.

The reason I’m telling you all this before we get to the review is simply in the interests of full disclosure. I’m not a cheerleader for anyone, I’m not going to praise a show - even a pro-Republican one - if it sucks, and likewise, I’m not doing to damn a show simply for opposing my own views. If it’s in the genre, I’ll give it a fair try. That said, when I heard about “Children of Men,” my reaction was pretty much the same as James Bloomer’s, over on the Big Dumb Object Science Fiction Blog, who summed it up much better than I could: “That sounds really cool. But it won’t be.”

Here’s the shocker: It actually *was* Cool!

Honest-to-God, I’m as surprised as anyone: Torchwood: Children of Earth has in its first three hours been better than the first two years - AND the crossover Dr. Who episodes - combined. It’s really good. Of course they’ve still got two hours to blow it in, but I have a hunch they won’t.

For those of you who haven’t already figured it out, Republibot 2.0 is unavoidably detained for the remainder of this week, and so I’ll be continuing the reviews of this miniseries. I’ve been following along since the start, though, so I should be able to jump in and pick up where he left off, I’m fully up to speed, and I’ll take my reviewing duties as seriously as possible on the remainder of this, ok?

RECAP:

In 1965 a school bus full of children are taken somewhere in Scotland in the middle of the night. One runs away. In 2009, all over the world, every child between 1 and 18 freezes for a few minutes, then starts up again. This freaks out the government, who have had some experience with this kind of thing in the mid-60s, though they’re not forthcoming with it. Torchwood immediately gets interested in these shenanigans while testing out a possible replacement for Owen, their doctor who died at the end of last season. Meanwhile, the Civil Service issues a kill order for everyone in Torchwood, and the new Doctor turns out to be a very-deep-cover mole. So deem they kill him when they’re dead with him, and kill Jack. Before he can get better, however, they slit him open and put a bomb in him, which goes off and destroys the Torchwood hub (No great loss. I never liked the set. It reminded me of nothing so much as a labyrinthine public restroom) Meanwhile, the kid who ran away in ‘65 is now a schizophrenic middle-aged man who keeps talking about how he can smell the aliens coming.

Gwen and Ianto escape the blast, and various gangs of assassins dogging them and get away. Meanwhile the remains of Jack are carted off to a secret facility where they try to contain him, since they can’t keep him dead, even when they explode him. Gwen and Rhys make it to London where they meet an uncommonly nosy temp civil servant who gives them info on where Jack is, and they head off to rescue him. Meanwhile, Ianto gets some backstory, and a family, and also figures out where Jack is, and also heads off to rescue him. This they then do, and with the remaining members of the team reunited (Not counting the ones who died last year, of course), they escape to try and save the world. Which brings us to….

PLAY BY PLAY

The reunited Torchwood team holes up in an abandoned Torchwood 1 warehouse in London. They’re broke and on the lam, and have no idea what to do for resources. Even the laptop Ianto got from his sister is dead. Gwen hits on the idea of simply becoming criminals and stealing money and supplies, and Gwen being a former cop has some training in this stuff. We get a brief - and kind of funny - montage of Torchwood’s petty crime wave, culminating with Jack stealing a sports car.

Meanwhile, the kid who ran away back in ‘65 is also picking pockets, but with less success. He gets nabbed by the police. Meanwhile, Jack’s daughter has been trying to get her dad on the cellphone for several days, to no avail. She borrows a phone and calls the civil service to get some info on Jack’s whereabouts, and they trace her. They quickly realize who she is.

Ianto is able to access the old Hub mainframe - evidently not in the same location as the Hub itself - and they’ve got most of their files and software running in no time. Gwen talks to Lois Habib about putting on the super secret Torchwood camera contact lenses, but she refuses. Gwen forces the lenses on her, however. Ianto discovers the old guy who ran away in ‘65 has been arrested, and send Gwen to get him out before he’s noticed by the authorities. Surprisingly, she’s able to do this thanks to a phone call to the chatty cop who helped out the commando lady back in Cardiff on day one.

Commando Lady storms Jack’s Daughter’s house, and though she made a good show for herself, Jack’s Daughter is captured with not too much effort.

By this point, the aliens - one alien, anyway - have landed inside the environment tank in Thames House. A very spooky and unsettling conversation takes place between the alien emissary and Frobisher of the Civil Service. Frobisher asks that the aliens keep their earlier contact with humanity secret, and they agree.

The nations of the world are outraged that Britain set this up and planned it all, but the Prime Minister more or less begs off, saying he had no choice, it wasn’t him, he didn’t know about it, and one of the older boys on the playground put him up to it. While conferring with very pissed off American and UNIT generals, he agrees to have nothing to do with the negotiations, and suggests turning the whole thing over to the civil service, since they’re not elected and have no political agenda, and are therefore neutral. The generals reluctantly agree. Frobisher switches his HQ from his normal office to the alien’s room, and Lois manages to fast talk her way in to going by claiming to be Frobisher’s mistress. “You’re not the first,” the head secretary chides.

Back at the torchwood warehouse - which Rhys has dubbed “Hub 2” - the kid/old guy who ran away in ‘65 is chattier than normal, and talks about how he remembers the man who gave them to the aliens. He also asks what the queer is doing hanging around, prompting some upset from Ianto. Jack, meanwhile, sneaks in to Frobisher’s house and steals Mrs. F’s cellphone. He calls Frobisher and threatens to blow the whole story wide open so everyone will know. Frobisher blackmails him back threatening to harm Jack’s daughter and grandkid if he tells anyone anything. Jack bluffs saying “What’s to stop me from going back in to your house and grabbing your wife and kids?” Frobisher calls him on it, “Nothing, but you won’t do it because you’re a better man than me.”

The negotiations begin, and Gwen and Ianto can watch it via Lois’ contacts. The aliens - still unseen, but betentacled and spewing lots of green pea soup - request a gift from humanity. “We want ten percent of your children.”

Meanwhile, back at Hub 2: Armed and Fabulous, the old guy starts freaking out about how he can smell the man who gave them away coming. In walks Jack, and the old guy freaks out more, saying Jack was the one telling the kids to board the alien ship. Gwen defends Jack saying, “No, he fights aliens like this, he doesn’t help him.” Jack explains that, no, he really was there and that he was “Giving them the kids.”

TO BE CONTINUED

OBSERVATIONS

This was a good episode, though I can’t help but feel it suffered from some of the basic problems prone to intermezzos - that it’s main reason for being was mainly to move the playing pieces from where they were to where they need to be for the finale. It’s a good episode, but from a narrative point of view little happens, and it lacks some of the energy of the first two episodes. I also feel the ‘world newscasters montage’ thing that Russell T. Davies is so fond of using (He’s done it a lot in Dr. Who, using the same fake newscasters. Nice bit of continuity there) was overdone this time out. We got four or five doses of it, none of which add anything to the story except to let us know the world is freaking out. Ok, we get it. After the second or third time, it began to feel like padding.

Though it came to nothing, I liked Jacks’ daughter, and how she instantly knew what to do to get out of the house, and had an escape rout prepared to avoid the bad guys. Evidently, her mom was a Torchwood agent in the 70s who was knocking boots with Jack. They split up around 1977 and the daughter was given a fake ID reserved for deep cover British agents. Clever.

The Prime Minister is playing an interesting game by appearing self-effacing and willing to cooperate, but in fact he’s manipulated Frobisher and the Civil Service in to a position where they’ll have to take the fall with no reflection on the PM or his administration. It’s clever, though of course we know it’ll backfire. The actor playing Frobisher is doing it with a nicely understated level of stress and only-partially-controlled panic, too. It’s a nice touch - this isn’t his normal job description, and he’s operating way beyond his abilities and doesn’t like it at all. And he cheats on his wife. Frequently.

The alien scenes are suitably creepy and I like that we never actually see them. They’ve got tentacles or perhaps claws, and they puke a lot, and speak with a disarmingly ominous deep male voice, but the long pauses and the strange dissonance between their words and the seemingly random fits of them banging the glass and throwing up are very effective. They’re using the audience’s own imaginations here to good effect, summoning up all manner of eldritch horrors that they’d never have the budget to actually show. Having one of the staff people run out of the room in horror or nausea was a nice tough, as was seeing UNIT rather confused by whatever the hell this thing is.

And evidently they eat children.

It’s interesting to me that Gwen is the hero of this whole miniseries so far, and Jack has actually taken a back seat to her on several occasions. This is quite a change from her as the raw recruit. I think - personality wise - it’s probably too big of a change to really accept as having happened since the end of the last season, and the last time we saw her on Dr. Who, but I confess I *do* like this new direction they’ve taken her in. They’ve found a nice degree of power and authority and respect for her, without her being shrill or acting in the clichéd ways that most TV women in authority act. I also like that she’s clearly got some genuine concern for Rhys, which plays out nicely as a plot complication. I love that Rhys is essentially the ‘woman in distress’ of the team.

The big reveal that Jack knowingly sent kids off to be eaten 44 years ago was probably not as shocking as it should have been, since they’d already let us know Jack was involved in those proceedings in some way, but it was still a big bomb to drop, and a nice reminder that Jack is kind of a bastard, and kind of always has been. I’m assuming his justification will be that it was 12 kids or the end of the world, so he really didn’t have a choice, but that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that Jack was frequently a bad man in his past.

So why does The Kid Who Ran Away in ‘65 have such a hyperactive sense of smell? (Sorry to keep calling him that, but I can’t remember his name).

Gaywise, they’ve done an interesting thing in this miniseries: In the past, as I said, the show was basically “The It’s Ok To Be Gay” club, and no one ever brought up the fact that most people are uncomfortable with homosexuality and bisexuality - to put it politely - but I like that in this miniseries, they’ve scaled that back quite a bit. While it is something of a retcon, they seem to be saying that our somewhat self-obsessed characters may have simply been too involved in their own outlooks to reflect on the views of the silent majority. This is interesting. I about busted a gut when The Kid Who Ran Away called Ianto a “Queer,” both because it was unexpected, and because Ianto’s reaction was genuinely funny. Likewise, as R2 has discussed elsewhere, we find that Ianto is basically straight, except where Jack is concerned, and he doesn’t understand it himself, and isn’t entirely comfortable with it. He didn’t want to come out of the closet, and only reluctantly did so for his sister. His brother in law calls him “Gayboy,” it’s interesting. It’s like the show is trying to shake itself of its propagandistic origins, and bring its characters somewhat closer to the real world, where men dancing with men is likely to get you beat up in much of the world, and where people outside the norm are basically uncomfortable with that.

This is a very wise move, since “The human heart at war with itself” is essentially the root of drama, and a somewhat maladjusted homosexual is vastly more interesting than the perfectly-adjusted Will from Will and Grace. (And for that matter, a maladjusted heterosexual is more interesting than a perfectly well actualized one.) They’ve also scaled back Jack’s proclivities a bit - he’s less of the utterly selfish horny bastard in this miniseries - and they show him being pretty monogamous with Ianto, and very protective of his semi-estranged daughter. This makes him less of a porn movie character and more of a person, which has always been a bit of a problem with Jack, from what I’ve seen of him.

Who knows. This subtle shift in Torchwood and the brilliant portrayal of Gay Prince Jack on Kings might just possibly signify the start of a new, vastly less politicized, vastly more realistic portrayal of these folks. If so, that would certainly be a good thing.

I can’t wait for tomorrow night!

Fire off comments if you’ve got ‘em.

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