Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day 5 Review
In brief: And thatâ€™s why Torchwood is most definitely not like Doctor Who.
I feel numb.
That was an emotionally intense hour that alternately gripped, chilled and horrified. It was not filled with action per say and daring do, just the lengths that some people will go to under desperate circumstances.
And may I say, Russell T. Davies either hates Captain Jack or loves putting him through the emotional wringer. That character will be lucky if his daughter never speaks to him. And that sentence is not missing a word.
Please be aware, despite what I said about my reviewsâ€¦ major spoilers are within. Frankly, after that, how could there NOT be?!
The episode starts with a short piece of Gwen facing the camera, clearly a handheld due to the grainy image. She talks of Jack, wondering why she never asked him properly about that â€œDoctorâ€ of his and why he isnâ€™t always there when the world needs savingâ€¦ she knows the answer now thoughâ€¦
â€œSometimes. He must look at this worldâ€¦ and turn away in shame.â€
Itâ€™s a nice nod to the Doctor to include his absence. So many times I wanted him to walk into frame to shout, condemn and rant and marvellously fix the problem. And it didnâ€™t happen.
The government, in particularly the Prime Minister Greene (who is now under the thumb of the American general who feels that Britain has botched the whole situation so now they have to make the best of it) releases a statement to the news services where they go with cover story of sending the kids back to schools to receive â€œinoculationsâ€ to stop the kids from speaking in unison again. Itâ€™s all a ruse to ensure that the lesser achieving schools simply have full classes again, so the troops can move in and clear them out.
I donâ€™t know where the hell the BBC got the budget to pull all of this off but everything was too realistic, too possible, all too real as those trucks and buses pulled in to the local schools. As the teachers have to watch in horror, unable to do anything but insist that the soldiers donâ€™t have the right to remove the kids, and they carry on anyway. Itâ€™s shocking.
Taking a moment, the American general sends in the UNIT operative who has appeared throughout the days to talk to the 456. Before they proceed, they must knowâ€¦ theyâ€™ve seen how the 456 are connected to the children. But why they need to know why. Is it life support?
â€œNo. They make chemicals. They make usâ€¦ feelâ€¦ good.â€
Thatâ€™s the twist. Thatâ€™s the turn. The 456 are addicted to the chemicals that pre-pubescent children create. The alien menaces are drug users. Itâ€™s such a simple revelation, so utterly casual. Donâ€™t get me wrong. The delivery is chilling. The set up for it disgusting. But itâ€™s not the big end of the world shocking news youâ€™re expecting and it completely hits you for six and makes you feel ill.
Back in cabinet session, the PM Greene sits back as the events unfold around him. Heâ€™s no longer in control. There is one scene where himself and Frobisher sit down and Greene explains, uncomfortably, that in order for the public to trust what the government are doing; Frobisherâ€™s children will take the inoculation on live television. Frobisher doesnâ€™t take long to understand the full implications of what this means when Greene admits that the government must come out of the crisis looking as though they suffered too, that there was some loss on their partâ€¦ so Frobisherâ€™s children are to be taken by the 456. The terror here scene is palpable as Frobisher is fraught, and horrified by where events have led him and he knows is powerless against it.
Well, almost powerless. Once outside of the room he asks his assistant to fulfil requisition 31 to which she complies, confused, and returns with a closed box. Frobisher simply takes the box from her, turns away, then turns back and plants a gentle kiss on her cheek, and he leaves. Without a word. Capaldi represents a man who has made a choice and will stand by it. Determined, terrified, but resolute.
He arrives home, drives around the press, and this entire scene is played without sound as it intercuts with another that does have sound. His kids greet him at the door, joyous, heâ€™s all smiles, and he asks them to go upstairs. His wife hugs him tight, and she looks concerned, confused, but he gestures upstairs for her, too. When theyâ€™ve gone, he proceeds over to the table, opens the box, and pulls out a gun.
You donâ€™t see it happen, but the following sound of four gunshots is all you need to understand. The end of Frobisher is as depressing and gritty and forecast from the moment that Frobisher leaves Greeneâ€™s office. Capaldi played that suicidal figure perfectly. Horrifically.
Back with Alice and Johnson, they chat. Alice convinces Johnson who, originally cold and calculating in parts one and two, has showed a more reasonable side to her character. Her turning to show some genuine concern for unfolding events and the governments dealings and Aliceâ€™s persuasion makes her bust Jack out of prison to find a different solution to the crisis.
And what of Torchwood?
Jack is a man broken. Heâ€™s lost Ianto and he now recognises that there is nothing left to do.
Gwen is still determined to fight, but with a few words Jack convinces her that there is nothing left she can do except go home and tell Iantoâ€™s sister heâ€™s died. Be safe. As she boards a helicopter with Rhys, to return to Cardiff, Jack and Gwen embrace, and he whispers into her ear.
â€œTheyâ€™re after the children. Ianto has a niece and nephew. Save them.â€
Jack is locked in a cell and Gwen flies home. Again during these sequences it painful to watch as the events unfold without any intervention from Torchwood. Youâ€™re left in despair but still clinging to some hope that Jack will find a way to come backâ€¦ and itâ€™s only when Johnson and gang bust Jack out that you feel your spirits lift.
Back in Cardiff there are nice moments of humour as PC Andy is oblivious to the real events unfolding, and Gwen and Rhys canâ€™t tell him, and small jokes are cracked at the parentage of Gwenâ€™s baby. Given the coming events itâ€™s good to have these small moments. But when Gwen reveals to Iantoâ€™s sister about his deathâ€¦ itâ€™s heartbreaking. In 5 episodes weâ€™ve come to care for this little splash of Cardiff life and Iantoâ€™s poignant death only serves to intensify our protective feelings for this little group.
Itâ€™s also particularly telling of Russellâ€™s writing, that even in death, we still find out facts about Ianto. In her attempts to convince Gwen to believe her and listen to her about the government coming for the kids, she tells her that Ianto used to talk about her and her father. How their father was a master tailorâ€¦ and Iantoâ€™s sister explodes that the guy worked in Debenhams! Itâ€™s a small lie Ianto told, which indicates some shame about his background.
When the soldiers come for the kids though, itâ€™s nothing short of intense as the adults shuffle the kids out the backdoor, promises of sweets, and lead them to hide in an abandoned farmhouse. Particularly fun, yet scarily effective, is when the council estate locals, rallied by Iantoâ€™s brother in law, start a riot against the soldiers. Itâ€™s painful watching them fight each other, although a good punch the air moment as PC Andy throws himself into the fight on the side of council estate. Good for you!
But while Gwen continues her desperate mission of mercy, the events for Jack are still unfolding and just getting worse. Not only did Johnson grab Jack, but they grabbed the technology guy Decker who studied the 456 frequency and other equipment from his lab.
With all this, as the children are being gathered en masse on open airfields around the world and with minutes to spare, can Jack mount a defence?
As Decker shouts behind them it canâ€™t be done, Johnson shows little patience as she turns and promptly shoots the man in the leg. Vicious. It reminds us of whom her character is and notches up the tension.
As the plot turns, Jack figures out that the death of Clem doesnâ€™t fit the 456â€™s agenda so far. Why do that? How was he affecting them? Unless his remnant status was a potential threatâ€¦
By analysing a recording of the 456â€™s sound wave that killed Clem, Decker manages to confirm that itâ€™s a brand new sound that they arenâ€™t familiar with. Jack reasons that if they send it back at the 456, using some technobabble process, it could kill them. But they have no transmitter.
Decker is coldly logical. The 456 have been using the children as transmitters so it will work backwards, too. Except that frequency will, like Clem, destroy the childâ€™s brain. Itâ€™s one child for the sake of millions.
And thereâ€™s only one child close enough.
Steven Carter. Jackâ€™s grandson.
Alice breaks ranks. Terrified for her son, running for him, screaming as the soldiers grab her and grab him, separating them.
John Barrowman plays this moment so well as he gives the hesitant, heartbreaking nod to Johnson to collect Steven and bring him there. Itâ€™s horrific as Steven is placed in the middle of the equipment, scared, and simply asking out loud:
And Jack has no words. He activates the equipment. Stevenâ€™s eyes unfocus and he starts to scream a synthesized, unnatural sound. All the children across the world start to scream, too and we cut back to alien gas tank where the 456 remain silent, but start to shake, and we cut back to Steven who starts to fit on the spot.
Itâ€™s a damn uncomfortable scene to watch. The death of this innocent child. Itâ€™s too affecting as we cut back to Jack in unshed tears as he kills his own flesh and blood.
As Stevenâ€™s nose bleeds and he fits more violently, the 456 meet their end in an explosion of blood inside the tank. Their forms are then sucked back up into the sky by the pillar of fire that dropped them there in the first place.
We see Gwen with the children she was attempting to rescue, smiling, as they all seem relieved. We cut back to the gob smacked government officials and army operatives in the cabinet room, unsure of what just happenedâ€¦
And we see Alice as sheâ€™s let into the room where her son has died. She runs to his lifeless body on the floor, bleeding from his ears and nose and she cradles him, desperately holding onto her only son, crying out for help, but knowing, knowing heâ€™s gone and that her own father did it.
Itâ€™s really powerful stuff. How Russell T. Davies wrote this I have no idea. But heâ€™s gone for gut punching, heart wrenching issues and he hits them bang on the head. Itâ€™s also stunningly brave to turn Jack into such anâ€¦ is anti-hero an appropriate term? He certainly isnâ€™t the heroic, takes no lives figure that the Doctor represents.
Itâ€™s like an alternative to who the Doctor could be if he couldnâ€™t always save the day, if he lived in a world where he wasnâ€™t as brilliant or clever as the character is. Damaged, tormented, brokenâ€¦ the Doctor is all of these things to some degree, yes, but with Jackâ€¦ Jack is still a human, and itâ€™s more terrifying for us to see him capable of these things. And as I said at the start, Jack will be lucky if his daughter never speaks to him again, because the things she would want to say would only tear him further apart.
Thereâ€™s some suitable pathos as we return to the cabinet room, and the PM Greene comments that he regards the whole situation as â€œluckyâ€. When Denise his fellow government official and Frobisherâ€™s secretary ask what he means, Greene elaborates that because the Americans took over the situation, without authorisation from the UN, they can blame the days events on them.
Greene is now no longer a fish out of water, he is an odious, slimy, self-serving manipulator and we want to see him taken down.
Itâ€™s rather lovely that RTD allows the quiet but strict, put upon and largely underrated secretary of Frobisherâ€™sâ€™ (Iâ€™ve looked up her name nowâ€¦) Bridget Spears, to speak up. See, she paid a visit to see Lois Habiba, Torchwoodâ€™s girl on the inside so to speak, who was locked in a cell and charged with espionage after standing up for Torchwood. There, in a pitch perfect scene it is revealed just how loyal Bridget was to her boss, how they first met and the events that led them to work together.
And this scene is so crucial as it plays after Frobisher has returned home to commit suicide and kill his family, after Bridget gave him the gun. Originally we are led to believe thatâ€™s all that went on in that cell, so that we donâ€™t frown too much on Frobisher’sâ€™ actions which are admittedly horrific, but we try to understand where he was coming from.
We now discover though, that while there, she took the opportunity to ask Lois about the Torchwood contact lenses that she used to spy and record the governmental meetings. She then used her privileges to remove those lenses from evidence holding, and in turn use them herself to record each and every last word in the sessions of Day 5. Including Greeneâ€™s statement of how they were â€˜luckyâ€™ and that she has every intention of seeing that those recordings are made public.
Strike another punch the air moment, although given the previous events only a few minutes ago, itâ€™s a very subdued punch as we remain emotionally drained. Itâ€™s wonderful though to see this character twist, to see Bridget go from loyal yet condescending to a principal character in her own right with her own motivations and moral conscious. Just brilliant. Kudos to Susan Brown.
And so Torchwood Day 5 comes to its end. Before I look at the last scene of the episode, I want to round up this as whole.
I think Series 3 has proved exactly what this show was always capable of â€“ serious, gritty, dark, disturbing and yet totally human. Thatâ€™s really what this series has been about as well. The 456 also serve as a plot device external to the workings of the script. Itâ€™s not the threat they represent to humanity. But how we respond to that threat. Itâ€™s been a depressing as heck journey on the whole as we see exactly what humanity is capable of at itâ€™s most put upon. In the face of overwhelming odds, how are we prepared to go? How far is our government prepared to go? Is it best to sacrifice a few so the many can live?
These are real questions with no easy answers and Torchwood: Children of Earth should be commended for not offering any. Hard choices are made. Disgust is evident. Most importantly of all though, these episodes have moved me. Iâ€™ve seen characters twist and turn in both the darkness and the light. Iâ€™ve seen humanity at their best and at their worst.
A mirror has been held up and the question has been asked â€“ what if?
What more can you expect from good science fiction story telling?
And that final scene.
Well blow me down, I almost feel as if Russell T. Davies had a masterplan. Iâ€™ve said for a while that I donâ€™t think Captain Jack works as the leading man, and I find myself wondering if thereâ€™s an admittance to that in this last scene.
See, it takes place 6 months after the events over the 5 days, Gwen is heavily pregnant, as both her and Rhys have driven into the country to a hill that overlooks what I presume is Cardiff. As they walk the last few parts of the distance, they spy Jack at the top.
Itâ€™s evident itâ€™s been awhile since they last met, and I found myself wondering what the current state of Torchwood is. A few jokes fly back and forth, gentle smiles and reluctant ones.
And then Jack reveals how sorry he is for all the deaths he feels heâ€™s caused. Gwen tries to reassure him. He saved them all. They werenâ€™t all his fault. But Jack is resolute and lists Steven, Ianto, Owen, Tosh, Suzieâ€¦ all the people that have worked for him and Torchwood.
He feels he failed them. He took charge and look what happenedâ€¦
He tells her that thereâ€™s a spaceship on the edge of the solar system, he just needs to give it a signal and itâ€™ll drop by and transport him up. Gwen hands over his wrist device that he uses, commenting that it is indestructible. Though Rhys bought a new strapâ€¦
â€œ50 quid that cost me!â€
I like RTDâ€™s grasp on character very much.
But Jackâ€¦ heâ€™s lived an awful lot of lives, done so many different things, but now he feels itâ€™s time to carry on wandering. Gwen thinks he should stay, will he come backâ€¦ he canâ€™t just run away.
â€œOh just watch me.â€
With a flash, Jack is gone and beamed up into the sky.
So where does that leave us? Well if Russell wanted to finish off Torchwood he certainly did so he damn good fashion; and heâ€™s also left that door ajar just in case of a future visit. Gwen talking about finding the wrist device in the rubble means sheâ€™s been clearing through the remains of the Hub, I suppose.
But would Gwen then lead the team? Would Torchwood even be allowed to exist given the previous events? Though I suppose you could argue that maybe if the government had involved Torchwood from the start the situation could have been resolved differentlyâ€¦
Perhaps itâ€™s a good time for a new Torchwood to start. One with closer ties to the government, but still capable of existing under its own autonomy. But should it come back with Captain Jack in charge?
Like I said, I think thereâ€™s a confession of some aspect of Jackâ€™s personality that doesnâ€™t take well to leadership. Here, at the end, in one respect Jack is running away from his problems. But then can I really blame him? After all heâ€™d seen, all heâ€™d done, all heâ€™d lostâ€¦ at his own hand no less.
Who wouldnâ€™t want to run? And if he had the optionâ€¦ how could he not run?
Jack tried too hard to be the man in charge, instead of being the man in charge. That might owe some explanation to Barrowmanâ€™s portrayal but regardlessâ€¦ I still like Jackâ€™s character. I still like Barrowmanâ€™s portrayal. The potential there is rich.
Iâ€™d like to see a return to Torchwood in the future. With writing, casting, direction and production of this degree and calibre, how could I not?!
To every single person involved in this miniseries, whether you helped create it or simply posted bulletins about it for press releases, fantastic work. Brilliant. This was television used for astonishing affect.
5 out of 5 Captain Jackâ€™s beaming away into the nightâ€¦
About Joss Gateway
Sci-Fi Heaven's resident Stargate and Doctor Who columnist. He's lovely too.