Doctor Who #826: Children of Earth Day Five

"There's one thing I always meant to ask Jack. Back in the old days, I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world. Except sometimes he doesn't. All those times in history when there was no sign of him, I wanted to know why not. But I don't need to ask any more. I know the answer now. Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.10 2009.

IN THIS ONE... Jack sacrifices his grandson so that the 456 don't get their mandibles on a million children.

REVIEW: Russell T Davies has been doing mostly spectacularly with Children of Earth, but his finales in Doctor Who were often rubbish, so... Yes, there is some of that RTD hogwash here, but it's minor, or else it actually works. Like the U.S. general taking over from the British Prime Minister, much like the President tried to do in Last of the Time Lords. That's a cheap shot against imperialist America, and not very believable. It's good that it's then made part of the plot - Green using it as political cover - but it's where Children of Earth's plot goes from intricate to manipulative. Things happening to satisfy the plot regardless of their logic. Thankfully, there's actually little of this. Gwen's recorded message, seen at the top of the episode, is slightly melodramatic and perhaps asks a question the spin-offs should never attract attention to, but it works better than Rose Tyler's misleading voice-over in Doomsday, for being truthful and recorded in the story. I'm also a bit surprised to see Dekker survive the virus in Thames House, especially since there's nothing sinister about his survival (only about the amoral scientist himself); again, he's needed for the plot and that should excuse the slim explanation.

But if you like your Torchwood dark, oh it gets dark. And then darker still. For a while there, it doesn't seem like there's a limit to how dark things can get. Obviously, the 456 seem to have won, and I doubt parents are the only ones who'll find the notion of children being taken away by the army so they can, get this, produce narcotics for aliens, harrowing. The way Green sells out Frobisher's children is a major miscalculation - they could have been used as a photo op to legitimize the "inoculations", but perhaps less aware government employees could have served as the necessary "victims"? - which results in triple murder-suicide, all the more tragic because the world's children are saved at the end and Frobisher need not have killed his entire family to spare them from the 456's attentions. The sequence is intercut with Bridget's visit to Lois' cell (now there's a character rather hung out to dry in her final episode), serving as a eulogy, and yet also as a smokescreen to hide Bridget turning into a second Lois. And if you're still feeling a bit cheery, Jack's only recourse is to use his own grandchild as the central transmitter for a deadly scream (like the one Clem died from) fed back to the 456, killing the boy. Jack continues to pay the price for the original 12, and must stand there, numb, while his daughter, Steven's mother, wails. The sequence is almost unbearable, though they at least don't make the death of a child too gory, but its intensity is heightened by being intercut with Gwen and Rhys running from the army with children in their arms. Well, no wonder Jack needs to leave Earth at the end. Exile is his self-inflicted penance.

It's entirely natural then that at the end of the most nihilistic Torchwood episode yet, the team would be destroyed. Only Gwen is left, and the entire premise has been deconstructed over the span of a mere five days. A new Torchwood built by Gwen Cooper is something I would have been very curious to see, alas, that wasn't in the cards. Instead, the only real hope in the episode is that Gwen kept the baby, her abortion talk just hurtful words spoken in the heat of a bad moment. If Torchwood ended here, then at least, there was a happy ending for Gwen and Rhys. Otherwise, we can look to the political theater where Green's career is destroyed by Bridget, and rightly so, but with opportunistic Denise taking over, a woman who was just as bad as Green in the "final solution" discussions, it's just the same old crap in Whitehall. People are going to start to wax nostalgic about Saxon...

REWATCHABILITY: High - Despite the flaws, Day Five is emotionally intense and takes the stuffing right out of me every time. Gutting.


Freddy said...

Been waiting for this one to come up.

I adored Children of Earth for 4 episodes, and then despised the final episode so much that I haven't watched any of the story since because I know I'll watch the last episode and just get angry.

From the first 4 episodes my main questions were, what happened to the Pterodactyl in the hub, the aliens imprisoned in the cells beneath the hub, and those frozen in storage in the hub (including Jacks brother if I remember correctly) when it got blown up. I know they're all probably dead, but no-one thought to even mention to Jack, "oh sorry your evil brother was just blown to a billion bits".

My main rant (I'll steal bits from my rant on my website at the time)

The shock ending I found didn't work for me, they went straight to the sacrificing a kid to save the world. No-one tried anything else? After all, this is the same "world" where UNIT threatened to blow the entire planet up rather than let the Daleks take it over last year. No one tried killing the aliens, which after all were Junkies. If you threatened to kill the kids rather than let them take them, they'd cave in and request less kids. After all they'd want a fix, and the idea of the supply drying up completely would frighten them. The shock ending would have worked, if you'd seen people trying different solutions first, leaving the sacrifice as the only option. However, as shown, they went straight for the kiddie killing option without bothering to try anything else first.

But . . my main problem with it is . . everyone gives up. If you've nothing to lose, then you've nothing to lose by fighting, but nobody bothered fighting.
The government guy who was told to hand over his kids, didn't bother fighting (by going to the press outside to tell all) he just blew his entire families brains out.
UNIT, who are supposedly the world wide force to fight alien menaces, didn't fight, they just rolled over and gave up (they happily fight Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, all of whom are mighty galactic empires feared across the universe, but a bunch of intergalactic junkies whose only demonstration of power is to kill a building worth of people . . .).
Torchwood, don't try to fight the aliens, just trying the age old mentod of shouting at them then going straight to the human sacrifice when that doesn't work (a quick thought, the Aliens are called the 456, named after the frequency they broadcast on, and Jack doesn't even bother to try broadcasting the kill signal on that frequency first before transmitting it through his grandson even though he knows it'll burn the kid to a crisp.
Hell, even the government gives up, without a word of how to fight the aliens, they start discussing how to choose which kids to hand over (and no-one seems concerned that a "rogue state" might not hand its kids over, expecting someone else to take up the slack (which would start a domino effect as more and more nations thought they could get away with it. In fact the UK government doesn't even fight back when a US General seizes control of the country.
Everybody just gives up. I once read that drama is all about struggle, not necessarily violent struggle, but the struggle to overcome obstacles, but at the end, no one struggles in Children of Earth, they all just give in, and that just seemed pathetic to me.

Siskoid said...

Well, a lot of that IS addressed on the show. The kid-frying solution is late in coming, less than an hour before all the children are transmatted off Earth. Before that, it's a lot of research, but no answers.

Frobisher is told that even if he speaks out (as he threatens to), his kids will still be taken, it won't matter. He kills his family to spare them this fate.

You're wrong about the 456's show of power. They've shown, not just with Thames House but in 1965, they can manipulate viruses easily, and they can transmat anyone and anything on or off Earth from we don't even know where (no ship is ever mentioned). Likely, this is how they would commit genocide. And they can take control of Earth's children, not just 10%, but all of them. This may or may not be limited to communication and brain-frying, but the latter should be enough to coerce the world into doing their bidding.

And I can't tell you what happens off-screen - rogue nations, the Hub clean-up, etc. - this isn't a novel, it's TV, there just isn't room for everything.

I've got my misgivings as well - top of the post - but those aren't problems for me.

Freddy said...

It comes late, but there's no other attempts made (no attempt to storm the MI-5 building and use one of the aliens, no attempt to send the signal on other frequencies first (especially odd given the aliens are named after a particular frequency). No one actually does anything. This is a world where the UK prime minister shot down an alien ship which had seized control of a sizable chunk of the earths population (Christmas Invasion), where they threatened to blow the planet up against the Daleks, on previous threats on the earth it's not easily surrendered, but this time . . .

People in the story just didn't seem to fight for anything, they just gave into forces acted upon them, and it just seemed a very down, very disappointing ending to otherwise an amazing story.

Maybe it's because I am a parent, but the idea that any parent would willingly hand over their children seemed totally unbelievable.
It's maybe a sign of my bad character, but I truly believe if given the option to hand over my kids to save the worlds population, then sorry, the world doesn't get a second thought.

Siskoid said...

But no parent did. The original 12 were orphans. The 10% were told they were getting inoculations. And any parent that knew or realized what was happening either tried to run/save their kids, put them off the list (the politicians) or killed them to avoid them being taken (Frobisher). Absolutely no one willingly gave their children up.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

If they had tried to squeeze in every explanation, and shown everything that had happened off screen, you would have ended up a bloated mess. In my opinion, much better to just show what was necessary for both the plot and characters and leave the rest.

I feel this is what went wrong with Miracle Day; cut to 5 episodes, it might have been a real winner.

CiB said...

On the "US Imperialist" front, don't want to discuss politics here, but thats playing off a very real concern that a lot of British people have (and remember, Torchwood is a British program). A lot of people over here do believe that the UK is run from the White House- especially after Iraq, Afghanistan, Gary McKinnon, there is a perception in the UK that when the US says jump the UK government says "how high?"

This in fact goes back some time. In classic British political sitcom "Yes, Prime Minister" (that ran in some form from 1980 to 1986) one exchange had the PM ask who runs Britain- the cabinet or the American president, to which the Cabinet Secretary (i.e. most powerful civil servant in Britain) responds that he thinks it's the cabinet, but he knows this makes him "a heretic" and most disagree.

So, the idea of an American general taking over and no one in the UK government batting an eye lash is *very* believable to a lot of people in Britain.

There were issues here, but I thoguht they were at the "Bad Wolf" level (i.e. excusable) rather than the "journey's end" level (i.e. inexcusable and unforgivable)

Siskoid said...

Interesting insight, CiB. I wonder what I would have thought of a similar scenario playing out in Canada, esp. in the Bush era, where many of us feel our PM is trying to emulate the U.S. with policy and even procedure.

Probably still think it was a bit facile. It's the one part of Freddy's rant I absolutely agree with.

Jeremy Patrick said...

I do like dark SF, and I think it's so rare that it's done well on television. That's why I loved Children of Earth, and think that it's not only the best of Torchwood, it's right up there with the best SF I've ever seen. Watching an intelligent miniseries like Children of Earth really makes it clear how rare it is that people on T.V. have to make hard choices; usually, they find some fantastic solution at the last minutes that keeps them from having to make any choice at all--and although that dramatic solution can be enjoyable, it can also become predictable. When you have a show where you can't rely on the general idea that the "good guys" always win, and that anyone can die at anytime, it makes for edge of the seat viewing.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I loved Children of Earth. I agree that Miracle Day, despite a cool premise, never came close to living up to its standard; it's also sad that it might be the last we ever see of Torchwood on the screen . . .


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