REVIEW: ‘Torchwood: Children of Earth’

REVIEW: ‘Torchwood: Children of Earth’

Torchwood: Children of Earth
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Stars: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen and Peter Capaldi

The Big Idea: Torchwood’s remnant team – Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman), second-in-command Gwen Cooper (Myles) and “general support officer” Ianto Jones (David-Lloyd) – fight to save Earth’s children from aliens among us.

To Watch or Not to Watch: In short, this is do-not-miss television, a worthy successor to the best of Rod Serling‘s Twilight Zone and the early promise of Battlestar Galactica, “submitting for your approval” an examination of the less pleasant realities of human nature from the safe remove of a slightly altered reality.

Children of Earth is a serious drama that poses serious questions, presented in a sci-fi candy wrapper. It can and should be approached as a (very) fast-paced fantasy/mystery thriller; in particular, the pitch-perfect dialogue and well-executed moments of comic relief throughout should be savored.

But after the exposition of the first episode, deeper themes move to the forefront with each successive hour. The last episode is superbly bookended: it opens with a despairing Gwen offering an insight that is completely unexpected, wholly shocking, and yet rings inevitably true. It closes with a despairing Captain Jack, taking an action that is completely unexpected, wholly shocking, and yet inevitably commanded by his past choices.

This is audacious excellence in storytelling, and high wire stuff for television. There’s no opportunity to paper over discontinuities or loose plots … no time to waste at all, in fact. And Children of Earth wastes none, beginning with alien abductions on the Scottish moors in 1965, with effects rippling forward 44 years later to the children of present day Cardiff, and, we find later, the world. Tying it all together is Captain Jack, who leads the Torchwood trio in a frantic effort to understand who is targeting the most vulnerable among us.

The British government, in the person of Permanent Secretary to the Home Office John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi), runs a parallel effort to contain the crisis. But it soon becomes apparent that the events of 1965, and Torchwood/governmental involvement in these, have the two organizations operating at cross purposes. Torchwood is forced underground, and the government embarks on a series of morally questionable decisions that lead to actions as monstrous as the aliens they are designed to thwart.

And it’s here that two of Children of Men‘s finest performances emerge, first in Capaldi’s bravura effort. As the haunted Frobisher, he is a good man subtly consumed by a political bureaucracy bent on survival, until he faces a final, personal horror. No spoilers, but fans of The Shield might assume that Torchwood writer Russell Davies took note of that show’s series finale.

And we get an equally nuanced performance from Barrowman, as Captain Jack finally admits what should have been obvious – that an immortal man, living throughout centuries and various populations, will be forced to make many choices, not all of them good. One of them, in fact, will cause one character to tell him, “You are in every nightmare that I’ve ever had.”

TV Screener Tidbit: BBC America HD launches with the premiere of the Children of Earth miniseries, which serves as the third season of Torchwood, the network’s highest-rated series.

Torchwood: Children of Earth premieres Monday, July 20th, at 9PM ET on BBC America, and airs on five consecutive nights at 9PM

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