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‘It’s…gritty’ ~ Torchwood: Children of Earth


Jack, Gwen and Ianto...on the case in Torchwood: Children of Earth

(NB: The title of this review comes from Highlands Techno’s absolutely hilarious animations featuring Battlestar Galactica‘s show runner Ron Moore. They mainly lampoon RDM for seeing even the most bizarre plot choice as ‘gritty…and realistic’ (as well as having an obsession with hot babes in goo tubs). Which I felt was also a fitting commentary on Torchwood: Children of Earth, to some extent.)

To get straight to the point, Children of Earth was a damn fine piece of television in many respects. But was it what Torchwood fans had come to expect and enjoy? No. (hardcore spoilers under the cut!)The positive aspects of this five part miniseries are numerous. In the past, Torchwood has had problems developing believable character arcs and continuity, mostly because of its adherence to a strictly episodic format. In showing the five episodes back to back and following a continuous storyline, this series moved closer to American dramas such as 24. UK dramas seem to be reticent about following the trend for high continuity shows (which inspire great loyalty from their fans, but can struggle to become mainstream), but COE suggests that it can be done and can also produce healthy ratings.

The plotline is hardly watertight, but I found that it delivered a potent mix of tension and action, allowing for some really thought provoking discussion of human rights and ethics that made episode four not only a great work of science fiction but also a compelling human drama (like all the best sci fi).

Perhaps where the plot falls down the most is the fact that the series is, well, a Torchwood series, and by this is connected with the wider Doctor Who universe. This is a burden that Torchwood has struggled to bear – during its 3 series it has been unclear what exactly the organisation’s task is when it co-exists with UNIT and indeed the Doctor himself. Furthermore, the three combined ‘Whoniverse’ series have now had multiple storylines involving alien races on Earth. This is a world where people recognise and must surely accept the existence of aliens – and one into which the concept of a secret alien hunting organisation fits uneasily. Thus we must wonder why the Doctor doesn’t offer assistance during this massive crisis for humanity, why UNIT seem to offer little military help, and why in general the government seems unprepared to deal with a hostile threat when there have been several in the last few years.

The other problem arising from the story’s connection to Torchwood is the disposal of Ianto Jones. From the perspective of the drama as a one off sci fi miniseries, the death makes perfect sense – upping the stakes and introducing some heart wrenching emotion that probably helps our hero to make the ultimate sacrifice in the final installment. However, on the Torchwood level, killing off Ianto (a firm fan favourite) is surely a misstep. Not only did they kill another two members of the team at the end of the last series, leaving a gaping hole in the character roster, but in killing Ianto also killed off the popular relationship between him and Jack. Not only was this a rare mainstream portrayal of a positive homosexual relationship, but it also garnered Torchwood many fans who fell for the intense energy between the pair. Although not a particular fan of the pairing myself, I can understand the anger that others feel at the destruction of their ‘ship’.

With three team members dead and Jack emotionally destroyed (after all the torture heaped on him over the last three series!), it’s hard to see if and how Torchwood could continue. The ending was shockingly bleak, something I appreciate in my sci fi, but again if I look at it as a potential finale for Torchwood I can’t really rate it highly.

Thus I would have to give two marks out of ten for Children of Earth. As a sci fi television event, 8/10. It was dramatic, exciting and certainly kept me glued to the screen. However, as a continuation of and possible finale for Torchwood, only 6/10. It may have improved on many of Torchwood’s previous faults, but I fear that in attempting to make the drama ‘gritty and realistic’ they may have destroyed the elements that fans enjoyed in the first two series.  Only time will tell whether Torchwood will be back in any form for a fourth series.


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