So in honor of Pride Month and celebrating exceptional LGBTQ characters in speculative fiction, this weekend I did a rewatch of Torchwood: Children of Earth. There’s so much I want to convey and in the hopes of doing this review justice I’m going to break down my review into points and expound upon them in that manner.
Someone else said it best, Children of Earth was the series that should’ve gotten 10 episodes and the subsequent Miracle Day is the series that should’ve been limited to five episodes. Nevertheless, I must say that the Doctor Who spinoff brought its A-game. Not surprising considering that creator Russell T. Davies was at the writing helm.
In 1965,12 children are gathered together on a deserted moor, when they become surrounded by a harsh bright light and then suddenly they are gone. Back in the present day, all over Earth, children stop moving. Stop playing. Stop laughing. Stop everything. Then, as one, they begin to speak with the same voice, announcing to the governments of the world the imminent arrival of a new alien threat. It becomes clear to the Torchwood team that this isn’t the aliens’ first visit to Earth, and a terrible price is going to be paid for sins of the past.
Davies pulls no punches and certainly goes all out with Children of Earth. Extensive backstory and character development takes place with all three principal characters. Director Euros Lyn provides exemplary cinematography that heightens the emotion and the tension of Davies’ story. And speaking of Davies, Gay Media take note. This is a man who is doing it right.
Gwen said it best when she stated that she now understands why the Doctor doesn’t show up to save Earth when we need him the most. Sometimes the only thing he can do is turn away in shame. Seeing as humanity was all too willing to give up 10 percent of its most valuable treasure as drugs to aliens, her point gets proven. And while being forced to do horrific things when backed against the wall could almost be forgivable, hubris is another story. The government flippantly murders and kills innocent people just to cover up their crimes, because accountability and a little embarrassment is just unthinkable.
Religion vs. Science
Part of the storyline is that while half of the planet is still in denial after the numerous alien threats averted by Torchwood, Doctor Who, and the Sarah Jane gang, some are accepting that the universe is far more infinite than one initially surmised. One of the characters mentioned how a devout Christian woman committed suicide because in her mind, science had won. I’ve heard this argument before from atheists and lesser sci-fi shows/films that if extra terrestrial life is ever discovered then people’s belief and faith in God would be shattered.
I take exception to that and I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I daresay my faith would be further solidified because this would be additional proof that there’s more to this existence than we initially surmised, that there is some kind of design to all of this. That there’s more for us to learn from these cultures in order to evolve and grow. Whatever your belief system, religion and science shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, in my humble opinion. Both are about discovery and learning and admitting that we don’t have all the answers and it’s in the journey, in the search that we evolve.
The bottom line is while we all have our beliefs, none of us know anything for certain and we shouldn’t presume to think so. I’m not saying that everyone should believe in God. I’m humble and wise enough to know that there are multiple paths to God/truth/enlightenment. So if being a Christian/Jew/Muslim/agnostic/atheist/Buddhist/Wiccan/etc. makes you a better human being, then rock it. But faith in a higher power doesn’t make one addle-brained and science-phobic.
The miniseries delves into the lives and backstories of each of the principle players. The new characters introduced are by no means throw-away characters as each of them contain enough development to help the story emotionally resonate. Lois in particular was a welcomed addition and was very Martha-esque. And speaking of Dr. Martha Jones, she and Mickey were scheduled to be in Children of Earth but due to scheduling conflicts neither were able to be in the series.
While Martha appears in the audio play Lost Souls (which takes place between seasons two and three) and it’s mentioned that she’s on her honeymoon, the fanboy within me would’ve loved to see her and Mickey in this story just to see how the dynamics would’ve played out with additional infusion of Doctor Who alumni.
Oh and Policeman Andy gets the win for the best one-liner ever to Rhys and Gwen.
“You’re pregnant Gwen? Congratulations. Who’s the father?”
One of the many things I enjoy about Torchwood (aside from the obvious John Barrowman delight) is its unapologetic honesty of its critique of the human condition. Torchwood is Angel to Doctor Who’s Buffy. One of things that sometimes irk me about Doctor Who and most scifi shows is this naive belief that ALL of humanity is the most speshul species in existence and we’re just speshul just for being us. We’re not and we need to be reminded of that constantly. We need shows like Battlestar Galactica, Angel, Firefly, Torchwood and Dollhouse that give humanity a gutcheck that asks the big questions and educate, entertain and uplift us. We need to see the darkness in order to understand why we must continue striving towards the light. Perhaps one day, we as a race will be something exceptional but that day is a long way away. We still have a lot of work to do.
The Real Monsters
It became painfully obvious very quickly that the real monsters were not the 456 but humanity. Governments were willing to sacrifice the planet’s most precious resource (pimp out children as drugs to aliens) in order to save their own asses. Rather than working in solidarity and pulling their resources, the government began covering up their past sins and murdering their own. Classism and racism quickly came into play when it was discussed which child would be delivered and which ones would be exempt. When faced with a frightening threat, the powers that be allowed their fear, hubris, ignorance and bigotry to rule them. It was the British government who kept the matter secret rather than ask for help from UNIT and other governments, after all, a threat to one is a threat to all. However officials argued over how to save their collective asses while the masses suffered.
The difference between Torchwood and the other players and the monsters was that Torchwood and co. risked and selflessly sacrificed to save others, even at their own expense. Whereas the Prime Minister not only had no qualms about utilizing black ops but he was even willing to leave the rest of the planet at a severe handicap by keeping Britian’s previous dealings with the 456 a secret. Often in media and history, when we look for the most horrific examples of humanity, we turn to the Nazis and for good reason. But CoE reminded us that we’re all capable of the very same evil if we’re not mindful. Sadly CoE reminded us that often humanity’s greatest threat is itself.
There’s so much to this character, I don’t even know where to start. He’s a paradox of sorts. On one hand he’s dark and grim and easily makes Batman and Angel look like Superman. Yet you often forget that because of his charming, warm, seductive persona. His mere voice sounds of something too light to be set in such a noir world like Torchwood and he’s the star of the show. But he’s not Batman or Angel, and while he’s certainly the warmer of the three, he’s also the coldest. Where there are some things the other dark avengers won’t compromise on, Harkness will do so in a heartbeat. He will cross the line. He will assist with suicide, kill a child (more on that in a second) for the greater good. Behind that shiny veneer is a chasm of despair and pain. After all, a man who cannot die has nothing to fear. And it would take nothing short of a Timelord with a haunting past to cure him.
But we love him. Every unspeakable act has been done to this man and he comes back. He always comes back. Always dashing, always seductive. No matter what he does, you know he’s fighting for the greater good and is willing to sacrifice anything for it. And if you think you can keep Harkness down, well, you don’t know Jack!
This relationship wasn’t going to last and to be completely honest, I’m shocked it lasted as long as it did. Jack has far too many layers and and Ianto hadn’t even began to scratch the surface.
Oh sure, they cared for each other but Jack isn’t the settling down type and Ianto knew that and he was cool with it. That’s why Jack never acted on his feelings for Gwen because he knew she would want the commitment, the flowers, the ring, the kids, the house, all of it and Jack wouldn’t/couldn’t be that man. He’s not that man. What’s also interesting about this is that while Jack is omnisexual, Ianto isn’t even gay. As he explained to his sister, he didn’t have an attraction to men, it was just one man.
This made for very compelling television because it kept their relationship interesting (and yes the man on man action was hot). But you knew they were on borrowed time as most Torchwood agents don’t live past 26.
Death Becomes Them
In The Dark Knight, Alfred reminded Bruce that when he took a stand as Gotham’s crusader, he would be tested and there would be consequences for doing the right thing. Such was the case with Ianto’s death. Often when the hero makes battle-cry for everyone to band together to fight the villain, everyone comes together, dramatic orchestra music is played, the bad guys are beaten and the day is saved. But the reality is you don’t always get rewarded for doing the right thing. In fact, there’s usually a consequence. No good deed goes unpunished. After Suzie, Owen and Tosh, it’s been pretty much established that everyone is fair game. There had to be a consequence for rallying against the dark forces, for doing the right thing and what would be more painful than eliminating a beloved and popular character like Ianto.
If there was a death more tragic than Ianto’s, it was the death of Jack’s grandson, Steven, at the hands of Jack. But Jack isn’t completely responsible for the child’s death. Oh he may have pulled the trigger, but he didn’t load the gun or aim the barrel. We have the Prime Minister, UNIT and the other governments to thank for that. For it was their actions that led to Steven and his mother being kidnapped and placed in a situation where killing him was humanity’s only hope. Had they handled things differently and maybe with a modicum of honesty and decency, perhaps there would’ve been fewer deaths.
So what’s the difference between Jack’s actions and that of the government? Simple. The powers that be were willing commit unspeakable sins and horrid atrocities for their own selfish interests. Jack, on the other hand, acted to do whatever was necessary to end the threat once and for all. Even if it meant sacrificing himself or something even more valuable.
What Harkness did is what Jack Bauer has done time and time again (though not with kids). Sacrifice one innocent life for the greater good. It’s the same thing Buffy conceded she would’ve done in season seven when she admitted to Giles that if she had it to do all over again and had no other alternative that she would in fact kill Dawn to save the earth. The same way she sacrificed Angel in season two to keep the planet from being sucked into hell. Of course she would never do so because she’s a heroine and heroes and heroines are always stalwart and true, uncompromising and unyielding and they always find a way. It was ruthless, it was cold, it was also necessary. And only a man who has nothing to fear could do it.
A man who doesn’t die has nothing to lose. One thing that’s always interesting is that whenever there’s a war, those in power don’t mind sending other people’s children to die but they’ll move heaven and earth to protect their self-interests. They don’t mind fighting for “freedom” as long as they don’t have to sacrifice or step out of their comfort zone. Only fools and profiteers wish for war. So unless you’re willing to kill your own child for “the greater good” or “democracy” or “freedom,” perhaps you should try that peace thing again.
All of that said, yes, it broke my heart when Steven was killed.
An Injury to One is an Injury to All
Torchwood and Harkness actually taught us the solution to most (if not all) of humanity’s problems. An injury to one, is an injury to all. When Harkness stated that when people act according to that philosophy, the human race is the finest species in the universe. And in that regard he’s right.
Think about it. If we were to adopt said philosophy, bigotry, institutional oppression, war, poverty would become things of the past or at the very least far less prevalent than it is today. Because we would look at each other as equals and we would stand together as one. History has proven that it is in solidarity, wisdom, strength and compassion that we can achieve greatness.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. even stated this very sentiment, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Humanity could do great things with this mindset but until we accept it, we’re going to continue to head for a fall.
What Lies Ahead
At the conclusion of Children of Earth, my heart broke a bit. Actually I had to be talked off a ledge, given my happy pills because CoE while incredible storytelling is that intense. But then after all of that, my heart broke a bit. I thought about how awesome it would’ve been if I had a Jack Harkness when I was a kid. We need more LGBTQ heroes like Jack Harkness, Xavin, Willow Rosenberg, Lafayette Reynolds, Xena, Thom Creed, Midnighter, Renee Montoya and less Northstars.
So I gaze at the heavens, I anxiously await Jack’s return. I also ponder on creating new heroes and heroines to continue his work.
6 thoughts on “Rewatching Torchwood: Children of Earth”
I am a great fan of Torchwood and I am looking forward to the next series, which I understand will be released later this year.
Interesting that name Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who
The Science Geek
I loved this show. I don’t think I could watch this story yet, it bought out too many feelings.
Fabulous analysis. I loved Children of Earth and agree it could have used the extra episodes wasted later with HBO. BBC alone did better. I love the fact you mention it was more who they were in love with, not so much the gender. My heart broke to at the end and do hope for more…
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