Tag Archives: Torchwood: Children of Earth

Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Five”

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“Day Five”

July 24th, 2009

As an experiment, I don’t really know how we’re supposed to qualify Children of Earth as a piece of television. Are we supposed to be judging it as if it were a season of Torchwood? If so, I can’t really offer an opinion on that subject, as my lack of experience with the show previously would make me an unfair judge. At the same time, is it really fair to consider the miniseries as a standalone piece of entertainment when it hinged so much on both past character associations and future ramifications? While I’m ready to sing its praises from that perspective, certainly entering into the upper echelon of television that I’ve seen this year, that probably doesn’t cover the entirety of the show’s success.

As such, all I can really do is say this: while “Day Four” struggled from moving too quickly, and “Day Five” inevitably struggled with the same pacing issues necessitated by the five-episode cycle, Torchwood: Children of Earth is nonetheless ending in a way that so few shows are able to. In this final part, emotional beats range from the disturbing to the tragic, the triumphant to the tragic, the climactic to the tragic, and…did I mention tragic? The series is all about that underlying element of tragedy, an unescapable sense that whatever is about to happen in these interactions with the 4-5-6 is just another drop in the water when it comes to society’s failings – “Day Four” evoked the idea that these children had already been failed by the government, so their use as bargaining chips with the 4-5-6 was just an extreme extension of that. It’s a horrifying and chilling notion, and one that the final episode of the miniseries drives home in a number of key tragedies.

Let’s just put it this way: if this is a happy ending, Russell T. Davies is truly (as Alan Sepinwall once noted) a bastard, although one who’s crafted a brilliantly compelling series of television.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Three”

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“Day Three”

July 22nd, 2009

At the heart of “Day Three,” part three of five of this week’s Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries, is the fate of the middleman (sadly, the fate of canceled ABC Family series The Middleman remains the same, just in case you were wondering). With a new (Read: old) extraterrestrial threat at Great Britain’s doorstep, what’s becoming clear is that everyone and their mother wants to distance themselves from the conflict at hand. However, for various reasons, there are people trapped in the middle of the conflict who make things easier for one side and far more difficult for those who find themselves middlemen (and middlewomen, for that matter) in the midst of a very complicated conflict.

It makes for a really intriguing glimpse into the first ambassadorial contact with the 4-5-6, however, as the cloud of poison continues to shroud their identity in mystery in a way that doesn’t feel like a budget-saving move and instead feels just as moody and atmospheric as it should. We have three separate vantage points at the inevitable conversation that everyone has been waiting for, and all of them point towards this being a situation that will not end well, and one where the middlemen and middlewomen are likely to find themselves held responsible for things they never really wanted any part of.

And good or bad, I feel for all of them.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day One”

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“Day One”

July 20th, 2009

The trope of creepy children is not exactly new . Not only have there been numerous horror films that have utilized the form, but there have also been numerous parodies – I may have never seen Children of the Corn or Village of the Damned, for example, but I have seen The Simpsons’ parody of them when Springfield’s youth sneak into a late night showing of The Bloodening. A quick check of TV Tropes (which, if you haven’t discovered it before, is a wonderful way to waste hours of your time) indicates that this is not exactly something new, which could indicate that Torchwood: Children of Earth is at risk of being derivative.

However, like any good piece of science fiction, Children of Earth is about the reaction to a particularly strange phenomenon rather than the event itself, and where the miniseries sets itself apart is in the diversity of responses. By focusing on two very different agencies at the heart of Britain’s response to this crisis, and by introducing a combination of characters who will become more important as the series goes on as well as hints that there is more than meets the eye to this conflict, one realizes that the creepy children are an entrance point.

What emerges in “Day One” of this special Torchwood event is the way in which these creepy children are a uniting force. There’s a scene where Frobisher, a civil servant, asks a colleague whether or not he has any children of his own, and he responds that he simply didn’t have the time. However, while it may initially seem like an uncanny introduction to a broader conflict, the use of children as a central theme provides a connective thread for all of the series’ characters: all are in some way effected by children, and the result is a sense that the stakes are not only political or extraterrestrial (this is science fiction) but also personal.

With all of that out of the way, meanwhile, the show can get to blowing things up – there’s plenty of excitement to join its more subtle points of development.

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A Television Event: Torchwood: Children of Earth Preview

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Preview: A Television Event

July 20th, 2009

As a television-producing nation, Britain was very much at the forefront of the short-run series. While American networks tend to focus on syndication, with cable series being the one notable exception, British series like The Office and Extra (amongst others, of course) were amongst the first to eschew the “more is more” principle and embrace the concise, focused and effective season.

However, Torchwood: Children of Earth is a really intriguing little experiment. A fairly successful BBC series in its own right, the Doctor Who spinoff went from thirteen episode seasons in its first two years to a five-part, five night miniseries that aired as a week-long event a few weeks ago on the BBC, and airs this week on BBC America and Space in North America starting this evening. The miniseries is certainly more prevalent in Britain than it is in America: look at how American producers turned successful miniseries like The Eleventh Hour or State of Play into either television shows or movies as opposed to maintaining the format.

If I had to offer a theory as to why the miniseries has been predominantly ignored stateside, I’d suggest that it’s due to shifting perceptions of event television. Tracing back to the phenomenon of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (which coincidentally returns next month), the rise of reality television has shifted the concept of event television. While there are still shared television experiences that can bring people together, the simplicity of reality television has changed both the context and volume of such events. There is an event every few months, American Idol leading to America’s Got Talent leading to the next series that in its emphasis on viewer democracy creates an event. I can’t remember the last legitimately successful miniseries, and the presence of only two Miniseries in this year’s Emmy category (and the fact that Generation Kill was realistically more of a short-order series than a miniseries) would seem to indicate that the form is on its last legs.

What makes Torchwood: Children of Earth so interesting is that it was a huge hit in Great Britain, and the only thing legitimately standing in its way of being a big hit in North America is its accessibility through less than legal channels. It emerges as a piece of event television that may not be a third season in the way that some fans expected, and that certainly appeals more to fans of science fiction than to the kind of people who obsessed over Susan Boyle, but that in its deft use of plotting and sly combination of both continuity and exposition hooks the viewer in.

Children of Earth tells the story of Torchwood, an organization designed to protect Britain from extraterrestrial life forms, and in particular their response to a very strange scenario. At 8:40 in the morning, every single child around the world stops dead in their tracks, responding to no one and creating a series of accidents and more than a few red flags. The miniseries follows Torchwood’s efforts to respond to this crisis, as well as the government response. In both instances, there are a number of twists and turns more at home in a political thriller than your typical piece of science fiction, and yet at the core of everything is the unquestionable existence of extraterrestrial life.

I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say that despite my very minimal experience with Doctor Who and zero experience with Torchwood, I was thoroughly transfixed by tonight’s opening episode. I’ve never quite watched a piece of television that’s operated in this fashion, developing an intelligent serialized science fiction suspense thriller that in many ways offers the scripted equivalent to the game show event: by leaving you hanging at the end of the first night, desperate to discover what the uncertain future episodes will bring, and then actually delivering the following evening, it captured me in a way that a traditional series wouldn’t be able to. Children of Earth left this non-fan not only dying to move onto the next episode but also most interested in returning to the show’s first two seasons, which seems to me to be its ultimate goal.

And that’s the kind of event television that feels like a breath of fresh air during the summer television season. Torchwood: Children of Earth starts tonight on BBC America at 9/8c, and at 10pm EDT on Space Channel in Canada. I’ll be back later tonight with my thoughts on Part One; In the meantime, you can check out reviews from fellow relative Torchwood neophytes Dan Fienberg and James Poniewozik, as well as some more seasoned perspectives from Alan Sepinwall and Maureen Ryan.

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