Torchwood: Children Of Earth (TV Show Review)

Okay, this is my first review, so feel free to comment on how to improve it. Oh, and there's a conclusion (and TL;DR version) at the bottom if you find this to be a wall of text.

image

A few weeks ago, BBC ran a five part miniseries of the British show Torchwood over a week. This show; which was named Torchwood: Children Of Earth, did receive some good hype from channels within the BBC network and after its showing was accepted on The Escapist as "fairly good, but the ending was terrible". From a personal point of view, I have to agree with this, and I'll go into more detail later on.

For those of you in countries other than the UK or anyone else who hasn't heard of Torchwood; it is a spin-off of the famous TV series Doctor Who. Based on a secret organisation formed by Queen Victoria, Torchwood's mission is to research paranormal activity, mainly aliens and extra terrestrials. The show itself concentrates on the Cardiff division, where a rift between dimensions (as seen on a previous Doctor Who series) has caused high amounts of alien activity in the capital city of Wales.

Now, although other spin-offs of one of the most popular BBC shows have been attempted, where Torchwood differs is the audience. Whilst most if not all other Doctor Who-based shows have been aimed at children, Torchwood decided to break this mould by aiming at a much older target viewer, a harder audience to satisfy with a serious Sci-fi drama series.

However, whilst it was successful at targeting its audience (with a decent amount of violence, action and romance to interest any teenager); it did have a share of downfalls which were criticised heavily as a result. Whilst the show was exciting and action-based, the plot itself seemed linear and was based around just two characters: firstly, Gwen Cooper, a former police woman who is the newest member of the team and has just joined at the start of Series One: Episode One; and secondly former Doctor Who character Captain Jack Harkness, the head of Torchwood Cardiff; a man who can live for millions of years. Even then, it focused mainly on Captain Jack. When Season Two was shown, whilst it appeared that Russell T. Davies learned from the criticism, the show still seemed to be concentrated on Mr. Harkness. And so we come to this; the latest we have heard from the team and, on first appearance, it does have potential.

The aliens known only as the 456

The basic plot is that all the children in the world are stopping at the same time, and for this time frame repeating the words 'We are coming.' As a result of this, the UK Government are concerned about a former alien encounter with a creature known as the 456 (because of the frequency the species sent messages and communications on), who wanted twelve children to take to their home planet. Whilst that incident was small enough to cover up at the time, this new meeting is an international phenomenon, so there is a good chance of word about this getting out to the world. Especially as it turns out that the aliens now want 10% of all the children on Earth. To avoid this publicity, Secretary to the Home Office, John Frobisher has decided to remove this alien species and everything related from the record, including the Torchwood Corporation and, more specifically, Captain Jack Harkness. From there what evolves is a very deep story and whilst I won't give away any spoilers, it has any amount of plot twists and interlaced ideas.

One of the things I like about this plot is the ideas it is based upon. Lots of stuff in this story has significance to real life and something that people need to realise. The very plot of aliens wanting 10% of all the children on earth or they will kill the entire human race presents the idea of a question of morals.

It is only by the end that you realise<br />how close the two characters actually are.

We also have the selfishness of the Prime Minister; Brian Green, a man who will do anything to make himself look good to the public, no matter the consequences for the people who have to pick up the pieces. (Parallels with recent British leaders may be suggested here!) In this case, the person suffering from Brian Green's actions is John Frobisher; who, although he initially appears to be evil, does eventually achieve a type of redemption.

As for the sub-plots, I found them to be one of the best things about the series. Whilst in the previous two seasons the plot appeared thin and linear, this storyline was filled with sub-plots as if they were trying to make up for previous gaps. The most impressive I found was the relationship between Torchwood colleagues Captain Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones. At the beginning, the relationship makes little difference to the plot; Ianto is excited when people talk to them as if they are a couple; Jack doesn't care. But by the end - Episode Four to be exact- you realise how deep their relationship goes, and how much the two actually love each other. It also gives an idea of how serious the show is as well. This is probably the first time a homosexual relationship has been presented in any series related to Doctor Who- let alone been taken seriously- with plenty of drama by the end.

However, there were a couple of things that I don't see any real significance in at all. For example, we have a small storyline featuring Gwen Cooper and her husband Rhys Williams, when it turns out that the Torchwood agent has become pregnant. To be honest, I don't really see the reason for this, it adds nothing to the actual story.

Also, there's one scene in Day Five, which consists of Gwen Cooper making a black and white video talking about how she has lost all faith in humanity. Whilst it is one of the most dramatic scenes in the whole show, I just don't see the point in having it. Okay, it builds tension and gets the message across, but did it really need to be emphasised again?

And then there was the ending to this series. Whilst not wanting to give anything away, I will say, it was terrible. Although it wasn't something the viewer expected, it felt tacked on, added nothing to the plot and will result in annoying loopholes if another series ever gets made. I can't see why they added it nor did almost anyone else whom I have talked to about it or who has commented on the thread linked above. Also, as soon as the scene started to evolve, what was going to happen became predictable. Only thing I kind of liked about it was the acting, but it wasn't any more spectacular than the rest of the show.

To be honest, I found most of the acting brilliant, and the characters played out really well. Special mention should go out to Gareth David-Lloyd (playing Ianto Jones) and John Barrowman (playing Captain Jack Harkness) for exceptional performances, especially in episodes four and five. Here they really start to bring the emotions of their characters into the work, and it does show what they can actually do. But there was one exceptional actor, and that was Paul Copley. He played the crucial character of Clem MacDonald, and it describes him on the Torchwood website as a "Confused old man living in a psychiatric hospital in East Sussex who starts repeating what the children all over Earth are saying when the 456 make contact." Paul Copley manages to fulfil this character flawlessly, with some astonishing work in creating this very difficult personality.

There was only one piece of acting that annoyed me, and that was a very minor one, but it still needs pointing out: The children. For the most of it, they were okay and fitted the characters of- well, children- pretty well, but there was the odd scene that was just bad. During the scenes when the children stood fixed, you could easily pick out the fidgety children, because they were the ones that just wouldn't stand still. And it isn't anything major, but it was annoying and had a bad effect.

Thankfully though, the mood was rescued by the music of the show. The compositions were very good at setting an atmosphere for the scenes, with a heavy use of strings and special effects to build tension and give the effect of something from another world. However effective though they were at setting a mood, they weren't memorable. If you could remember the theme tune, that was it. Nothing stood out and grabbed you, there was very little to remember about specific melodies, it was just minor things going on in the background.

Finally, there's the CGI, which was what you would expect from a BBC budget show nowadays. Exciting, dramatic effects that; for the main part, look realistic with the odd one-or-two cock-ups and over-dramatic explosions such as the one that blows up Torchwood Head Quarters. Whilst being impressive and bringing an exciting mood to the scene, not really that different from other shows. What impressed me the most though, were the aliens. They appeared to be done on such a low budget, yet were still terrifying. They were nothing more than giant models in a room filled with opaque gas. And it was because there was so little shown that they were so creepy.

Conclusion/ TL;DR Version

Overall, it was a very impressive show. Whilst it contained the odd part which was unnecessary or just plain bad; and whilst the ending was stupid, pointless and apparently stuck on as a last-minute way to fill in the time; in its entirety, it was a genuine pleasure to watch. Acting was good and the plot kept you always wanting to see what happened next, despite some rather depressing interludes.

From what I can tell, it's $26 on the internet and maybe a little more expensive in stores; buy it now whilst it's out.

Interesting review.
I watched all five episodes as they were airing on BBC One and in the best possible way they weren't what I was expecting at all. Genre shows have always been sidelined on British TV, but this was proper prime time BBC One drama. Complete with all the uncomfortable social observation that the BBC does when it's at its best.

I do agree with your point about the ending. For a few seconds after the climax became clear I was wondering how they would possibly handle the denouement, what they did do felt like a bit of a cop out. Maybe it'll be resolved better in future episodes or in Doctor Who. The other thing that seemed odd to me was the massive shift in tone and maturity level. When Torchwood started out it was specifically Doctor Who for adults - complete with far more sex and swearing than strictly necessary to make that point (much of which presumably got cut for its US broadcast). Series two dialed it back significantly in order for the BBC to produce an edited version of each episode that would air the next day in an earlier timeslot and be suitable for the children who make up much of Doctor Who's fanbase (presumably to prepare them for Doctor Who's end of series crisis crossover). Now we've got another series that is very much not for the kids.

Russell T Davies has said that he has the first five scenes of the next season ready in his mind. They don't know yet what format it'll be, but it's definitely coming back.

Witty-Name:
The other thing that seemed odd to me was the massive shift in tone and maturity level. When Torchwood started out it was specifically Doctor Who for adults - complete with far more sex and swearing than strictly necessary to make that point (much of which presumably got cut for its US broadcast). Series two dialed it back significantly in order for the BBC to produce an edited version of each episode that would air the next day in an earlier timeslot and be suitable for the children who make up much of Doctor Who's fanbase (presumably to prepare them for Doctor Who's end of series crisis crossover). Now we've got another series that is very much not for the kids.

This is probably due to the production team leaning as they go. It's evident with all the Doctor Who shows, with the possible exception of the Sarah-Jane Adventures - it takes them time to really settle into things.

The first series of Torchwood was very immature in regards to its adult content. There was loads of swearing, large amounts of sex and very 'teenage' behaviour from everybody, really. The show only really showed hints of what it could be with the latter half of the series, and even then it was ruined by a final baddie coming out of nowhere. As I say, learning as they went. There was some good stuff even back then, but they hadn't quite learned the best way to show it.

When it came to the second series, there was a lot less of all three, but the storylines were much more mature, which is what you fail to mention. There were well thought-out arcs, character development and plot devices used throughout - I hold Adrift out as one of the best episodes of the show so far, simply down to how it handles the issues it raises. I also believe that making 'child-friendly' episodes was pointless, as most parents still wouldn't let their kids watch the show. I suppose they thought the subject matter, rather then the way it was presented, was too much for younger minds, something I personally agree with.

Having learned how to deal with adult themes and plotlines, they've brought over these skills into Children of Earth, and it shows. Aside from a few minor niggles, I thought the series was fantastic, as did my Father, who's notoriously difficult to please. Still think the ending, but nothing's ever perfect, is it?

EDIT: Forgot to mention that the BBC has picked the show up for a fourth series.

I kind of hope they stick to the five episode format. It worked much better than the villain of the week style of seasons 1 and 2. Maybe if we had three "seasons" a year, five episodes each.

Darth Marsden:
When it came to the second series, there was a lot less of all three, but the storylines were much more mature, which is what you fail to mention.

Fair point. I do agree that series two was generally a vast improvement on series one, and the storytelling did grow up a vast ammount. I also think the Torchwood writers should be commended on the fact that they're constantly evolving the show and trying out new formats, rather than just sticking to a formula that works.

I'm sure the child friendly episodes served their purpose a little. For one thing we all know how lax parents can be when deciding what's suitable for their children to watch/play. Plus there's probably a lot of older kids who were now allowed to watch it. I suspect a lot of kids just lost interest when it turned out not to be as exciting as Doctor Who though.

I loved Children of Earth...but I do agree that the ending was bad. The events with Rhys and Gwen were more exciting than what Jack was doing, probably because the Jack parts of episode 5 seemed way too much like they were forced. I wish they had more of a build up to Jack stopping the 456 instead of just forcing it near the mid point of the last episode...

Other than a few problem points, Children of Earth was fantastic. It was so immoral and unethical in the things it was telling, using the children as drugs and that bit at the end where Jack sacrifices his grandson to save the world was absolutely chilling. I honestly think that CoE overshadowed Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead on BBC America, even though I loved both shows...

I really don't see how they could ever top CoE in another season of Torchwood, unless they did another 5 part season, which Davies seems to do very well (so I hope he sticks to that formula)...

Witty-Name: The team didn't do the five-parter format by choice - it was part of a cost-cutting scheme by the BBC to try and cut down on costs this year. Same reason why Doctor Who is only having four specials (though that does have the added benefit of giving the new production team time to 'examine their new domain', so to speak). The most surprising thing is just how well Torchwood works as a five-day event.

You may well be right about the kids losing interest, though that just re-enforces my belief that you can't do a child-friendly Torchwood. It's an adult show, and younger viewers either need to accept that when watching or just not bother tuning in at all. You can't really have a middle ground in that respect. I may be wrong, I don't know the figures for the pre-watershed repeats, but I suspect they weren't as high as people thought they'd be. Happy to have that proven to be otherwise though.

MrBrightSide919: I too thought the solution to the whole mess felt rather rushed, but thinking back on it a couple of days later, it suddenly clicked as to why it was like that. Up until then, Torchwood had really been on the back foot, playing catch-up. If they'd had the Hub and the time to look into it, chances are they'd have found the same solution much earlier, but as a result of the Government's actions, they were blown apart, locked up and hunted down.

It was only when they (as in Jack and Mr Dekker) sat down and approached the situation in a logical and professional manner that they saw the solution, and that only happened when they stopped the hunter (Agent Johnson) from hunting them on Day 5.

Again, feels rushed, but it does make sense. Ending still sucks though.

I've been a fan of Torchwood since the beginning. It definitely had a couple of rough episodes in the early going of season 1, but by the midpoint on it has slowly but surely evolved into a quality show.

Children of Earth was on a totally new level from what we had seen previously, though. I could not believe how riveting i found it all. We saw "Torchwood" in a position they hadn't been in before: hunted, on the run and outside of the protection of the government.

The 456 were an incredibly sinister villain. "10%... We want 10%" is about the most chilling thing i've heard from a villain in awhile.. The back and forth between the government, Torchwood and the 456 had you on the edge of your seat.

I'm not sure what portion of the ending you're talking about as being lame?

To be honest i loved how it ended. It didn't take the easy way out, and showed just how far Jack was willing to go and the sacrifices he was willing to make.

We mean the very, very end where Jack basically buggers off to go exploring the universe again. It felt very awkward and almost tacked on at the end, especially given how excellent the rest of the series had been.

I gotcha. I guess i just kind of expected that. I mean how do you deal with giving the order to have your own grandson killed?

Especially when you yourself cannot die? (Cause the obvious answer would be suicide.)

Torchwood = Tesco Value Doctor Who.

If they hadn't spent a whole season advertising it on another show, it never would have even been commissioned.

Fanfiction at it's worst with no redeeming qualities.

good review, although a point by point plot review isn't always the greatest. could be a bit better without going point by point about the plot

anyways i didn't mind the ending, i'm not sure what everyone expected with the ending. it was a fairly dark ending, at least for how they defeated the 456, it's not something that would ever have happened on Doctor Who

i'm at least happy they are returning with a fourth season, tho it would be nice if Jack was back cause frankly i love his character

Very good review.

I thought the ending was okay (except for the way they managed to find the soultion about 5 mins after trying, should have thought of that earlier fools.) I like the way the ending shows that there is not always an 'easy' e.g. Doctor Who doing some fancy wizadry - however even though I liked the ending it left me feeling hollow. I don't know whether it was of because what happened or the fact that it felt rushed.

Sorry for necro'ing this thread from page 2 but I've been on holiday for a week and feel like responding to some posts, seeing as this had none when I left.

Darth Marsden:
EDIT: Forgot to mention that the BBC has picked the show up for a fourth series.

Huh, that's going to be interesting to watch. I'll be interested in seeing how they resurrect it, seing as only two members of Torchwood are still alive and one of them has left the planet.

The_root_of_all_evil:
Torchwood = Tesco Value Doctor Who.

If they hadn't spent a whole season advertising it on another show, it never would have even been commissioned.

Fanfiction at it's worst with no redeeming qualities.

True, they did milk out the Doctor Who relationship quite a bit; even after the show had one series, but I wouldn't go as far to say that it has no redeeming qualities. The later series have picked up and are getting better. It's at least Sainsburys, possibly Co-op value now.

cleverlymadeup:
good review, although a point by point plot review isn't always the greatest. could be a bit better without going point by point about the plot

Yeah, I did realise eventually that I had spent about half the review on the plot and tried to delete certain bits (But sadly, not enough). It was one of the things I could just rant on and I did recognise it as a problem before posting it. Thanks for pointing out anyway.

Anyway, thanks for all the feedback, I may write another review... sometime... if I can be bothered...

 

Reply to Thread

This thread is locked