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Blank Pages and Executive Orders: "Torchwood: Children of Earth" Day One

No bones about it: Torchwood: Children of Earth certainly kicked off with a bang.

Written by Russell T. Davies, the first installment ("Day One") of the five-episode event--which comprises Torchwood's third season--certainly ramped up the tension and intrigue and brought the team to the brink of destruction even as they face their greatest threat yet, an alien incursion on Earth that seems to be using the planet's children as a sort of advance warning system.

Just who are The 456? What do they want? And why are they speaking through Earth's children? Those are the burning questions yet to answer. That is, if Torchwood survives long enough to get to the bottom of a political conspiracy that has ensnared the prime minister, Thames House, and a black ops organization with no qualms about killing whoever gets in their way.

You've read my advance review of Torchwood: Children of Earth as a whole but now that "Day One" has aired, we can discuss this installment in detail. (And, if you haven't yet watched the first episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth, beware: SPOILERS aplenty below here.)

As the start of Torchwood: Children of Earth, I thought Davies did a fantastic job of setting up the overarching plot and raising the stakes completely. While previous Torchwood excursions have included dangerous situations for the team, none have resulted in the outright destruction of the Hub, the team's underground Cardiff base of operations.

The explosion at the end of the episode--resulting from a bomb being implanted inside the stomach of an unconscious Captain Jack Harkness--was as shocking as it was thrilling, the announcement that nothing would be the same after this five-episode arc and that there were no sacred cows here. Everything is up for grabs: the team's base, their lives, the very fabric of society.

And Davies pulled a nice bait-and-switch with Rupesh Patanjali (Rik Makarem), the Anglo-Indian doctor who seemed a most likely candidate to join Torchwood after his introduction, especially as it was arranged that Jack and Ianto would meet Rupesh by chance at the hospital. What plays out is a nice callback to Gwen's introduction to the team after she stumbled onto something inexplicable and alien. But Rupesh isn't an idealistic recruit; rather, he's a member of the very same black ops task force that is sent to take care of Jack Harkness and several others on a blank page organized by the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi), a civil servant with knowledge of the so-called 456 and how their arrival ties into an incident in 1965 Scotland.

It's that knowledge that sets him on a path of destruction, targeting Jack Harkness and several others even as the Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell) denies all involvement in these matters. If there's blame to be assigned, it's going to fall on Frobisher and not the PM. But just what are they concealing? For one thing, it's connected to that 1965 incident, an incident which resulted in the disappearance of several children and which left one--Clement McDonald--an unwitting witness to all that passed.

Clem (Paul Copley) is now a grown-man living in an institution. His history and true name are shrouded in mystery but we learn that he was the sole survivor of what appears to be the 456's last visit to Earth in 1965.... and he has sensed their return--smelled it, more precisely--on the air for the last few months. He's also targeted by the black ops force overseen by the ruthless Johnson (Liz May Bryce) but he manages to slip out of the facility before he's nabbed.

That is, after he meets Gwen Cooper and comes clean about his real name and, in a rather surprising twist, tells her that she's pregnant. It's a stunning twist that's nicely juxtaposed with the threat facing the planet's children. In a world where aliens are seemingly controlling the planet's youth and speaking through them, is a pregnancy something to celebrate? Or rather to fear?

Eve Myles' performance with Clem was a study in underplaying a scene; she slyly wins over Clem's trust with her sweet gap-toothed smile and playful touches and reminds the viewers just why Gwen is the heart and soul of Torchwood. It's her innate kindness and sympathy that make her the perfect entry point to the series for viewers.

And families seem to be on the forefront of everyone's mind in this installment as Ianto goes to see his estranged sister Rhiannon (Katy Wix) in an effort to borrow his niece and nephew for testing (no dice there). Instead, their meeting becomes a heart-to-heart where Ianto comes clean about his relationship with Jack, a major turning point considering that Jack refuses to use the word "couple" to describe them. We also learn that Ianto broke off relations with his sister after the death of their father and that he doesn't tell her anything about himself. That does for his sexuality as much as it does for Torchwood itself. It's all secrets all the time for Ianto.

Jack, meanwhile, has a family of his own. Or namely, an adult daughter named Alice Carter (Lucy Cohu) and a grandson named Steven (Bear McCausland) with whom he maintains a fiction that he is Alice's brother. For her part, Alice has a natural suspicion of Jack and well as a need to protect her son from her father. It's not easy to explain why you are older than your father or why your father never seems to age while you get older and older. Suffice it to say: things are strained even before Jack turns up looking to borrow Steven for a little while.

Meanwhile, at Thames House, there's a new PA in Frobisher's office named Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) who stumbles onto the fact that her new boss is dealing with an extraterrestrial threat and furtively uses the login of Frobisher's PA Bridget Spears (Susan Brown) to uncover the execution order on Jack Harkness. It might just be me but she seems to have the makings of a crack Torchwood recruit and she's perfectly positioned to help the team, no?

Johnson herself is terrifyingly efficient. The way that she called out "sides!" when Rupesh attempted to flee after he shot Jack (and realized that Johnson was going to have him killed) was stunningly cold. She's a worthy adversary for the Torchwood team and is just as dogged in her pursuit of the government's agenda as the Torchwood team is in stopping alien threats. Could it be that they're outnumbered and outwitted this time?

Best line of the evening: "Big science fiction super-base. Honestly!" - Gwen on what's inside the Hub's relatively unassuming exterior.

What did you think of tonight's installment? What do the 456 want? Why are they coming back? Why must Jack Harkness and Torchwood be eliminated? And just what does the 456's latest message--"We are coming back"--actually mean? Find out tonight...

On Day Two of Torchwood: Children of Earth, the fractured Torchwood team is forced to go underground as the government attempts to hunt them down and eliminate them.

Comments

Unknown said…
Brilliant! The ending "Back!" gave me chills. I can only hope they start shooting season 4 soon. :-)
Page48 said…
One can only hope that Team "Fringe" is sitting in on this 5 day event, scribbling copious notes along the way. God knows they could certainly stand to pick up a few pointers on how to bring tension and excitement to a sci-fi story.

I am willing to predict that such elements, added to "Fringe", would not be a ratings killer. Nor would serial storytelling, which TCOE will demonstrate as this week unfolds.
Tempest said…
Wow.

Ok, that's pretty much all I've got right now. I can't wait to see where they go with this. I'm just glad it's a week-long event and not stretched out. Waiting is difficult. I even considered waiting until Sunday so I could watch all the episdoes back-to-back.
Anonymous said…
Had never watched Torchwood before and didn't know about this til I read your review but I am glad I watched last night. US T.V. should be doing more things like this. I'm going to buy the first 2 seasons of Torchwood on DVD. You've made a fan out of me!
Heatherette said…
Fantastic first episode. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I love the government conspiracy angle and the fact that Jack has a daughter and grandson. I was very surprised about that as well as Gwen's pregnancy...AND the fact that the doctor was part of the black oops team. Didn't see that coming!

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