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Flesh and Blood: "Torchwood: Children of Earth" Day Five

"Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame."

"Day Five" of Torchwood: Children of Earth, written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Euros Lyn, proved to be absolutely gut-wrenching television, as evocative as it was gripping. In the hands of Davies and his writing staff, Torchwood: Children of Earth is one of the most powerful and moving pieces of television making this year.

As a whole, Torchwood: Children of Earth is about what happens when we reach that tipping point, when the hard choices have to be broached, and sacrifices made. It's also about how the sins of the past always have a nasty habit at catching up to us and how truth will always out in the end. It's a heartbreaking testament to the enduring spirit of the human race and also how easily we as a society can turn on ourselves.

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

I have to begin by saying how absolutely amazing Peter Capaldi was as John Frobisher. For a role that deceptively starts out as little more than a paper-pushing civil servant, his performance in the final installment of Torchwood: Children of Earth turns Frobisher into a tragic figure the likes of which are rarely seen on television. Forced by Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell) to give up his own daughters to the inoculation scheme (read: turn them over to the 456), Frobisher reaches his own tipping point and requisitions a firearm, which he then uses on his two daughters, his wife, and ultimately himself, rather than give them over to a hellish eternal existence.

In Capaldi's gifted hands, Frobisher becomes a wholly sympathetic character, who is forced to perform an unspeakable act in order to safeguard his children's safety. Is it murder? Or an act of mercy? Could he have stood by and let his beloved daughters become the personal fix of an alien race? The way that Green so cruelly and matter-of-factly informs Frobisher of his decision--a calculated ploy to paint the government as dupes of the 456--send chills up my spine. This is a man who values his own power more than humanity itself.

"Day Five" also gives us a street-level view of what the crisis with the children is causing around the world. Davies was wise to develop the character of Ianto's sister Rhiannon (Katy Wix) and here she plays a vital role when Jack tasks Gwen with keeping Ianto's niece and nephew safe. These are the very children who are at risk of being taken and the scenes with Gwen and Rhys running with the children were utterly heartbreaking.

As I said earlier this week, it was especially brave, in a series about the victimization of children, to make the female lead pregnant and in "Day Five" Gwen questions having a child in a world like the one they're living in. How can you bring life into a world that would give up its children callously? Where they could be at risk if the 456 returned?

And yet there's always hope. After making her taped confession about the end of the world, Gwen admits to Rhys that she wouldn't go through with an abortion, that she wouldn't do that to him. Even in a world as topsy-turvy as this one, children still represent hope for a better future.

It's also a world where people are willing to take a stand, whether it's Rhiannon's no-good husband Johnny (Rhodri Lewis), the imprisoned Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo), Gwen's former copper colleague PC Andy Davidson (Tom Price), Frobisher's long-suffering PA Bridget Spears (Susan Brown), or cabinet minister Denise Riley (Deborah Findlay), the latter of which turn on the Prime Minister when he expresses relieve at saving his own political career after the 456 incident, intending to blame what happened on the Americans. I loved that Davies withheld the reveal that Spears was wearing the Torchwood contact lenses until the very last minute and then she intended to expose Brian Green for the coward he really is... and that Denise Riley took over without so much as a political coup. Justice will overcome, one imagines.

But "Day Five" also finally revealed the truth of what the 456 wanted the children for. A "hit" of chemicals that creates a euphoric effect on them; these children--kept alive forever--are walking bodybags of recreational drugs. That the truth behind the abductions comes down to pharmaceuticals is a stroke of genius. During "Day Four," I couldn't figure out what the 456 would possibly need the children for if the kids weren't keeping the 456 alive. I never could have imagined that this what what they wanted them for, that after getting a taste (from those twelve kids) they now want millions of them. They're little more than alien junkies jonesing for their next fix.

Jack and the British government enabled this situation by handing over those twelve kids in 1965 and even if they turn over millions of children now, there's no guarantee that the 456 won't come back at any point in the future and demand even more. In fact, it's more than bloody likely that they would keep demanding more and more as time goes on. So how to stop them?

Despite still reeling from the death of Ianto in "Day Four," Jack Harkness is able to come up with a plan that could destroy the 456 and prevent the crisis from unfolding. But there's a price to pay for this. In 1965, Jack sacrificed twelve orphans in order to save the planet. But now, faced with the loss of millions of children, there's a different cost, a personal sacrifice that has to be made. And despite his feelings for his grandson Steven (Bear McCausland) and with the knowledge that it will destroy what little love exists between him and his daughter Alice (Lucy Cohu), Jack uses Steven as a conduit for a signal that will damage the 456.

Despite the fact that Jack can't bear to look at Steven as he does it, the fact that he has had to sacrifice his grandson--his own flesh and blood--kills Jack inside more than any bullet wound or explosion. He once offered up strangers to save Earth but now he's forced to give up his own flesh and blood. Is it cruel that he prevents his daughter from seeing her child one last time? Or does he know that there's no way she'll ever be able to let him go? After all, it's both of their lives that Jack gambles away and the dark look that passes afterward between Jack and Alice confirms that their relationship is dead and beyond repair.

It's no surprise then that Jack runs away. He blames himself not only for the deaths of Ianto and Steven but also those of Tosh, Owen, and Suzie as well. But there's nowhere he can go that he can escape his crushing guilt, even as he tells Gwen that he's off to the other side of the solar system. The Doctor knows better than anyone that it doesn't matter where or when you go, you can't outrun your past or your sins.

So is this the end of Torchwood? I don't think so, though the team is completely fractured, battered, and broken. Ianto, Tosh, and Owen are dead, Jack is running, and Gwen is six months pregnant. Something tells me, however, that this isn't the last we've seen of the team. Jack will come home eventually, Gwen will have her baby, Lois will join a new incarnation of Torchwood and the team will continue to safeguard the planet against alien threats.

In the meantime, just keep your fingers crossed for Season Four of Torchwood. I know I am.

What did you think of Torchwood: Children of Earth? Were you surprised by the twists and turns along the way? Is this the end of the team and the series? Will Jack return from the stars and what will happen to Gwen's baby? Discuss.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is available for purchase on DVD Tuesday, July 28th for a suggested retail price of $29.98. Or you can pre-order a copy today in the Televisionary store for $17.49.

Comments

Unknown said…
I never saw the drug angle coming. That was bloody brilliant. It also necessitated that something needed to be done, the 456 would certainly be back for more in the future.
Tempest said…
See, this is what I love about Torchwood -- the unexpected, the payoff. The drug element was absolutely brilliant. It makes everything just that much more horrifying.

The entire cast was wonderful. But like everyone else, I have to applaud Peter Capaldi. He plays the part so beautifully that when Bridget Spears tells Lois (and us) that "He was a good man" we realize that's the real tragedy of this story. He WAS a good man -- and look what happened.

So many wonderful things here. I continue to love the reactions of Ianto's brother-in-law. He's not going down without a fight. And it was great to see PC Andy join in. (Although, I think he should have left his vest on.) Loved Johnson's take-charge attitude of Captain Jack. If Torchwood does continue, she might not be a bad addition. Also, loved the tentatively developing camaraderie between Jack and Alice that was cruelly dashed with the sacrifice of Steven.

(Not to say this was perfect. The development of the solution seemed to come very quickly.)

All in all, bloody brilliant.
Erica said…
torchwood without tosh & owen was hard enough to imagine. but torchwood without ianto? a travesty! as much as i want to see more, i have no idea where they'll go from here.
Unknown said…
Simply brilliant. So powerful, evil, and sadly realistic.

I think Green valued his own power more than his own humanity--not just that of the human race.

I couldn't believe the writers had Frobisher go through with it. The three gunshots (and the final one) had me on the edge of my seat. Of course, his actions are all the more poignant because they were, ultimately, unnecessary.

While Jack's sacrifice of his grandson, Steven, is understandable, so is his daughter's loathing of him and, of course, his own self-loathing. It'll be interesting to see the fallout of his decision next season.

"Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame."

Deeply moving.
Such a powerful story. I know a lot of people are mad about Ianto's death but I think that he had to die for the story to work. Jack had to lose everything. I will miss his character but I'm glad the writers are willing to take risks like that because its those risks that make the show as excellent as it is.

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