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New Tricks and Old Ghosts: "Torchwood: Children of Earth" Day Three

"We are here."

"Day Three" of Torchwood: Children of Earth, written by Russell T. Davies and James Moran, certainly brought with it some rather unexpected twists, along with an extra heaping of tension, suspense, and terror as The 456 arrived at Thames House and announced just what it is that they want.

Meanwhile, Torchwood attempted to use PA Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) as their literal eyes on the inside and get their new base of operations--nicknamed Hub 2--up and running so that they could stop The 456. That is, until Jack took off without so much as a by-your-leave.

So what do The 456 want? What does Clem know? Why is Frobisher so hell-bent on keeping the previous encounter between Britain and The 456 off the record? Let's discuss.

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

I thought that "Day Three" was absolutely bloody brilliant. Despite the fact that the episode, scripted by series creator Russell T. Davies and James Moran, had a hell of a lot to cover in an hour's time, it never felt rushed or overblown, instead slowly building the tension towards The 456's arrival--via a pillar of fire no less--at Thames House and escalating things until the realization of Jack's involvement in the 1965 Scotland encounter and the reveal of what The 456 what for their "gift."

But before then, there were some nice character moments: Ianto taking the team to an old Torchwood One holding facility, Rhys using the grease to dub the place Hub 2 (making him an honorary member of the team) and cooking the gang beans, Jack letting the cat out of the bag and telling Rhys he knew about Gwen's pregnancy before Rhys did; Ianto looking for some shenanigans in the dark with Jack, despite the world coming to and end; Gwen's meeting with Lois in which she begged her to use the Torchwood contact lenses, which would allow them to spy on the proceedings at Thames House.

Speaking of which, Cush Jumbo is quite a remarkable find; she gives Lois a steely quality while keeping her absolutely sympathetic and engaging. On lesser series, there would be a bit of Mary Sue-ness about her but here Lois is a conflicted character torn between her duty to her job and her duty to her country, embodying a might versus right debate that seems hardwired into Torchwood: Children of Earth's DNA. The scene in which Gwen pleads with her and forces the contact lenses into her hand is fantastic; both women clearly share the same agenda but only one can put herself on the front line. It's a nice echo of PM Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell)'s assertion that Frobisher being put on the front line isn't an honor: he could be the first to fall. Both Gwen and Lois are aware of the risks involved so when Lois does put in those contact lenses, it's a victory for Torchwood, giving them the ability to remain in the game.

And make no mistake: the stakes are higher than they've ever been. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) proves this when he holds a private audience with The 456 before the aliens can speak to anyone else. He wants it made absolutely clear that any previous conversations or encounters between the UK and the 456 are to remain completely off the record. Why exactly? Because Frobisher doesn't want the rest of the world learning just what happened last time The 456 showed up on British soil... and walked away with twelve children as a result, a "gift" handed to them by Jack Harkness himself.

We know the what now but not the why. Why would the British government willingly give over twelve innocent children to a possibly hostile alien race? And why would Captain Jack Harkness of all people agree to deliver these souls to them? What were The 456 holding over their heads? What price do the lives of twelve children have? That's the mystery now. Jack says that The 456 have shown themselves to be untrustworthy by dint of the fact that they have returned, which makes me believe that these twelve were a virgin sacrifice, a necessary evil to ensure that The 456 went away peacefully.

But, if that's the case, why cover it up? Why order the execution of Jack Harkness and others who were there that night in 1965? Because they could blow this thing sky-high, of course. They could let the other nations of the world know that the United Kingdom negotiated with these creatures, delivered children to them, and swept it all under the rug. There's no way to manage the potential fallout from such a realization nor the damage it would do to the British government.

Which is why Frobisher isn't taking any chances. As soon as he and Johnson (Liz May Bryce) become aware of the existence of Jack's daughter Alice Carter (Lucy Cohu) and his grandson Steven (Bear McCausland), they make their move and bring them in. But Alice is Jack's daughter through and through. Cohu is sensational and she proves the depth of her parentage, grabbing a kitchen knife and her son and sneaking out of the garden when she realizes things have gone too quiet outside. Loved that she clobbered one of the agents and took his firearm (very Jack) and reminded Steven to play the game that his grandmother--ex-Torchwood operative Lucia Moretti--had taught him. Hell, even her grey overcoat nicely echoed that of her father Jack's military coat. (Nice little visual cue there to link them together.)

As for The 456, they are even more terrifying than I could have imagined. Kudos to Davies and Co. to actually avoid showing them outright, making the unseen even more eerie and menacing than something tangible and visible. The fact that they are obscured by poison smoke, vomiting, screeching, and flailing about makes them even more unknowable, even more dangerous, and even more of The Other. The disembodied voice that hisses out of the speakers is far more ominous and forbidding than a prosthetic alien.

And then there's poor Clem (Paul Copley), a man tortured by ghosts from the past, by his memory, by scents on the air. He's still connected by some invisible thread to The 456 and is aware of their movements. He knows what they want, he can sense them, and he recognizes Jack as one of the instruments of men which delivered him into their care. (Or tried to, anyway.) Why was Clem spared? Just what will this knowledge do to the already-battered Torchwood team? How on earth will Jack be able to justify his actions? And will there even still be a Torchwood when this is all over? Find out tonight...

On Day Four of Torchwood: Children of Earth, the mysterious events of 1965 become clearer and the true intentions of the 456 are finally revealed.

Comments

Anonymous said…
It occured to me that Lois' motivation for helping Torchwood in the beginning was extreme guilt. I mean she totally blew Jack off when he called in to speak with Frobisher. Of course had she this may have been a rather short and weak story line but that's life recovering from mistakes.
Peter Capaldi is freaking brilliant! Even though he wants our heroes dead I still sympathize with his character. He's got a lot on his plate perhaps more than he can handle we shall see in the next 2 days. I still don't understand why Jack didn't take Frobisher's family. I mean Jack has done much much worse things in the 100 or so years he was stuck on Earth awaiting The Doctor. This bs about Jack being a better man doesn't sit well for me. Jack should have read the horror in Frobisher's voice when he answered his wife's phone. Jack should have exploited that.
Of course Jack didn't really seem that interested in his Daughter and Grandson until he needed to examine a child and his daughter's assesment was correct he is a bastard but you cannot live as long as Jack has without doing a few things your not proud of.

This is amazing telelvision! The likes of which we rarely have a chance to view. I would be very happy if Torchwood series 4 is done in the same format.
I have a really really hard time believing there won't be a 4.
The CineManiac said…
Loved the episode. I have to say though, I realized way before the reveal that Jack was the man that Clem was speaking of. I didn't realize he had walked them into the ship itself, but I realized he was somehow involved. Although I thought maybe Clem had run into him after he ran away from the ship.
Could it be they returned because Clem got away and therefore they got 1 child less than they had agreed on?
I don't actually think so. I assume that they wanted the first few to run tests on and now that they've done that they want more to finish their work/feed on/whatever it is thats not good.
Heatherette said…
Absolutely brilliant. I agree that just showing us the tiniest glimpse of The 456 creature is much, much scarier than seeing a green, prosthetic alien. It's what you can't see that's the most terrifying.
Tempest said…
Oh, yeah. I'm totally creeped out by the 456. The long pauses in the conversations . . . are unsettling, too.

I'm still pretty much in "wow" mode over COE. Sure, there are some small nitpicks, but still -- wow. I'd love to contribute something deep and meaningful, but I can't seem to move past the whole "wow" thing.

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