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Innocence Lost: "Torchwood: Children of Earth" Day Four


The latest episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth ("Day Four"), written by John Fay (who scripted "Day Two") and once again ably directed by Euros Lyn, was absolutely heartbreaking on a number of levels.

It was inevitable that death would once again cast its pall over the Torchwood team but what was wholly unexpected were the callous actions and behavior of the PM's cabinet as they debated the criteria for deciding which of the nation's children will be offered up as human sacrifices to The 456, especially in light of what happened to the original twelve children taken in 1965 in the United Kingdom's first dealing with the alien race.

Just what happened to these children? What are the criteria for choosing the next sacrifice? What is the cost of one child's live? And can Torchwood stop the 456 in time to prevent an outright war? Hmmm...

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

While there's still one last installment left to go, "Day Four" of Torchwood: Children of Earth proved itself to be the most harrowing and poignant yet. It also managed to transform a taut sci-fi-tinged political potboiler into a full-blown ethical debate about the value of life, the eternal struggle between the classes, and the nature of sacrifice.

There have been few sights more shocking--in any drama series, really--than the reveal in "Day Four" of that poor child hooked up to the monstrous 456 inside the tank. It was a stunning twist that I did not see coming at all. The 456 promised Jack Harkness that the children they took would "live forever." And, in a way, they have: confined to a hellish existence as little more than a parasitic host for their captors. Just what the 456 is using them for remains to be seen but the fact that they have been kept in a state of arrested aging does not bode well. These creatures aren't after our natural resources or our planet itself: they are harvesting our very future, using these children for their own ends, and they've proven to have developed an appetite for them in the forty-odd years since they last dropped by Earth.

What's upsetting about "Day Four" isn't just the fact that children are being brutally victimized, it's also the ease with which the government decides WHICH children are more expendable. When Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell) and John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) sit down with Gold Command to discuss their counter-offer to the 456, who have demanded ten percent of the Earth's child population, is the very moment that Torchwood: Children of Earth becomes something more than just suspenseful entertainment; it's become a thought-provoking examination of the choices we make under pressure, the decisions that are made when governments are up against the wall, and the value of human life.

Their debate quickly descends into the grim murkiness of moral relativism. If they have to provide the 456 with ten percent of their children, it not only won't be their children getting sacrificed. Unaccompanied asylum seekers are the first to be thrown on the fire; after all, "no one will miss them," the very same argument that Jack Harkness made about the orphans in 1965. But the government also needs to plan for the future, to ensure that the factories and hospitals of tomorrow will be staffed with tomorrow's workers. That means targeting the underperforming schools whose students won't grow up to offer society all that much: the poor, the unemployed, the hoodlums, and the council estate inhabitants.

And yet the very idea of these children should be sacrificed is sickening. That each child should be judged as unimportant or non-essential because of the circumstances of their birth and childhood. Who is to say that they won't grow up and improve the planet we live on, that they won't rise above their station in life and make a difference? But there's no scientific way to predict that and in their blindness and hubris the government--who quickly deem these children "units" to be bartered with--decides that this is the best way to ensure stability. But what price stability compared to a parent's love?

Still, there's a spin for everything. Find a civil servant and they'll be able to turn any situation around for the better. And so they do here. After all, Earth's population is spiraling out of control and putting a strain on the planet's natural resources; a culling of ten percent of the future population could actually be "good." That this ten percent would reflect the unwanted or missable elements of society is an additional perk.

I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I don't think that a US network would have ever approved this storyline and I have to applaud the BBC, Russell T. Davies, and the cast and crew of Torchwood: Children of Earth for having the courage to produce a series that is asking some tough questions.

As for The 456, it is a protection racket they're running. We learn that in 1965 the Earth was threatened with a mutated strain of Indonesian flu that could have wiped out much of the world's population and the 456 provided them with an antivirus in exchange for twelve children. Did Jack make the right decision? Does the good of the many outweigh the good of a few? Are the lives of twelve children worth that of billions of people? Jack Harkness would argue yes, that he made the only decision available to him: save as many people as possible. After all, The 456 promised to stay away. But, like any protection racket, it was only for a time and now they're back and they want even more children.

They're more than willing to prove their point, to demonstrate their power by unleashing a virus in Thames House and initiating a complete lock-down of the facility. I'm not sure quite how they were able to pull off this gambit, other than the fact that their technology is far more advanced than our own (see how they silenced remnant Clem) but the results are devastating, not least of all for Torchwood itself.

Which brings us to poor Ianto.

I'm sure a lot of people are extremely angry that the writers have killed off Ianto Jones (for a full explanation of why, come back on Friday evening for Part Two of my exclusive interview with Torchwood executive producer Julie Gardner) but I feel that his death was necessary for the story at hand. It was inevitable that someone would die during Torchwood: Children of Earth as the stakes were so high, but it couldn't be Jack (he's immortal) and Gwen is the audience's entry point to the story, so it couldn't be her.

Much of the action in these episodes has focused on Jack and Ianto's relationship--and the secrets which Jack kept from his lover--making it only fitting that one of them should die before they get their happy ending. (Torchwood fans know there's never a happy ending to be had.) And it was a hell of a way for Ianto to go, standing at the side of his lover, guns blazing as he was poisoned by an alien virus. But even as he died, his thoughts weren't of going softly into the night but rather that Jack would forget him in time.

Like I said, absolutely heartbreaking. Ianto won't be forgotten, not by Jack nor by Torchwood's fans. The look of realization and sorrow on Jack's face as he comes back to life spoke volumes about how Ianto's death has struck him. And remember at the end of the day, it was Jack who colluded with the aliens back in 1965. If he had taken a stand against them, none of this would have come to pass, not the current situation or Ianto's death. If anyone blames themselves for Ianto's death, it's Jack. And I'd say that it will be a long time before he can unload that guilt.

If Ianto's death seemed to prove that one person can't make a difference in the face of unbeatable odds, the bravery of Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) in standing up to the Prime Minister and Gold Command and unmasking herself as a spy for Torchwood proved that it only takes one whistle-blower to reveal the truth. So much of what has happened has been buried--blank pages, off the record conversations, conspiracies designed to suppress the truth--that it becomes easy to keep silent, to avoid taking a stand, and to allow horrors to unfold before your very eyes. Despite being just a PA and tea girl, Lois does set off a revolution right there in the cabinet room. Can these people hide behind the Official Secrets Act when everything can be made public record?

The truth about what they're proposing comes as a shock even to Johnson (Liz May Bryce), whose mission has been to ruthlessly hunt down and exterminate Torchwood and hold Jack's daughter Alice Carter (Lucy Cohu) and grandson Steven (Bear McCausland) as leverage against Jack getting involved with the 456 affair. But as Torchwood managed to trick Johnson and her militia into "finding" Gwen and Clem at Torchwood Hub 2, Johnson is stunned by what her employers are proposing. Could it be that Torchwood has some new allies?

As for Jack himself, his daughter Alice sums it up best: "A man who can't die has got nothing to fear." She meant it in reference to Johnson, but it applies to the 456 as well. He's got nothing to fear but also, after Ianto's death, nothing to live for either. All of which makes him extremely dangerous...

On the finale of Torchwood: Children of Earth ("Day Five"), the future of the human race is in jeopardy as the world descends into complete anarchy.


Tempest said…
Once again: Wow. Torchwood certainly doesn't go easy on us -- and that's what I love about this show. In almost any other show, the heroes would save the day before any real consequences were suffered. I loved that Jack's/Torchwood's stand came at a cost. Ok, I didn't love the cost. Kill a red shirt, 456, don't take Ianto!

I was upset by Ianto's and Clem's death, but for all the right reasons -- because I was invested in the story; because I loved the characters; because it hurt that poor Clem suffered and was haunted all those years only to be taken out by the 456. It hurt that Ianto and Jack didn't get their happy ending. It hurt that Torchwood loses someone again, so soon after Tosh and Owen. It hurt because it felt real.

To me the most chilling and frightening aspect of this was the debate over whom to choose for the 456. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see this taking place in our own world.
Anonymous said…
BASTARDS!!! They killed Ianto! Out of everyone who could have died I wanted Ianto to live and get a happy ending with Jack. WTF would they kill him off and live stupid gap toothed biatch Gwen alive??!?!?!?!?
Anonymous said…
Why is everyone blaming Jack about what happened in 1965? He had no choice in the matter. Earth did not have the technology to say no to the 456 then or in the present series. To fight back, futilely, might give people the right to say, "well, we tried" and then they could have basked in some sort of moral relaxation while still sending the children on their way. Whch is exactly what happened in Day 4. Jack fought back this time because he wanted his team's good opinion, probably knowing he still couldn't fix things. He may be immortal, but he isn't all powerful and so he suffers from the expectations of everyone around him. Does that make him less heroic or a monster? Faced with a real threat like this to the human species I can easily see that the children would be given up. The real horror was the government's hypocrisy and cover-up, which I think is the real key to the story. First they try to kill everyone to conceal what happened in 1965, and then they justify saving their own children while sacrificing the great unwashed. Jack wasn't responsible for any of this, the 465 were, and hopefully he can blow them all away sometime in the future in my fantasy revenge.
Unknown said…
I love the moral relativism. I think one can see why Gold Command is making these choices, but don't we all wish we'd be stronger and stand up to The 456--no matter what.

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