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Adam Israel
Torchwood: Children of Earth 
25th-Jul-2009 11:32 pm
torchwood
Keeping in mind that the number of episodes of Dr. Who I've seen could be counted on one hand, and that I've never watched Torchwood before...


Day 1 had me hooked, despite not knowing a think about Torchwood other than it being Science Fiction, a spin-off of Dr. Who and boys kiss. I watched with increasing horror as the situation went from bad to unimaginable, culminating with the stunning conclusion on Day 5.

The alien's known as the 456 return to Earth after a 50-ish year absence. The first time they contacted the British government and offered them a vaccine to cure a potentially catastrophic flu in exchange for a 12 children. Weighing the good of the many vs. the good of the few*, Captain Jack delivers a dozen orphans to the 456 and the 456 live up to the end of the bargain.

This time they want all the children, or they'll kill everyone on the Earth and have demonstrated their powers by speaking to the planet through the children, who enter a catatonic state and speak the same words over and over.

Thrown into an impossible situation, the mini-series explores how the governments of the world (although little is seen outside of the British point of view) react to the demands. After negotiations, it is agreed to give the 456 a gift of 10% of the children of every country.

Would you give up your child if it would save nine others? That's one of the quandaries that CoE attempts to explore. The needs of the many vs. the needs of the few taken to a very personal level. How do you choose the 10% to sacrifice for the greater good? Random selection via lottery? Do you base it on demographic, social or economic class? What will you tell the parents who have lost their child?

There is no right answer. In this case, they take the children from poor performing schools under the guise of receiving an experimental vaccine that will cure the phenomenon causing the children's catatonic pronouncements. Children of military and government officials are exempt to minimize their distractions while keeping the country running. Except for civil servant John Frobisher, who becomes the face of the struggle and is ordered to allow his children to be taken for vaccination in front of television cameras to show the world that everything is safe. Then, when the children are taken, the 456 will be accused of a double-cross and the careers of everyone involved will be secure.

One of the first acts of the government, when contacted by the 456, is to take out Torchwood. This point I'm not really clear on but I chalk that up to having no knowledge of the backstory here. You would think that, if an organization existed that might help you fight a hostile alien force, you would cuddle up with it and give them whatever they asked for. The British government wanted to hide their involvement with the 456 in 1965 and the man who was involved in that is one Captain Jack, head of Torchwood.

I would have liked to see more world involvement in the story line. I don't see every government in the world agreeing to sacrifice 10% of their children without seeing and speaking to the 456 for themselves. There would be some defiance damn the consequences. One question I'm not sure I saw answered, although it was mentioned, was if the 456 had contact with any other countries in 1965 or why they had specifically chosen Britain as the host country.

Standing up to the 456 was explored as an option. Quickly dismissed and killed, several times, by the government, Captain Jack comes to the rescue and confronts the 456. The initial meeting triggered the beginning of the real tragedy, culminating with the tragic sacrifice that Jack makes to save the world. Imagine the horrors of knowing your child might be taken, but choosing to sacrifice your own, or your grandchild in this case, to save every other child? Jack does what he must do, but it's clear it's taken a heavy personal toll on him. He has probably alienated his daughter forever and may himself feel like his own humanity has slipped away. We end six months later with Jack leaving Earth and his return an uncertain thing.

I have a feeling that many of my questions would be moot if I were more caught up on Dr. Who/Torchwood. After seeing CoE, I will be making a point of catching up on my British Science Fiction. I had some exposure to it growing up, thanks to PBS (and I'm still trying to figure out what show involved a group of kids, ranging maybe from 8-17, living underground, who had special powers). The few Dr. Who episodes I caught a few years back were interesting but it was clear that I should watch them in order and then I missed a whole bunch.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is my kind of Science Fiction. Instead of focusing on the science, or the gadgets (while neat), they focused on some of the mundane aspects of the problem: logistics, politics, even touching overpopulation -- on how losing 10% of the children would ease the burden on available resources. Confronted with an overwhelming conflict, internal and external, exploring how both individuals within and the government as a whole respond.

Word out of Comic Con is that Torchwood has been picked up for a fourth season and you can be sure I'll watching. Hopefully I can get caught up on the rest of the series in the meantime.

* Not an unknown concept in Science Fiction
Comments 
26th-Jul-2009 11:10 am (UTC) - Backstory
There actually isn't much backstory you haven't seen, because most of it was covered in the flashbacks.

In 1965, the Torchwood Institute, a secretive arm of the British government, intercepted transmissions from space on the frequency 456 (Hz? kHz? MHz? GHz? higher? who knows), and deciphered them. The alien race had spread a disease (I forget which, it's been several weeks since I watched the miniseries—influenza, maybe?) and was offering a cure for it, in exchange for twelve children. This was deemed to be an acceptable exchange by the Powers That Be, who were caught in what was effectively a protection racket run by the 456.

They chose Captain Jack, who as you may have gathered is immortal (having been disintegrated by Daleks and subsequently resurrected by Rose Tyler during the Doctor Who New Series 1 finale with the help of the Time Vortex infused into her, having been turned into a "fixed point in time and space"), because they figured he would not have much in the way of ethical qualms sending the children to an uncertain fate in the hands of the aliens.

So a dozen children from orphanages were collected and taken to a drop off point, Jack driving the bus to take them there. The 456 took eleven of the children, leaving behind the future homeless guy (the "anomaly" in the words of the 456). The one child was left behind presumably because he had achieved puberty, which apparently brought in hormonal changes that the 456 did not enjoy. (They enjoyed being integrated with prepubescent children because the children's hormones acted as some sort of drug giving them a high.)

The reason the 456 went to the Britons the second time round was because the Britons had complied with their demands earlier and so they figured the Britons would comply again.

I believe they took out Torchwood primarily to destroy Captain Jack, who would have realized very quickly what the British government was up to with the 456, having been part of their actions earlier, and might have gone public with what happened in 1965, making any further interaction with the 456 very difficult. (I'm not sure why they went after Gwen and Ianto as well, since they didn't know anything.)

If you want to know about the origins of the Torchwood Institute, it was created by Queen Victoria after the events of Doctor Who New Series 2, episode 2, Tooth and Claw, after Queen Victoria's encounter with an alien that took the form of a werewolf. Her husband had suspected its existence and had built a machine to destroy it, but hadn't told her about his work. She was alarmed and distraught upon the occurrences of that episode, so decided to found an Institute to protect the Earth from aliens (including the Doctor himself, who was mentioned in the Charter of the Institute as public enemy number one, so to speak).
17th-Aug-2009 06:54 pm (UTC) - Re: Backstory
I know I'm late, but I only saw it last week :)

I assumed they tried to kill Gwen and Ianto because they didn't want any witnesses to the murder of Jack. By the way, hats off to the people who thought up the bury him alive in concrete plan :)
17th-Aug-2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
I'm with you :)

Sure there were plotholes, the biggest being why the aliens wouldn't just drop their virus on the planet after Jack used their signal against them, but in the best shows, you just don't care.

I don't know about you, but I like sci-fi best when the sci-fi bit is less important than the people bit :)
20th-Aug-2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
SF that focuses on people over the science is my cup of tea. I care more for how the science affects people individually or as a group. Science and technology done right is a catalyst for social change and to me that's the interesting part.
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