Torchwood celebrates it’s tenth birthday on Saturday, the same day that the first two episodes of Class airs. Seen as Saturday and Sunday will most likely be devoted to Class, I want to use this week as chance to look back at one of Doctor Who’s greatest spin-offs. From Monday until Friday, I will be reviewing each episode of the mini-series Children of Earth, starting, of course, with Day One.
An ordinary day becomes a world of terror as every single child in the world stops. A message is sent to the governments of Earth: ‘We are coming’. As a trap closes around Captain Jack, sins of the past return, as long-forgotten events from 1965 threaten to reveal an awful truth.
It’s an incredibly bold move for a series of a show to start the way that Children of Earth did, by showing us the precursor that leads to the events so blatantly, yet so cryptically. It would have been easy to start in the present-day, letting the audience wonder what happened to lead to the events that are happening; but instead we get baited with the smallest amount of information, just enough to keep you guessing. What Russell T Davis has done with the short pre-title sequence of Day One is hand you a piece of a jigsaw. Then left the other 999 pieces until later. What a tease.
It’s not long before we’re back at the home of Torchwood. Modern day Cardiff. Yet again we’re almost handed another piece of the jigsaw straight away, in the fact that it seems that every child is frozen. Of course, the parents and adults become concerned that their little darlings are acting so strangely. Just before everyone get’s too concerned though, all the children are reanimated and back to being their normal “delightful” selves.
We join Captain Jack and Ianto at a hospital, being extremely distraught and upset about the passing of their neighbour who had no family whatsoever so don’t bother looking too much into it thank you very much. It seems that Jack and Ianto have become very efficient at finding what they were looking for and extracting it. Don’t Jack and Ianto make a great team?
Over in London, we’re introduced properly to Frobisher, played by Peter Capaldi (whatever happened to him?) and it seems that he’s been liaising with UNIT on behalf of the government for a while…
Back in Cardiff, Jack and Ianto have brought back the alien artefact from the hospital to the Hub and it transpires that at 8:40 GMT, every child in the world simultaneously stopped. It seems as if UNIT and Torchwood might have to join forces for this one.
One of the most interesting and heartbreaking thing about all of Children of Earth is the relationship between Jack and Ianto; it’s clear that they both have incredibly strong feelings for one another, but it seems as if Jack is purposefully holding back for fear of either hurting or losing someone else that he loves. That’s the curse of immortality I suppose; no matter what happens, everyone else will leave you one day.
Whilst I absolutely love Doctor Who, and undoubtedly always will do, there’s something about the darkness that can be highlighted in Torchwood that gives you that grounding sense of realism. The universe that Torchwood and Doctor Who exists in is vast, and brilliant, and brimming with life; but whilst that’s absolutely wonderful, it’s also absolutely bloody terrifying.
After the children freeze again and begin their chant, both the government and Torchwood realise that there’s more to this than anomalous stunt. Frobisher is sent to deal with it, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and he soon learns that the 456 has been opened. Whatever the 456 is.
Whilst the Torchwood team are busy trying to work out what the hell is going on, it’s up to Rhys, Gwen’s husband, to ground her in some sort of normality. We learn that they’re planning to buy a new house, and Rhys totally understands that Gwen’s going to be busy potentially saving the world so isn’t mad that she can’t make the viewing, and instead he offers her a suggestion as to what’s going on. If you’ve watched any previous Torchwood, you’ll know just how far Rhys has come as a character; especially considering everything that’s happened to him since Gwen joined Torchwood. It’s really nice to have a character like Rhys who’s almost an intermediary between the normal world and the world that the members of Torchwood constantly find themselves in.
Frobisher’s conversation with the Prime Minister is one of the most intense and humanising performances that I’ve ever seen; the PM has the authority to wipe the record clean of any past the British people have with the 456, but he doesn’t want his name being associated with what’s going on, so he leaves it up to Frobisher to have his name on this potentially damning act. What a nice Prime Minister he is.
I have to give credit to Russell T Davis for giving us more insight into the personal lives of both Jack and Ianto in Children of Earth; introducing us to Jack’s daughter and grandson and Ianto’s sister, niece and nephew in the opening episode really reminds you that every member of the Torchwood team are people, with families and lives outside of work. Just because the viewer doesn’t see it all the time doesn’t mean that it’s not there. It’s these touches that really gets you invested in a character too; being able to identify with these remarkable people through the mundane things they go through, most of the time off-screen.
Ianto’s coming out to his sister is one of the most heart wrenching scenes in this episode; the reaction from Ianto’s sister is so realistic, she’s shocked, but she really cares about her brother and wants him to be happy. Of course, the moment can’t last too long, as, being on a rough council estate, it’s not long before Ianto’s car gets carjacked. Don’t you love the youth?
We get another tiny piece of that jigsaw puzzle that we started in the pre-titles about those kids that went into the light. Russell T Davis really is a master at giving you tiny morsels of information that make you constantly yearn for more.
Of course, with this being Torchwood, there’s a twist towards the end of the episode that seemingly changes how the rest of the series will play-out. With a key player seemingly off the cards; and the viewers now seeing just how far the government is willing to go to keep all of this 456 stuff covered up, it seems that the stakes may have never been higher for the Torchwood team.
Overall, Day One is a great way to set up a mini-series; introducing a lot of main characters, plots and themes. The performances and the scriptwriting are both stellar, and even seven years after Children of Earth first aired, it still looks absolutely stunning. I can’t wait to do this again tomorrow for Day Two…