Thursday, 3 March 2011

Torchwood: Children of Earth (Day Four)

“…And if we can’t identify the lowest achieving ten per cent of this country’s children, then what are the school league tables for?”

I love the comically stereotypical Scottish incidental music in the flashback this episode. There aren’t many laughs in this not-entirely-cheery hour of telly, but this made me chuckle.

Of course, Children of Earth continues to be superlative. John Fay has done a particularly good job; this episode has an awful lot of heavy lifting to do in getting the plot from A to B and yet there are some sublime set pieces, one in particular. Yes. That one.

Back to the, er, flashback, we get some very interesting dialogue invoking sacrifices of virgins to the “ancient gods”. If you’ll indulge me indulging my inner pretentious git once more, this reminds me of Iphigenia, sacrificed by her father so that he can sail to Troy. I suppose this makes Jack a sort of Agamemnon, and therefore a kind of Greek tragic hero. Gosh. Could this be foreshadowing some kind of similar sacrifice, perchance? Interestingly (my inner pretentious git has buggered off now), this also harks back to Jack’s decision at the end of Small Worlds.

Meanwhile, Frobisher is talking to the 456 again, and one of the people watching from the camera is played by Nick Briggs. We finally get to see inside the tank, although we still don’t see much, which again makes what we do see all the more effective. And the sight of the child is not something quickly forgotten. This is the fate which awaits one in ten of the world’s children.

Oh, and the 456 drops the UK right in it. Earlier in the series the possibility of exposure was a major source of dramatic tension; it’s a sign of just how much the stakes have been raised that this longer seems important beyond again establishing how slimy the Prime Minister is.

We get a scene with Jack and Ianto early on, establishing the now worsening hairline cracks in their relationship. Ianto is now realising that their relationship is but a momentary blip for the immortal Jack, who will have forgotten him centuries hence. Like all of Jack’s relationships, theirs is inherently doomed. One way or another, they would never have survived this series as a couple. But that’s drama for you; it thrives on conflict, not “happy ever after”.

Oh, and we finally learn the name of Jack’s daughter: Alice.

But the meat of the episode is, of course, the debate round the cabinet table. It’s a bleak yet believable dramatisation of how those in power would react. The terrible euphemism of referring to children as “units”, the horrible inevitability of the final decision, and worst of all the moral cowardice of a Prime Minister who insists on all of the hard choices being made by others make up one of the finest scenes I’ve ever seen in all of television. Appallingly, the only person who says aloud what “everyone else is thinking”, and urges the extermination of the underclass, is in fact the least despicable of the all; at least she has the courage of her convictions. The others just sit silently and try to half persuade themselves that they haven’t really dipped their hands in the blood. Cowards. But all too believable. Even worse, in a way, is the attitude that of course their own offspring will be spared.

Of course, there’s one person around the table who’s right at the other end of the moral spectrum. Poor Lois. So brave. So utterly doomed. Cush Jumbo is brilliant here.

Then things are moving fast. Torchwood’s makeshift HQ is apparently rumbled, but it’s all part of the plan. Except that, clever as the execution may be, it’s ultimately not a very good one. Just straightforwardly confronting the enemy may be old-fashioned and honourable, but it was never going to work. Jack is overreacting here; it’s the guilt from 1965. That time he sacrificed twelve children, this time he’s sacrificed the hundreds of inhabitants of the building. Including Ianto.

Ianto’s death is unbelievably heartbreaking. Not because it’s a cruel end to a potentially loving relationship, but because it isn’t. Their final words to each other are defined by the earlier scene, in which Ianto realises that Jack’s immortality means he will never mean as much to Jack as Jack means to him and their relationship cannot last much longer. The exchange of “I love you, I…” / “Don’t!” says it all. Ianto dies knowing Jack never loves him and will eventually forget him.

Still, perhaps things might cheer up a bit next episode?

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