Monday, 7 March 2011

Torchwood: Children of Earth (Day Five)

“You’re shooting up on children? Our children?”

And so it ends. It ends fittingly and satisfyingly, if horribly. Torchwood is suddenly a much, much more grown up drama. This episode is from the pen of Russell T Davies. But, for the first time in the marathon, although we’ve had glimpses, this is the Russell T Davies of The Second Coming, not of Doctor Who; the writer up there with the likes of Nigel Kneale and Paul Abbott.

Right from the flash-forward to Gwen’s monologue at the start it’s clear that the stakes have risen yet again. No longer are we merely faced with the loss of 10% of the world’s children. It’s implicit in everything that happens here that there’s no chance of this happening without a complete breakdown of civilisation itself.

Not that this burning city is without its fiddlers, of course. The prime minister is as contemptible as always while the American general, who seems to have taken charge in a coup, now dips his hands right into the blood and waves them about in the plasma, ordering troops in to catch the remaining children. It is, of course, implicit that a version of last episode’s scene around the cabinet table happened in every country in the world, and there are no doubt also events worldwide which parallel the experiences of Gwen and Rhys. And the motive of the 456, finally revealed, is the most contemptible possible. And yet, in spite of the bleakness of the events and indeed of both human and 456 nature as shown here, there is hope. Not in Jack, as morally complex as ever, but where we least expected it; in the apparently cold Bridget Spears.

It’s established early on that the threat to civilisation itself means Torchwood’s threat of exposing the powers that be is pointless; they’ve lost. And Gwen and Rhys’ attempts to save those kids with Ianto’s sister is also doomed to failure- although it does go to show what decent sorts they are, which matters. Poor Lois, in custody, her cries ignored, seems also to have lost. Everyone, in a successive series of beats, turns out to have lost, the sequence terminating with Frobisher. The prime minister completely outdoes himself by ordering Frobisher to sacrifice his own daughters’ lives and then dismissing him with “And I’m really very busy.” This scene, once again, shows Peter Capaldi’s sublimity; the way his face reacts to this is acting of the very highest calibre.

The scene where Bridget Spears visits Lois and delivers her valedictory monologue for Frobisher is so beautifully written and performed, as the camera cuts between the cells to Frobisher, walking into the room containing his wife and daughters with his gun behind his backs. We hear three shots, a pause, and then finally a fourth. This is extraordinarily effective and powerful, one of the finest scenes British television in recent years has produced.

Things now take a turn for the worst, as the army is ordered in to forcibly take the 20% of children that remain uncollected. But suddenly there is also hope, as Liz Mary Brice’s increasingly ambiguous Black Ops Lady springs Jack. There is resistance, too; in the estate where Ianto’s sister lives but also among those who start pirate radio stations. All this is futile, though; the only hope is in Jack. And it’s a hopeless kind of hope. The sacrifice of Steven to the gods, Iphigenia style, is shown in all its horror, and the horrific visuals are as nothing compared to Alice’s reaction. Another stunningly shocking moment.

We then turn to the Caves of Androzani-style dénouement of this despicable prime minister’s career, as it turns out that Bridget Spears’ conversation with Lois was rather longer than the snippet we were shown, and she’s been recording the prime minister’s every self-incriminating statement on the Torchwood contact lenses. Perhaps the least likeable character turns out to be perhaps the most morally upright. And Lois, unexpectedly, is released.

The ending is inevitable; for Jack to just carry on would be to deny what he has done. But it’s hard to see where the series goes from here.

5/5, obviously. This is first class telly fit to stand alongside State of Play and The Second Coming.

So. Of the three Whoniverse shows, I’ve finally finished Torchwood. Only SJA and Doctor Who to go. Next: SJA series three, which I’ve never seen before…

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