Series finale: Torchwood – Children of Earth

Where did it all go right

The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 2

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a first. Some thought it impossible, like finding a news outlet that hasn’t mentioned Michael Jackson once in the last week. Some thought it could never happen.

But it has. An episode of Torchwood got a 0 on the Carusometer. It was really, really good.

After the break, let’s discuss how this could have happened and the whole series in spoilery detail: you have been warned, those of you who haven’t watched it yet.

As you may recall, episode one of Children of Earth was moderately pleasing, if a little slow, thanks to the intervention of Russell T Davies, series creator, who proceeded to dismantle the whole show’s set-up and demonstrate to everyone how it was supposed to be done.

Episode two was problematic. Co-written by Rusty and James Moran, it was slow and very silly in places, not really furthering things much, and getting a bit close to A For Andromeda at times. I can think of a lot of ways of making sure a regenerating man can’t recombine, such as “not sticking all his bits together in the same place”, and I’m pretty sure hiring male models in black poser outfits is probably bad security protocol when you’re guarding a top-secret installation. It was enough to make think the whole thing was falling apart.

After episode two, however, things began to look up as it became abundantly apparent that Rusty wasn’t riffing on A for Andromeda but was in fact appropriating Nigel Kneale’s classic 70s bit of misery, Quatermass. For the uninitiated, Quatermass sees civilisation is collapsing thanks to the advent of aliens who quite like feeding on children so zap them up with a great big beam of fire. Only (spoiler) the sacrifice of the hero’s grandchild using the aliens’ own technology will be enough to save the world.

See? Same show.

But, there’s nothing wrong with that. Would that bleak sci-fi got more of an airing on British mainstream TV. Or Quatermass for that matter.

By episode four, we had full on bleakness once the nastiness of the whole set-up was apparent, and some wonderful moments, such as the use of school league tables to decide which children should be sacrificed – incidentally, what is it with Rusty and slaughters of 10%? First the Tocla-whatsits; now this.

Unwonderful moment – Nick Briggs trying to act. Stick with the Dalek voices, dude.

And then, of course, came the death of Ianto at the end. Had they not killed off 50% of the cast at the end of the last series and spent a little more time in earlier series giving Ianto some decent characterisation and skills, maybe that would have had more of an impact. As it was, even if it wasn’t the ultimate OMG it would have been had Gwen or even Jack been topped, they made it about as moving as they could in the time available, so kudos to them all the same – and for not raising him from the dead, Heroes-style.

The last episode was typically Rusty, with compulsory tearjerking sacrifices, aliens killed by sympathetic magic rather than a really well thought out plan, a complete inability to grasp even the basics of politics, world affairs, etc, and a bizarre conclusion that makes you wonder if it was hastily cobbled together when the budget for the giant Tyrannosaurus fell through at the last moment. I’d have been more impressed if they’d literally been unable to do anything at all to the 456, leaving the world to cope with the knowledge of its own impotence. Or if the Doctor had shown up – that would have been a crossover worth having.

It also left us with a lot of questions. Why’s Jack running away? Why has he spent most of the series as his series one Torchwood self, rather than series two? Is Gwen’s theory for why the Doctor didn’t turn up plausible or is it because the producers didn’t want him showing everyone up? If series four is going to happen, who the hell is going to be in it, and what’s it going to be like? Where are the other 456? If they had all those powerful “child manipulation” powers, why couldn’t they just have rounded them up themselves? Why are Torchwood so shit? Would it have helped if they’d had a training budget? Why did the 456 need so many kids if 12 was enough the first time? Why didn’t Martha Jones give the Doc a call on her phone? Why did the 456 leave Clem behind? And so on.

Overall, though, TorchwoodChildren of Earth was the first time the show has come close to fulfilling its potential, and the first time Rusty’s managed to avoid the full magic reset button. It was gripping and compulsory viewing by the end of the week, even if the final episode was a slight letdown after the build-up before it.

Fingers crossed that whatever Rusty plans for his true baby after getting rid of the deadwood this season is as impressive as this.

  • I don’t mean to intrude, but Episode Two was actually written by John Fay; James Moran and RTD co-wrote Episode Three.
    It’s been a very long week, and the last two episodes turned me into a complete emotional wreck, but it has been absolutely fantastic; incredibly dark, terrifying, heartbreaking. It’s obvious that it’s done, now, but at least it went out spectacularly.
    (Having said that, I’m not sure Jack’s going to get back to Earth for when he’s next in Doctor Who. Presuming it’s set on Earth, that is…)

  • stu-n

    Lots of problems with the final episode.
    There was absolutely no need for Ianto to be in Thames House, apart from the writers wanting to kill him — Jack knew the 456 liked playing with viruses, and wouldn’t have risked him.
    Ianto’s death didn’t affect or advance the plot at all. At least Tosh and Owen’s deaths did something (botched and stupid though Owen’s was).
    Gwen’s ‘this is how the world ended’ fake-out was exactly the same as Rose’s ‘this is how I died’ in Doomsday. And just as annoying.
    Jack is a dick. That’s the real reason the Doctor avoids him. Also, he’s about as much use as a leader as a chocolate teapot. You can just imagine the Doctor turning up…
    ‘You sacrificed your own grandchild? You idiot! They were using a juvenile brain structure, isn’t that obvious? They don’t go away in adults, they’re just dormant! Why didn’t you use your own brain? Is it because you usually think with your bollocks?’
    Exposing Ianto as a liar after his death was pointless. What does it matter that his dad worked at Debenhams? The scene diminished Ianto and his sister.
    They completely wasted Lois, stuck in a cell with nothing to do. She took the risks, she got Torchwood in; why does Bridget get to be heroic? And even then, why didn’t Bridget point out to Mrs League Tables that she was just as compromised as Prime Minister Green? Leaving Lois in the cell isn’t great use of character.
    (And doesn’t the Whoniverse have lousy luck with PMs? I bet the Doc would have been cursing that he deposed Harriet…)
    Why did Evil Assassin Lady suddenly become useless after she found out what was going on? Why wasn’t she storming COBRA, or attempting to back up Jack and Ianto?
    All a shame, because much of the week was great. The tone was spot-on; Frobisher, Green, Mr Dekker and Clem MacDonald were all really well written and acted; I liked Gwen and Rhys for the first time in history.

  • MediumRob

    “I don’t mean to intrude, but Episode Two was actually written by John Fay; James Moran and RTD co-wrote Episode Three.”
    Oopsy. That’s what comes of having to run out to buy a table and chairs from Sainsbury’s before you’ve done your customary name check. It’s disappointing though, since it means the writer of the best episode also wrote the worst episodes, which is just bizarre.
    “It’s been a very long week, and the last two episodes turned me into a complete emotional wreck, but it has been absolutely fantastic; incredibly dark, terrifying, heartbreaking. It’s obvious that it’s done, now, but at least it went out spectacularly.(Having said that, I’m not sure Jack’s going to get back to Earth for when he’s next in Doctor Who. Presuming it’s set on Earth, that is…)”
    Rusty says series four is all ready to go, provided series three was well received. And it has been.
    As for Jack on Who (spoiler?) John Barrowman has been spotted around Cardiff in costume, filming with DT.

  • MediumRob

    “Lots of problems with the final episode.”
    There are always lots of problems with Rusty’s finales.
    “There was absolutely no need for Ianto to be in Thames House, apart from the writers wanting to kill him — Jack knew the 456 liked playing with viruses, and wouldn’t have risked him.”
    I think Jack was getting cocky. He just assumed he could face off the 456 – and presumably assumed that the ambassador wouldn’t have a bucketload of viruses on him at the time.
    “Ianto’s death didn’t affect or advance the plot at all. At least Tosh and Owen’s deaths did something (botched and stupid though Owen’s was).”
    I’ve no problem with senseless deaths.
    “Gwen’s ‘this is how the world ended’ fake-out was exactly the same as Rose’s ‘this is how I died’ in Doomsday.”
    Yes. Although Jack seems to suggest in his closing speech that most of the world is a mess which is one of the reasons he’s leaving.
    “Jack is a dick. That’s the real reason the Doctor avoids him. Also, he’s about as much use as a leader as a chocolate teapot. You can just imagine the Doctor turning up…’You sacrificed your own grandchild? You idiot! They were using a juvenile brain structure, isn’t that obvious? They don’t go away in adults, they’re just dormant! Why didn’t you use your own brain? Is it because you usually think with your bollocks”
    All true.
    ‘Exposing Ianto as a liar after his death was pointless. What does it matter that his dad worked at Debenhams? The scene diminished Ianto and his sister.”
    Did it? I think it was more to do with pointing out we never know people as well as we think we do.
    “All a shame, because much of the week was great. The tone was spot-on; Frobisher, Green, Mr Dekker and Clem MacDonald were all really well written and acted; I liked Gwen and Rhys for the first time in history. ”
    I thought people like Frobisher and Dekker were a little bit too much ‘the civil servant’, ‘the covert backroom boy’, rather than genuine characters. Clem, I liked, but again, he was a bit of the ‘token mental’
    BTW, in all the rush, I forgot to mention that Torchwood proves once and for all that the BBC should absolutely, definitely never make action shows. It’s just laughable when they try. Yes, even with Spooks.

  • stu-n

    Yeah, an acquaintance of mine who’s worked on BBC shows in the past and now works with American TV studios reckons that there aren’t any British TV directors who can handle action. I think there’s maybe one or two, but he’s not far wrong.
    Frobisher got more depth as the series went on, I thought: genuinely and believably tragic by the end, although Capaldi’s acting was a big part of that. Dekker retained a nasty ghoulish streak.

  • MediumRob

    “Yeah, an acquaintance of mine who’s worked on BBC shows in the past and now works with American TV studios reckons that there aren’t any British TV directors who can handle action. I think there’s maybe one or two, but he’s not far wrong.”
    I’d go along with that. I think part and parcel of the problem, though, is that there isn’t any time given to training actors in how to hold their guns convincingly or even how to use them. Having a script that requests someone use two handguns is a writerly boo boo that can just about be salvaged with some really good professionals. Watching extras run around with their semi-automatic rifles dangling in one hand while they’re supposedly chasing people is something a director should stomp on, since extras know diddly (although in the US, you have professional SWAT extras). But people like John Barrowman and Eve Myles simply don’t even know how to hold a gun properly, let alone adopt a stance or even check an area, and that’s down to training.
    “Frobisher got more depth as the series went on, I thought: genuinely and believably tragic by the end, although Capaldi’s acting was a big part of that.”
    I’d definitely agree with that. He was still, too obviously, the ‘civil servant’ though.

  • stu-n

    Frobisher was supposed to be Perm Sec at the Home Office, wasn’t he? I got the impression that he was given the negotiations job (and then shafted) because he was that ‘civil service type’.
    You know James Moran has been getting ridiculous amounts of grief off rabid Ianto fans via email and Twitter?

  • MediumRob

    “Frobisher was supposed to be Perm Sec at the Home Office, wasn’t he? I got the impression that he was given the negotiations job (and then shafted) because he was that ‘civil service type’.”
    The Permanent Secretary to the Home Office wouldn’t be anything like Frobisher. We’re talking about someone who by nature has to be a strong character – a Sir Humphrey rather than a Bernard, as Frobisher was – since they’re running a huge department and answer directly to Parliamentary committees.
    Technically, you’d expect someone from the foreign office to deal first contact though 😉
    “You know James Moran has been getting ridiculous amounts of grief off rabid Ianto fans via email and Twitter?”
    Pathetic, isn’t it? FFS, it’s a TV show. It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to start sending hate mail.
    I’ve already Tweeted support for him.

  • Poor James Moran – he really has had a terrible time of it.
    Anyway, incoherent to write now and about to rush off so hope to add thoughts tomorrow.
    I didn’t hate ep 2 as much as you did and I didn’t feel as ambivalent about ep 5.
    but a caruso free AND an anti-caruso for TW? shows it development eh?

  • Anonymous

    “Rusty says series four is all ready to go, provided series three was well received. And it has been.”
    Where did you find this?

  • MediumRob

    “”Rusty says series four is all ready to go, provided series three was well received. And it has been.”Where did you find this?”
    It’s here and also implicit in the answer to question two and the ante-antepenultimate question here

  • I still haven’t got over the surprise of how much I loved this (-: And I keep thinking about it, which is always a good sign with any drama.
    I am with Lisa in saying I had no prob with episode 2, in fact Ianto driving the forklift truck and dropping Jack over the quarry is one of my abiding images of the series. Maybe it was too jokey, but I think it was a nice contrast with what came later. Think you’re still in Scooby Doo Torchwood, then think again…
    (I allowed oldest 2 to watch this episode, first time I’ve let them and they loved it. Having never seen it before they thought Ianto was fab, but then they also like Mickey and Connor from Primeval (-:)
    That episode also made me really like Ianto who up until then had seemed two dimensional to me, so I really did care when he died, and it was a huge shock. I didn’t remotely feel like that when Tosh and Owen died – I had more of a I know that’s sad on an intellectual level, but couldn’t quite feel it kind of way. I think the scene when Gwen came to find the bodies and Jack woke up was really heart rending.
    I appreciate the last episode did suffer from the usual Rusty, I don’t know how to tie this up problems and the first 20 mins were far too slow. But… I’ve never seen Quatermass so didn’t know that possible scenario and while I’m sure you’re right that there could have been a way out, I think it was right in story terms that there wasn’t. In the original sacrificial lamb story God pops up and saves Isaac, but what do you do when God isn’t around, or in this instance the Doctor? Human solutions are often messy compromises and I think that was the point of this (also reminded me of that Wilfred Owen poem about slaughtering the seed of Europe one by one). And I think the other point about it is, that Jack had to make a very quick decision, so there was no time for trying to find alternatives. I thought it was a terrible thing to do in a drama, but also a brave thing to do, and I hope they don’t rewrite that ending. It was almost as if Rusty said, ok now I’m back let me explore how far we can go – in Dr Who he always has to stop.
    I also liked the way that the action was cut back and forth between Jack and Gwen and Rhys saving the children. I thought either Gwen or Rhys were going to cop it at one point, and after Ianto and Frobisher, it seemed entirely possible.
    So very big thumbs up from me (despite irritation again at the way RTD always portrays soldiers as dumb clones following orders. While I am sure a lot of them would do as they were told, a story that big getting out I am sure would end up with some soldiers defying orders. I also think the mums at the school gates would have done much much more – that made us laugh btw. If you’re going to whisk off a whole load of children, don’t do at chucking out time….)
    I really hope there is a series 4 now. Will definitely watch it if there is.

  • MediumRob

    Spoiler: “in fact Ianto driving the forklift truck and dropping Jack over the quarry is one of my abiding images of the series.”
    Mine, too, but not in a good way. Quick, let’s break into the bad guys’ camp, which is handily next to a quarry, with a fork lift truck – apparently powerful enough to penetrate a brick wall, and lift an entire room full of concrete. Daftness. Fun. But utter daftness that sabotages the series’ overall attempt to be adult drama.
    “But… I’ve never seen Quatermass so didn’t know that possible scenario”
    Watch it. I’ll probably do a Lost Gems on it soon, just to convince you.
    “In the original sacrificial lamb story God pops up and saves Isaac,”
    Technically, that’s neither the original story nor a sacrificial lamb story (beyond the fact the stories are named after Abrahamic religion’s requirements of lamb sacrifices), nor really that applicable since God demanded it as a test of Abraham’s faith, but that’s nitpicking. Sorry… 😉
    “And I think the other point about it is, that Jack had to make a very quick decision, so there was no time for trying to find alternatives.”
    I do kind of understand why they did it, and I have no real objections. But ultimately, it was more of a daemon ex machina: why should the 456 be vulnerable to a frequency? Why does it only take 10 minutes for Jack to solve the entire problem? And so on. It’s another of Rusty’s “and if I just press this button” the entire Dalek race will explode” solutions. It saves an awful lot of plotting, but it’s very arbitrary.

  • Ok we’ll have to differ on Ianto (-: And yes I appreciate the nitpicking about sacrificial lambs – I really meant it’s interesting to see what happens when you carry it through.
    Agree about Rusty’s now get out of that quickly option, but this time it worked for me better because I felt that people were genuinely in danger, whereas the end of Series 4 of Dr Who just felt like painting by numbers and we know everyone will get away so why are worried.

  • PS sorry meant to say, Quatermass is one of those vague childhood memories of grown up show your parents watch and you’re not allowed to (the way my children probably feel about Being Human at the moment). I’ve always wanted to see it, and even more so after that recommendation.
    Also the crap thrown at James Moran was abysmal. Not only is it just a story on tv, it’s also not a story that any of the moaners had anything to do with creating. We can all have an opinion/think we could do better, but there’s no need for nastiness.

  • Buffy One

    I think this 5 part series was the best Torchwood ever. I know some of it was a “leap” but that’s what sci fi has ALWAYS been and I’ve been reading it for more years thatn I care to admit. Dr. Who and Torchwood are so much better the last few years. I sincerely hope that they have more seasons of Torchwood, but if they planned that, why kill off so many of the original players? That seemed just a waste. Hope to see more soon!

  • Buffy One

    ps: I kept waiting for the Doctor to pop in and save the day, and turn back time, so all was well. I WAS disappointed that didn’t happen.

  • Oh, it’s undoubtedly the best Torchwood ever. As for killing off most of the cast, I think that’s one of the better things about Torchwood. I mean it’s not Skins where they do replace the cast more or less every year, just to ensure the cast are still kids, not college age, but they do show that fighting off aliens is a dangerous business. I would suspect though we’ve already been introduced to half the new cast of Torchwood series four in COE.
    It could also be (conspiracy theory) that Rusty didn’t think much of the direction the original characters had been taken in by Chris Chibnall and co, so decided to go for a blank slate now he’s back in charge.

  • After writing about ‘Spooks’ (‘MI-5’ over here) a few days ago in connection to the ‘Torchwood’ mini-series, I saw that the mortality on that show was even higher; and I don’t think there was quite the outcry as seen with the loss of Ianto. Then again, those “spooks” were always a bit colder in presentation than the Hub’s coffee-maker…..
    At least your conspiracy theory makes a lot more sense than some of the hysteria I saw online after the mini-series aired…..

  • stu-n

    “After writing about ‘Spooks’ … I don’t think there was quite the outcry as seen with the loss of Ianto.”
    That’s because the ‘Spooks’ characters weren’t designed to appeal to legions of teenage slashficcers.

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