I was having coffee with a fellow sci fi lover a couple of weeks ago and one of the things we talked about was our love of Torchwood. However, we had different favourite series. I professed deep love for Miracle Day whereas my date preferred Children of Earth. We both agreed that this new format suited the show.
I set myself a challenge to re-watch the earlier series in view of my preference for 2011’s 10 episode stateside-set big budget production and evaluate it once more. Don’t get me wrong; I love this ambitious 5 hr production that put Torchwood on the world stage of quality sci fi after a poor first season and a promising second year. Children of Earth exceeded everybody’s expectations at the time of airing and proved to be one of the best pieces of drama on television anywhere in 2009. The Doctor Who spin off had arrived.
I found it very much in the tradition of classic British science fiction. This is the story that John Wyndham could have penned: a simple yet engaging concept that is accessible to fans and non fans of sci fi alike and that is its greatest strength. This is Torchwood finding a new direction, to recapture the audience it lost in the first season, realising that it couldn’t compete with a lot of US scifi “monster of the week” type series (which were dying as a concept anyway) yet perhaps with a lot of foresight in see the nature of a changing landscape. Shows such as 24, Heroes and Battlestar Galactica were big and these were a single story spread over the course of a season. In time we would see the arrival of The Walking Dead which took that a step further in mimmicking more the format of something like Babylon 5.
So what is this story actually about?
One day, every child in the world simply stops what they are doing. They are frozen to the spot. They do not react, they do not move, speak or lift a finger – it is as though every child in the world has become a teenager. After a few moments, they resume as if nothing has happened. A little while later it happens again. Reports come in from all over the world of the inactivity of the children. Only this time they are starting to speak “We are coming”. What’s more, they are all speaking English, even in countries were English is not spoken. To demonstrate this we see a Japanese girl of about six years old reciting the words “We are coming.” Rhys also notices that it was at times of the day when most children will be visible – at least in the UK. These two things open up some interesting questions as the story develops… especially when they move from “We are coming” to “We are coming BACK”. A message is sent to the British government on how to build a device that is required in a couple of days – but only the British government. So the rest of the world’s governments are asking “who are “we”?”, “When were they last here?” and “Why is everything about this bizarre story focussed on the UK?”
In the meantime, a group of Special Ops soldiers are hell bent on wiping out Torchwood and are even trying to kill the seemingly indestructible Captain Jack Harkness. They blow him up and seal him in concrete but the ever resourceful Gwen Cooper breaks him out.
When “they” arrive (a species known only as 456), it is a superbly tense scene as the ever reliable Peter Capaldi attempts to engage with the strange creature in the tank. His performance throughout the series carries gravitas and he provides a superb link in the chain of the developing plot. We soon discover that he knows everything about their previous visit and suddenly he goes from concerned government Minister to untrustworthy conspirator in an event that was bound to come back and bite us all on the backside. Cue lots of bickering amongst our UN allies who – still not fully aware of the situation because the UK government are not speaking – demand access to Species 456. Everybody wants a piece of them, including Jack. But Jack knows more than he is letting on at first.
SPOILER. Then finally we discover the appalling revelation of the nature of Species 456 reason for being here. They are here to take back what they see as rightfully theirs – 10% of the Earth’s children. And why are they rightfully theirs? It all goes back to Scotland in 1965 when Jack handed over twelve children in exchange for an anti-virus. This was Jack’s mess and it is down to Jack to sort it out once and for all. There is only one option available – and it means the shedding of the blood of another child. SPOILER OVER
I have just one question remaining from this series: Jack is a grandfather yet we hear nothing of the mother (other than that she died of cancer a few years before) of his daughter (played by Lucy Cohu) who has such a big part in this series. Will we ever meet her, even in flashback? Is she important enough to his past to warrant this? He is fond of his daughter and wants a relationship with his grandson yet she spurns him (and at the end this will now probably be for the rest of her life)
Re-evaluating my love of Miracle Day
I gave it another go and I fell in love with Children of Earth all over again. But, on reflection, I still prefer Miracle Day (sorry Laura). I cannot find fault with Children of Earth and yet I can and did find fault with Miracle Day (see the links at the bottom). Yet, what I loved about the latter series outweighs what I love about this; I just felt that there was so much more to love about it.
Both series are very much a product of different traditions (see above) and work in their relevant formats and approaches. Both series are superb; I love them both and I appreciate what both represent but Miracle Day wins – by a hair’s breadth.