Children of Earth – Review

Sorry this took so long to get up. I wanted to watch it again so I could double check some things, and because it is good.

“Children of Earth” is a five part Torchwood miniseries, the events of which occur over a period of five days. For about five minutes, I considered writing up a detailed plot outline, but if you’re looking for that you can find it on TARDIS Index File. Instead I’ll just give a brief overview (trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum) and my thoughts.

The basic plot is that these aliens – referred to only as the 456 – somehow take control of all the children in the world. At first the kids just freeze, but later they all speak in unison, announcing “We are coming.”

The same aliens had made contact with the British government in 1965. They offered to give the cure to the Indonesian Flu which could kill some 25 million people in exchange for twelve children. Captain Jack Harkness is called in to help with the exchange.

The current British government – worried that their past dealings with the aliens will be revealed – set out to eliminate those involved in the 1965 case as well as Torchwood who they fear could uncover the truth. However, the Torchwood team survives and set out to discover who is trying to kill them and what that has to do with the children.

The 456 send instructions to the British government to build a tank full of poisonous gases in Thames House. An alien then beams into the tank from some undisclosed location and announces that Earth will turn over 10% of all children or “We will wipe out your entire species.” The British Prime Minister and his aides discuss what to do. There are no ships or troops to fight and it is unsure they could kill the one alien on Earth or if that would even accomplish anything. So they begin planning what children they will hand over and how to collect them.

With some help, the Torchwood team records these secret discussions and threatens to release them. Jack and Ianto make it into Thames House and confront the alien, stating humanity would fight rather than hand over its children. The alien releases a virus that kills everyone in the building, including Ianto.

With no other options, the government sends in the military to begin gathering the kids and the people begin fighting back. In the growing chaos, Jack manages to save the day but at a terrible price.

I did have two problems with this, and I’ll mention them before discussing what I loved.

The first problem. The leaders of the world take the 456’s threat to wipe out humanity without any indication they could carry it out. Basically, the 456 go, “Watch as we make your children speak in unison,” and the leaders go, “Oh, well, then we’ll have to give in to your demands.” You’d think after the events of “The Christmas Invasion” world leaders would be less impressed by such displays. True, the 456 release a virus that kills everyone in Thames House, but that happens after the decision to hand over the children is already made. (On a side note, this “virus” kills everyone in about five minutes, which to me sounds more like a nerve gas than a virus, but I digress.)

The second problem I had is that the 456 can freeze all the children, make them speak in unison, and make them all point to one spot, so why do they need the governments of Earth to gather them? Couldn’t they just make them all walk to centralized locations so they could be beamed up?

Those were the only major issues I had with “Children of Earth,” there were a few minor things (like the virus) but I tend to nitpick. On the whole, I really enjoyed the show. I think the biggest reason was that it was dark and disturbing, and that’s something that you don’t see enough of. For example, what other sci-fi show would have a murder-suicide? And not one that’s just there for shock value (you only hear gunshots from behind a closed door.) The story leads the character to do such a reprehensible act, but it’s understandable. It’s doubtful any viewers of “Children of Earth” will ever be in such a situation, but if it were to happen I’d bet a fair number of people would do the same thing because it’s the “best” option. Similarly, it was unnerving to watch these politicians debating over which children they will hand over to the 456. I think most of us think of politicians as just people who waste our tax dollars and have affairs, we don’t think of them as people put in a position where they might have to choose between one completely heinous act and another that’s a million times worse. Which children will we hand over? How will we gather them? What if the soldiers refuse to follow orders? What if the people resist? The Prime Minister and the military have to make these decisions and stick with them. And while some – I almost hate to say – are “noble” about it, others see the political opportunities.

The other thing I enjoyed was the possibility of things going very wrong. In any other show or movie there is a 99.9% chance that there will be a happy ending. Nine times out of ten the 0.1% is just stupid, for example, Vulcan getting sucked into a black hole. But by Day Four, you know there isn’t going to be a happy ending to “Children of Earth.” You even start to wonder, Will they actually let the 456 take the children? In any other show the possibility of that would be 0%, but with Torchwood, the possibility rises to 3 or maybe 4%. And you start asking, If the 456 take the kids, what repercussions will that have in the greater Doctor Who universe? Now, it’s not that I support unhappy endings (I do think as I grow more cynical each year I come to see them as more realistic) but a good, unhappy ending can save a story, for example, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Skynet launching Judgment Day redeems the rest of the movie. And if the 456 had made off with the kids, I would have been shocked, which doesn’t happen that often because most things on TV are crap.

Now, so you don’t go thinking the whole thing is dark and depressing, there is humor in the story as well. Okay, there’s some dark humor, but it’s still humor. At one point Ianto asks Jack if he died. Jack says, “Yeah,” so Ianto gives him a hug. Later a guy shoots Jack, and when he resurrects it scares the guy, so Gwen tries to calm him down by saying, “This is normal. It’s what he does.” But Ianto loosing the car and getting mooned, “We want a pony,” Alice taking out the gunman, and other such moments lighten the mood, a little.

So if you enjoy dark science fiction, and follow Doctor Who and Torchwood (it would help to understand some of the history, like how Jack can’t die) I say watch “Children of Earth.” You won’t be disappointed.

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2 Responses to “Children of Earth – Review”

  1. The alien problems you mentioned struck me as insurmountable plot holes. The only thing I liked about the 456 was the name. It looked like a gray two-headed flamingo. What’s with the fluid spewing and head-banging? Also, the confrontation with the alien that kills Ianto seemed to be a pointless exercise. I thought Torchwood had more of a plan than just talking back to the 456. Usually the Doctor has a speech that he says to the alien before he pulls off something to destroy them. Capt. Jack just had the speech. Why didn’t he think of the 456 frequency/wave thing then. Everyone else seems to have thought of it in Episode 5. They should have tried Slim Whitman’s “Indian Love Call” before they resonated the kid.

  2. The answer to the first plot question is simple; the 456 have had several previous dealings with Earth beyond the 1965 incident. The refusal in those encounters (or at least one) was the spread of the Spanish Flu which killed up to 100 million people (at a time when the world’s population was only 1.6 billion). This is revealed in some quick exposition, probably easy to miss. But still, the proof of the threat is there.

    As for the second point, I’d guess that the aliens wanted to see the human race at its lowest point almost as much as the children themselves. Their intents are malicious enough to assume they get some kind of sick pleasure out of torturing us with the ultimatum. They could’ve taken the kids by force, but giving the choice to us was more fun.

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