Wow! Now that is more like it. After a muddled first series and an improved second Torchwood has finally become that great sci-fi thriller we all hoped it would be. This is not the work of the same Russell T. Davis who gave us farting aliens in Downing Street, Kylie on the starship Titanic and flying double-decker buses. This is the Russell T. Davis that wrote The Second Coming, Touching Evil and Doctor Who’s darkest episode ‘Midnight’.
After the devastating events of ‘Exit Wounds’ everything is business as usual back in the Hub. Gwen and Rhys are looking for a house while Jack and Ianto get used to being a couple. Then things get eerie as all the children, everywhere in the world, stop and start chanting in unison (and English) “We Are Coming! We Are Coming!” over and over again. The Torchwood team begins to investigate. Or they would if only the British government didn’t want them all dead for some mysterious reason. Seems the past has come back to haunt Captain Jack again.
The new five episode mini-series format works amazingly well giving us further insight into the remaining members of the Torchwood gang. With the team slimmed down to three (four if you include Rhys) the focus is tighter and more intimate. We get to know more about Jack and Ianto in the first episode alone than we did in two series, while Gwen and Rhys have become one of TV’s most adorable couples. All the flaws from the previous series have been carefully ironed out. No more smutty innuendo, pointless swearing, inconsistent characterization and adolescent daftness. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before so the time has come to grow up. Children of Earth also works as an exceptional political thriller. Some of the best scenes of entire serial are just politicians, generals and civil servants sitting around tables talking to each other. Of course, there are still the requisite shootouts, explosions and punch ups to keep all the action junkies happy.
The alien threat, the ominous 456, is kept mostly in the shadows for the duration. We get glimpses here and there at what they actually look like but never a fully picture, which only adds to their unsettling presence. What we do get to see of them is horrifying enough, especially when we finally discover what they intend to do with 10% of the children of earth. Meanwhile, the scenes on the council estate with Ianto’s family help ground the story in the real world, something Davis has always been very good at.
By the fourth episode Children of Earth has become something truly special to behold. The chilling scenes of cabinet ministers rational planning the rounding up of 10% of the nation's children recall the casual horror the Wannsee Conference as the Nazis calmly planned their final solution. The final episode comes as a massive punch to the stomach swiftly followed by a serious kick to the face. Hard decisions are made, lives are lost, and victory comes at a terrible price.
Throughout John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Garth-David Lloyd and Kai Owen all give exceptional performances, with Barrowman especially really giving it his all in the final episode as Jack is forced to make a harrowing choice. Unquestionably, through, the star of the show is Peter Capaldi as John Frobisher, a civil servant as far from Malcolm Tucker as you can get. His story is the most tragic of all and if there is any justice in this world Capaldi won’t be going away empty handed when award season comes around. Also of note, Liz May Brice brings just the right amount of icy bitchiness to the role of Johnson, the government assassin tasked with eliminating Torchwood, while Ian Gelder is delightfully slimy as Mr. Dekker. In fact there’s not a single bad performance from anyone. Even the kids are quite good.
Thrilling, exciting, bleak, brutal, harrowing, disturbing and emotionally shattering, Torchwood: Children of Earth is without a doubt one of the finest television productions you are likely to see this year and proof that sometimes good things do eventually come to those who wait.
Rating: * * * * *