The sci-fi procedural Torchwood ended its second season by knocking off two members of its crack alien-investigating team. The survivors are still reeling in the show's third season, which comes in the unusual form of a five-hour miniseries called Children of Earth. Shorter than a full season (by eight hours) and longer than any story the series has yet attempted, Children of Earth takes on an epic quality in its scale of doomsday import and its personal character dramas. It's a case of good news, bad news for fans, who will have to face seeing the show's "universe" even more in shambles by the end of the five hours than it was at the end of Season Two.
Children of Earth baits its hook with imagery that pays homage to the British science-fiction classic Village of the Damned. All around the world, children simultaneously stop in their tracks. Soon, they're channeling the message of a threatening alien race designated the 456 by the British government (456 being the frequency of their communication). The 456, we learn, has been here before and has colluded with the British government (and immortal Torchwood agent Captain Jack Harkness) in dark dealings. The sins of the past have come home to roost, and the 456 are demanding the unthinkable: unless the Earth delivers ten percent of the population of pre-pubescent children, the 456 will destroy the planet.
This unthinkable scenario establishes stratospheric stakes (literally, and beyond) and sets the stage for a series of moral and ethical dilemmas for government officials and Captain Jack (John Barrowman). As a shadowy conspiracy plays out between Permanent Secretary to the Home Office John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi of In the Loop) and craven Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell of Amazing Grace), Torchwood itself is targeted when the alien hunters seemingly could do the most good. The bad timing extends to the personal lives of Jack and his co-worker/lover Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), bisexuals who are coming to terms with the scary designation "couple," as well as their work partner Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and her husband Rhys, who get life-changing news.
The theme of family ties helps to fill out the miniseries, as we meet heretofore unseen relatives of both Ianto and Jack. The latter are especially intriguing, keeping in mind that the ageless Jack must stand still as his loved ones grow old. The miniseries also toys with the notion of replacement members of Torchwood to fill Season Two's vacancies, particularly in the case of Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo), who fills the story function of an unavailable Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman, booked for Law & Order: UK may yet return one day), said to be on honeymoon. (At least Gwen's old pal PC Andy, played by Tom Price, puts in time in Children of Earth.)
It's difficult to discuss Children of Earth without spoiling it, but Davies and co-writers John Fay and James Moran load it up with enough surprises to keep jaws dropped and minds racing. Davies shows humanity at its best and worst in this dark tale, which poses nasty dilemmas for the politicians and especially Captain Jack, whose redemption for past sins comes in the harrowing form of yet another sin. Davies once more poses that eternal moral question: can the greater good justify a horrible action? The high ratings and international attention for Children of Earth would seem to make a fourth season inevitable, and Davies has said it's "ready to go." One thing is certain: it'll be a "rebuilding year" for an emotionally devastated Captain Jack Harkness.
Fans will be pleasantly surprised when they get a load of Torchwood: Children of Earth on Blu-ray. Though the transfer is encoded at 1080i, the picture quality is positively stunning, especially in comparison with previous seasons of the show on Blu-ray. Torchwood is at its sharpest here, with spot-on color and contrast and strong depth. The DTS-HD 5.1 Surround mix likewise packs a wallop with pulse-pounding, wraparound action effects and music.
The two-disc set features a segment of the fan-favorite Torchwood Declassified behind-the-scenes series. Given the length of the mini-series, this entry seems a bit short, but it provides a nice summary of Davies' thinking behind "Series Three," reflections by the cast, and some of the production hurdles overcome by the crew. "Torchwood Declassified" (31:46, SD) features interviews with executive producer Russell T. Davies, director Euros Lyn, John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd, Nick Briggs, assistant location manager Gareth Skelding, prosthetics designer Neill Gorton, and special effects technician Danny Hargreaves.
Science-fiction buffs should definitely check out this exciting miniseries, though they'd do well to begin at the beginning with Torchwood: The Complete First Season.
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