TV on DVD: Torchwood – Children of Earth

On one otherwise lovely morning, every child on the face of the Earth points to the sky and chants in unison “We are coming.” It’s a creepy close encounter with Children of the Damned flair, one of the most insidious alien invasions chronicled on sci-fi TV. You might think is a job for Torchwood, Britain’s answer to The X-Files, until the government sends a hit squad to kill the team and reveals a conspiracy that haunts its leader, the eternal Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Peter Capaldi (late of the political satire In the Loop) is the impassively ruthless civil servant willing to kill anyone and everyone who can spill the secret of the British governments previous encounter with this mysterious visitor, and the deal with the devil they made to keep them away from Earth last time. And when it comes to killing an unkillable man, they can get quite creative.

Torchwood: Cardiffs Scooby Gang
Torchwood: Cardiff's Scooby Gang

Torchwood, a spin-off of Russell T. Davies’ revived and revitalized Doctor Who (note the name is an anagram of Doctor Who – it took me two seasons to notice that), began as a vehicle for Captain Jack, an American space pirate and charming rogue whose ambiguous loyalties are revealed under pressure. In this series, leads a British covert group responding to alien visitations via space and dimensional passages (it turns out Cardiff is an intergalactic and interdimensional convergence point, the Doctor Who universe answer to a Hellmouth, which makes these guys a grown up Scooby Gang). And he becomes a much more complex figure in the first two seasons of the series, not just the first openly gay action hero on TV (which is something by itself) but a haunted eternal man with the torments of a modern Prometheus. Jack has died multiple times and he feels it, as well as the pain of regeneration, each time. He’s suffered worse than Job over the years, surviving terrible imprisonments and outliving every love of his life. His happy-go-lucky demeanor and reckless love life (passionate but uncommitted) is his way of trying to keep emotions at arm’s length, for all the good it does. Longevity doesn’t make loss any easier.

Children of Earth is a five-part mini-series within a series (which originally played over five consecutive nights on British TV and BBC America), a complete story with a scope and the ambition that recalls the Quatermass shows of old. But it’s also a terrific character drama, with Jack facing yet another family growing old before his eyes (his daughter now looks older then him) and watching his loved ones die in the eternal war. The first two seasons it was a colorful series on a cable budget that slowly found its footing and balance of charged mystery and cheeky attitude through the high-concept adventures: alien viruses, rampaging giant monsters, rips in the space-time continuum. This self-contained story has its own wobbles, but by the second episode it takes no prisoners, and by the end of the show, he’s sacrificed yet another piece of his soul to save the Earth.


Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

2 thoughts on “TV on DVD: Torchwood – Children of Earth”

  1. One small point – Captain Jack is not American.

    Well, Jack Harkness was, but Captain Jack is not really Jack Harkness; he’s a rogue time agent/con man from the 51st Century – and not from Earth, at that.

    Another ponnt – Jack’s sexuality is a bit more extreme what most people would think of as simply “gay” – “omnisexual” seems more apropos. Not just men and women… (In the episode “Meat” from Season 2, Gwyn asks Jack if he’s ever eaten alien meat, and when he says yes, asks what it was like, and Jack’s reply is “He seemed to enjoy it.”)

  2. Yes, you are correct on both: Jack isn’t American per se, but by accent and attitude, he is the American dynamic in a British setting. In the past I have written that Jack is the first openly bisexual action hero on TV (which is still not the omnisexual being that you rightly point out). I changed it to gay here only because in this last couple of seasons, he’s been sticking with men, though as he meets with his daughter and grandson, it’s clear he has been with at least one woman in his past.

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