Torchwood: Children of Earth
It is far from uncommon for a popular television series to become the basis of a spin off. Typically the writers simply take a breakout character or two or perhaps the defining situation of the original show and slightly alter it to produce another series. I hesitate to use the term ‘new series’ since in the majority of cases there is little new about the result. The one notable exception here in the United States was the ‘Lou Grant Show’ which was entirely different from its parent ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.' In England, one example of a spin off with a dedication to taking a different direction is ‘Torchwood.' It started as a loose spin off of the longest lasting Science Fiction series in existence, ‘Doctor Who.'. While ‘Doctor Who’ began decidedly in the vein of light hearted adventure well known for somewhat cheesy special effects and quirky, off beat characters, intended as a childen’s show. With its reboot in 2005, the series took on a decidely darker, more mature tone. While the underlying tongue-in-cheek humor persisted the thematicallly, the foundation moved to some exceptionally intense topics most notably the Ninth Doctor’s guilt over indtigating a double genecideto save the universe. This significant paradeigm shift was condusive for an adjunct series to emerge. This inclusion of an immortal human also capable oftime travel who served as a companion, of sorts, for the Doctor.
From its conception, ‘Torchwood’ was geared towards a substancially more adult demographic. The stories delved deeper into the dark side of human psychology, topics involving the fluidity of sexuality and the delicate balance between permitting a species to express its true nature and preventing it from impinging on the freedom of another. The sexual expression strongly motivated many of the characters, with sexual ambiguity seen as the norm rather the exception. The last time I encountered fluid sexuality utilzed as a substancial theme in science fiction was the novel ‘Left Hand of Darkness,' by noted genre master, Ursula K. Le Guin.Although the series shares the same universe as its progenitor, there is a more involved concern for a gritty realism here than with the perpetually good doctor. I had been made aware of the series through one of my best friends who is a hard core fan of British Sci-Fi since my cable company didn’t offer BBC America so when I had an opportunity to review the first season (or series as they call it over there) I eagerly jumped at the chance. By the time season two started, I was already a diehard fan. The second season cut back a bit on the sexual antics on to a greater concentration on more involved story lines. It was with a great anticipation that fans awaited series three. Because of circumstances over at the BBC the 13 episodes where cut back to a five hour mini season. Apparently one of the reasons was their migration to high definition. This change in video format resulted in a need to upgrade their equipment and retool their special effects. In the bottom line ‘Torchwood: Children of Earth’ is a tautly executed return to good old fashion science fiction.
The creator of ‘Torchwood,' Russell T. Davies, has been involved in ‘Doctor Who’ for many years as well as creating another of its spin-offs; the teen oriented ‘Sarah Jane Adventures.' Perhaps some of the sexual orientation themes in the series were assisted by Davies’ association with the late night cable series ‘Queer as Folk.' The title refers to the ‘Torchwood Institute’ chartered by Queen Victoria to investigate unnatural events and defend against extraterrestrial menaces. The main section of ‘Torchwood located in the Welsh city of the Cardif, a cosmic junction of timespace that is conducive to interdimensional transit and an ideal recharging port for the Doctor’s TARDIS.
The leader of the group is Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Due to a very strange set of circumstances, Captain Jack is immortal. Not only will he live forever he can regenerate from any degree of bodily harm. Even complete annihilation would require a brief time to pull himself together literally. This unnatural persistence becomes privately to the main storylines. Jack is what you would most accurately describe as ‘polysexual,' not only is he open to either gender, as humanity is biologically restricted but be non- humanoid entities. There appears to be no hindrance imposed by morphology at all to the lusty desires of Jack. After recent events depicted in series two members of the team have been killed leaving only the former police woman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and their administrator extraordinaire Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd).
The miniseries opens with a typical school day with the children gathering to begin classes. Any semblance of normality is destroyed utterly at precisely 8:45 a.m. British local time when every child freezes for a few minutes. The degree of concern is immensely escalated when it become apparent that this odd behavior aflicted every child in the world, all at the same instant. Governments around the globe become immediately alarmed, putting aside age old animosities to face a common problem affecting the children of Earth. The same event occurs again, this time with all the children around the globe chanting in English ‘We Are Coming.' It turns out that in the mid-sixties a species only referred to by a frequency they used to contact humanity ‘4-5-6’ had extorted the British government to hand over a dozen children to the aliens for some unknown but undoubtedly nefarious purpose. Captain Jack had played a part of this dark chapter in a covert portion of history; Now the government demands that Jack and the entire Torchwood team disband, eliminated permenantly. As a plot device, the loss of a significant part of the Torchwood team is amazingly useful. It completely alters the interpersonal dynamic forcing character to act beyond their comfort zone. The fundamental narrative turns from Torchwood as the unsung saviors of Earth into wanted fugitives forced to resolve the treat and clear their names without access to their Cardiff base of operation and the vast store of alien technology stored there. By shifting the focus from gadgetry to a greater dependence on character development the entire tone of the series it altered.
Previous seasons offered little information concerning the backstory for any member of Torchwood except Gwen. It was routine to bring the audience along as she goes back home to her husband, giving a human touch that is highly helpful in helping the viewers bond with the character. A degree of Jack’s personal history became known through several Doctor Who episodes, but still, Jack has remained shrouded in mystery, Jack has a daughter who looks older than him and a young Grandson. Ianto Jonesto has to come out as bi-sexual to his sister and her husband while Gwen and her husband Rhys (Kai Owen) discover that she is pregnant. There is also a Sci-Fi staple, a government conspiracy to hold the episodes together. Secretly the government open negotiations and are willing to go ahead with their demand to turn over one tenth of all the children in the world. The British government comes up with the heinous idea to hand over kids in orphanages, homes for the delinquent and those deemed unlikely to contribute to society. The concept of evaluating the criteria in some clandestine back room is a very dark and foreboding terror. This five part series is gripping, well-crafted and the perfect length to tell this particular part of the saga. I can’t wait for the next season in high def.