Thursday, July 23, 2009

Torchwood Children of Earth, part 4: Endless love

Once again, I don't have time to give each episode of "Torchwood: Children of Earth" the proper review it deserves, so I'm going to offer up a few quick thoughts after the jump and then open it up to you. Spoilers for episode four coming up just as soon as I bump up the numbers...
"A man who can't die has got nothing to fear. So you watch it. And you keep watching." -Alice
And now "Torchwood" is not playing around, at all. Rest in peace, Ianto Jones. The line to pillory Russell T. Davies forms after all the Donna Noble fans have had their say.

Ianto's death in Thames House is the climactic, tragic scene of episode four, but the hour has several sequences that are more horrific, even if they don't bring about the end of a popular ongoing character (and Captain Jack's boyfriend).

The first is our glimpse of what The 4-5-6 actually look like -- and, more importantly, what was done with the kids Jack gave them in 1965. "Children of Earth" has gotten a lot of mileage out of using The 4-5-6 as an implied, unseen threat, and even here, the sequence is cleverly shot from the POV of the soldier's video camera, so the picture quality is poor and intermittent. We see everything we need to see to be disturbed, but not so much that we can start to spot the seams of the trick, you know?

Even more disturbing, though, is the scene where the Prime Minister and his people hash out how to select the 10 percent of their children who will be turned into immortal, catatonic fanny packs for The 4-5-6. Davies' work has never shown much fondness for politicians, but Denise's speech about the necessity of discrimination at a time like this -- "Should we treat them equally? God knows we've tried and we've failed." -- are among the most chilling words ever uttered by a "Doctor Who" villain -- if not moreso, because she's not an alien invader bent on global domination, but a scared human being trying to protect what's hers by passing the burden on to someone else.

(There aren't a lot of commonalities between "Doctor Who"/"Torchwood" and "The Wire," but I could sure imagine Tommy Carcetti participating in the American version of that meeting, couldn't you?)

But getting back to Ianto's death, what makes it especially crushing is that it comes almost immediately after it seems that Torchwood has successfully turned the tables on both the government and The 4-5-6. They can blackmail the PM into getting whatever they want, and they have knowledge and technology that the aliens might not be ready for -- but they, in turn, aren't prepared for how quickly and fatally this one representative could strike back. So Ianto (and a bunch of MI-5 employees without easy access to HazMat suits) is dead, Torchwood is now down to a team of two (three if you want to count Rhys), and it looks like the bad guys -- both the aliens and the humans -- are going to win. What now?

Keep in mind, as always, that we're following the American broadcasting schedule of this show, so talk about the first four episodes and only the first four, even if you've already seen the whole series because you live in England or are handy with illegal downloads. Any comment I consider the least bit over the line gets deleted, period.

Considering that, what did everybody else think?

33 comments:

Myles said...

I think that this is the point where the pacing of a five-episode season kind of wears down - Ianto's death was still powerful and meaningful, but the speed at which it happened (and the speed with which they're going to have to deal with it in the final part) kind of take away some of its impact for me (speaking as a recent arrival to the franchise).

Definitely concur on the roundtable scene (which gave me chills, and as I note in my own review was notable for being so chilling even after the "catatonic fanny pack" [Well played, Alan]), and great observation about that being a total Carcetti kind of speech.

Out of curiosity (this is clearly for people other than Alan since he's so busy), is there a large political component in the show normally? This seems like a more indepth view into the politics of things than I would have expected given my limited knowledge of Torchwood. Either way, Davies has me intrigued to stick with the series.

Norm N. Conquest said...

I never thought I'd be nostalgic for Harriet Jones, former prime minister.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

The roundtable scene was chilling. We watched democratically elected officials devolve into Fascists involved in a selection process to determine who was expendable and should be sacrificed- not our kids of course, but the other guy's.

There were some interesting comments in the 15 minute wrap up segment, particularly from Eve Myles (Gwen) who saw Frobisher not as a villain, but as a victim...and the real villain was not the 456 but humanity (her words, not mine).

Good stuff, I can't wait to see the conclusion.

Jackie said...

The whole cabinet room sequence turns my stomach. Calling children "units". RTD making this such an integral part of the plot is great because it shows the state and it's actions and complicity are just as horrific as the 4-5-6. I think that it's grounded in a reality that's all too possible, the way they treat it matter-of-fact-ly and clinical as a way of distancing themselves from the barbarity of it, is what makes it especially upsetting to watch. Not having any "good" choice but merely bad and slightly less bad choices. Humanity is it's own worst enemy.

I didn't actually cry the first time I watched this episode--too shocked I guess--but seeing Eve Myles cry like that broke me this time.

I've had time to digest what happened, hear what RTD and the actors had to say about Ianto dying, work through my feelings about it, read countless opinions through the fandom, and I've come to accept what happened for what it is. The very nature of Torchwood, the world in which they operate, means no one is safe for long. Ianto had been living on borrowed time for years and his death at the hands (pointy claw things?) of the 4-5-6 was the bullet with his name finally catching up to him. Of course I hate that he died, and in my fantasies he and Jack get to be together forever and have lots of wonderful adventures. In reality, Ianto was always going to die; we just didn't know when or how. I don't hate RTD or James Moran or any of TPTB for deciding to kill Ianto, unlike some of the more hysterical people in the fandom, I'm just sad that Ianto died. I loved that character. I'll always feel like we never got enough of his story--just because I could never not know enough of his backstory/inner workings, so whether he died at this point or it had been later I'd still feel the same.

Craig Ranapia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norm N. Conquest said...

Normally the government is too feckless, slow and stupid to be anything more than a speed-bump nuisance to Team Torchwood. But given a chance to decimate a generation of humankind, they can find the resources to move at hyperspeed.

Craig Ranapia said...

Out of curiosity (this is clearly for people other than Alan since he's so busy), is there a large political component in the show normally?

If by 'political' you mean 'a certain cynicism shown toward authority', certainly. Outright partisanship, not at all -- even though RTD himself is quite obviously no fan of the Conservative Party, and is vocal on gay rights issues.

But, in the frame of the show, I'd always thought Torchwood (established by Queen Victoria) was so secret, not even the Prime Minister knew more than rumours about their existence.

There were some interesting comments in the 15 minute wrap up segment, particularly from Eve Myles (Gwen) who saw Frobisher not as a villain, but as a victim...and the real villain was not the 456 but humanity (her words, not mine).

Sure, and it also doesn't help when a certain Gallifreyan isn't around to make everything right. Hum... perhaps the late Harriet Jones had a point after all.

Nicole said...

I don't think Torchwood or Doctor Who has ever had such political content. Harriet Jones was always somewhat superficial, and there was never an attempt to show the "evil" politician having any real kind of deliberation in doing reprehensible acts.

The scariest part is that the deliberation is very close to the kinds of decisions real politicians have made in a variety of countries, regardless of the type of government. Perhaps I am a cynic, but should a scenario like this ever present itself in real life, with the possibility of saving many by sacrificing a few, I don't doubt that this type of weeding out will happen.

I was sad to see Ianto not survive, but Torchwood has always been willing to kill off its members (except Gwen I guess) that it didn't surprise me, and while I didn't pick up on the extra Ianto screen time in the first three episodes, something clued me in for this one.

Craig Ranapia said...

I don't hate RTD or James Moran or any of TPTB for deciding to kill Ianto, unlike some of the more hysterical people in the fandom, I'm just sad that Ianto died. I loved that character.

What I find really weird is the suggestion from some quarters that the death of Ianto is somehow homophobic. Um, guys, you do realise the executive producer and head writer on this project is one very bloody-minded very out gay who wouldn't let that kind of crap out of the writers' room?

Damned if you, damned if you don't, I guess -- because I could see killing Gwen (a pregnant woman) would be totally uncontroversial. /sarcasm

Nicole said...

It's actually a bit insane to accuse Torchwood or its writers of being homophobic for killing Ianto because it's probably the most gay positive show out there at the moment. I read that story on io9 and was hoping that it was coming from those who were still grieving, and even then, it's a television character folks, not a real person.

Matthew L said...

The very nature of Torchwood, the world in which they operate, means no one is safe for long. Ianto had been living on borrowed time for years and his death at the hands (pointy claw things?) of the 4-5-6 was the bullet with his name finally catching up to him.

In the week before COE aired in the UK, they aired a series of three Torchwood radio plays. In one episode, Jack was in a kind-of coma, and Ianto was talking to him and reflecting on the idea that Jack would stay young forever while Ianto would grow old and die. And then he made a comment along the lines of "who am I kidding. No-one lives very long in Torchwood. Nature of the job." I can't help wondering whether the writer of that episode (Phil Ford) knew what happened in Ianto in COE, or whether it was just lucky writing.

nigeltde said...

unlike some of the more hysterical people in the fandom
Hey! I resemble that remark! :-D

Nah, from my perspective, it's not so much calling the producers homophobic as being frustrated and disappointed to see yet another tragic doomed queer character get killed off, which blah blah blah dark science fiction no one's safe but it still sits in the longstanding pattern of dead queers and happily ever after straights on telly.

Having always found TW's writing acting and aesthetics somewhat offputting and ridiculous Ianto was one of the only reasons to stick around. COE is a slight improvement narratively but I still don't buy the brand of dark it's selling so without the characters I care about there's not much point. That's why ultimately I didn't like Children of Earth.

Which is to say, sometimes it sucks to be a queer sci-fi fan.

Andrew said...

Much as I liked the whole mini-series - and I still think it's far stronger than any Dr Who end of season spectacular by several light years - I thought this episode was the most frustrating of the lot.

Frustrating because the tension and chilling matter-of-factness of the cabinet deliberations was totally ruined by the last ten minutes - when Jack's plan was shown up as being as useless as going up to the 456 and telling them to go away. That's it. No contingency plans in case they said no and started a fight. No way of breaking the psychic connection with the earth's children. Just march in, knock politely on the glass, and try and act tough. And if that's the extent of his plan, then no wonder poor Ianto gets it, because it is, quite frankly, rubbish.

I was happy to forgive Lois Habiba being given access to top secret databases *on her first day at work* (no idea why she had to be a new starter and not a seasoned employee) but the artifice in the plotting of Ianto's death was a real problem for me.

But still, as I said, mostly it was very good indeed.

pgillan said...

This was the first of the series where I start feeling a little bored, and slightly annoyed that there wasn't a single character who made even a passing statement about fighting back. I can infer that they didn't think they stood a chance due to the children, but it would have been nice to have at least one person articulate that. In this univere, where alien invasion is sort of routine, their instant timidty makes very little sense.

And Torchwood's plan was truly half-assed. That robbed the episode of a lot of the momentum it had up to that point.

Alanna said...

Intellectually, I can understand some of the arguments that Ianto's death was homophobic. Yes, it was problematic on several levels, though I don't see actual homophobia there. How many of the original main characters are even still standing? By that token, you could also argue that it's amazing that Ianto survived as long as he did. One of the (heavy-handed) themes is that, like the Doctor, Jack is destined to be alone in the world.

Sharon said...

@Andrew

In regards as to why Lois Hibiba had to be a new employee, I think it allowed her to be the average person in this situation. She had no loyalty to Frobisher, which she might have had as a long time employee, and she was viewing the events unfolding with the same sense of moral outrage and fear that the audience was feeling. As for how she came to have top secret access, speaking as an employee of a state agency who isn't at all high level or involved in anything top secret, you wouldn't BELIEVE the background checks I had to go through prior to being hired - I can only imagine how intensive that scrutiny is for a position with a national government agency.

Karen said...

No, neither DW nor TW have been particularly political but check out Davies' earlier miniseries The Second Coming, which is a powerful piece of work. I think Davies is fascinated with moral issues, which is why the Doctor is so appealing to him. THat scene with the politicians around the table, already carefully using euphemisms ("units" for :children"--I especially liked the moment where one said "children" and then corrected himself), to me felt like classic Davies.

I do find the absence of the Doctor in this particular situation troubling, though. When it became clear that the 456 wanted 10& of the world's children or they would exterminate the species, that seemed like a classic The-Doctor-steps-in moment. Given the world that the two shows have created, it seemed implausible that he wouldn't appear.

Speaking of the 456's threat, though--is it really plausible? If the 456 really require young human children as rechargeable battery packs, wouldn't wiping out the entire human race be what my mother calls "biting off your nose to spite your face"?

About Ianto's death: via Twitter, I had already surmised that there was a significant death in episode 4, and it sounded like it was one of the team. I didn't think it would be anyone other than Ianto, if only because he seems the least prominent member of the team. The interaction between Jack and Ianto earlier in the episode seemed to underscore the tragedy to come: Ianto realizing that he'll grow old while Jack continues on forever young seemed like the equivalent of the cop character one week away from retirement going out on one last big job. That being said, I thought it was beautifully done. And I don't see it as homophobic. The show killed off Susie, Owen, and Tosh--I'd say the gay character has been preserved longer than most on that show.

Norm N. Conquest said...

I'm sure the folks over at Grey's Anatomy could lend a scriptwriter to bring back Ianto as a ghost next season, if that's really what you want.

But can someone explain to me why making one gay character as vulnerable as your straight characters is homophobic? Especially if your other gay character is immortal?

Karen said...

Davies responds to the "backlash":

http://ausiellofiles.ew.com/2009/07/backlash-shmacklash-thats-torchwood-creator-russell-t-davies-reaction-to-the-outcry-over-the-death-of-gareth-david-lloyds.html

Craig Ranapia said...

I do find the absence of the Doctor in this particular situation troubling, though. When it became clear that the 456 wanted 10& of the world's children or they would exterminate the species, that seemed like a classic The-Doctor-steps-in moment. Given the world that the two shows have created, it seemed implausible that he wouldn't appear.

Well, it's been firmly established that there are plenty of events The Doctor can't, or won't, "step in" to -- like the destruction of Pompei. Even, if you get back in the wayback machine, The Doctor defied his own people and refused to kill Davros and prevent the creation of the Daleks.

And you know something else: Harriet Jones was right. Powerful and fabulous as he is, The Doctor is one person, roaming through all of time and space. Humanity simply can't assume he's going to come along every damn time there's some alien-related crisis.


Speaking of the 456's threat, though--is it really plausible? If the 456 really require young human children as rechargeable battery packs, wouldn't wiping out the entire human race be what my mother calls "biting off your nose to spite your face"?


You're assuming the 456 are telling the truth and/or Green and his henchpersons know WTF they're on about? Unwise.

But can someone explain to me why making one gay character as vulnerable as your straight characters is homophobic?

Hey, I'm still trying to figure out how Ron Moore and David Eick could cast a Hispanic actor as the male lead in Battlestar Galactica, and still be miserable racist bigots.

Karen said...

I take your point about how thin the Doctor can be stretched, but the show has carefully established, over decades, that the Doctor has an especial fondness for the inhabitants of Earth, and I can't see him not being aware that this was happening.

You're right that we don't know whether the 456 are telling the truth. But it seems like Jack or Frobisher or someone could point out the logical fallacy TO the 456 and see what they say.

Craig Ranapia said...

Davies responds to the "backlash"

God I love that man -- in a totally platonic unrequited bro-matic way, in case my boyfriend reads this. :) You certainly won't grow old waiting to hear what he really thinks about anything -- and a delight to see the kind of people who expect thank you notes and flowers for being grossly insulting acting entirely to type.

The really delicious joke is that originally it was Tosh and Ianto -- not Owen -- who were going to be killed at the end of series two.

Craig Ranapia said...

And what is it about 'fans' who are really surprised that their "you are a tower of suck who couldn't write a decent shopping list, you no-talent hack who has raped my childhood and ruined my life" screeds aren't actually well-received? Can there really be people out there who think Sheldon Cooper is a role model?

L. said...

Since it has been raised, the real issue in the "where is the Doctor question" actually is where is Martha and her cell phone? I know the actress wasn't available, and for the purposes of the story there shouldn't be an easy way for the Doctor to find out about what is happening and come swooping in to save the day, but where do they have Martha honeymooning that she doesn't know what is going on? That UNIT hasn't gone and gotten her back in action. Better to have had her grabbed and being held as a Torchwood associate, with the cell phone packed away with whatever else she had on her when she was grabbed because no one else knows what it really is, or something.
But then that leads to questions like where is Sarah Jane and her super-computer, or any of the other people established by RTD to be aware and prepared to deal with an alien menace. Which is always the problem with telling a story in a large established universe. How much do you put in, how much do you ignore? But it does put you in a position that you have to come up with something better than throw away lines like, she's on her honeymoon or we can't see the ship with the satellites.
I'm enjoying the emotional strain, and how big the crisis is and all the small character moments, but I just wish some of the mechanics were worked out better. Ianto's death was upsetting but why did they go in with no real plan. Shouldn't they be working with UNIT at this point? Taking the children IS terrible and how the politicians discuss it horrific, but destroying everyone on the earth is bad too. Basically Jack barreled in with bluster and bluffing and Ianto and all those redshirts paid the price. It seems kind of a pointless death, although amazing how awful even a pointless death can feel.

L. said...

PS meant to start my second part with the fact that I agree completely with Andrew.

Norm N. Conquest said...

Can there really be people out there who think Sheldon Cooper is a role model?

I never know for sure, but I suspect this is a rhetorical question premised on sarcasm. Am I reading this correctly?

Pirate Alice said...

I've seen enough British television to know that just because the person is a main character they aren't safe from death. So when Ianto died, I accepted it. I was only angry in my grief over a beloved character. Why does American TV constantly save the main characters and kill off the guest characters? Death is a part of life. If you know the main person wont die because he is a "star" of the show, how can you truly feel the peril of the situation?
I'm not angry, I'm just sad.

Ian said...

A lot of people seem to be baffled that Jack would simply walk up to the 456 and try to bluster his way through --- it has been characterized as a lack of a plan. But I think people are missing two fundamental points here that make this scene work:

1. Jack did have a plan, it's just not a very good one. If you pay attention to his dialogue with the 456, he thinks that the threat of exposure of the 456's goals and humanity rising up to fight them to the death will convince the 456 that they will eventually lose all the children anyway, so there's no point in continuing. The problem is that Jack is thinking he can manipulate an alien intelligence the same way he manipulated the politicians into doing what he wanted.

2. Most importantly, Jack did what he thought the Doctor would have done. Come on, watch the scene where he confronts the 456 again, and tell me that isn't exactly like any one of a million times where the Doctor has confronted an alien species, identified himself and waited for the alien to run away just because of the Doctor's reputation (even Ianto says "He's Captain Jack Harkness, look him up and see what you're up against" --- almost a verbatim recreation of the Doctor's challenge to the Vashta Nerada in "Forest of the Dead"). The problem with that is that Jack hasn't done the work that the Doctor would have done to make absolutely certain that he has the upper hand, nor is smart enough to improvise like the Doctor --- he's just emulating the Doctor without understanding why the Doctor can get away with doing stuff like that. And he paid the consequences.

Anonymous said...

1. Lois's clearance

If we all remember, she's been using the more trusted head assistant's password (given to her on a stickie in the first episode for routine file clearance during a busy office moment) and logging into information she isn't actually cleared on.

2. The Doctor, Martha, UNIT

I think the major things to consider here is that, firstly, for all the danger the 456 pose, it is relatively small-scale compared to when the Doctor intervenes. 10% of earth's children isn't exactly planet destroying, nor moving planets around to destroy the whole universe. Secondly, we have to remember that this is all taking place in five days time. And considering the government kept information about the 456 secret out of shame until, well, yesterday show time, it makes sense UNIT and the other countermeasures haven't been able to act yet (perhaps all part of their plan?)


I also think Jack's bravado in challenging the 456 comes from having to spend so much time fighting the government just to approach the aliens. It almost seemed, thematically and for the character, like Torchwood has already won just by getting into that room. To have their hopes and best laid plans shut down so quickly was a great moment.

I'm also wondering how anyone else would deal with this situation that differs from the government. I know the social discrimination isn't respectable, and saving their own children is cowardly, but...given all options, horrific as it may be, is there anything else they could do but conceded to the 456's demands? And maybe spend the next 50 years preparing weapons to fight them off with should they come back looking for 50% of the world's children.

Norm N. Conquest said...

Uh-oh. Barrowman crashes a £120,000 automobile: http://tinyurl.com/JackCrash .

Will next year's Torchwood team be just Gwen, Rhys, Lois and Baby Edward?

Kensington said...

On the matter of the Doctor's absence, I just assume it's one of those unpleasant facts that he would probably prefer to keep to himself, much like Jack's reluctance to tell anyone of his involvement in the original 456 event until it could no longer be denied.

If it ever had to come up, the Doctor would admit that he missed this one, probably because he was busy saving somewhere else at the time, and was now bound by the laws of time to live with it as an immutable part of Earth history.

As for Torchwood: Children of Earth itself, this has been remarkably good television. I admit to looking forward to Russell T Davies passing the Who torch onto Steven Moffat, thinking that he had quite clearly run out of gas after all these years. The complexity of Children of Earth, however, makes me look forward to whatever his next project turns out to be.

l.b. weighs in said...

@ Ian - I think you are right about Jack and I completely agree that his reactions and assumptions lead to a bad plan, but a plan that bad is almost worse than no plan at all.

And Jack is many things but he ISN'T a Time Lord and really shouldn't be playing by that play book.

@Anon, it has only been a few days but I would expect UNIT and the others to be enacting their own research and plans, and don't understand why Team Torchwood didn't at least give them a call to find out what they had going on, even if Torchwood kept their ace up their sleeve in regards to their inside knowledge.

Even as I am frustrated by that, I am sure that however the story resolves tonight it will be emotionally riveting.

Anonymous said...

As a strong follower of SciFi and Dr. Who for most of my young adult and adult years, I really enjoyed the freedom that Torchwood gave to the genre.
I was really disappointed with Davies decision "that someone had to die" to make Children of the Earth "drama."
I think that he's forgotten that its entertainment people were seeking in watching these shows. I can get as much real drama as I want on any news show.
It was such a blatant rewrite of the events of Nazi Germany that Davies should be embarassed to plagerize.
I find that I can no longer watch any of the Dr. Who/Torchwood shows. Children of the Earth left such a bad taste in my mouth. Davies seems to feel that "fans" don't matter, but if that is true why look at the ratings for his shows?