Tuesday 11 August 2009

The State I Am In Part III - Children of Earth

"Back in the old days, I wanted to know about that doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world, except sometimes he doesn't. All those times in history when there was no sign of him. I wanted to know why not. But I don't need to ask anymore. I know the answer now. Sometimes the doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame. I'm recording this in case anyone will ever find this so you can see. You can see how the world ended."

Gwen in the fifth part of "Children of Earth"

In the beginning of Torchwood's five-part third season, Captain Harkness' team is in ruins, with two key members dead and the remaining three (Gwen, Ianto, himself) struggling to pick up the pieces. But, as things go with the "Doctor Who" spinoff, there is never much time to deal with the emotional fall-out of a catastrophe, since the next one is already waiting to happen. In this case, the upcoming catastrophe choses a particularly eerie introduction: by way of all of earth's children, it sends a message. "They are coming".
Now, that kind of thing would be the point in time when the British government calls the Torchwood institute, and the leader who cannot die, for help. Instead, a team of assassins sets off to end Torchwood and to really test the idea of Harkness' eternal life.
One of the most interesting conflicts of the two series, the original "Doctor Who" (in its recent re-imagining) and the often dubbed as "darker brother" "Torchwood", was the conflicting perspectives. Harkness, who was born thousands of years in the future and gained his inability to die through something one of the doctor's companions did, decided to work for the government, in an "Institute" that used to be a shady, trespassing, creepy and way too powerful secret government agency, founded by a Queen Victoria who was quite certain that she wanted to fight all that was foreign, instead of asking the right questions. The Doctor, meanwhile, although always marvelling at the human condition and how curiosity makes for an exciting story, finds himself more often than not in conflict with governments, especially the British one. He sees power without checks and balances as what it is: a danger when it comes in contact with an imaginary or real threat from the very vast universe.
And in "Children of Earth", it becomes harder for the viewer to decide what is more horrifying: the alien race that uses human children as drugs and demands a ten percent share of all earth's children in exchange for not getting blown up, or the very government that decides which is the lesser evil and what children might be expandable for the cause.
The second story line is the personal one. Barrowman's Harkness struggles with the fact that his eternal life always means that his relationships only last until his loved one's death, but never until he himself dies. We meet his daughter and his grandson, and she can not ever explain to her son how they can both appear to have the same age. Then, there is the blossoming relationship between Ianto and Harkness, so we get the questions about love asked from the other point of view (how will you feel when I am dead). Gwen, meanwhile, along with husband Rhys, who has joined the team on their run from the assassins, must deal with the question of how to raise a family in an environment that will never be safe, especially in the specific scenario described above.
The government that we see here is weak and spends more energy on covering up the sins of the past (and, in a way, Harkness' sins) than on finding a morally just solution to the impending catastrophe. Upon being faced with the demand of 10 %, and while knowing what will happen to the children (they will be given eternal life, but under the most miserable circumstances), the question of human value comes up immediately. Which children are more valuable than others? Should they sacrifice those will surely must become doctors and lawyers, or only those who go to bad school and come from poor families? The fact that "Torchwood" goes right into the room in which those decisions are made, and does not hesitate to portray very normal people as the kind of politicians who will be making catastrophic policy choices in the face of a difficult situation, makes this an exceptional show.
This is where the most difficult decisions are made, even more shocking than those the President and the Admiral on the Galactica made. Nobody is safe, and the good guys don't always walk away clean. "Torchwood" in "Children of Earth", offers its characters no right choice, and sometimes the lesser of two evils appears to be unbearable.

Torchwood: Children of Earth, 2009, Writer: Russell T. Davies, Director: Euros Lyn, with John Barrowman, Eva Myles, Gareth David Lloyd, Kai Owen, Peter Capaldi, Paul Copley, Nicholas Farrell, Susan Brown, Cush Jumbo.

Crossposted on The Best Shows You're Not Watching.

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