Torchwood: Children of Earth

19 Aug

I have to admit I’m a Doctor Who nut. (I even have a tardis cup where the tardis moves after coffee is put into it!) Lately I’ve been exploring the spin-offs, but really haven’t written about them because they’re very lightweight.
Torchwood was supposed to be a more adult Doctor Who, delving into storylines that couldn’t fit into the Doctor Who universe. On paper, that sounds pretty neat, because I would find their take on more complex themes and serious subjects fascinating. However, the first two seasons, while having some great moments, mostly confuse adult subject matter with a decidedly adolescent posture. It’s obsessed with sex and style and MTV visuals, and ends up being quite a bit less mature than Doctor Who even as it shows more skin.
Not so with Children of Earth. This Torchwood mini-series is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television and more than delivers on Torchwood’s initial promise.

SPOILERS BELOW!

When I think of mature themes (in the way that I prefer them), I would like to think they are complicated scenarios that go beyond the normal 6th grade level of storytelling that most television offers. Namely, while a good bit of television deals with black and white issues, I would rather see stories that live in the grey areas. In these places people are more than simply good or bad and life is not shown as a cowboy shoot-up but infinitely more capable of that. Also, what I would like is a more complex emotional range–just as situations would not be merely good or bad, characters’ emotional responses should be more subtle. After all, a true adult life does not normally flag everything for us with indubitable certainty. A true mature show shouldn’t be screened from children merely because of appropriateness, but also because the ideas in that show are beyond the capability of a child to comprehend.

On this front Children of Earth succeeds beyond my wildest expectations. The scenario is that aliens come to earth demanding 10% of the earth’s children because they provide drug-like chemicals for the aliens. The aliens have viruses that can kill all humans that they will release if the world does not comply. What are the leaders of the earth to do?

Children of Earth opens up this scenario admirably, by building up the story at a slower pace, the show takes the opportunity to discuss and explore the implications fully. The leaders are willing to sacrifice the 10%. They discuss in detail which 10% they will take and how they will collect them. We see what happens to the children that the aliens are using (they are hooked up to machines to the aliens and are left as numb comatose shells). We see all the duplicity by the government officials to cover their own interests while seeming to serve the interests of the world at large. We see people fighting that government, who are also at a loss for viable alternative answers. Questions are raised: to what degree is it acceptable to harm the few to benefit the many? In harming people, how does it change those who were unharmed? When is it ok to lie to protect the greater good? How does one determine sacrifice? How much sacrifice is too much no matter what the result is?

The story is chilling. While most television is escapist, Children of Earth looks straight into the human heart, and not everything it finds is pleasant. Also, Children of Earth resists giving easy answers to these questions, nearly every character’s actions are questionable, causing harm that reverberates across the entire miniseries.

I would recommend this to anybody with the caveat that this isn’t easy watching but well worth it. Ironic though, by focusing on children Torchwood finally gains the maturity it had been aiming for since day one.

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