So you think that Torchwood couldn’t break your heart anymore, huh? Not after the season two finale that left two beloved characters dead and Torchwood adrift, right? To borrow from another fantasy series, “Oh, my sweet summer child!” The five-part miniseries “Children of Earth” is brutal and turns out to be harder to view the second time around, but it’s also television at its finest and is just bloody brilliant. It’s fast-paced, wonderfully acted and manages to combine sci-fi, political thriller, and dark comedy into the mix. I could spend all day on the themes, but let’s just say that they are darker and bleaker than anything that came before it. The Big Bad is terrifying, but what I think is more terrifying is the idea that the military, politicians, and the government have a hand in the evil and that their decisions can cause more harm than good. Now that I have you all curled into a fetal position, let’s get on with it.
A group of children are on a bus, in what I presume is the Highlands of Scotland. The bus stops, the children get off and are met with a blinding light up the road. The children head towards the light except for one little boy who hesitates before following the group. A wide shot of the scene shows the children disappearing into the light while being watched by a tall figure by the bus.
It’s a normal morning in Cardiff with kids heading off to school and Gwen at the ATM when something weird happens; children freeze, right where they are at precisely the same time, 8:40 a.m. We see children frozen all over the city, frozen in intersections, and at the breakfast table before snapping out of it and moving on as if nothing had happened. Gwen arrives at the hub, which is occupied by only three now that Tosh and Owen are gone. While Gwen is looking into the strange occurrence, Jack and Ianto are at the hospital posing as neighbors of a man who has just died. The doctor on duty, Rupesh Patanjali, lets the pair see the body alone, assuming they’re a couple who want to say goodbye to their friend. The obvious couplehood pleases Ianto, but displeases Jack. What they really want is to extract an alien being from his body, which is going fine until Patanjali walks in on them. He realizes they work for Torchwood and tries to get them interested in the mysterious deaths of ethnic men in Cardiff, but apparently, it’s just a problem for the NHS.
Back at the hub, Gwen informs Jack that the odd behavior of children isn’t just limited to Cardiff; it’s been happening up and down the British Isle. Meanwhile, a temp named Lois Habiba is late for her first day at the Home Office, assisting the assistant to Permanent Secretary, John Frobisher. Frobisher is about to get an unwelcome visitor in the form of Colonel Oduya from UNIT. The phenomenon is worldwide and is suspected to be extraterrestrial in origin.
While puzzling out the worldwide incident, Dr. Patanjali shows up on the CCTV, obviously trying to find Torchwood in a way reminiscent of Gwen’s induction. Gwen decides to play recruiter and sits with him as he goes over the mysterious deaths and quizzes Gwen on life at Torchwood. It’s perfect really; they need a doctor and here’s one seemingly ready for the challenge. The quasi-interview is interrupted when children freeze again at 10:30 a.m., right in the middle of recess, before collectively screaming, which is freaky enough. It gets even creepier when they begin to chant, “We are coming,” before collectively snapping out of it.
Frobisher is having a hell of a day already, along with Habiba who somehow is trusted with the username and password of Frobisher’s assistant, Bridget Spears. Frobisher gets a visit from a guy in MI-5 who simply says, “456,” which gets the Secretary out of his office and into a secret room with some old equipment. Apparently, the alien intelligence behind all this has made contact before and are known as the “456” because of the radio frequency they used. Back at Torchwood, the team realizes that this phenomenon is only happening to children worldwide with one exception, an old man named Timothy White who is currently in a mental institution in England. Gwen goes to visit White while Jack and Ianto set out on a kid recruitment mission. On the way to England (shudder), Gwen chats with Rhys who sagely points out that all the kids worldwide were attuned to a British school day schedule. Jack calls the Home Office and is greeted by Habiba. When she logs the call into the system, Jack’s name pulls up a red flag. In an example if why you should never give temps access to top secret info, Habiba does a search, which pulls up a file on Torchwood and its work with aliens.
Ianto pays a visit to his sister and her kids in the company vehicle and ends up chatting about his feelings as a reward. His sister drills him on his love life and is curious why he’s been spotted around town with a handsome man. The conversation shows just how gone Ianto is for Jack (I mean, who wouldn’t be):
Ianto: It’s not men, it’s just him. Only him.
Tender moment is disrupted when the SUV gets stolen by some neighborhood hooligans.
Jack pays a visit to a woman, Alice Carter, and her son, Steven, who calls him, “Uncle Jack.” The woman is instantly suspicious of Jack’s motives, coming around on the day when children are acting weird. She should know since she’s his daughter and Steven is his grandson. He stays away because it’s hard on your daughter when she looks older than you and it invites uncomfortable questions from kids. Having hit a dead end, Jack calls Dr. Patanjali to see if he has some kids available at the hospital.
Gwen talks with Mr. White, who has some physical tics, one of which is that he has a heightened sense of smell. He can smell the aliens on Gwen and knows that aliens have been hanging around for six months on Earth. Oh, yeah, and Gwen is three weeks pregnant! He tells Gwen that he was placed on a bus with other children and told he was going to a new home. When the children were headed into the light as shown in the beginning of the episode, he got scared and ran away. His real name is Clemon McDonald and he was from someplace called Hollytree. When Gwen asks Ianto to run a search, an alert is sent to a shadowy organization which sets off a chain of events.
While all this is taking place, Frobisher is meeting with Prime Minister Brian Green, advising that some events will be taken off the record. Green wants everything handled, but in a way that absolves him of any wrongdoing. He orders Frobisher to issue a blank page, a kill order, under his own name. You see, Frobisher is in the unfortunate position of all middle men – he’s high enough within the bureaucracy to be a convenient scapegoat, while being too lowly to do anything about it. The blank page is given to Spears to carry out and contains four names: Colonel Michael Sanders, Ellen Hunt, Captain Andrew Staines, and Captain Jack Harkness.
Jack arrives at the hospital and is intercepted by Dr. Patanjali telling him that another man of ethnic origin has been found dead. As Jack is examining the body, Patanjali shoots and kills him before calling in a team lead by a woman named Johnson. They could be UNIT or someone else (too bad Martha Jones is on her honeymoon). Apparently, Patanjali was too good to be true; he had been building up a case and profile in order to infiltrate Torchwood. After proving Jack is capable of resurrection, they kill him again and place something within his body. For his trouble, Dr. Patanjali gets shot in the back and placed next to Jack and the mystery team is gone before he wakes. Johnson also orders that Clemon McDonald be brought in from the institution, but he’s able to escape.
Gwen arrives back at the hub, ignoring Ianto’s story of the stolen SUV and using a scanner in the medical lab, confirms she’s pregnant just as Jack arrives back at the hub. The joyous moment where the Torchwood family learns it’s getting a new member is cut short by: 1) The news that Ianto lost the SUV and 2) The scanner picking up that Jack has a bomb inside his body.
I really hope the editing team of the series got some kind of award because the pace of the entire episode is brilliant, but especially the last few minutes. They only have a short time before Jack becomes an unwitting suicide bomber. While Gwen wants to stay and help, she realizes that she has another life to look out for now and needs to get out of the blast radius. Ianto also refuses to leave Jack, but Jack has a chance of surviving this, but Ianto doesn’t. After a passionate kiss goodbye, Ianto takes the elevator out with the reassurance the Jack will make it out:
Jack: I’ll come back… I always do.
Interspersed with the scenes at the hub are scenes at Frobisher’s house, with Alice and Steven, with Ianto’s family as the children are once again chanting, “We are coming,” and their frightened parents are yelling at them to stop. As Gwen is running across the square, the Torchwood hub explodes and goes up in flames and the episode ends on one last chilling phrase:
We are coming… back.