Retro Recap: Torchwood: “Children of Earth: Day Three”

The scariest moment in any monster story isn’t when the action surprises us. The scariest moment is when we realize that we are the monsters, that the ghouls and zombies and vampires and aliens are only a reflection of the darkest, vilest parts of us. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Persephone Idol and Astrophysicist, explained it best, when responding to a quote from Stephen Hawking, wherein Dr. Hawking compared a potential alien invasion to when Columbus discovered the West Indies.

Yeah, but it’s not blind speculation. I think it says more about what we fear about ourselves than any real expectation of what an alien would be like. In other words, our biggest fear, I think, is that the aliens who visit us would treat us the way we treat each other here on Earth. So, in a way, Hawking’s sort of apocalyptic, um, fear stories are just a mirror held up back to us. That’s how we need to think about it”¦

No one knows how an alien will behave. They’ll have different chemistry, different motives, different intentions. Who are we to extrapolate what we are to them? I’m just saying that any suspicion that they will be evil is more a reflection of our fear about how we would treat an alien species if we found them, than any actual knowledge about how an alien would treat us. (Via Geekosystem and Reddit)

Which brings us to Torchwood, where: 1) a former beat cop, 2) an omnisexual, immortal con artist, 3) the man who loves him, and 4) their cook, Rhys, set up shop in an old warehouse, intent to fight the aliens with a handful of laptops, a pair of contact lenses, and their collective spunk. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, Rhiannon and Johnny, Ianto’s sister and brother-in-law, have opened up an impromptu day care to serve (profit from) their working class neighbors when the PM orders all children stay home from school.

Alice, worried about her father, triggers the Triple Secret Underground Scary Cops when she uses a neighbor’s phone to try to find out where he is. She and Steven are taken into custody by Agent Johnson, but Alice gives the Secret Scary Cops a solid, if brief, run for their money. Agent Johnson is a bit of a cipher, her role seems to be revealing key plot details and moving the main characters into a position where something important happens to them. Normally, I’d find this annoying. In Children of Earth, however, I think it works. So much action, character development, and plot happen in the short, five hour length of the series, we’d probably be lost without her at several different points.

Lois Habiba is summoned by Gwen and asked to wear the Torchwood contacts while spying on whatever is happening at Thames House. Gwen demonstrates how they work, which is one of my favorite Gwen scenes ever. Her enthusiasm for the technology reminds me of how excited Rose was about her homemade TARDIS in “Turn Left.” Men get excited about gadgets and thingamajigs all the time in pop culture, it’s nice to see women geek out, too. Lois is understandably apprehensive about committing treason for the nice, freckled lady and her alien-hunting friends. She tries to leave without the contacts, but Gwen talks her into pocketing them at the last minute.

Clement McDonald is experiencing horrible flashbacks, and the symptoms of his illness seem to be increasing in severity as the arrival of the 456 gets closer. He’s arrested when he causes a scene, and Gwen is sent to fetch him.

Back at the warehouse, Ianto presses Jack to tell him he felt the explosion at the Torchwood hub, and worries about the future when Jack outlives him. Ianto uses this as an excuse to make the most of things, and the pair tries to send Rhys shopping for half an hour. Sadly, Rhys didn’t want to burn the beans, so Ianto and Jack were unable to have a naked celebration of life. During a computer search about MacDonald, Ianto stumbles upon the other four citizens on Frobisher’s kill list. Jack recognizes them from old photos and becomes agitated.

Lois Habiba invites herself along to Thames house by slyly convincing Bridget that Frobisher is dipping his company pen in Lois’s ink, and that Frobisher requested her personally. Bridget reluctantly agrees, telling Lois sharply that “[Lois isn’t] the first.”

We’re now at least two and a half hours into a five hour series, and we’ve yet to see the antagonist. Even so, COE has done a brilliant job of building the suspense and laying the groundwork for what’s to come. Like Alecia mentioned in her recap of “Day One,” re-watching Children of Earth is as heart-wrenching as the first watch was riveting. It’s not often any television series can pull off consistently superb pacing, previous and later season(s) of Torchwood certainly weren’t able to write a story as tightly woven and perfectly structured as this one.

“We’re here.” 

The 456 finally make an appearance, riding into their specially made glass cage in Thames House on a stream of fire. Seconds before, all the children stopped in situ once again, and all of them pointed towards London. The 456 are cloaked behind the noxious gasses that fill their cage, we only see a (terrifying) tendril and gallons of projectile vomit in the fog. Frobisher, after making some small talk that seems to bore the 456, makes a deal with them, agreeing to keep the previous interaction between the 456 and England a secret. After the skeletons are firmly locked in the closet, Frobisher leaves to retrieve the government, military, and UNIT officials who will speak with the aliens next.

The Americans and UNIT smell shenanigans, and question why the 456 landed in London, as well as all the secrecy from the Brits. The slimy Prime Minister offers the U.S. president a seat in front of the 456, but the necessary security to pull it off is impossible. In a triumph of assholery, the PM absolves himself of all responsibility, promising not to go into the room with the 456 because it would be unfair to the Americans.

Jack calls Frobisher from Mrs. Frobisher’s phone, and asks him, “This is 1965, isn’t it?” Frobisher tells Jack that they have Alice and Stephen, Jack threatens to kill Mrs. Frobisher and the Frobisher girls, and it ends in a deadlock.

Gwen brings Clement back to the warehouse to eat beans with the gang. At Thames House, everyone is scrambling to organize the meeting with the 456. Lois excuses herself to the restroom, where she puts in the Torchwood contacts. Back at the warehouse, Gwen sees her come online and cheers. All is going relatively well.

What could possibly go wrong?

Frobisher opens diplomatic negotiations with the 456 on behalf of the U.S., China, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The Torchwood team silently directs Lois to move to a position where she can see Frobisher’s mouth, so the lipreading functionality of the contacts can work. She moves, just in time to hear the 456 agree to the opening terms.

The 456 thrash and vomit for a few moments, apparently bored by the protocols of diplomacy. They give Frobisher some sass, then listen and agree when he demands the 456 stop using Earth’s children as intergalactic walkie-talkies. Frobisher offers them a file on human culture, the 456 ignore him. He asks them why they chose Great Britain. The 456 say there is no significance, the British are simply middlemen. Jack knows they’re lying, and assumes Frobisher cut a deal.

The 456 make a request. They want the children. More specifically, they want 10% of the children of Earth.

Clement begins coming undone, and when Jack enters, he recognizes him. Jack was one of the adults who led Clement and the other children to the 456 in 1965, as a gift.

And with a boom, this show suddenly gets very interesting. First time viewers know something big is coming, they know terrible things are about to be revealed, but the scope of how terrible things are was a complete surprise to me when I watched for the first time. American television doesn’t tend to do horrible things to children unless it’s a horror movie, SVU, or South Park. I remember turning to my watching companion and saying, “This is not American TV.” And then we watched “Day Four.”

Join Alecia in this slot next week, and if you’re watching along with us, enjoy the time between episodes to let this one marinate for a little while. Everything changes on “Day Four.”

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

2 thoughts on “Retro Recap: Torchwood: “Children of Earth: Day Three””

  1. This Torchwood series was soooooo scary to me. I have to be super careful about shows that I watch because I am easily frightened (I STILL can’t watch X-Files). I watched this with the light on and had to stop half way through a couple of times before finishing.

    This series was downright creepy.

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