Torchwood: Children of Earth Review

I should qualify this review by saying that this is the first piece of Doctor Who media with which I have had any sort of contact. It’s not that I haven’t had any desire or interest; I just haven’t gotten around to it. With that said, I am judging this only as a stand-alone miniseries, and not as a continuous piece of the Doctor Who universe.

The Torchwood Institute is a fictional organization in Britain dedicated to defending the Earth from any an all extraterrestrials threats. This particular series focuses on the Cardiff branch of the institute, which is composed of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Naturally the institute is bound to get involved when all of the children of Earth suddenly freeze mid-motion and start to chant the phrase ‘we are coming’ in a Village of the Damned-like unison. Without giving away too much (this is a very densely plotted miniseries), the government thrusts the responsibility of managing the attack onto John Frobiger (Peter Capaldi), a Home Office Civil Servant, who quickly realizes that the invasion is being performed by an alien race known as the 456, which had been previously dealt with back in 1965. But the circumstances of their first contact with the 456 are known only to the Torchwood institute, and could reflect poorly on the entire government if made public. Soon, the entire Torchwood team is on the run, and must find a way to reach the 456 before the British government gives in to their demands.

Again, I’m unqualified to judge this as a piece of continuity with the rest of the Doctor Who Universe, but as a stand-alone miniseries, I thought it was pretty solid. With a little help from Wikipedia, I was able to figure out enough of the universe to understand everything that was going on, and felt fairly certain that I had a good handle on the characters (it all makes a lot more sense once you understand that Captain Jack frequently dies, only to come back to life). As an introduction for the uninitiated, the series manages to integrate the necessary details into a storyline that never feels like it’s stopping to pull out a chalk board and draw an expository diagram for you, which was the most elementary aspect of the show’s success, as well as the most necessary. The other most important asset is its ability to sustain itself over such a length (as so many miniseries are just unable to do), which I can also safely claim that it does with sufficient energy and consideration. One of the greatest assets of the series is that once it establishes itself, it feels comfortable both expanding upon and inverting what it has already told you, often directly challenging the assumptions that you have made about the characters and the morality of their decisions. More over, it feels comfortable doing this up until the very conclusion, so that you really do need to watch the whole thing before you can make any final decisions about what you’ve just watched.

Really, the only complaints that I can muster would be related to the limitations of the medium of television itself. With a plot and a set of characters that could easily justify a feature length film, it’s hard not to wish that they had the budget to back it up. Then again, it’s hard to imagine sitting in a theater for five hours without taking some sort of break, so the better trade-off was probably made.

DVD Bonus Features

The DVD set also contains a half hour long behind the scenes featurette entitled "Torchword Classified". As far as ‘making of’ docs go, it’s pretty standard, but it’s hard to ask for more from a set that’s already so dense (although some trivia or something might have been nice).

"Torchwood: Children of Earth" is on sale July 28, 2009 and is rated NR. Television. Directed by Euros Lyn. Written by Russell T. Davies, John Fay, James Moran. Starring Eve Myles, Gareth David Lloyd, John Barrowman, Liz May Brice, Paul Copley, Peter Capaldi.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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