TORCHWOOD - Children Of Earth: Day Four

BBCHD - 9th July 2009 - 9.00pm

Or John Fay sticks the boot in.

Did you feel it repeatedly go into the already bloody and battered body of Labour's gloriously tarnished Third Way? Torchwood does politics in Day Four and Fay has at the centre of his script a depressing but horribly realistic satire on how far-right thinking fills the vacuum left by a failed centre-left liberal agenda. He piled everything in there and it was breathtaking: a government's abject inability to communicate to the working classes, the poorly educated, the disenfranchised and the failed asylum seekers is turned into a Daily Mail wet dream of a policy to placate an equally fascistic alien invader. And while they're at it they devise a cunning scheme to use school league tables, a system of figures already proven to be inaccurate and heavily fiddled, to weed out the potential, units...and hand them over to the 456. How supremely ironic and how apt then that Nick 'voice of the Daleks' Briggs gets to play one of these self-interested kleptocrats who can only see it as a good thing for the planet's resources. Are we sure that isn't Nick 'voice of the BNP' Griffin continually throwing up and draining the life energy out of a child in that smog filled chamber?

Small gods and big sacrifices. Jack does not come out of this mess smelling of roses. In a bid to avert a 1965 swine flu type pandemic he 'sacrifices the innocent' in order to buy time and a cure and packs 12 children (who won't be missed, just like all those failed asylum seekers) to the 456 in a remote part of Scotland. His female colleague hits the nail right on the head and says 'we need someone who doesn't care', simultaneously damning Jack and Prime Minister Green's government. In fact, Jack's a bit of a fool because even if he's immortal he's no god, he can't go dashing into a crisis and face off with an alien threat as if he was the Doctor. He's out of his depth and stunningly naive, a common trait within Torchwood, and he gets people killed in the process. Fay's script is bleak because it suggests that even righting a wrong just isn't enough to combat a foe that feeds on the bodies of children. Even Ianto witnesses a version of Jack he's never really seen before and it foreshadows his own fate.

Gareth David Lloyd and John Barrowman have their work cut out for them in ensuring that Ianto's death isn't tokenistic or overly sentimental and I think Fay and Barrowman get to explore Jack's attitude to those who will not only die before him but those who will die because of his actions. It's been an ongoing theme in Torchwood and Clem sums it up well: 'The man who sent me and my friends to die can't die himself'. It's this that makes Jack an anti-hero who, unlike the best anti-heroes, is very hard to sympathise with at all. What makes it more difficult here is that he's also trying to deal with Alice being held hostage by Frobisher and he's kept it to himself until Ianto dares to push him.

Day Four pretty much dispenses with the capers and absurdities of Torchwood's bluff methodology and concentrates on how a government might attempt to placate an enemy that simply wants to cull a tenth of the child population and the COBRA cabinet scene reminded me of the equally powerful drama Conspiracy which fictionalised the meeting at Wannsee, outside Berlin, in 1942, when the administrative apparatus of the Third Reich set in motion the detailed plans of the Final Solution. There are sprinklings of humour to lighten the atmosphere: Gwen's observation to Clem, who has just witnessed Jack returning from the dead yet again, 'look at it this way, you can shoot first and ask questions later'; Rhys mistaking the FAS file for an SAS file 'now you're talking'; Jonny thinking the kids are chanting 'lottery numbers or what'.

Director Euros Lyn drives this ahead relentlessly, barely letting the tension sag, and doesn't fail to disappoint when it comes to getting the camera inside the 456 chamber to give us further glimpses of the beast and the unforgettable, if bizarre, image of the child it has hooked up to itself. It's a truly arresting moment, emphasising the monstrousness of the creatures and the cruel form of immortality, something Jack recognises about himself perhaps, that they bestow on their victims. It's of course at this moment that the whole house of cards that Frobisher has been trying to protect finally comes crashing down. What's been curious and interesting in the series so far is how Torchwood has been disassembled and, after Jack's rescue, placed on the sidelines of the plot. It's this structure that has helped shift the tone of Children Of Earth, away from a sort of Buffy alien threat of the week comic book to something resembling a 21st Century Quatermass where the fantastic supports a harder edged social commentary within an epic canvas. In the final third of this episode, Torchwood swings into action having recorded evidence of the cabinet meeting to force their way to the negotiating table and a confrontation with the 456. But there really isn't a plan to deal with the 456 and it has devastating consequences. Jack's gunboat diplomacy simply doesn't work because the 456 just decides to gas everyone in the building. He even quotes the slogan used by the International Workers Of The World at the creature and it simply flags up the fact that the human race blithely accepts the death of its children every day.

There's also the rather horrible death inflicted on poor old Clem just as Johnson finally acquires a conscience after witnessing a government held to account by Torchwood's recordings. Ianto's death is foreshadowed in that phone call to Rhiannon, as it was in all that fluff with Jack about being a 'couple' in Day One, and really, in the end, what did Jack expect? It's a bittersweet departure, drawn out slightly too long, but it's also a devastating moment to end the episode on. Once again, director Euros Lyn, the lead actors and guest artists keep up the high standard and make this gripping and compelling. Ben Foster also pulls out the stops with his score, using some spectacular choral music to great effect. Only one episode to go and crucially it has to resolve this story without resorting to a dumb Deus Ex Machina. Can they pull off a satisfying ending? Will anyone from Torchwood make it to the end of Day Five?

Day One review
Day Two review
Day Three review

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3 Responses to “TORCHWOOD - Children Of Earth: Day Four”
  1. It's fascinating. In more jingoistic hands, this might have turned into another opportunity for Britain to stand alone against the alien invader (just like we did at Dunkirk), and perhaps the Torchwood boffins might have been able to slap a solution together using their laptops and suchlike.

    But no. Instead, there is no rousing Crispin's Day speech; the government of the UK caves in immediately and we get all the glory that you point out in your review. It's chilling, horrifying. Governments don't really do this - do they? (Oh yes they do - see the history of ENIGMA and some of the sacrifices made to safeguard wartime intelligence, and then to to Coventry and Dresden).

    This is breathtaking stuff, and I am hoping that Day 5 goes nowhere near reset switches or loads a Deus into a Machina.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There is no such thing as the International Workers of the World, you're thinking of the Industrial Workers of the World.

  3. Yes, I appreciate that I got that slightly wrong but at least you knew what I was talking about.

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