Sunday, July 12, 2009

Torchwood Children of Earth

The 2009 series of Torchwood was a mini-series composed of just 5 episodes. Each of these 5 episodes were telecast on consecutive days within a single week. I think the format was unusual but it did result in a spectacular storyline and a plot that kept the viewers at the edges of their seats all along.

Grittier than Usual
Although Torchwood is a Dr. Who spin-off it does have a gritty, semi-adult tone. The stories don’t always have happy endings. The main character – Jack Harkness – rends your heart apart at times. But even then, ‘Children of Earth’ was grittier than usual. It forced the audience to face a lot of difficult question. Do the needs of many really outweigh the needs of a few? It is okay to sacrifice one life for the sake of one million? What if the proportions are different? What if you had to sacrifice a million lives to save billions? Would the decision still be all that clear cut?

I think that’s the central question that ‘Children of Earth’ makes us ponder about. Unfortunately there’s no straight answer to that. Your eyes well up with tears with Jack Harkness’s as in the climactic moments he is forced to take a very difficult step indeed.

But fortunately in the real world, it seldom comes down to such clear cut mathematics. Often there are ways to benefit everyone equally. The only thing it takes is wisdom and compassion. An injury to one is an injury to all. That’s the lesson we take away from Children of Earth.

Jack Harkness
The character of Jack Harkness fascinates me. For one, he’s the first gay lead character that I’ve seen on television. His romance with Yanto Jones, another lead character on the show, is touchingly portrayed. The show portrays gay people as utterly normal, so much so, that you hardly ever even think about the fact. Just like you’d never think about a straight person’s sexuality and take it for granted. That, I think, is one of the major achievements of the show in general.

But more than that Jack Harkness is also a man who cannot die. So we has to face the staple science fiction-ey problems of outliving his loved ones and hiding his true identity from those who cannot know about it. But there is another, more unique problem he faces. In his role as a Torchwood operative, he is forced to take decisions that other, normal people would not take. And that’s because while normal people wouldn’t be around to face the consequences of their decisions, Jack Harkness would always be. If he chooses to fight the aliens and not sacrifice a million children, the world may be destroyed. Normal people might be willing to sacrifice their world for their children because they would eventually die (either in the war or later) and their misery would end. But Jack Harkness would live on. He’d have to face this world, destroyed or otherwise, every fresh morning that he wakes up.

I think that’s why he decides to leave Earth and go on a galactic journey amongst the stars. He can’t live in a world that keeps changing where he doesn’t. He can’t live in a world that gives him the illusion of being permanent and then falls apart around him.

The Next Series?
Series produces Russel T. Davies has said that the fourth 2010 series is ready to do and telecast would depend on the response to ‘Children of Earth’. I do wonder how they’d do it with Jack Harkness now galavanting around the universe. But as we know with all Dr. Who spinoffs, it’s usually not very difficult. :)

‘Children of Earth’ raises, but just raises and doesn’t really discuss, another important issue. When humans are asked to gift the alien with 10% of their children what they decide to do is choose the bottom 10% in terms of academic performance. When this happens on screen, it really hits you like a hammer. Would there really come a time when your right to live will become linked to your academic prowess?

The second issue it raises is of the difference between the civil service and the politicians. Now, I confess here that I don’t know much about the political scene in Britain. But what I can understand despite that is that the show delineates an important difference between the civil servants and the politicians. Politicians are transient. They come and go. But civil servants have to stay, sometimes for several decades working in the same department. That permanence makes them a lot more responsible than the politicians. The democratic system, because of its transience takes away a lot of accountability from the shoulders of politicians who thrust it upon the shoulders of civil servants. This is an issue that any modern democracy should look into.

There is also the issue of the US meddling with the affairs of UK that seems to be a raw nerve within the latter nation. Torchwood, Dr. Who and other spin-offs bring it up often enough.


  1. I found this series of Torchwood far more serious than usual, and in parts made me yearn for the silly episodes with Weevils and Captain John Hart! I'm not sure I'm fully in agreement with the way they dealt with some uncomfortable issues -- Jack's choice was one; a certain someone's cold blooded murder of his family another. They raised certain ethical considerations, but the series also appeared to take a side sometimes that disturbed me.

    Jack's characterization is interesting. You cannot live forever and not make some horrifyingly bad choices, and now I'm waiting to see if this Jack is the one that joins up with the Doctor in the upcoming regeneration episodes for the Tenth/Eleventh Doctor. I had half hoped this would have been when he was turned into a giant head!

    Also found Gwen's statement about the Doctor turning away from Earth in shame a very powerful one in the context of this episode. Oh, and, I have to admit, the loss of my favourite Torchwood character Ianto Jones, has resulted in my heart being smashed into a trillion pieces...

  2. Sorry for the "double-comment". Thought I should point out, Jack Harkness is not gay. He comes from the 51st century when sexual orientation and identity are no longer "issues". He just... well, let's just say, he goes home with anything with a pulse if the fancy strikes him! He has referred to labels as "quaint categories" in the past.

    Okay and now I should go and not certify myself as a Torchwood geek... *slinks off*

  3. Ha ha, no I appreciate that. And I did know that. I just get sloppy and lazy with blogging sometimes. :)

  4. "Hi:

    Two things

    1) I’d like your permission to (re)print your article on ‘Torchwood’for our website

    2) I was hoping we could use your ‘scribing’ talent for our website.

    The Best Shows Youre Not Watching (dot) com [all one word]
    ‘Torchwood’one of our featured shows. We’re hoping to round up a few people who can occasionally contribute perspective (via an article/blog) on the shows – maybe a recent episode, future direction, plot shortcomings etc.

    What’s in it for you?
    Primarily a larger audience back channeled to your blog. We don’t pay but the site has a lot of promise and we're pretty excited about getting it off the ground. Let me know what you think.


  5. @BestShow -- The content on this blog is licensed under a CC license. (See sidebar for details.) Feel free to use under the terms and conditions of this license.