300px-Torchwood_children_of_earth_us_dvdTorchwood: Children of Earth (2009, BBC)
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Torchwood, the BBC’s highly acclaimed science fiction television series, returned to the small screen with an epic five-hour miniseries featuring some of the most inspired, exciting and heartbreaking television you will see all year. If you missed the miniseries when it aired recently, fear not. The BBC has just released Torchwood: Children of Earth on a two-disc DVD set.

For the uninformed, a little background: Torchwood was created by Russell T. Davies, the lead writer on the current Dr. Who hit series. Torchwood follows the adventurers of Captain Jack Harkness, a man who has been granted the gift/curse of immortality. As played by actor John Barrowman, Harkness comes across a throwback to the heroes from the 1930s serials. At times a little over the top, as a man out of time, someone who’s seen so much, Barrowman’s portrayal works. Harkness leads a secret team of supernatural investigators based in Cardiff, Wales, called Torchwood. Using alien technology, Torchwood has saved the earth countless times. The team originally consisted of five members. However, at the end of the second season of Torchwood, medical officer Dr. Owen Harper (Brun Gorman) and computer expert Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) were killed. That left Torchwood as a three-member unit, with ex-police officer, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and general support officer Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) rounding out the group.

As Children of Earth begins, the three characters have managed to recover from the deaths of their friends. Harkness and Jones, who are lovers, struggle to define what their relationship means. Does it have a future? Do they love each other? Amidst the chaos of what eventually happens in the miniseries, these questions will come up again as comic relief and eventually for dramatic purpose. The playfulness and charged energy between Barrowman and David-Lloyd creates a realistic portrayal of two adults trying to figure their way in an insane world. Meanwhile, Gwen and her husband, Rhys (Kai Owen) begin to discuss the possibility are starting a family. Gwen is adamant against the idea due to the unpredictable nature of her job. However, she soon learns that she is pregnant and this becomes an important theme of the mini-series: parenthood and what would you do to save your child.

The miniseries opens with a mysterious scene set in 1965. A busload of children is driven out to the country; all of them are told to walk into a blinding light. One child escapes and he watches in horror his friends disappear. Cut to the present day. On a typical morning every child on the planet stops moving and speaking at the exact same moment. In an interesting social commentary we witness how little some parents pay attention as most of the adults don’t even notice that their children have become catatonic. Things return to normal for a day; then suddenly it happens again. Only this time, the children all speak in unison: “We. We are. We are coming.”

At the same time, one adult freezes and speak with the children. Torchwood discovers the identity of the man whose name is Clement McDonald (Paul Copely). He was the child whom escaped from the bus in 1965. Gwen visits Clement in an institution where he tells her that aliens abducted those children and that he don’t know why he was allowed to escape. But he has been waiting and the wait and tortured memories of watching his friends abducted have driven him mad.

Meanwhile, the government freaks out. Upon learning hat this worldwide phenomenon appears to be a message of an alien race, the 456, returning to Earth, the Prime Minister (a stoic and equally despicable Nicholas Ferrell) places the responsibility of the situation on a senior Home Office civil servant, John Frobisher. Peter Capaldi is wonderful in the role of Frobisher and must oscillate between emotions two or three times in each scene. Frobisher is a loving father and husband who is placed in the unenviable position of having to order the deaths of the Torchwood team in order to keep them from interfering.

In one of the all time great assassination scenes, a bomb is placed in Harkness’s stomach! It is only because Gwen is using an ultrasound to see whether she’s pregnant does the team discover that Jack is a about to explode. Gwen and Ianto escape and Jack is nothing but an arm and a head, little bits that are a waste of a body bag.

That’s when the series really kicks into high gear. Ianto and Gwen, with the help of Rhys, plan to rescue Jack. That’s right, even though he’s been blown to smithereens, Harkness cannot die. We watch as his body pulls itself back together, reforming bones and muscles inside that body bag. As this goes on, Frobisher and his inquisitive new aid, Lois (Cush Jumbo), begin preparations for the arrival of the 456. Gwen manages to get Lois’s help and has the plucky young woman wear special contact lenses that act as a camera. Through Lois, the Torchwood members witness the arrival of the menacing 456 and hear their demands: They want 10% of the Earth’s children or they will invade the planet and decimate the human race. The reveal of what the 456 use the children for is revolting. Equally repulsive is watching the government agreeing to the 456’s terms.

I can’t give you much more of the plot because that would ruin the experience of sitting through this nail-biting, tragic series. It has been well publicized how the Torchwood team is affected by the 456; however, there are other sacrifices made throughout the miniseries that will devastate you. I even question whether Frobisher’s final moments with his family would even get made in the U.S. — it’s that shocking. Davies and his team of writers are making great drama here, using the science fiction genre to pose intelligent questions. At the root of this mini-series is the question of what it would mean to live forever? What would it mean to always watch the people you love die? Another important question that is posed is how much are you willing to sacrifice to save humanity? We’ve all heard the Spock quote a thousand times, “the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” In Children of Earth¸ this statement is put to the test as we ponder “are we willing to sacrifice our children in order to save humanity?”

Across the board, Children of Earth is outstanding television whether you like action adventure science fiction or not. Besides the brilliant writing the acting is superb. Barrowman hones in his super hero antics to deliver a very moving performance. Myles is stunning as she grapples with her newly discovered pregnancy and the fate of the earth, and David-Lloyd is both funny and powerfully moving as Ianto. As I stated earlier, Capaldi is outstanding. His gravitas elevates the role and the series about the typical sci-fi genre.

Technically, the look of Children of Earth is crisp and moves at a rapid pace. Everything happens so fast that before you know it you’ll have watched both discs in this 2 disc set and be left wanting for more. If you want to see how television is done right, definitely buy or rent Torchwood: Children of Earth. Without the commercial interruptions of BBC America and with the behind the series featurette, it is a fine addition to any collection, whether you’re a fan of science fiction or just plain human drama.

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About the Author

Scott Malchus

Scott Malchus is a writer, filmmaker and die hard Cleveland Indians fan. His memoir, “Basement Songs,” is available in paperback and Kindle. He wrote and directed the film “King's Highway." His family is heavily involved in fund raising to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Scott Malchus is an employee of Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting. The opinions expressed on Popdose are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Email: Malchus@popdose.com. Follow him @MrMalchus

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