Torchwood: Children Of Earth episode 3 review

Children Of Earth slides some things into place, before serving up a corker of a cliffhanger, as Torchwood season three reaches its mid-way point...

There’s an element of getting some admin out of the way in the first part of Children Of Earth’s third episode. It means that the pace for the first half is quite relaxed by comparison particularly to the opening episode, as the show works out how to get the Torchwood team back into action, and how the world has reacted to the news that the 456 are due, well, today.

There’s extensive use of newreaders relaying stories to jolly things along, and it’s never a bad narrative device if it cuts out some pontificating. A few too many close-ups of newreaders’ pixelated mouths, perhaps, but we get that the schools are closed, there’s a curfew in place, and everyone appears to be bricking themselves. The show is refreshingly quick to get this information across. We also get a Daily Mail headline saying “They’re coming today”, which presumably for once doesn’t mean asylum seekers or something like that.

We also see Rhys, Gwen, Jack and Ianto putting together a new home for Torchwood. Who needs an expensive sci-fi base in Cardiff, we wonder, when all they have to do is nick a few laptops, head down Marks and Sparks and the Army Surplus shop for some new clobber, and steal a conveniently expensive motor to get going again? Before you know it, Rhys is cooking beans, Jack and Ianto are planning a quickie, and things are somewhere back to normal.

The other element slotted into the early part of the episode is the ongoing hunt for the Torchwood crew, with this time Jack’s daughter being targeted to help snare him in. We still don’t find out what the government has against them all, although Frobisher’s motives do become clearer come the end of the episode.

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It’s a measured start to the episode, yet there’s still quite a few pieces to move around the chess board before Torchwood‘s momentum picks up again. Firstly. We get Gwen trying to get Lois to do some dirty work for Torchwood, with the aid of some special communicative contact lenses. We find out later in the episode that, as an added feature, they also appear to have MSN Messenger built in, complete with smileys. It’s refreshing that future technology is quite so thoughtful and feature-rich. Still, Gwen’s not convinced that Lois is going to be up to the job, even if most of us sitting on our backsides were never really in any doubt.

Firstly, though, Lois has to attach herself to John Frobisher’s detail as he heads off to Thames House. Before we go further, it’d be remiss not to acknowledge just how brilliant Peter Capaldi, as Frobisher, has been to date, and he’s on damn fine form again here. An inspired piece of casting. Anyway, Lois – with the side effect of Bridget thinking she’s getting her leg over with the boss – manages to tag along, once again making a mockery of any supposed home office security. I swear in the next episode she could walk in with an arsenal of firearms and the only question people would be asking is whether they want sugar in their tea. Still, it’s hard not to take it all in the spirit of the thing.

Before the ignition key on the episode is turned, there’s also a really quite nice and surprisingly tender moment between Ianto and Jack, when the former kicks off by asking the latter whether he felt being blown up. The conversation, though, then carries on to Ianto’s realisation that Jack will see him die some day. It gets a namecheck in for the Doctor too, which should happily satiate some crossover fans.

Then, finally, the kids go off on one again. Again, this is top stuff, as the nippers of the world – and I can’t quite work out the age cut off point for them – suddenly start pointing to the sky. It’s, at last, showtime.

Finally, this is where the effects budget starts to kick in properly, as a mass ball of flame descends from the sky onto Thames House in London. Cue alarms blaring, the music kicking in again, and eventually the arrival of something into the tank of poison we saw at the end of the last episode. That’s when the music cuts to nothing, and the effect is tangible. Children Of Earth has primarily been a very loud show, and it really is appreciated, and effective, when the volume knob is turned down for a bit. Backed up by the children chanting “We are here”, before they all unfreeze and get back down to play, it’s very effective telly. Then it’s left to Frobisher to discover just what’s fallen out of the sky.

And just how effective was that smoky glass cabinet that the 456 arrived in? Episode writers Russell T Davies and James Moran keep their creature in the shadows, smearing green goo up the sides of the tank, but not showing us the source of said gunk in this episode at least. Euros Lyn’s direction again comes to the fore here, and with the help of Peter Capaldi’s exceptionally good wobbling bottom lip, it’s a tense and well executed scene, as we learn that the 456 want to talk to the world. Modest demands, as you’d expect. The only bit of this that didn’t work was the Christian Bale-alike Batman voice of the 456 at this stage. They sounded far more sinister when they were talking through the children of the planet, than sat in a Cardiff recording studio.

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And it’s here where Frobisher’s motives start to get interesting. He basically cuts a deal with the 456 to keep things in the past buried, and – bundled in with some work that Jack did earlier in the episode – it’s clear that Frobisher had much to do with the incident back in Scotland, 1965, that kicked that whole story off. Likewise the list of names that he ordered the death of are linked to it. Did Frobisher sell humanity out? It’s certainly looking that way.

Further political shenanigans kick in, as UNIT’s Colonel Oduya pops up again, along with the British Prime Minister and a typically two-dimensional brash American. Frobisher, who we learn is expendable, is sent off to communicate with the 456 as a result of a meeting between the world’s top chaps (and did anyone else spot the number 456 on the glass tank, by the way?), for not utterly convincing reasons. But no matter, as it happily speeds things along.

Which leads us to the two big concluding moments, where the episode finally hits top form. On the one hand, you have Frobisher talking to the 456, with Torchwood watching what’s happening back at base via Lois’ contact lenses, a knocked off laptop and a webchat. Still the writers keep the creature hiding in the smoke and shadows, and it’s a bit of a stilted chat it has with Frobisher, the latter of whom is guffing on about all sorts of boring nonsense.

But key demands come through: the 456 want 10% of the world’s children. Watching from the outside though, Ianto works out that Frobisher appears to be on the aliens’ side, although he doesn’t get a chance to investigate that further this episode. That’s for tomorrow night, presumably.

Then, the cliffhanger, and it’s a corker. I far prefer cerebral endings such as the one we got here, to just cornering people with a lot of guns. After all, the latter just wastes five minutes of the following episode while everyone works out a way to contrive their escape.

Here, though, we’ve watched Clement get more and more distressed at points throughout the episode, and then, as Jack walks back into the Torchwood temporary base where Clement is holed up, it hits you. Jack and Clement haven’t had a face to face moment across the three episodes to date. And now we know why, as Jack is the man that Clement is petrified of, the man who gave the children to the aliens back in 1965. That’s genius plotwork, and hearty handshakes all round.

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So why did he do it? Ah, that’s when the credits roll, but all we get is that he gave the 456 twelve children as a “gift”. Why, though? You assume there’s a good reason for it, but it’s going to be fun trying to figure it out over the next 24 hours.

Episode three of Children Of Earth took a little time to get warmed, I though, but the last third really did throw a lot at us, much of it happily tantalising material for the next episode. I wonder if the revelation of the creature in the tank will be a let down – fear of something generally tends to be more effective than the something itself – but I’m happy to wait and see there, as once again, this five episode story arc is working out really very well from where I’m sitting.

Thursday night it is, then. Can’t wait…. (although note our review won’t be live until around 11pm tomorrow…)