Well I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A darker spin-off from Doctor Who that took a little while to find its feet in its first couple of years, the third series of Torchwood – sub-titled Children of Earth – saw the show graduate to BBC1 (all the more impressive given its original BBC3 origins) with a 5-parter of some considerable drama that pushed the boundaries of anything previously shown in the Whoniverse (apologies for that word!) And though it is here due to being one of the first times that Lucy Cohu entered my consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised to find it populated with actors that I have latterly come to admire – Ian Gelder and Cush Jumbo in particular.
Children of Earth was so successful for me because although its main premise is rooted in the sci-fi world – a mysterious alien presence arrives on Earth, seizing control of the minds of all its children and demanding their sacrifice – so much of the conflict comes from the human drama, the moral ambiguities that arise as times of crisis require difficult decision making. And having established a Spooks-like level of turnover with its cast with the Series 2 finale, it added another, even crueller, twist of the screw, made all the more distressing for its unassuming nature.
Events start with the effective device of all the children in the world stopping dead still and speaking in unison and as the extra-terrestrial investigations unit of Torchwood and the British government spring into action to try and work out what is happening, it becomes clear that no-one is as innocent or unknowing as they seem, as years of collusion and complicity threaten to come to light as Nicholas Farrell’s Prime Minister and Peter Capaldi’s bureaucrat try to negotiate new terms with the alien and John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness and his team try to steer a more moral course of action.
But the ethics of the matter are far from clear-cut as personal agendas come into play with several characters trying to protect their own, even Jack unexpectedly gains a daughter (played by Lucy Cohu) and grandson here although they are hardly fully developed characters for reasons which later become clear. And as various characters are called upon to decide what they think is worth fighting for – Cush Jumbo’s new government official, Ian Gelder’s wearied scientist, Liz May Brice’s fearsome soldier, Deborah Findlay’s selfish politician – the larger question of whether sacrificing some for the greater good is ever acceptable is brought into terrible focus.
And after the brutal, quiet devastation of the ending of episode 4, the final segment ascends to near-operatic heights as the repercussions of acts both present and past come crashing down on all and sundry. Davies’ writing lends itself to such grandiosity but it works so well here, allied to some cracking performances – Capaldi making the crushing realisation of Frobisher’s helplessness desperately heart-breaking, Susan Brown’s constant presence as his aide justified with some sensational speeches and last but by no means least, Cohu giving voice to the most terrible anguish as she is forced to pay the most horrendous price by a grim-faced Jack.