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Torchwood: Children of Earth

2,727 words

Children of Earth, or more accurately “Children of Britain,” was the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood’s third outing. Torchwood dropped the Doctor and asked what happens when he’s not around to save the day, a not-unreasonable question given the astonishing frequency the Earth is attacked by aliens. Being a BBC show, it’s always Britain that gets attacked first and hardest, and a “Time Rift” in Cardiff keeps vomiting out beasties for the Torchwood team to tackle. The “Torchwood institute” was established as a contingency plan: working “outside the government and beyond the police”, clandestine and isolated hubs collected technology to strike back for the multicultural People of Blighty. In the first two seasons, the show aped its bigger brother by introducing a variety of mysteries; ex-policewoman Gwen Harper teams up with “Captain” Jack Harkness (gay), Ianto Jones (questionably gay), Asian Lady Tosh (Toshibo? Toshiko? Toshiba?) and Owen (white guy who dies, becomes a zombie, and dies again, heroically) to keep the alien menace under wraps. Only Gwen, Jack, and Ianto survive to the third season. Captain Jack (John Barrowman) was a Who fixture and transplant; a modernized Captain Scarlet, an indestructible man who had immortality foisted upon him by an accident of time-travel machinery. A clever and effective hybridization of crime drama, mystery thriller, and implausibly cheesy science fiction, Torchwood (at times) managed to be “gritty” and “realistic” despite its subject matter, and remains worth watching for fans of the genre.

Sadly, Children of Earth was as good as Torchwood was ever going to get. Torchwood’s Monster of the Week formula was dispensed with in favor of an ongoing crisis-management plot centered around a singular foe, and the number of episodes was culled from thirteen to five, enforcing snappier pacing, quick exposition, and the trimming of sentimental fluff. Not being a slave to Doctor Who’s inherent reset button and marketed towards a more adult audience, the fatalities stack up, the horror is transgressive, and the villains are morally as well as physically disgusting on a more extreme level. The Doctor always has to save the day and can regenerate to save himself, and so to ensure the shows continuance, nothing in Doctor Who is too scary, too gruesome, or permanent. Liberated from these constraints, Torchwood is a more effective, limited story with a small cast. Children of Earth was clearly intended to close Torchwood, as (spoilers) by the finale, all mortal members of the team save Gwen are dead and the Torchwood hub itself is destroyed. Torchwood was later resuscitated for an unnecessary and disjointed fourth season by an American network. A “miracle” causes people to steadfastly refuse to die regardless of severity of injury, and the only effective disposal method for the remaining immortal chunks of incapacitated meat is incineration: essentially, the psychotic liberals within the BBC televising their wet dream of kicking working-class Brits into the ovens and burning them alive.

Poking around in the remains of Torchwood and examining Children of Earth in the post-mortem, we can see what really killed the show: It had too much to say for itself, and having voiced the unpleasant realities of the British system with no prospect of changing them, it died a double death: lead protagonist Captain Jack Harkness exiles himself in despair and then the show itself was bumped off. You see, Children of Earth was aired in 2009, a full five years before the Alexis Jay report of 2014 that blew the lid off the industrial-scale grooming of British children by Pakistani colonizers. It aired before the disgrace of the BBC’s Director-General who presided over its production, George Entwistle, who resigned in 2012 after a grilling about his associations to child predator Jimmy Saville (sheltered and catered to by the BBC throughout his career). Children of Earth is a full decade ahead of its time; eerily placing an extraterrestrial tentacle on the mechanics of power and perversion by positing a state-conducted child abduction plot. Children of Earth documents the abhorrent, callous, and sociopathic attitude that the British establishment has towards the nation it supposedly has the interests of, with long scenes devoted towards the wrangling within the Cabinet for a quick fix or a means to sidestep responsibility, consciously distancing themselves from their victims by employing the double-speak of referring to kidnapped children as “units.” Flat-faced forgettable nobodies and Civil Service bureaucrats are shown making platitudes and trotting out numerical comparisons to justify a monstrous conspiracy against the country itself.

That Torchwood undertook such a brazen and pointed criticism of the establishment and the insufferable mediocrities permeating it elevates it into the realm of science-fiction social satire; it is an indirect critique of a Britain grappling with demographic upheaval, cratering indigenous birthrates, and laboring under the yoke of predatory elites. Nonetheless, you would never know this from the show itself, which is calculated to appeal to its core base of white working-class families by giving multitudes of white children plenty of screen time and having tubby and genial working-class men step comfortably into fatherhood, protector, and provider roles. Its social critique is exclusively aimed at those at the top of the tree and within the state, a deeply unusual choice given that the BBC’s answer is ratcheting up government intrusion and Left-wing hysteria, regardless of the question. Despite its successes, the show is still hamstrung by the hang-ups of its own production team and the ideological design of all BBC programming; a pro-establishment, anti-masculine point of view that leaves the characters with nowhere to go and no optimistic outlook for scriptwriters to hang their hat on and claim as their own.

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Having to stop short of outright revolution, or through some other mechanism replacing the Parliamentary elite entirely — the natural progression of the government selling off the nation’s children down the river — the series’s “hero,” Captain Jack Harkness, gets blood on his hands in the process of “defeating” the aliens, countering one morally repugnant resolution with another. The BBC’s “diversity” (white displacement) agenda is also on full display in all its grotesque and farcical glory; implausible racial diversity is mixed into the casting like three-sided dice in a game of Boggle. Children of Earth is a muddled and sinister reflection of its creators and the country it was produced to “entertain” — dark and foreboding without any clear moral compass or absolutes, internally uncertain of who or what it is supposed to represent or aspire to, and radical only in defense of the mundane. Factor in the bizarre miscasting of apparently random blacks in positions of authority and the whole thing is a kaleidoscope of the dystopian elements of both a real and fictional Britain.

The five-episode stretch covers conspiracy in “real time.” A group of marauding predators, known only by the radio frequency they communicate by — the “Four-Five-Six” — announce their presence by taking direct remote control of all the children across the country (and the world, but this is never shown as it is a British show, and the drama stays at home; it is the British — shock, horror — that were the only ones to undertake nefarious dealings with the aliens in the first place). The children stop in the street, standing and staring motionless at traffic crossings before speaking in unison: “We are coming.” The aliens instruct Downing Street to make preparations for their arrival using the bippity-boop of radio code through the one knowledgable person the state has employed to monitor such a thing, and in the MI5 building, a giant glass terrarium is built. It houses the poison-gas breathing, violently flailing Little Shop of Horrors carnivorous plant issuing threats and demands for one whole tenth of the nation’s little’uns. The series’ fall-guy, Civil Servant John Frobisher, stands before it with incredulity and awe like the forgettable redhead in Arrival. In both movies (yes, Children of Earth is not a movie, but as a five-episode serial it’s close enough), the aliens in the fish tank are so utterly unlike humanity that they are almost incomprehensible; only the most rudimentary instructions can be relayed. In Arrival, the seemingly benevolent aliens grant the world a “universal language,” not unlike the Half-Life 2 Combine, who assimilate a fractured humanity into the “Universal Union.” In all three cases, the highest agencies at play sequester themselves off. Like an American-Israeli dual citizen with deep connections to academia, banking cartels, and the corridors of power, they prey upon and manipulate the world around them through a series of proxies and “advisors,” and the most occult, mystical, and alien of all keep themselves hermetically isolated from the idolatry and “unclean” nature of the world around them.

Ex-PC Powerful Womayn Gwen strides around doing investigative and cunning things to one-up her former colleagues, and the “queer” Ianto gets the flashy Torchwood car stolen by Chavs. Captain Jack being involved with Ianto is a surprisingly tasteful display of LGBTQ television; their friendship is pleasingly tangled, complex, and laden with enough sniffly drama to get wine moms in their thirties crying into their cats. Torchwood went on to shotgun this delicately accumulated social capital by having the Cap’n starkers in the next series in a Grindr fling, informing an audience that probably had a sizable chunk of under-18s that he would have to live with a sexually-transmitted disease for all eternity if he didn’t rubber up (puke). The Torchwood team manages to track down a hapless and forgettable mulatto girl (a white-presenting half-caste) who has recently and conveniently been hired as a Civil Service secretary, and press-gang her into acting as an agent and go-between. Barely a few hours into the job, and this treacherous traitor has already stolen a password and is snooping on files she really ought not to — and this is ‘hero’ that the BBC expects us to root for, an anonymous ditz of a diversity hire. The random blacks that make up the international powers that be (the United Nations something-something and American General Commander of Everything) intimidate the (white) sitting Prime Minister into taking the fall for the whole shebang. Blacks in uniform never look convincing unless they’re doing grunt work in the United States military, and decorated with any number of medals they look as clownish as a purple-suited pimp.

Inside the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, the British establishment, having been witness to an outrageous demonstration of power — the remote activation and puppetry of children worldwide — decide they have no option but to hand over the kids and begin constructing an elaborate scheme about how they can deliver the children whilst making the entire fiasco appear an unfortunate, regrettable accident where they emerge blameless. Laughably, to preserve the Diversity Illusion, when the “School League Tables” are used to identify “the worst-performing ten percent”, the kids rounded up by the British army and herded onto buses to meet their doom are almost entirely white. No groups of ghetto blacks herded onto Deep Space Deportation Buses here, no Sir. Like Cannon Hinnant and countless others murdered for the crime of being white in public, Torchwood: Children of Earth tells us that while killing white people is not strictly legal (yet), it is, within the media and establishment, more than permissible — perhaps even a moral necessity to avoid some greater, vague, and unspecified cataclysm. At least in Children of Earth, the aliens demonstrate the use of a deadly virus to keep the toadies on their toes. White people today are expected to tolerate black violence for the sake of not bringing further black violence down on their heads. The stick of moral denunciation has been replaced with the lash of poverty, social ostracisation, and the thrown bricks, molotovs, and bullets of Bolsheviks.

As the conspiracy unfolds, the two principal characters are forced to make “hard choices.” In what is meant to be a poignant and heart-wrenching sequence, an old Civil Service Ma’am (pronounced “Marm”) monologues about how John Frobisher, played terrifically by The Thick of It’s Peter Capaldi, is a “good man” as he requisitions a gun from an evidence locker and shoots his wife and two daughters in cold blood before turning the gun on himself. Such is his desperation to prevent them from falling into the hands of the army (and by extension, the aliens). (Capaldi, in a complete turnabout of role, would go on to play the Doctor of Doctor Who himself). Captain Jack Harkness, in a less effective subplot for lack of screentime, has to beat the aliens back using the only method available to him — turning their puppetry-technology back upon them, but focusing it through a child, inevitably killing them. He sacrifices his own grandson to the job, and the scene of the young man being resonated to death is horrific.

Ever the stereotypical gay, Harkness decides to live on to party another day and vamooses, abandoning the only friend (Gwen) he has left on earth after Ianto’s death. The Prime Minister is played by a very serious Nicholas Farrell, who musters as much gravitas and authoritative intonation as he can when implores the white working class to hand over their children for “vaccination.” More than a decade later, the British public has had to endure a buffoon of Turk who “feels Jewish” telling them in a similar way they are all under lock and key for their own good. The bluster, desperate table-thumping, and faux-patriotism of the sitting Prime Minister is so obnoxious that the fictional dystopia looks relatively benign. At least the state in Torchwood is able to muster some dignity: the desperate appeals of doomed Prime Minister in “heart-to-heart” broadcasts appear first as televised tragedy, and then in real life as farce.

The most effective and disturbing scenes are the dialogues between Frobisher and the hissing, squealing, and vomiting aliens. They speak in a deep and resonant voice through a hi-fi setup with few, carefully chosen words. Eventually, they reveal the fate of the children they have abducted: to be held fully conscious in a state of suspended animation, enmeshed by bio-mechanic tubes and linkages within the bodies of the aliens themselves and fed upon for their “fluids.” The aliens are vampires, and the children live in a nightmare stasis of never aging yet never growing; existing merely to provide a dopamine hit to their captors. Frobisher, the Civil Service, Torchwood, and the audience at home is held spellbound, captivated by the spectacle and depravity of otherworldly horror.

But evil is incredibly banal, which is why it has to cloak itself with a story of monsters from elsewhere in the universe. The mendacity of the British state towards its citizens is all-too mundane. The deaths and abuses of British children at the hands of real-life aliens have no magical dimension to make them easier to contemplate, which explains in very small part the vanishing absence of these crimes from the media over the past decade. John Frobisher, we are told, is a “good man” because he played by the establishment rules, ticked all the boxes, and worked hard to prove himself as a useful implement of government. Yet he ends up committing a grisly murder-suicide. The BBC, Torchwood, and Frobisher were unwilling and unable to countenance pointing the gun at the real criminals in the room — the cronies and careerists who have no qualms bartering with the lives of children and families merely to avoid bad publicity, or those who are so ideologically blinkered they refuse to accept the existence of racial motivation behind the crimes. Absent the moral courage to stand up to predatory aliens and their co-conspirators, Brits will have no choice but to follow the Frobisher line of taking a quick exit out of a torturous situation. Torchwood: Children of Earth, in this sense, exerts a morbid fascination: it is an indirect confession that when the aliens come demanding blood for their Passover, the BBC will play their part and obediently run cover for them.

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