BBC Video // 2009 // 293 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // August 17th, 2009
We are coming.
For as much flack as the diehard Whovians have given showrunner Russell T. Davies in recent years, he and his producing partners Julie Gardner and Chris Chibnall have taken this once suspect spinoff in bold, compelling, and often disturbing new directions. In the aftermath of Season 2, the Torchwood team are shocked to find themselves on the defensive, fighting not only for their survival, but the planet's as well.
In 1965, 11 Scottish children were handed over to an alien race known only as "The 456." Little was made of the event (the children were orphans), and the people who facilitated this "transaction" have spent their lives keeping the secret. Nearly five decades later, the voices of the children of Earth (all of them) are hijacked, used as a comprehensive mouthpiece to herald the return of these aliens, for what purpose we do not know. However, embedded in these announcements are instructions for the British government to make ready the arrival of "The 456." While the Earth's general population reels from its uncertainty, the impending event becomes a political time bomb, alienating world powers and setting events in motion to subversively silence anyone who may get in the way. Public Enemy #1: Torchwood.
British sci-fi series are known for their brief, high quality seasons. The first two seasons of Torchwood were 13 episode runs and, while there were a few stinkers in each (most notably the season finales), the show offered up some of the most though provokingly intense action and drama the genre has ever seen.
Unlike many shows of its ilk, Russell has been unafraid to put his core characters in real life and death situations...every week! True, you have one lead who cannot die (Jack is a fixed point in time and space, thanks to the briefly omnipotent Rose Tyler), but when everyone else is fair game, it make every adventure a nail biter. While some may view Season 3 as a stunt, this five episode, five hour mini-series delivers blow after blow, rocking the series to its core and challenging viewers with profound social commentary which may very well taint the way you view the modern world.
Under the direction of veteran Doctor Who director Euros Lyn, Children of Earth has a much more epic, cinematic feel than either of the previous seasons. Combined with Ben Foster's pulse-pounding score, William Oswald's deft editing, and bang on performances by leads Eve Myles (Gwen), John Barrowman (Jack), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto), and Kai Williams (Rhys), and fantastic contributions from guest stars Peter Capaldi (John Frobisher), Nicholas Farrell (Prime Minister Green), Liz May Brice (Agent Johnson), Cush Jumbo (Lois Habiba), Susan Brown (Bridget Spears), Paul Copley (Clem), Lucy Cohu (Alice Carter), and Katy Wix (Ianto's sister Rhiannon), Season 3 hits the sweet spot, becoming something more than just another Torchwood adventure.
It's impossible to talk specifics without spoiling the many twists and turns the story takes, so I won't even try. I will say that Children of Earth holds more raw emotional power for audiences already familiar with the show (especially Season 2), but newcomers will certainly appreciate the ride all the same. It's not a series like Heroes or Lost where you'll be floundering without critical past history, but these characters are on such an gut-wrenching journey that investment in their lives from the beginning pays off in a huge way.
At its core, Children of Earth is about where we as a species draw the line on conflict. War has been a part of our existence from the start, but when it comes to the human race vs. whatever else is out there, who makes the decisions? What are "acceptable losses"? And how do we live with ourselves and the choices we've made, if we survive the conflict? The storyline also deals with family and the difficult decisions we make to protect the people we love. If, at some point, you don't get extremely frustrated with certain characters and the choices being made, or experience a chill down your spine, I will be very surprised.
The five hour run is not perfect. Russell wrote the bookends, Day One and Five, while co-writing Day Three with James Moran (Doctor Who 4.2: Fires of Pompeii which co-starred Peter Capaldi). John Fay (Coronation Street) penned Day Two and Four. There are a few stumbles and head-scratching moments here and there, many having to do with ill-conceived humor in a story where it seems very much out of place. When you raise the stakes as high as they have, the regular series formula doesn't work, so don't even try. Despite the slips, the intensity of the tale and deftness of its execution make Children of Earth one of, if not the best storyline in Torchwood history. (I'm still partial to Episode 2.8 "A Day in the Death.")
Having seen the broadcast run on standard definition DVR playback, the Blu-ray presentation is a revelation. Bloody hell does this 1080i transfer look sharp! If I could supply side-by-side comparisons screenshots, you'd be astounded. And since there are no guy-in-a-rubber-suit effects, the HD doesn't undermine the story's authenticity, a problem a ran into with the Season 2 (Blu-ray) release (it was almost too clean). The only downside to the video is that it appears the BBC was a bit heavy-handed with the enhancement controls. Trained eyes will notice an unusual amount aliasing and shimmer, on top of an otherwise fine visual presentation. The DTS-HD audio mix (a step below the Master Audio tracks BD has become known for) rocks the house, so warn the neighbors before you unleash its action-centric fury. Unfortunately, it's all very front heavy, making little use of the rear speakers or the LFE, so it loses out on that robust soundscape feel. But Ben Foster's score comes through loud and clear, as does the dialogue and heavy artillery moments.
While the broadcast presentation offered up 10 min post-show "Behind the Scenes" installments, the Blu-ray gives us a full 30 min episode of Torchwood: Declassified, with surprisingly little reuse. I would have appreciated seeing both included here, but the BBC chose otherwise -- and sadly, that's all we get for Season 3 bonus material.
Children of Earth has a beautiful finality to it, but the good news is, based off the ratings performance on both sides of The Pond, Torchwood has been picked up for fourth season. No details have been released, but Russell claims to have a plan in mind and I'm all for it. His team's track record has been stellar thus far and I have no reason to doubt there's more great stories ahead, and we may well have a new series regular in Ms. Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo).
Season 3 proves that still waters run deep and Torchwood was blind-sided. By turning the series on its ear, Russell T. Davies and company have shown us just how solid a foundation this universe has and how much more there is to explore. It may not be the best Blu-ray presentation on the market, but damn if it's not great television. Well done.
Not bloody guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 293 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Torchwood: Declassified
* Official Site