Series: Torchwood: Children of Earth
aka: Torchwood S 3 MS Children Of Earth
Children of Earth is an awful and angry parable about the world we have built and what it would take for it all to come crashing down. The answer, on the one hand, is clearly a lot - it’s not like alien invasions demanding 10% of the world’s children are what you’d call common. And yet the line between order and madness is still depicted as so thin as to vanish nearly overnight."
The third series of Torchwood
, with a format changed from 13 mostly-standalones in series 1 and 2 to a five-part miniseries aired over a week in July 2009.
It's 1965. A busload of children, on their way to a new orphanage, stops on a country road in the middle of the night. The children dismount and — except for one — walk towards a bright light in the sky
In 2009, the authorities have become alarmed by reports that every child on Earth became motionless at exactly the same time. A few hours later the same thing happens again, but this time the children deliver a chilling message en masse: "We are coming." As Torchwood investigates the affair in Cardiff, in London the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, John Frobisher, is also trying to manage the crisis. The government then receives a secret transmission from an alien species referred to only as "456" who have apparently made contact with Earth before. Whatever took place on that occasion, it is a secret so terrible that Frobisher orders the death of all those involved in the affair — which includes Captain Jack Harkness and, by extension, all other members of Torchwood. As the team go on the run, the world waits for the impending arrival of the aliens. Over the next few days, humanity will discover just what lengths it will go — and to what depths it will sink — to ensure its own survival.
This series is considered to be one of the darkest stories in the entire Whoniverse
, and many, including the cast and writers, consider Children of Earth
to be the point where Torchwood conclusively stood on its own as a show and not just a spinoff.
Has a recap page
This miniseries contains examples of:
- And You Thought It Would Fail: Most of the cast and crew felt that reducing the series to five episodes and moving it to what was widely considered a graveyard slot would result in it not being a major success. As it turns out, Children of Earth garnered very respectable ratings, is widely regarded as the best out of the four Torchwood seasons, and is considered by some to be one of Russell T Davies's finest works.
- Action Girl: Alice Carter and Gwen Cooper have their moments, but of course the prize goes to Agent Johnson.
- Action Mom: Alice sticks a long kitchen knife in her belt — and moments later knocks out a kevlar-clad soldier — the instant she thinks her child is in danger.
- Adult Fear:
- The series features the kidnap of children to send to the 456, at the approval of the government. At the conclusion, one child is sacrificed horribly to avert this. That child is Jack Harkness' grandson. And Jack had to use the machine to kill him. With vibrations. Over the course of several agonizing minutes. All while listening to his daughter screaming for her son
- Jack's lover, Ianto, was killed due to Jack's mistake in confronting the 456 without any real plan or safety precautions
- Aliens Speaking English: An important plot point, as it's a clue the aliens have been to Earth — and specifically the United Kingdom — before. Jack suggests the aliens might simply be speaking the most common language on Earth, but Ianto points out that's actually Mandarin Chinese (though, that said, English is more widespread).
- All Girls Like Ponies: "We want a pony...we want a pony..."
- Always Save the Girl: Well, guy. Jack is willing to surrender to the 456 if it will save Ianto.
- Anything But That!: Jack cries out tremulously, "Not him!" when the 456 expel the virus into the air and Ianto falls victim.
- Berserk Button: Jack's jump off the slippery slope at the end of Children of Earth is implied to be a result of Ianto's death, culminating in Jack sacrificing his own grandson.
- Meta-example, but when Ianto was killed in The Children of Earth, a significant section of the fandom reacted massively. Want proof? A large number of fans created a shrine◊ at Cardiff bay, and there are quite a few petitions and campaigns online all with the message to the effect of "bring Ianto back or we will never watch the show again". And plenty followed through.
- Beware the Nice Ones: PC Andy rips off his police uniform and starts punching out the soldiers who are trying to seize the children.
- Big Damn Heroes: Andy Davison.
- Black Comedy: Even this season has its moments of humor.
- Gwen pistol-whips a fake ambulance officer, next to a poster warning of the consequences of assaulting ambulance officers.
- Soldiers kick down the bedroom door of Ianto's brother-in-law and demand to know where he is.
"Well, you won't find him in my bed, will you? I'm a married man!"
- The whole scene where Gwen and Rhys are disguised as undertakers.
- When Gwen gets Clem out of jail, there's an anti-drug ad on the wall.
- The world is going to hell, and what does Ianto suggest? That he and Jack "make the most of" the time they have.
- Even funnier: Ianto's reaction to being cockblocked by Rhys cooking beans in the corner: "Bloody beans."
- Blue and Orange Morality: There are lee-ways that the 456 are simply "misunderstood" and don't understand themselves the harm they're doing to the children or that humanity means anything in the universe. They don't seem to be either particularly ashamed or proud of their addiction, nor that much reluctant to admit what they use the children for (if they'd anticipate the humans' reactions, maybe they wouldn't have admitted that easily). They show signs of Psychopathic Manchild throughout the series.
- That said, they do seem pretty sadistic when Torchwood try and call them out on their behaviour and they respond by killing everyone in the building with a virus after saying Humans Are Bastards by invoking A Million Is a Statistic (saying that millions of humans die every day and nobody does anything about it). Their behaviour is more consistent with a narcissistic drug-addict; its less that they don't "get" humanity's beef and more that they are too high and self-centred to give a damn. Essentially, their Insane Troll Logic reeks of excuses and rationalizations- the truth is, they just want the kids, and didn't need to justify themselves until humanity objected.
- Breaking the Fellowship
- Butt Monkey: Frobisher.
- Crazy Homeless People: Clement McDonald, the only one of the 12 children left behind in 1965.
- Creepy Child: Try every child on Earth becoming this.
- Dead Star Walking: The promotional material suggested that Dr Rupesh Patanjali would be joining the team as The Medic (to replace Owen Harper). He turns out to be The Mole sent to infiltrate Torchwood, and is left dead on the floor so Jack will return directly to Torchwood with his bomb and not waste time try to find him.
- Dirty Coward: Prime Minister Brian Greene is probably the worst for handing all responsibility to John Frobisher, leaving him to take the blame for any of the government's reprehensible acts. In the end this turns even Bridget Spears and cabinet member Denise Riley against him.
- Downer Ending: Although it could have been far, far worse in the larger scheme of things, the series does not end well on a personal level for any of the heroes.
- Driven to Suicide: Frobisher.
- Eagleland: General Pierce appears to be there either to embody this trope, or he was there to show that America isn't the one doing the evil. He constantly points out that they kept America in the dark.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Prime Minister's first reaction after the crisis ends is relief that he can blame all their actions on the Americans. This is regarded as the final straw by the other members of his cabinet, who've taken no joy in crossing the Moral Event Horizon.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Alice ignores a barking dog, until it suddenly whimpers and goes quiet. Then she starts getting out the kitchen knives.
- Fan Disservice: Rhiannon's husband Johnny in the nude.
- Fix Fic: A larger raft of fics address Ianto's death and Jack's actions regarding his grandson. One large and vocal subset of these fans have even created a campaign and a website to coordinate efforts to petition The Powers That Be to bring Ianto back. Unlike the series creators or one main actor's comments in interviews, there are well over a thousand registered members — with more joining daily.
- For the Evulz: The 456 can communicate with Earth easily without making kids speak in unison, they just do that for fun.
- Full-Name Basis: Jack, with Lois Habiba.
- Genre Savvy: Mr. Dekker. When the alarms go off to signify that the 456 have begun filling Thames House with poison gas and sealed it off, instead of futilely trying to escape, he runs into an equipment room and quickly puts on a hot-suit. Incidentally, he's the only one in the building who survives.
- The Ghost: Ianto's father, who died before the show began, once broke his son's leg and provoked his leaving home for London and Torchwood 1. Ianto lies about his profession to impress Jack, and Gwen's mistaken beliefs about the man reveal how little Ianto's colleagues actually know him.
- Good Is Not Nice: Although many examples exist, a major one is Agent Johnson, who is following the orders of (we assume) her government, and even becomes a Torchwood ally towards the end but along the way is shown committing several acts of murder, in particular the killing of Dr. Patanjali. The odds of collateral damage from the Torchwood Hub explosion were also high.
- Government Conspiracy
- Guilt Complex: While Jack is usually seen as a clever, charming, flirtatious and impulsive man who doesn't like dwelling much on the bad stuff, Children of Earth shows us that there are many things he has been blamed for over the course of his life, which has been long enough to make for a massive Guilt Complex; he just had not spoken his guilt out loud. Most of these things were not his fault at all, but being in a privileged position (as the leader of Torchwood Three, but he also can't die) makes him feel responsible for the lives of those around him.
- Guns Akimbo: Gwen Cooper, including a Leap and Fire at one stage.
- Heel-Face Turn: When Agent Johnson finds out just what her superiors in the government are up to, she and her Black Ops troops goes from hunting Torchwood to helping them.
- He Knows Too Much: Everyone who handled the original 'exchange' back in 1965 is subject to a 'blank page' by the government. As one of these people is Jack Harkness, that means killing everyone in Torchwood 3.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The 456 are finally defeated by turning the signal they used to control the children against them. Moreover, they themselves broadcast the signal that was used to defeat them.
- Hollywood Silencer: If you look closely at the sniper rifle when it's being fired at Ianto, there's no actual silencer attached, despite the sound effect.
- Hollywood Spelling: Averted — Gwen asks Ianto to look up both "Clement MacDonald" and "Clement McDonald", as she has only heard his name and doesn't know the spelling.
- Hope Spot: Most of Day Four lulls you into a false sense of security thinking Torchwood will save the day. Then Ianto dies and things go horribly Grim Dark from there.
- Human Resources: The children produce chemicals which the 456 use — not to stay alive, or run technology that can only be Powered by a Forsaken Child, but simply to get high.
- Iconic Item: Ianto, whilst escaping from a ticking bomb, tries to save Jack's coat.
- Idiot Ball: Actually dancing back and forth across the line to Idiot Plot:
- Confronted by an alien threat, the government decides to blow up the Torchwood Hub, which is packed to the rafters with alien technology they might employ in Earth's defense.
- Government assassins sent to kill Gwen never bothered to research her home address and have to abduct P.C. Andy and force him to lead them there. He gives them the runaround.
- The government military base where Jack is imprisoned seemingly has no perimeter security, as Ianto is able to raid the place with a piece of construction equipment. After blocking what is apparently the only exit to the compound, the Torchwood team is able to escape on the slow-moving vehicle with the military seemingly unable to mount any kind of pursuit.
- Jack knows that the 456 use biological weapons. Yet his strategy for confronting them involves going into their chamber without so much as gas masks for protection. Predictably, Ianto gets killed.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Everyone's excuse for handing over children to aliens for an unknown purpose. However, what's originally justified as a Necessary Evil to save the entire human race quickly becomes a social eugenics program.
- If It's You, It's Okay: Ianto explains to Rhiannon that it's not just men, it's just... Jack.
- I Have Your Wife: Jack and Frobisher play this with each other.
- Imminent Danger Clue: See Evil-Detecting Dog.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with the (unseen) deaths of children in road accidents (because they froze while crossing the street), Frobisher's daughters, and the onscreen death of Jack's grandson.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The black-clad soldiers have difficulty hitting fleeing Torchwood members (in one case, a sniper with laser-sighted rifle trying to hit someone running directly away from him at short range).
- Indy Ploy: Jack tries one against the 456... it is his single-worst blunder of all time.
- Insane Troll Logic: The 456 are masters of this, maybe conditioned by their Values Dissonance.
- First, they go with the theory that "it worked once, it will work again". This is ignoring the fact that the terms of the first arrangement were completely different, as one character partially points out. First, in 1965 they only asked for 12 children, which was feasible. Secondly, they gave something in apparent bigger value - the salvation for 25 million people. It was a trade. Now they're claming nearly as much as they saved while giving absolutely nothing except "Well, I let you live, isn't that enough?"
- Another problem is with their logic that if people accept that children are dying of natural causes, they won't mind if aliens took them from them, which they consider almost identical. Nevermind maternal instinct and having your child plucked out of your hands, literally, by the state or some aliens, is completely different than being plucked by death, with the parents being unable to stop it or fight it.
- The British government attempts to pass the buck by pretending they didn't know what the 456 intended with the children - as if a government that was deluded into sacrificing 10% of the world's children was any less likely to face electoral Armageddon than one did it deliberately.
- Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: The 456.
"We want ten percent of the children of this world."
- Irony: Alice threatens Johnson with the vengeance of Jack Harkness if her child is harmed, only to have Jack do it instead.
- Karma Houdini: Well, considering their actions across the whole mini, the entire UK government getting off with anything less than being publically lynched could be considered this. But specifically, there is also Bridget Spears, Frobisher's assistant who looks like she'll be coming out of the series smelling of roses, despite being just as loathsome as the rest of her colleagues.
- She pales in comparison with Home Secretary Denise Riley, who had the monstrous Moral Myopia to be indignant at the idea that the lottery wouldn't exclude her relative's children as well as her own, but was the first to suggest giving the 456 the "expendable" children. And she implies that she expects to succeed Green as Prime Minister after his deeds come to light.
- Kill the Poor: The actions taken by the British government verge on this. When aliens require 10% of the children of the world, the government eventually decides to take those 10% from the most impoverished sections of society. One politician in particular implies that, given the world's overpopulation in general, this may not be a bad thing at all in the long run.
- Kryptonite Factor: Johnson's people believe the Torchwood Hub is somehow linked to Harkness' immortality, and hope that by destroying it they will destroy him. They're Genre Savvy enough not to rely on this however, and make sure to throw his remains in a cell just in case they're wrong.
- Laser-Guided Karma: John Frobisher (and possibly Prime Minister Brian Green).
- Laser Sight: Both Ianto and Gwen see the laser-sight of the backup assassin trying to shoot them.
- Last Name Basis: The first names of Agent Johnson and Mr Dekker are never revealed.
- Mama Bear: Alice threatens to kill Johnson if she harms her child, and even though the latter is a Bad Ass Action Girl she takes this threat seriously.
- Meaningful Echo: "I can survive anything... but you can't."
- A Million Is a Statistic: People are willing to accede to the 456's demands as long as it's not their children being handed over, or someone they know. Children are even referred to as "units" by the Cabinet.
Jack: "It was easier if you didn't know their names."
- Mood Dissonance: 456 hisses, thrashes against the sides of its container and projectile-vomits green goo, yet speaks in the deep, calm voice of its translator. Those listening are noticeably spooked.
- Mr. Exposition: Lois Habiba. The third series drew in a lot of new viewers and the producers seemed to have anticipated this. Lois was used to explain the origins of Torchwood to anyone who hadn't seen the first two series.
- The Nameless: 456 is merely a placeholder name for the aliens, derived from the frequency on which they first contacted humanity. Even when asked directly for the name of its species, the 456 tells Frobisher to just keep using that designation.
- No Name Given: It's never actually stated which government organisation Johnson works for.
- Pædo Hunt: Johnny Davies goes Papa Wolf on a couple of government surveillance officers doing suspicious monitoring in his neck of the woods. He rightfully accuses them as perverts and sics a posse of teens on the "couple of paedos", who swamp the ever-loving crap out of their car, blocking their windows as well. Actually a clever move of Obfuscating Stupidity- it's so Rhiannon can escape the neighborhood unnoticed by the government suits. And it's a Properly Paranoid accusation in that type of slum, so no one will question his motive for calling out the wrath of the neighborhood watch.
- Playing Against Type: Peter Capaldi is best known for playing Magnificent Bastard Anti-Hero Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It — a man with no scruples or shame over the corrupt government he works for. In Children Of Earth he plays John Frobisher, a Butt Monkey Anti-Villain who is so ashamed of his governments' acts he commits suicide after murdering his family to spare his family from being turned over to the 456. The two characters are polar opposites.
- Please Don't Leave Me: Jack to Ianto.
Jack: Ianto? Ianto? Don't leave me, please. Please.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: The 456's "message". This was also used against them in the end.
- Power Perversion Potential: Apparently, Gwen and Rhys have been using the Torchwood camera contact lenses for "fun". Yes, this kind of fun.
- Apparently Jack and Ianto beat them to it. "Yeah, been there, done that. It is fun."
- Plausible Deniability: Getting this is Prime Minister's Greene top priority in everything he does.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Furthering the Alternate Character Interpretation, Denise Riley stating 'what everyone was thinking' qualifies for this - no one in the Cabinet is going to sign their children up to be taken by the 456, and if there's no other choice, why not get rid of the underperforming children who are likely to become the 'future drain on society' and protect the future leaders?
- Punch Clock Villain: Most of the UK government is portrayed this way (especially Frobisher); it's one of the major themes of the miniseries.
- Pyrrhic Victory: For Jack.
- Remember the New Guy: Jack's never-seen-or-mentioned-before daughter and grandson. It is stated that she asked him to stay away due to his condition.
- However, this wasn't entirely out of left field. Jack reveals he's been in relationships numerous times before (and we even get to meet some of these people), and he mentions how painful he finds it that he can't age while they will, so the CoE reveals did come with some hefty foreshadowing.
- Rule of Scary: Lampshaded.
Frobisher: "When they can communicate like this, in this kind of detail, why do the thing with the children?"
Mr. Dekker: "Because they can. And because they want to scare us."
- Sexy Secretary: Lois.
- Senseless Sacrifice: John Frobisher's murder-suicide, though only senseless in hindsight.
- Sinister Surveillance: For once Torchwood are on the receiving end. By a government unit with the same software and intel.
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is For UNIT: Cabinet member Denise Riley, who says "what everyone here is thinking". None of the government big shots want their own children handed over, and if they're exempt, why not get rid of the ratbag element of society?
- Sound-Only Death: John Frobisher's Pater Familicide.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: When the children are seized.
- Stealth in Space: The one thing hampering even the idea of fighting back is that the government can't locate any spaceships in orbit, even with the alien tech they've scavenged over the past few years.
- Of course it didn't help that they blew up Torchwood's stash of alien tech (Arguably the largest such collection on Earth) right at the start, either.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The show blows up the Elaborate Underground Base and Jack Harkness himself.
- Super Senses: Clement's brain was somehow altered by the aliens, giving him the ability to smell if someone is lying. Or pregnant. Or gay.
- Superman Stays out of Gotham: Lampshaded by Gwen when she wonders why the Doctor doesn't come to help.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lois Habiba for Martha Jones (who was originally intended to appear in it), though she plays a more naive, innocent version. No doubt that if it was actually Martha in the position, she would have been far more forthcoming in helping Torchwood in the beginning.
- Trash the Set: The Torchwood Hub.
- Van in Black: The dark gray Land Rovers used by Johnson's mooks. Also lampshaded in a scene where Ianto thinks a black van is sneaking up on him, but it turns out to be delivering newspapers.
- Verbal Tic: Clem's "Isn't it?", caused by the suppressed memory of asking Jack, "It's safe though, isn't it?" before stepping into the 456's light as a kid.
- Video Will: Gwen leaves one in the final episode for anyone who's still around to see it.
- Wham Episode: Day Four.
- What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: The whole army vs. its people was utterly useless, as would have been handing the children to the aliens, or worse, not handing them.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The representatives from other countries seem to be completely forgotten about in the latter half of the mini-series, with the story focusing entirely on the British government's response to 456. (This is especially absurd given that 456 wanted 10% of all the children on Earth, so the British government playing ball is surely irrelevant if any other country refuses.)
- More so, what happened to Gray, Jack's brother when the Hub blew up? In Exit Wounds, he's chloroformed and put in the Hub's cold storage. Was he a goner or did he survive? The novel Long Time Dead reveals Susie of all people survived and came back to life again, so it's possible Gray made it. And how about Torchwood's pet pterodactyl Myfawny and their pet Weevil Janet? Myfawny was said to come and go from the base as she pleased, so she has an alibi. And Weevils have an "incoming danger" instinct, so she could have broke out of her cell and bolted.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Alice now looks older than her father Jack.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Jack faces a few moments of this, especially from Ianto, when his role in the 1965 dealings with the 456 is revealed.
- Agent Johnson gets a preventative dose of this from the doctor she is about to murder.
- Why Am I Ticking?: Jack is 'killed' so he can be cut open and a bomb hidden inside his body, in order to destroy both him and the Torchwood Hub.
- You Look Familiar: The series prominently features the later Twelfth Doctor as its Anti-Villain.