For the first two series Torchwood was your standard solve the horrible situation of the week series but that all changed with series three. First and foremost, the bigggest difference is that there are only five episodes instead of the usual 12 but that is because all five episodes comprise one mini-series mega event where the BBC showed one episode each weeknight during a single week as opposed to one show a week. Those are the minor technical differences and here are the stylistic differences.
Previous incarnations of Torchwood were a mix of frivolity, political thriller, and science fiction while series three puts the political thriller aspect front and center with the jokes and scifi taking supporting roles. The tone is emotionally taut, psychologically upsetting, and decidedly dark–all perfect motifs for a show designed only for adults. If you are wanting a Dr. Who style trip into the imagination where you get a bit scared but return with a smile on your face this is not going to be to your liking at all because this time Torchwood takes us into a nightmare realm where many of the humans in charge seem more alien and threatening than the actual aliens, who are definitely scary themselves, and that insures you won’t return from this journey with a smile unless you’re a sadistic freak. Does the darkness overwhelm the show? Not at all! As I said the political thriller aspect is front and center and its pacing almost feels like this is Torchwood 24, especially seeing how each episode represents one day of time so that by the end of this series only five days have passed for the Torchwood crew.
Should you buy Torchwood series 3? Well if you are more of a fan of Dr. Who and only watch Torchwood because it is a Who spin-off I’d wait and watch it as it airs to make sure it isn’t too realistic to be enjoyable for you. If you prefer Torchwood over Dr. Who then definitely put your order in as you’re not likely to be disappointed with the direction RTD has taken the show this time. Personally, this has been the best science fiction on the small or large screen this year (I haven’t seen Moon yet so that could change) and keep in mind I am a huge Trekkie and adored the new Star Trek movie! That’s right, a die hard Trekkie said Torchwood series 3 was better than Star Trek the Reboot. Granted, Trek had better blockbuster visuals and space battles but Torchwood, by far, told the better story. I also think the acting was better in Torchwood than Trek although there isn’t as big as a distance between the two as there was in plot quality.
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Russell T. Davies, freed from the restraints of the family-friendly brief of DOCTOR WHO, takes full control of TORCHWOOD and fulfills the spin-off series’ more adult, tragic and even political agenda.
This is Davies creating a show with the safety wheels off. Where the previous two seasons often promised the characters would be pushed to their limits, this season really means it this time. A mysterious, seemingly unbeatable alien race makes contact with Earth by controlling and manipulating every child in the world, their demands as unfathomable as their threat to the human race, and the politicians are driven to both cover their own skins while committing a monstrous act in the name of the greater good. The question is whether Captain Jack Harkness and Torchwood are up to the challenge of averting a worldwide tragedy without losing their lives and their souls, and how much they’re willing to sacrifice. Davies uses the medium of Science Fiction to explore issues of government corruption and cravenness, complicity and moral failure. This is adult Science Fiction drama, not the silly, adolescent teases of previous series of TORCHWOOD.
As some reviews have already noted, this 5-part miniseries changes all the rules of the show, raises the stakes and suspense to an almost unbearable degree, and by the end, nothing will ever be the same again. The changes to the show are tragic, permanent, and leaves the continuation of the series in doubt. However, it is also the angriest political drama the BBC has produced in years, the story openly states that governments are corrupt and untrustworthy, and practically encourages class warfare. This is on par with classic Old School British Leftist series such as EDGE OF DARKNESS, BOYS FROM THE BLACKSTUFF and STATE OF PLAY. It’s attitude towards the government is consistent with what the British public currently feels about their government, and proves that Russell T. Davies has his finger firmly on the pulse of the nation.
This is the best political Science Fiction miniseries of recent years. No US drama would dare push things this far. It takes its influences from QUATERMASS, CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED, Lovecraft, and creates an angry indictment of government that took me by surprise.
I’ve noticed that most of the “It was brilliant” and “Best thing I’ve ever seen” reviews have been written by people who had never watched Torchwood. If you were a Torchwood fan, if you liked the quirky little, character-driven drama we were gifted with during its first two seasons, Children of Earth is not for you. It is plot-driven, remorseless, angst-filled, nihilistic and, in the end, utterly hopeless. Unable to get his original stand alone drama produced by the BBC, Russell T Davies poorly retooled CoE to wedge the Torchwood team into the middle of his original story. Stripping them of all the elements that make Torchwood unique, Davies then reduces the team to a supporting role in a political drama whose man protagonists – John Frobisher, Lois Habiba, Bridget Spears – are all civil servants. If they had been called Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane, the “resistance fighters” in CoE would have worked as effective characters; as Captain Jack Harkness, Ianto Jones, Rhys William and Gwen Cooper, they fail miserably.
Without the unnecessarily added Torchwood element, Children of Earth would have been another in an endless series of science fiction dramas that that appear thrilling and exciting on the first go round, but fade quickly with each subsequent viewing. The plot holes, inconsistencies, poor writing and dubious special effects (not the flat bed scanner used as “alien” technology on Day One) just don’t hold up to scrutiny.
If you want to see the elements of Children of Earth done better, watch the original sources Russell T Davies “borrowed” his story line from: Quartermass, Contact, The Fog and 24.
If you like good science fiction, avoid Children of Earth. If you like Torchwood, pretend CoE ever existed. It’s your only hope, because with CoE, Torchwood is dead.