We've long suspected that Russell T. Davies' writing is at its absolute best when he's being completely nasty. At the very least, last night's Torchwood made for agonizing viewing, as humans proved, yet again, that they're the real monsters. Spoilers...
Not that the 456 weren't utterly horrifying — they were. And they vastly exceeded my expectations, since I was sort of bracing myself for a lame reveal. The more we saw of them, the more terrifying they got. And when we got to glimpse the child they'd taken in 1965 — still young, but completely deformed and messed up — it was absolutely wretched.
But like I said, that wasn't even the nastiest part of the episode. I feel like last year's Who episode "Midnight" was just a foretaste of the ugliness that Russell T. Davies cooked up for us this time. The spectacle of the human politicos trying to figure out exactly which millions of children they should hand over to the slimy aliens was just sickeningly plausible.
One of the best things about "Children Of Earth" has been the way it's managed to be both fast-paced and lingering. That is, there hasn't been a single scene that felt like filler, or a waste of screen time — okay, maybe a few scenes, but not many.
And the fact that we've taken our time over these scenes of human leaders figuring out how to lie to their people about the wholesale handover of the poorest, most vulnerable of all the children, makes the whole thing feel more believable, and each step down the road of inhumanity feels like it comes just moments after the last. Paradoxically, lingering over these dreadful scenes helps make the story's pace feel even faster and more blinding.
And you can just about imagine yourself being in the room with them and making the same decisions — maybe you'd be less smarmy about it (RTD has a weakness for depicting moral compromise as overtly smarmy) but you might come up with the same justifications. As Gilbert & Sullivan might say, "You can put them on the list. They'll none of them be missed." Overpopulation is a huge nightmare. Statistically, these poor kids from bad schools are more likely to grow up and become car thieves (like Captain Jack, I guess.) And the 456 itself points out, infant mortality claims tons of kids, and nobody bats an eye.
The moment where Lois finally stands up and confronts all of those self-justifying, pompous, evil baby-killers — oh my God. I am now president of the Lois fan club. I don't want her to join Torchwood, I want her to run Torchwood. The way she slowly builds up steam, first tenatively raising her hand and trying to get noticed. And then saying "Excuse me," like a kindergartener. "I know I'm only supposed to be here to take notes, I am a voter." And you think... oh no, she's going to make a vain speech and nothing will happen.
And then she drops the bomb on them. Torchwood has been recording it all, and it's all going public. Woo hoo! And meanwhile, the odious thug Johnson starts to get an inkling of just who she's been working for, and what they've been up to all this time. Oh, and I loved the bit where Ianto tells the people who are listening to his phone call to save their children, and screw patriotism and all that.
When Captain Jack's daughter says the thing about how a man who can't die is a man who has nothing to lose, at first I thought she was completely off base. After all, Jack has people in his life — he has Ianto and Gwen, plus his family. Just because Jack can't die, doesn't mean he's got nothing to lose.
But then I realized that she was right, and that's part of why Jack is a monster in his own right — he really doesn't see himself, deep down, as having anything to lose at this point. All of the people around him are going to die at some point, and he'll go on — does it really matter to him if they die today, or twenty years from now? The end result, after all, is the same.
Of course, Jack has his lovely moment of posturing, which is so quintessentially Jack: self-aggrandizing and self-loving, but also totally altruistic and self-sacrificing. If only Jack were physically capable of sacrificing himself instead of others. It's interesting to contrast Jack's line, "An injury to one is an injury to all," with another great philosophical statement preceding a shocking death: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." Spock's philosophy, of course, is the one that got us into this mess in the first place, since it led to those dozen children being sacrificed for the needs of the many. Still and all, it's hard not to see a bit of a contrast between Spock's death scene and Ianto's, with the glass enclosure, the grand philosophy, the touching goodbye, and sense that the whole thing could have been avoided.
And yes, Ianto's death is totally avoidable, which only makes the knife a thousand times twistier. Why was Torchwood's plan so crap? Why? Far from being a case of lazy writing on the part of Russell T. Davies and company, that question is at the heart of this story's meaning. Torchwood has a weak-ass plan because they've been kept off balance for the past few days, instead of being able to stop and think things through. And that, in turn, is because of the British government's CYA mentality, nearly killing them all and turning them into fugitives. If the British government's first instinct hadn't been to try (in vain, as it turns out) to hide the truth, then Torchwood might have spent the past few days doing what it does best. (Well, apart from snogging.)