“There’s one thing I always wanted to ask Jack back in the old days. I wanted to know about that Doctor of his, the man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world, except sometimes he doesn’t. All those times in history where there was no sign of him, I wanted to know why not. But I don’t need to ask anymore. I know the answer now. Sometimes The Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.”
It all started some decades ago with the BBC’s immensely popular television series, Dr. Who. The show was a national phenomenon in Great Britain, but in the 1970’s PBS stations here in the States started to pick up the show. Tom Baker was the Doctor at the time, and it became a huge hit, particularly across college campuses. Eventually, like all good things, the series wound down and disappeared from the airwaves. But in 2005 the BBC decided to resurrect the Doctor once again, and lightening did indeed strike twice. The show’s new format and style appeared to pick up right where the old show left off.
On one of those new Dr. Who episodes we are introduced to the character of Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman). Harkness was a human, but discovered that he was immortal. He could not die no matter how badly his body was damaged. He ran a secret British government organization, codenamed: Torchwood. The appearance on Who was quite well received, and before we knew it, Harkness and Torchwood had their own spin-off series on the BBC, and here on BBC America. The show ran for two seasons but never completely captured quite the acclaim its parent show always enjoyed. Still, it had a rather faithful audience, so the BBC presented the show’s crew with a challenge. The series would be back for a third season (or series as the Brits call them) but it would be a limited 5 hour run. Most people would feel insulted and just deliver more of the same. Russell T. Davies isn’t most people. He took up the challenge and created a most compelling drama, that in the process of ripping Torchwood apart, just might have brought it back from the dead, like a certain Doctor we all know.
So, what is Torchwood? The organization was set up to monitor and investigate extraterrestrial activity on Earth. It’s a British Men In Black, if you will. They have sophisticated technology, much of it based on alien gadgets and gizmos. For the third season, the organization is down to just 3 core members, including Jack Harkness. The crew includes Ianto Jones (David-Lloyd) who is also Jack’s gay lover and Gwen Cooper (Myles). Gwen was a police patrol officer who happened to stumble upon a Torchwood investigation. She ended up joining the team. We see this world through Gwen’s eyes. At first it was the naïve eyes of this rookie who was uncomfortable around this new incredible world. By now Gwen has come into her own and is quite comfortable and rather prone to heroics on her own. It is this development of character and strong foundation that makes this mini-series possible. I’ll admit that I was somewhat lukewarm to the first two seasons, but I’ve really enjoyed this limited run third season very much, indeed.
“I’m recording this in case anyone finds it, so you can see… you can see how the world ended”.
Something has happened to the children of the world. All at once every child on the planet stands frozen and unresponsive. Moments later all of them speak in unison the words: “We are coming” over and over again. At the same time, the British government has received instructions from an alien race called The 456 to build something. It would seem that this is a job for Torchwood. But that’s not quite what the government thinks at all. British Minister John Fobrisher (Capbaldi), Torchwood’s inside man, has ordered the Torchwood team eliminated. Suddenly, instead of helping solve the problem they are running for their lives. With Torchwood’s hub destroyed and the three team members separated and on the run, the situation with the children continues to get worse. Who are these creatures and what do they want with our children? The truth is about as horrible as you can imagine. The governments of the world are being coerced into giving up 10% of their children to this terrifying race or risk extinction. When the government decides to agree, they begin the task of deciding which children will be taken and delivered to these monsters. Some even try to spin it as a positive, citing that it will help alleviate overcrowding issues in the future. The only man who can help is the man who was in this situation before in 1965. But that man is Jack Harkness, and the government is trying to kill him. The team must come together and work underground if they have any hope of saving the Children Of The Earth. Jack just might be able to help, but it will involve him making the greatest sacrifice of his long life.
Davies really amped up the action in this 5 part series. Each episode represents one entire day, and he completely destroys Torchwood in the first few minutes. These characters get to shine like they were never permitted to before. We get a closer look at their families. We meet Jack’s daughter and grandson. Without all the trappings of the Torchwood Hub and those fancy machines, the characters are all we have left, and to a man, or woman, they deliver brilliantly. What’s even better is that you can watch this series without any real prior knowledge of Torchwood. Certainly there are some great references to the series and to Dr. Who, but I promise you that you will be able to dive in feet first and never need to look back. In fact, this might well be the very best place to start, as it runs circles around the first two seasons in quality.
Beyond the great science fiction elements, and yes the classic cheesy alien that we never really see that clearly, the show makes its best dramatic moments with its compelling what if scenario. It’s somewhat chilling and more than a little realistic to watch these public officials eventually deal with, not if, but how they will deliver millions of children. Like all governments the plan is fraught with deception to soften any political fallout from such an ominous undertaking. The actors all handle the job with startling realism. I highly recommend this release, even if you’ve not had such a good experience with Torchwood before. It will turn you around, I promise.
Each episode of Torchwood is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio consistent with its original broadcasts. Torchwood certainly never looked better. The print is clean and razor sharp. Black levels are solid, albeit you will encounter some minor compression artifact here. The overall tone is rather dark, so colors don’t necessarily jump from the screen, but the good detail and strong contrast allow these darker hues to retain wonderful definition throughout.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also pretty strong. The sound is sharp and often quite dynamic. Explosions and music cues do tend to overpower the dialog at times. The show retains the obvious stage sound that the original was known for, so words can get lost in the mix. Sometimes the music gets a bit annoying.
Children Of Earth Declassified: (31:42) This is a pretty thorough behind the scenes feature with participation by all of the major cast and crew. You’ll get a good look at f/x and choreography. There are major spoilers, so save it for after you’ve watched the series.
I didn’t think I would really like this release. I’ve watched the first two seasons and was pretty unimpressed. There wasn’t anything I felt was wrong with them, but they didn’t reach out and grab me. And so, while we try to keep an open mind about such things, my expectations were clouded by prior exposure and not so impressive television spots for this mini-series. And when it all started out, I was getting pretty sure I was right. But then something happened. I ate up the remaining hours in record time and was left feeling rather satisfied. I tell you this in the hopes that you’ll put aside whatever preconceptions you have for this show going in. It will surprise you. There’s some speculation on if Torchwood will return or not. This release leaves both a satisfying closure as well as a setup for more. If the quality of this release says anything to the fans at all, it’s that “We are coming…back”.