Torchwood: Children of Earth

torchwood_childrenofearth_posterEvery child on the planet, at exactly the same time, stop in their tracks and say in unison “We are coming”. Every single child. And so begins the third season of British science fiction show Torchwood. In five episodes, shown over five consecutive days, a story of corruption, compromise and fear will unfold. Aliens are coming. What will those in power do to secure their future and keep their secrets safe?

Torchwood, for those not in the know, is a spin off show from Doctor Who. Captain Jack Harkness, a man from the future who cannot die, leads a team tasked by the British government to protect the United Kingdom from extra terrestrial threats. The first two seasons are an uneven mix of “adult” sci-fi, where everything needs to be full of swearing, violence, and sexual content. Some episodes were brilliant. Others less so. This third season, however, is something else. Telling one story over five episodes and spending more time on tense political suspense than on cheap thrills elevates this season of Torchwood into one of the best bits of television I have ever seen. It’s not often I find myself feeling emotionally gut wrenched while watching TV. In episode 5 I was almost brought to tears and a deep sadness. That’s good television.

An alien race, known only as the 456, has made contact with earth. What those in the back offices of power in Britain are trying to keep secret is that this isn’t the first time. An assassination order is made on several people, including the Torchwood team. Now Torchwood are on the run and the world grows in fear as these aliens continue to communicate through the children. But it’s when the aliens arrive and make their demands that Torchwood: Children of Earth rises to the next level. To watch the cabinet scenes where those in power discuss giving in to the 456’s demands is chilling. To watch the gradual slide from pragmatism to cold, detached evil is fascinating and distressing at the same time.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is must see television. It is well worth watching it with others and starting discussions over topics such as the needs of the many versus the needs of the few. For Christians, episode 5 features a moment that just screams out sermon illustration. But because it is the climax of the whole season, I’m going to put it behind a spoiler barrier. So if you haven’t seen Torchwood: Children of Earth, go and watch it and read the rest of the post later.

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You’re still here? Great. There’s no turning back now. One of the revelations made early in the piece is that Captain Jack has an adult daughter and a grandson. They are taken prisoner and used as blackmail to keep Captain Jack under control. When the tables turn and Captain Jack leads the resistance against the 456, his daughter and grandson are on hand to witness the events. But there’s a problem. They’ve worked out how to defeat the aliens. But they need a transmitter. They need a child. And the process will kill the child. Does Captain Jack allow his grandson to die in order to save the earth? Captain Jack makes the decision. He sacrifices his flesh and blood to save the world. And as his grandson lays there dead, he questions the righteousness of his actions.

That got me thinking of the similarity between Captain Jack sacrificing his grandson and God sacrificing his son Jesus. The son (or grandson) dies so that everyone else may live. But is it a perfect analogy? Is Captain Jack’s grandson, Steven, a Christ figure?

Have you ever heard a sermon illustration where a father sacrifices his son to save others? Like the man who controls the rail bridge and to save a train full of people he has to lower the bridge, even though it means killing his son who is playing amongst the gears. Something about the illustration just doesn’t sit right. It feels more like child abuse than salvation. Did God allow his child to be killed to save the world?

The important difference between Steven and Jesus is that Jesus was an adult who gave his conscious consent to what was to happen. At any time Jesus could have said no. He could have spoken up and told Pilate he was innocent and saved his own life. He could have exercised the power he had and stopped the crucifixion. But instead, as an adult, he made the choice to sacrifice himself. Steven did not make that decision. The son of the rail controller did not make that decision. But Jesus willingly went to the cross. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8)

One man died for the salvation of the world. He went willingly and heroically. It wasn’t cosmic child abuse but the loving action of God who knew there was only one way to deal with the sin that plagues this world.

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About Joel A Moroney

Associate Minister at St Luke's Anglican Church, Liverpool (in the Sydney Diocese). A very strange man, but he usually has Pez, so that makes it okay.

One response to “Torchwood: Children of Earth”

  1. Mark says :

    Like you, Joel, I always found Torchwood to be very hit and miss as a series (more hit than miss if the truth be told). Unlike anything you said in your review, I also found the underlying…er…metrosexuality a little uncomfortable. But Children of Earth is outstanding, which only goes to show that R.T. Davies can bring forth a damn fine script when he’s not riding one of his many hobby-horses or cheesing it up “for the kids”. The Christ metaphor in COE is certainly there in spades (and whaddya know, Jack “ascends into heaven” at the end of part five), although Davies still manages to take a few snide pot-shots at Christianity and the “poor simple folk” who still cling on to their faith despite the juggernaut of Science. Anyway, nice review all round. If only all Torchwood had been this good.

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