And now, after the brief pause for Shore Leave, we return to Torchwood: Children of Earth.
Mid-way through Day Four, I thought I saw where the story was going. Jack Harkness would find a way to deal himself back into the political games surrounding the Four-Five-Six, who made their appalling demands at the end of Day Three, and with Jack taking charge, he would deal with the Ambassador, and then all hell would break loose in Day Five. Ultimately, Jack and Torchwood would triumph. They might be bruised. They might be bloodied. But it would be a triumph.
What the fuck did I know?
Children of Earth, in its final two episodes, becomes the story of the fall of Jack Harkness. His attempts to win, his attempts to be a hero exact an ever-increasing toll. And in the final twenty minutes, as Jack makes a devastating decision, as the tears stream down his face and another character pounds on shatterproof glass, unable to prevent the unfolding horror, Torchwood: Children of Earth becomes that rare thing — the spin-off that transcends its parent. I cannot imagine Doctor Who ever wandering down these dark corridors. Doctor Who, as I wrote a few nights ago, tells stories about monsters, but here, in Children of Earth, the real monsters don’t have three heads. The real monsters are human. Pushed to their extremes, human beings will do despicable things.
Of the final two episodes, Day Four may be the most conventionally painful. The ending evokes genuine emotion, and I am not ashamed to admit that I wept.
Day Five, however, is in a different league entirely.
There’s a scene that comes about twenty minutes into the episode. Even knowing that it was coming (as I heard about it at Shore Leave) didn’t fully prepare me for its impact. I actually had to stop the episode.
And the ending, while not as conventionally emotional as the climax to Day Four, is shocking in its suddenness and its pointlessness. What happens isn’t futile, but the personal toll exacted makes one think that there should have been a better way.
A character in an earlier episode said of Jack, “A man who cannot die has nothing to fear.” But that’s not true. Jack Harkness has found the one thing he does fear — blood on his hands and memories he can never wash away.
I don’t know where Torchwood goes from here. The story of Jack Harkness isn’t done. We’ve witnessed his fall, and the next act would logically be his redemption. Or, at the very least, a chance at finding an inner peace.
I had no idea, going into Children of Earth a week ago, where the story was going. I hadn’t followed spoilers online. I had no idea about the story or guest stars. I hadn’t followed rumors. I’m glad I didn’t. It was a surprising ride, a dark ride.
I think, at last, we know the reason for Torchwood. It’s for stories like this. Children of Earth is a dark, deeply unsettling look into the dark things people can do. Once, Torchwood was just a Doctor Who spin-off. It’s become something else now.
It’s become something better.
And I’ll venture to say, right now, that this is the best Doctor Who story of the year.