- John Barrowman – Captain Jack Harkness
- Eve Myles – Gwen Cooper
- Gareth David-Lloyd – Ianto Jones
- Kai Owen – Rhys Williams
- Peter Capaldi – John Frobisher
- Paul Copley – Clement McDonald
- Nicholas Farrell – Brian Green
- Susan Brown – Bridget Spears
- Lucy Cohu – Alice Carter
- Cush Jumbo – Lois Habiba
- Liz May Brice - Johnson
- Ian Gelder – Mr Dekker
- Colin McFarlane – General Pierce
- Deborah Findlay – Denise Riley
- Tom Price – PC Andy
- Charles Abomeli – Colonel Oduya
- Rik Makarem – Rupesh Patanjali
Written by Russell T. Davies, John Fay, and James Moran. Directed by Euros Lyn. First aired on BBC America July 20, 2009.
Plot Summary (Contains Spoilers)
Torchwood, the secret team of specialists who deal with aliens and alien technology from their base in Cardiff, Wales, is entering a new phase as they weather the death of two of their own. But a momentous crisis is brewing: every single child on the Earth stops, motionless and unresponsive, at the height of morning rush hour in Britain. The same thing happens again a few hours after, and later still, chillingly, all the world's children begin to chant: "We are coming."
At the same time, a doctor named Rupesh (Rik Makarem) comes to the team with news of a string of bodies disappearing from the hospital, all of them ethnic minorities. Jack (John Barrowman), Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), and Gwen (Eve Myles) think Rupesh might be a good candidate for the new doctor on their team.
As the world reacts in fear to the children's warning, both Torchwood and the British government realize that the message -- in English, and timed for maximum visibility in the U.K. -- must be meant for Britain in particular. More troubling, the undersecretary involved, Mr. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi), is informed that children are being made to give the message because of a broadcast along a certain frequency -- which can only mean that it's coming from an alien race known as the 456, a race the British secretly encountered before, in 1965.
In addition to the children, there is one adult who is also affected -- Clem (Paul Coply), a psychiatric inpatient. Just as Torchwood is on the brink of unraveling what kind of threat the 456 might pose, Torchwood itself becomes a target, with catastrophic results.
"We Are Coming"
During the course of Torchwood's previous two seasons -- not to mention the entire 46-year history of the show it was spun off from, Doctor Who -- the Earth has faced total destruction and human extinction any number of times. Last year the Doctor and Captain Jack faced off against a swarm of Daleks who kidnapped the Earth itself and brought humanity to the brink of annihilation.
But threats like that are so outsized that they reside very firmly in unreality. When you walk out your door you don't really expect to see Cybermen marching down the street, chanting inanely about your destruction. But you do see children, laughing, playing, living in their own worlds and creating a future in which you, the adult, will play an increasingly unimportant role. Any grown-up watching a bunch of children knows that nagging sense that you don't really know, at the end of the day, what's going on in their minds.
Russell T. Davies, the creator of Torchwood, has seized on this, following in a long line of thrillers that have recognized just how chilling it would be for all the children to split off from normality, and how instantly it would make the world seem to slip radically off its tracks. The first layer of threat in "Children of Earth" is the fear and panic induced by the actions of the children, much more so than the hidden and mysterious aliens who causing it.
The Measure of Humanity
So the way the threat is handled, as it emerges from within the human community itself, elevates "Children of Earth" above more formulaic fare in which Earth's defenders outwit and/or destroy their attackers and invaders (which is what happened to the Daleks). But that's not even what's really going on.
What "Children of Earth" is really about is not the spine-tingling idea of children being controlled by aliens, or even the fear of what the aliens themselves might actually want. Over its five-episode length, Torchwood progressively tackles more and more directly what science-fiction is supposed to be, what science-fiction was invented to do: to stare into, explore, excavate what it truly means to be human, and all that that entails. "Children of Earth" forces leaders, heroes, and ordinary citizens to face impossible decisions and situations where all outcomes are morally fraught. It chucks humanity into the deep end and watches mercilessly as we flail about for survival. "Children" is chilling for the threat, but even more so in the elusiveness of a way out.
Some Torchwood stories could be Doctor Who stories, but not this one: it's vitally important that Jack, who's deep in the thick of this, is just as human as the rest. And the rest of the team, including Gwen, Ianto, and Gwen's husband Rhys (Kai Owen) are -- for all they're heroes saving the world every week -- very ordinary people who don't have all the answers.
Humans Face their Humanity
The regulars are excellent in evoking this pathos, particularly Eve Myles, who's really the anchor of the show. The guest stars, moreover, are superb, particularly Peter Capaldi as the lifelong civil servant Mr. Frobisher, Susan Brown as his devoted and professional assistant Bridget Spears, and Paul Coply (Hornblower) as Clem. We also get to meet an array of regular folks who are connected to the Torchwood heroes, extending the basic idea represented by the excellent Kai Owen as Rhys, the everyday bloke who's drawn into Torchwood's problems.
Mainstream science fiction often starts from the assumption that when their backs are against the wall, humans -- and especially the heroes -- will always do the right thing. Doctor Who and Torchwood have left the question open, and now with "Children of the Earth" the writers have refused to throw their characters the lifeline of cliched moral assumptions. By the end of "Children of Earth," we know that we're on our own.