Torchwood: Children of Earth

Spoilers ahoy.

I wanted the scene. I wanted somebody to stand in front of that glass screen and say ‘no’. And it didn’t happen.

See, I have a thing about uncompromising nobility in my science fiction. If there’s an unambiguous moral ‘dilemma’, I’m not interested in seeing the heroes debate it. This isn’t time well spent: we know what they’ll do. I want to see them make the right choice and deal with the consequences. When the defences are down, there are hoofbeats from the horizon, and the only escape is unthinkable, I want Torchwood staffed by Mal Reynolds, Rorschach, and, as it turns out, Gwen Cooper.

Because Torchwood’s primary conundrum was easy. It’s just a shame about the leadership. Humanity’s elected officials were infinitely puny, and Torchwood was in the hands of Captain Capricious. Rescuing him from the concrete turned out to be their biggest mistake. Darwin only knows what Jack’ll do at any given moment, but Gwen – ah, Gwen; she can be relied upon to behave. If it’s a choice between condemning 10% of the world’s children to indefinite suffering, and all of humanity going down fighting, Gwen’ll go John Woo on your ass before you’ve finished the question. Captain Jack might say the right things, but start killing people and he’ll cry and take it all back. Not the point. Gwen would’ve wept a single tear, then shoved a grenade down Ianto’s throat and thrown him through the plate glass, following him up with a hail of throwing stars, hollow-tipped silver bullets, and civil service paperweights. Gwen don’t take no shit from vomit monsters.

Over five nights, Gwen and Lois were the sole Guardians of the Awesome. Ianto spent a lot of time mooning then died. Jack wandered around a bit then died, and cried a bit then died, and wandered some more then died, etc.. Gwen, while pregnant, rescued everyone and damn near saved the world. Lois single-handedly performed a hostile takeover of the British government. Go Lois. Nobody came close to their levels of testicular fortitude – until the last five minutes, and that final choice.

That secondary conundrum was also simple, but the choice free of virtue. We can all see ourselves saying fuck you to the hordes of hell, but what if we can only save the world by sacrificing our own humanity? Impossible decision, yet Captain Jack redeemed himself. In an infanticidal way, admittedly, but properly heroic with it. You might say ‘we will not sacrifice one innocent child for the sake of humanity’. You would say that. But that isn’t the question. Humanity lost. The armageddon is five seconds away. It’s not: “sacrifice one innocent child vs. die fighting”, it’s “one innocent death vs. a million innocent deaths” – it has to be one or the other. Oh, and the innocent death is your grandson. This is the decision that broke Captain Jack. And he knew it would, but did it anyway, without flinching. Properly heroic, that was.

Still. Took him long enough. And he was only there after psycho army lady developed a conscience, and who caused that? Gwen. Gwen, who was spending the end of the world rescuing children from Nazis. I wish she’d had a proper final moment – a shot where she turned, suicidally, to put herself between Ianto’s nephew and the armed soldiers. Gwen would have done that.

Great stuff. Season 4? Easy: Gwen leads, Lois learns, geeks flock, nobody becomes a zombie, Captain Jack returns as a vengeful god who must be contained/tamed, and is eventually assigned the task of finding a good storyline involving weevils. I’d like another thirteen-part series, but five consecutive nights was pretty damn exciting. More please.