Ok, so being an X-Files fan, I had to watch Torchwood, a BBC program that aired over here in the U.S. on BBC America. I watched seasons 1 and 2 and have now seen season 3, Torchwood: Children of Earth, which was a five-part mini-series that aired last week and over the weekend. This was the second movie (and really the mini-series felt like a long movie) I’ve watched recently that dealt with the theme of aliens and children and the end of the world as we know it. The first was a movie starring Nicholas Cage called Knowing (link is to a review with spoilers) which featured an end of the world plot with alien “intervention” but-not-in-a-good-way kind of theme.
I’m always fascinated by literary tropes that I see running through novels, movies, and television shows and lately the theme has been the destruction of our planet and the consequences for us and our children, as well as possible rescuing scenarios. Well this isn’t a surprise given the global warming hysteria in the scientific community, but really, do the science/entertainment channels like Discovery, National Geographic, and TLC have to inundate us with shows that imagine the earth without humans because of this or that natural disaster: giant tsunamis, tornadoes, catastrophic earthquakes, sun spots exploding, etc. They present it with such glee that I am always left with the feeling that they wish it would happen to make their point, whatever that point is. All I am left feeling is, “Well, the world’s going to end. So what? There’s not a whole lot I can do to stave off a giant tsunami.” But I digress.
Back to Torchwood. For background, Torchwood is a secret Cardiff based British government agency set up during Queen Victoria’s reign to investigate alien activity on the planet and to gather any alien weapons or other objects said aliens may leave behind. The alien activity is usually detected by the odd behavior of citizens which cannot be explained by other than supernatural or supra-natural means. There were originally five Torchwood members but the series began with the recruitment of another member, Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles), who as a police woman ran across Torchwood mid-investigation and became more curious than the average citizen should be. Capt. Jack Harkness (played by the irrepressible and perfectly dental John Barrowman) is the real star of the show, however. He leads his group into dangerous situations quite recklessly sometimes, but it’s understandable as he is indestructible. (The reasons for this stem from his stint on the Dr. Who series where he originally debuted).
The show is quite entertaining, but it’s possible to learn much from British culture by watching it. First, you can say far more racy words on British TV than you can American TV. Second, you can show far more skin. Third, the actors and actresses look more like real people than the fake ones we see on television and in the movies. Finally, I learned what CCTV is; the cameras that record all the goings-on of normal citizens’ activities during the day all over London. Torchwood uses this almost exclusively to track people and events they are curious about. However, what set this last mini-series apart was how Russell T. Davies and James Moran (co-writers) dealt with the plot of Children of Earth. The plot consisted of the head, not so reasonable, alien called 456 who has contacted the British government before in 1965. At that time they requested 12 children in exchange for an anti-virus that would help quell an epidemic of flu. Capt. Jack was in charge of that operation, but unfortunately, one of the children got away and is now non compos mentis at an institution. He too freezes at the same time as the children, implying the necessity of his being “chosen” perhaps? He is targeted for elimination, as is Capt. Jack, for knowing too much about the aliens.
Cut to present day, where all the earth’s children stop at various times of day and at the same time to relay one unifying message that the aliens are returning. The alien does return to Thames House where the Prime Minister has set up a holding tank for it’s arrival. It arrives and demands more children, 10% of the earth’s children to be exact. From there we are treated to, in my opinion, the best part of the whole series; a convoluted and oh so believable discussion among the governments about which children will be selected, from where, and by whom and how they all got into this mess in the first place. Capt. Jack is the only one who thinks of refusing the alien’s demands, but it’s not as simple as that and the resulting scenes are vivid and thought provoking. I must say that I was very impressed with the dialogue and the issues that it brought up. The acting was exceptional, as it usually is in even the cheesiest of British television shows, and it was time well spent watching it.
I get so much more out of intelligent fiction, whether in television, film, novels, or radio, than I do out of straight political, mostly vociferous discussion found in the news or those venues designed to “give us information.” Perhaps it’s because good fiction, done artfully, without obvious bias, and with attention to detail is far more intelligent and persuasive than main stream media and it’s air of condescension toward the very people it claims to want to “inform.” Art simply does it and lets you decide about its quality or judge its merits. it has no vested interest and if it does and it is evident, then it’s not good art. I greatly admire that in a program and hope to point that out whenever I can. Kudos to Davies and Moran for trodding that fine line quite nicely and with great skill.
What I want to know however, is why this common theme of the deus ex machina? Why must aliens rescue the planet and why must the plot be intertwined with children? Remember when movies were are about children and Satan? Are we reflecting the cultural fears of adults? Is it because we are fast approaching an age in which God is no longer seen as in control of the world? Is it because children are seen as our best hope for the future but it must be elsewhere than earth? The common mentality that humans have fucked up the planet to such a degree that it should be wiped out and we should start over, is so common that one wonders how this much touted scenario affects our younger generation? Could this be why they have such an attitude as they do? Live now for tomorrow we die? Just some thoughts.
Blessings as ever.