Most of the time, Torchwood is not what I would call “good programming. It is basically a rip-off of Joss Whedon with aliens instead of zombies and vampires. But now and again its creator comes up with something good. Russell T. Davies is hardly the best writer in the business. His episodes of Doctor Who (with the exception of “Midnight,” which was magnificent) are good but not particularly memorable and for the most part, Torchwood isn’t that original. Plus, he keeps killing off his characters and that’s never good for a show’s longevity.
But I have to hand it to him, his five-part miniseries for the third season was, to borrow a British term, “bloody good.” Good in the sense that it kept us hopping and on the edge of our seats, and literally horrified us into absolute astonishment. You would not see this on American-produced television because … well, we just don’t go there. And by “there,” I mean what happens in the fifth hour, when one child is sacrificed to save millions of children. Greater good and all that, but watching that one child’s brain turn to mush and blood seep out of his ears as his mind goes isn’t fun. In fact, it disturbed so many people that the outrage on forums is rampant and loud. Funny how watching one nine-year-old die makes them angry, but the thought of aborting children doesn’t.
Odd that Davies too would make that distinction. Gwen is pregnant. At one point, she looks at her husband and says, “Do you really want to bring a kid into this world?” Because it is literally exploding around them. Basically, alien beings have given earth an ultimatum: give us 10% of your child population or everyone dies. Governments flinch. Eyes bulge. Then justifications begin. “It’s for the greater good… we can save millions of lives…”
Then come the choices. Are the children of those individuals in this room exempt? How do we choose the children. It would be prudent to use orphans and kids from foster homes, wouldn’t it? But that’s not nearly enough children. How about taking a percentage from each school? But no, that would not be smart. Wouldn’t it be best to thin out the poorer children? Those who might one day wind up in prison? The kids that will not contribute mightily to society? Leave the prep school children alone, and the smarter ones, but take the inner-city kids, the stupid ones, those from bad backgrounds. Unfathomable, yeah? Chilling, even, listening to a bunch of adults rationalize about sending millions of kids all over the world to a distant planet to act as drugs for alien euphoria.
Then the chaos starts. Children herded out of school onto busses. Children torn out of the arms of their terrified parents. Screaming children clinging to one another and crying as they are taken to designated relocation spots. Earth is actually going to sacrifice its children for the good of its populace. But in doing so, isn’t that murdering its own conscience? Knowing you were alive only because children died? That is what disturbed audiences so much, that they were willing to embrace that philosophy. Sacrifice a few for the good of the many. In the end, it comes down to one, but not just any random child, a child of great importance to a member of the Torchwood team.
It reminds me of a short story that circulates on the Internet, about a man who must choose whether to save his child, who has wandered out on the train tracks and gotten caught in the rails, or to allow him to die so that the train will not derail off a cliff and kill everyone on board. With tears running down his face, he lets his son die for the greater good. It was HIS sacrifice. The story of course is an allegory. Torchwood isn’t. Or is it? Not intentionally perhaps but if you believe like I do that all Truth originates from God, then it is likely that His Truth is shining through even the most tarnished plot. Still, I cannot get over the Children.
“You didn’t mean it, did you?” Gwen’s husband asks with tears rolling down his face, later, much later, clinging to a child they are hiding from the authorities. “About getting rid of the baby?”
“No,” she whispers, shaking her head. “No, I could never do that to you.”
Children, sacrificed for others.
Barbaric. Inhuman. And haunting.