Cast: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd
Our rating: 2 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
It is pretty much agreed that Torchwood is either a show you love or hate. Some people cannot stand its daunting moral questions and harrowing adventures and others find it a preferred drug of choice for occasional viewing. I cannot say it is recommendable but for fans of the franchise willing to overlook its moral ambiguities, this is perhaps its strongest and most haunting season.
With the tragic loss of two of their team members, the alien-hunter organization known as Torchwood is down to three. The time-traveling, immortal Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman), his gun-toting assistant Gwen (Myles), and the computer savvy Ianto (Lloyd). Their work is cut out for them when a mysterious force seizes control of all the children of the world and causes them to freeze in place. Investigating a different problem in a local hospital, the team notices the abnormality only by chance. Also aware of the problem is the British government, who immediately takes action to discern what is happening. It transpires several times and then the children start to speak in unison. "We are coming." The message is familiar enough that local top secret authorities discern it is an alien race that has contacted them before, known only as the 456.
Ordered to build a containment take to the alien's precise specifications, the government uneasily prepares for an arrival and in the meantime discerns Torchwood's interest and determines it would be best for all involved if they were exterminated. Capturing Jack, killing him, and placing a bomb into his chest, they allow him to rejuvenate and return to base. Moments later, a massive explosion rips through the building. Gwen and Ianto barely escape with their lives but are on the run, praying Jack has lived and trying to figure out who is after them. Their discoveries will lead them to an alliance with a new employee in the governmental offices, a disturbing revelation about the last visit of the 456, horrific secrets from Jack's past, and an old man convinced "they" are returning. It is difficult to reveal much more than that without giving away the twists and turns of a carefully constructed plot. This is one of the most fascinating, morally complex and disturbing five hours of television I have ever seen. It is also a miniseries that has alienated about half the fans, who hate the last two episodes. For me, however, they make the series.
As an author, I fully appreciate the nuances of the plot and where the writers took things, because it was not the easy way out and in some respects is extremely sad. It's safe to say we would not see this kind of resolution on American television, either because audiences would not stand for it or because our writers aren't that courageous. "Disturbing" is a good word for it. For the most part, the series has always been rather dark and this is no exception. There is a small amount of humor and cuter moments to balance to heavy melodrama, but it is a film about the worst of society. The government is forced to choose between sacrificing children to a fate worse than death or facing the eradication of earth. They choose to round up 10% of the earth's children, and their discussion of how to obtain the 10% is shocking. (Eventually, they decide poorer children, orphans, foster kids, and those from inner-city communities should go, because they are "less likely to contribute to society.") I cried watching kids be torn out of their parents' arms and dragged from their homes. I also cried toward the end, when a deeply painful personal sacrifice is made.
Russell T. Davies has stressed on many occasions his open contempt for Christianity but without meaning to has injected religious themes into this production, mainly revolving around the death of a son. He dies for the greater good, which is a theme most Christians can comprehend and identify with in their personal beliefs. He dies to save all of humanity. Interesting also is a subtle pro-life message revolving around a conversation Gwen and her husband have over whether or not she wants to bring a baby into such an awful world. But like the other seasons, this one is not without "adult" content. It is not as violent, gruesome, profanity-and-sex-riddled as earlier installments, but there is still a hefty amount of violence (explosions, fistfights) and occasional gore (we see a man's chest cut open and someone digs around in it for an alien creature). We know a man has killed his entire family and then himself by hearing gunshots through a closed door. We see an emaciated child hooked up to a machine. There are no f-words this time but s**t is repeatedly used, along with a half-dozen abuses of Jesus' name. Jack and Ianto share quite a lot of dialogue about being a "couple," some sexual innuendo, and two passionate on-screen kisses. More problematic is the fact that I saw much, much more of John Barrowman than I ever wanted to. In one episode he is imprisoned naked (his clothes went in the explosion). We see a far-off shot of frontal nudity, then a lot of shots of side and backside nudity in subsequent scenes. There's also backside nudity on two other occasions (teens steal a van and moon the former owner out a window; the police break in and discover a naked man asleep on his bed).
On the plus side, this was the first time I ever came around to being fond of Ianto, and I love where they chose to go with Gwen and her husband. There is a note of finality to the conclusion though that makes me believe this is the last we will see of Torchwood.