Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Torchwood: Children of Earth" - a modern morality tale

"That's what Torchwood does, you see: it ruins your life," Gwen Cooper emphatically states towards the end of "Torchwood: Children of Earth" and indeed the story line is that disturbing. In fact, it should be regarded as a politically charged, not very subtle anti-establishment piece. But first, a momentary side discussion.

"We've got great reaction from viewers on our HD service," channel publicity VP Amy Mulcair said on the second day of the highly promoted HD introduction week. "Everyone's very keen to see it and we're very keen for them to see it. And we're glad to say there are a number of deals that will be announced imminently."

"Imminently" isn't in time for the much ballyhooed launch featuring "Torchwood: Children of Earth" which, along with the other scifi programming this week, was not carried in HD on a single cable or satellite system.

But not having "Torchwood: Children of Earth" in HD did not keep the miniseries from being one of the best shows offered by any channel this Summer. Picking up from its moderately successful second season which ended with the death of two of the five principal characters, it was the number one show for five nights running in the UK with the first episode of the third series was watched by 5.9 million viewers and the last by 5.8 million - the average audience for series two ranged between 2.5 and 4.2 million. It will be interesting to see if BBCA pulled in over 3 million.

Fans of the series at once are crushed by the death of the popular character Ianto and the dark turn taken by the primary "Dr. Who" type character Captain Jack Harkness in, as noted above, an unusually dark story line.

For me the crux of the story relates to the belief by an alien species that humans are, in fact and with a great deal of irony, "inhuman" meaning "lacking qualities of sympathy, pity, warmth, compassion, or the like; cruel; brutal" particularly in regard to our own species. The aliens, called 456, want 10% of the Earth's children. When an objection is raised by Captain Jack the 456 response is “but you’re letting children die every day; why would you mind this?” They offer statistics we all know but don't care about. Over 25,000 children die every day around the world. That is equivalent to:
  • 1 child dying every 3.5 seconds
  • 17-18 children dying every minute
  • Over 9 million children dying every year
  • Some 70 million children dying between 2000 and 2007
Our children (the alien assumes "our" because we are a single species) die of hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other poverty related causes. In spite of the scale of this ongoing catastrophe, humanity does nothing to solve a problem that could be solved.

Given this inhuman nature of our species, an alien species that appears to be able to kill us all, merely wants 10% of our children. We are presented a meeting of elected and appointed officials discussing criteria for selecting children based on their desirability, which concluded as such a meeting would that most would be chosen from the poor all for the good of society as a whole.

This shouldn't be too disturbing because the Nazi's in fact did hold the Wannsee Conference to establish criteria for the processes of the "final solution" and in fact most of the foot soldiers in most armies around the world who are sent to kill and die for the good of their nation are mostly the poor.

It would seem so logical to an alien observing humanity over time that we could select 10% of our children to give to aliens for the good of the remainder of humanity. Day in and day out as a species the richest societies buy iPods while far more than 10% of human young die from preventable causes.

In Britain the one frequent fan criticism of the show is that somehow the writers were trying to write a Shakespearean tragedy. Personally, I thought it was more akin to the tragedies of the ancient Greek myths. But regardless, it was a story of that level.

Yes, like all such TV scifi presentations to a degree you have to suspend disbelief (what, unlike everything else on TV???). And yes, you can always find something that has been done before with similarities, even as far back an ancient Greek myths.

But like those myths, it was a modern morality tale with it's flawed hero. Well done!

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