That Captain Jack, he's so good with children. Such a good role model, so ready to take the young ones under his wing. Last night, we encountered the 456, and learned why Captain Jack was marked for death. Spoilers ahead...
After two almost completely solid episodes, part three of "Children Of Earth" got off to a bit of a rocky start. The whole "life of crime" montage was honestly a bit embarrassing. Wheee! We're criminals! Breakin the law breakin the law! And then Jack's big dramatic "I'm back" moment, with his trademark great-coat and suspenders restored to their full dapperness, was almost agonizingly twee. For a moment, I thought we'd been zapped back in time to the bad old days of Torchwood.
Luckily, almost everything else about Day Three adhered to the fantastic high standards the show's established so far. And best of all, we dove head-first into the stew of national politics, international intrigue and interplanetary skullduggery that the first two episodes only skimmed the surface of.
The aliens zap down into Thames House, with a huge blazing pillar of fire, and all the children in the world point their fingers at the dead center (ish) of London. And the crazy dance of alien contact and ass-covering begins.
I have a feeling they could have stuck Peter Capaldi in a room with a popsickle stick and some chewing gum, and he would have sold us on the idea that it was a terrifying, unknowable alien presence. He is that good in his early conversations with the 456, his eyes twitching with horror even as he keeps his body ramrod stiff. And he schools the 456 on proper diplomatic procedure:
Well... Perhaps we do things differently here, but we would consider this to be a diplomatic liaison. Does that make sense? We are both in a sense ambassadors, and according to protocol, ambassadorial procedure is not made public. You wouldn't be speaking to the entire population, but to their elected representatives. That's how it works. That's all I can offer. Is that acceptable?
In other words: We need to do this in a way that will allow us to lie to our people and manipulate the free world, however this shakes out.
And then he goes out into the hallway and collapses on the floor, finally letting his full freak-out show. And Dekker sort of skulks out behind him, keeping a healthy distance from the 456 chamber.
Of course, whatever happened the last time the 456 came to town, it was obviously much more on the down low. The 456 wouldn't be making such a big deal out of the need to "speak with the world" if they didn't need to pull something much bigger this time around.
And then we get all of those perfect scenes of the UNIT and U.S. army brass confronting the U.K. prime minister, Brian Green, with their power grab, having an alien ambassador on British soil and taking the lead on negotiations. It's funny that nobody mentions that just a year or two ago, the British prime minister announced the U.K. was making first contact with an alien species and invited the U.S. president to be there — only to gun the president down, live on TV. (That bit happened before the Master's "reset button" kicked in, right?) In any case, there's a giant pissing match over who gets to control the negotiations, all of which plays into Brian Green's scaly little hands, because it lets him designate John Frobisher as his fall guy — I mean, diplomatic representative.
And then the negotiations begin in earnest, with the 456 being slow and recalcitrant, and occasionally spitting weird scary fluids, every step of the way. The politicos and military boffins are watching on video screens from the office downstairs, while the Torchwood crew watches via the contact-lens cameras they talked Lois into wearing.
So yeah — Lois' finest hour is now in its second hour, with no sign of slacking off. She is magnificent this time around. The contact lenses, which were sort of a throwaway plot device in the giant insect romp last year, now provide yet another way for us to view first contact with a scary alien from an obscured, distorted perspective. And Lois' bravery is worth a thousand action heroes, because she's so obviously terrified and out of her depth, but she goes forward and does the right thing anyway. Somehow, reading those files about Torchwood and finding out just how far her superiors were willing to go to kill them, inspires her to risk everything to help them.
And jeez, the Torchwood people are pushy mofos. She's already committing treason and flying in the face of people who have already proved they're willing to blow up Cardiff to silence voices of the past — and now the Torchwoodies are like "go stand in the middle of the room so we can read Frobisher's lips! Come on! Do a little dance while you're at it!" Oh man. And then they want her to start making notes as well. Utter bastards. Why doesn't she just use a semaphore?
And then of course the 456 explain just what they want, that necessitates such a huge song and dance... "We will take your children." I love Frobisher groping for the idea that there's a problem with the translation software.
And meanwhile, we find out just what Captain Jack's big secret is, and Captain Jack has never been so compelling a character as he is here. Really, two seasons of Torchwood had pretty much killed all of my interest in Captain Jack Harkness as a character, after a promising start in Doctor Who season one. Now, suddenly, he's complicated and tormented and awesome.
And it's extra knife-twisty that Jack's sudden revelation comes right after this wonderful slow moment between him and Ianto, when they really talk about their relationship. They almost go have sex, but then they don't because Rhys is there — and thank goodness for forced chastity, because instead they have to talk about what they're doing together, and whether their relationship has any future whatsoever. And then Jack finds out exactly who those other people marked for death were, and goes off to confront Frobisher.
Jack's conversation with Frobisher is great also, as Frobisher has to face up to what he's done — and what he has yet to do. The bit where Frobisher says Jack won't grab his wife and kids because "you're a better man than I am" would seem trite in most television shows, but here the self-loathing totally works. And of course, we're not quite sure if that's really true.
And it all leads up to the revelation that not only did those awful Brits give the aliens a dozen children before, but Jack was the guy who gift-wrapped the little tykes. "1965, I gave them twelve children... as a gift," Jack says simply. You bastard.
Oh, a couple of other random notes: Clem continues to be a bit annoying, but his portrayal of post-traumatic insanity and twitchiness does drive home just how awful whatever these aliens want with the children probably is. I really could have done without the bit where Clem "smells" Ianto's queerness. I have a feeling that Russell T. Davies was going somewhere interesting with that, about Ianto's denial or closetedness or something, but he missed the off-ramp. Also, maybe if Jack's daughter Alice had spent a bit more time with her dad instead of blowing him off, she wouldn't have been quite such an idiot and gotten herself nabbed. Oh well.
But all in all, this was an amazingly intense hour of television, and it's only going to get more intense from here on out.
So what did you think?