The third season of Torchwood was handled a bit differently than the previous two. Instead of a full season of episodes, they created a five-part miniseries that was shown on five consecutive nights under the name Torchwood: Children of Earth. The experiment was a great success. Not only did the show pull in high enough ratings to get renewed for the next year, but Children of Earth is one of the best SF shows to be broadcast in a long time. Light years ahead of the first season's episodes in terms of quality, this story is suspenseful, intriguing, and exciting.
When PC Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) is taken off a murder investigation at the order of the mysterious organization Torchwood, she starts looking into the just who and what they are. What she discovers is an organization that is "outside the government, beyond the police." They're charged with finding alien technology and exploring its uses along with handling any extraterrestrial baddies who might happen to show up. The group is lead by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a mysterious man who can not die. Impressed that Gwen was able to not only track down and infiltrate their headquarters but also that she's handy in an investigation, she's invited to join the group and now spends her days (and nights) tracking down aliens.
Children of Earth:
After the traumatic events at the end of season two, the Torchwood group is down to three people: Jack, Gwen, and Jack's lover Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). That's too bad, because they could use some help. One morning at 8:30 am GMT children stop what they're doing, stand still, and start repeating "We are coming." Not a few children, or even a lot, but every child on the planet.
When it happens a second time at around noon, this time the message is "we are coming back," people start to panic. The government isn't sure what to do, but one diligent civil servant sees a connection between these events and something that happened in 1965. Back over 40 years ago the government did come in contact with an alien species and at that time they gave them a 'present'; 12 children.
The children were orphans so no one missed them, but now that the aliens appear to be returning evidence of the old operation has to be destroyed. That means killing anyone who was remotely involved back in 1965: a driver, a couple of aides, and Capt. Jack Harkness.
The government realizes that it won't be easy to kill Jack; they know he can't die. So they set up an elaborate ruse to take care of him once and for all and to get rid of the rest of Torchwood at the same time. After shooting him dead, soldiers implant a powerful bomb into his chest. Returning to Torchwood, Jack discovers the bomb just in time to let Ianto and Gwen escape, but the bomb detonates taking their whole headquarters with it.
Now on the run for their lives, Gwen and Ianto are forced into hiding. They need to see if Jack is still alive, find out why the government is trying to kill them, and discover just what the aliens want, and how to stop them from taking control of the children of Earth.
Torchwood really found its voice in the second season, and this series just builds upon that. This was an incredibly good story that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats for most of the running time. It starts off with an interesting mystery about what actually happened in 1965 and adds a lot of excitement and adventure. With the surviving members of Torchwood on the run for their lives, there's a good amount of suspense, but this series also fills in a good amount of background story. We get to meet Ianto's sister and family as well as someone who is very dear to Jack, although she has no interest in seeing him. This personal touch gives the story a lot of heart, and there are several emotional scenes in that work really well.
One of the great things about the series is that they illustrate how dangerous it is to be a member of Torchwood by killing off main characters. They did it in the first two seasons, and knowing that a character could die at any moment gives the show more impact than most series have. Imagine Star Trek if Bones, Sulu, and Scotty died over the course of the show. This story puts all of the characters in mortal danger at one time or another and that builds the tension nicely.
The writers were also able to pace the series well, with revelations about the aliens and the past coming at regular intervals. What's more is that each surprise tops the one that came before. The shock of what the aliens want is only topped by why they want what they do.
The only real critique I have of the series is the ending. While it works very well, much better than I imagined it would while watching the show, there was a bit too much techno-babble that made part of the resolution feel like a deus ex machina-type ending. Not quite as bad as "quick, reverse the neutron flow to the core!" but along those lines. This is only a mild criticism though, since the emotional impact of the ending is so great that any other conclusion would have been inferior.
The Blu-ray Disc:
All 5 episodes that comprise the third season/mini-series come on four Blu-ray discs. These arrive in a nice book with one disc on each page. The book is housed in an illustrated slipcase.
The show comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 mix that is very good. The surrounds are used to good effect throughout the show, not just during the action scenes. When they're in "the hub" the sound of falling water can be heard from the rears, and in one episode people are leaving a room when music starts behind them. Viewers can hear the music from the back of the room just as they turn around. It's a simple effect but it works wonderfully. The infrequent battle scenes have a good amount of bass and while it won't give your subwoofer a work out like the latest
The 1.78:1 VC-1 image is only encoded at 1080i, but the picture still looks good. While it has more detail and finer lines than the DVD version of the series, there are still a couple of areas where the show (which was recorded in HD) falls a bit. The aerial shots of
Aside from those defects the image was clean and the level of detail was very good. The skin tones were accurate and the colors were nice and solid. While this isn't a reference level set, it still looks fine.
The extras are pretty sparse this time around. The only bonus item is Torchwood: Confidential, a half-hour making-of featurette. They talk with the writers, director, crew and cast and discuss how some of the scenes were shot and explore what it was like behind the scenes. It was good, but I couldn't help wish that it was a bit longer.
This mini-series really hits on all cylinders. The plot was excellent, the background revelations about the characters gave the show an emotional touch that most SF is lacking, and actors are fully into their characters. I thought the first season of Torchwood was mediocre at best, but really enjoyed the second. This mini-series is the best thing yet. The lack of extras is the only thing that keeps it from a higher rating. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review do not come from the Blu-ray discs and are not representitive of the picture quality of this set.