Children of Earth: Day Three.

"Day Three in Thames House. Mr Frobisher is talking to the 456 about nominations."

TV Riveting. It takes some very good writers (in this case Russell T Davies and James Moran) and excellent performances to make a scenario we genre fans have seen played out dozens of times before, human to alien contact, this suspenseful. This showdown had all of the ingredients. Our heroes out of the room having to witness the action via relay leaving the inexperienced middle manager to do the talking, an inability to see the alien properly, our only clues to its true nature that its behaviour and vocabulary closely mirrored that of a delinquent teenager lashed to the gills on white cider ringed by a halo of marijuana smoke and the slow burn of incomprehension as our very British bureaucracy clashed with a culture that didn’t give a stuff about such things.

Turns out the 456 are running an intergalactic “protection” racket. Give us x number of children each time we visit or we’ll burn the rest of the planet, our massive rocket shaped baseball bat ready to smash up the windows of the world if you don’t have enough takings to cover the debt each time (or whatever it was that happened in that 80s episode of Eastenders with Ali’s CafĂ©). The Doctor would taken one look at that scenario and laughed, got his game face on, done something wizzy with his sonic screwdriver, perhaps pressed a big red button, jumped in the TARDIS and visited the mothership and had a speedy shout through there as well before returning to Earth to give everyone a hug before buggering off again.

Because at its heart, as I’ve suspected but tonight’s episode confirmed, Children of Earth is really about what happens during an alien invasion when the Doctor isn’t there (just as I suppose both of these spin-offs are). It can’t help it. It’s Turn Left but with events yet to be seen, known unknowns. That could be inadvertent, though Jack’s brief mention of the timelord must surely be part of a subliminal strategy to keep him in our thoughts. The general expression seems to be – even with Torchwood (and perhaps because of) we’d be pants, jurisdictional infighting or geographical cock measuring getting in the way of dealing with something more important. In the next episode the world’s clearly going to appease the alien’s demands and hold a lottery closely followed by some all purpose civil unrest.

We could have a discussion here about how Martha hasn’t phoned her Gallifrayan friend at the first sign of global trouble just as she did in The Sontaran Stratagem (I means she’s only on her honeymoon and not callous) but like the Sarah Jane question that’s just something we’ll have to suspend our disbelief over – this is one big universe, everything is connected, but for narrative purposes we’re just going to have to assume they’re otherwise indisposed. My assumption is that because of what happened in 1965 the last thing they want is the Doctor showing up to give them a right telling off and that if Captain Jack himself was considering it he’s too embarrassed. Or something.

In Jack himself we see the timelord’s influence. The man who sent those kids to their probable doom is the broken version we greeted in the first season, soiled by the influence of the darker version of Torchwood. We know this because he did much the same thing at the end of PJ Hammonds’s Small Worlds (which much surely warrant a mention in the next episode). The Jack we greet these days is the one who spent a year being tortured on the Valiant for a year, the presumably more heroic version, the one who wouldn’t nab Frobisher’s kids, who jokes around and isn’t really comfortable unless he’s wearing army surplice. Perhaps tomorrow such issues will finally be nailed to the ground.

Elsewhere in those jokier ends of the episode we watched Torchwood regrouping or rather re-enacting an episode of Hustle so that they could empty PC World and spend much of the episode in that warehouse. I used to get a bit annoyed when some newsreader would signal impending doom Torchwood Cardiff’s first reaction would to joke about and find the quietest place for a shag but the writing seemed to make clear that it’s a defence mechanism, a way of dealing with the unbelievable. It helps that the cast have developed their comic timing somewhat; the old watch humour always used to seem a bit forced but the baked bean curtailing pre-charver negotiation was nicely played with Kai Owen’s blistering unawareness a joy.

The guest cast also continue to impress. The surprise in this episode was the burst of action from Alice who has clearly been trained by her father to defend herself; did anyone else think when she was asked by Johnson whether she too was invulnerable that Lucy Cohu was going for the ambiguous beat, that it’s something she herself has pondered despite the fact that she’s growing old? Never mind Lois Habiba, Alice is surely the natural new Torchwood member if Cohu’s free and willing, forever digging into her dad about never having been there for him, assuming there is a new series (and given that Day Two was the most watch programme on Tuesday that’s highly likely – people love this show).

So let’s ask the question again. Who are these aliens? Certain editors of this website*  on their twitter feeds have made genius suggestions, but I won’t steal their thunder. I’m still convinced they have something to with the children taken in the 60s, the current smoky box presence a more sophisticated version of the Balok puppet the Enterprise tackled in Star Trek’s The Corbomite Maneuver, the face behind the face. Or the Borad. Or the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. A triffid. Gonzo the Great. A disembodied tendril from the version of the Sarlacc Pit that appeared in the special editions of the Star Wars films. At this point, I have no real idea. And isn’t that the greatest?

Tomorrow: Before the show, Gary in Stockport selected Arthur and set of balls number three...

* Behind the Sofa.

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