Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
That quote perfectly sums up Torchwood: Children of Earth for me, as Russell T Davies tore down what he had lovingly nourished, on almost every level.
At every stage, when you expected the story to take an upward swing, to head back into the positive worldview RTD made his trademark during his time in charge of Doctor Who, it took the opposite path.
The NHS doctor shot Jack! The Hub is destroyed! Jack’s buried in concrete! The 456 want the kids! Jack gave up the children! The government is discussing a final solution for 325,000 kids! The kids are drugs! They’d kill us all if they benefited! Ianto is dead! Frobisher shot his own family! Jack killed his own grandchild!
By the end my jaw was hanging open and the tone of the comments on the Scyfilove live blog had changed from amused and entertained to shocked and stunned.
It meant CoE was very difficult to watch at times, but RTD and his team of writers showed an unflinching determination to carry this dark story through to its painful and harrowing conclusion.
Because of them, Torchwood finally became a truly adult drama and – I would say – one of the greatest television events of the past 10 years – a terrible perfection even.
If for nothing else, I would put Torchwood into that class for the way it treated the show’s central character, Captain Jack Harkness. First introduced as a shallow con man in Who, he had developed into a charismatic and decisive leader, Torchwood’s Han Solo, who we thought would always do the right thing.
By the end of episode five, he was a broken man whose compromised heroism in the face of the 456 alien threat cost him his lover, his grandchild’s life at his own hand and ultimately his own sense of who he was.
A hero? Not any longer. A leader? Of what – his team is dead or gone, their base destroyed. Immortal? Undoubtedly, but that means having to live forever with the terrible things he had done and seen, things which he was left running away from.
To undermine your leading man to such a degree was an incredibly courageous thing to do, and John Barrowman rose to the challenge with a committed performance of a character he clearly cares deeply about.
He was not alone in the acting stakes, with everyone involved turning in top class work under director Euros Lyn’s sensitive and skilled direction.
Special mention though goes to Peter Capaldi, who must be in the running for a Bafta as John Frobisher. At first he was a buttoned up civil servant, absolutely sure of the bureaucracy and his role in it.
But like Jack, he lost his place when faced with an impossible choice. Capaldi’s subtle and nuanced acting perfectly captured a man losing his grip.
His final scene – calmly climbing the stairs, gun in hand, to the room where his family waited….. even now it gives me pause, because the closing of the door and four gunshots were easily the darkest moment in the Whoniverse.
The result of all this was the highest viewing figures in the show’s history, but ironically Davies’s scorched earth approach means it will be very difficult for it to return and if it does, to reach the same standards CoE reached.
I hope it does, because we have see what this show can achieve now. But also because I think I would find it hard to watch Children of Earth again.
Some things should only be watched once, and having glimpsed that terrible perfection, once was enough for me.