In the third episode of the Torchwood: Children of Earth mini-series, the Torchwood team reassembles in a new location and scrambles to catch up with what has happened with the 456. Meanwhile, Frobisher makes contact with the aliens after they transport themselves into London via a beam of fire. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Torchwood.
I recognize that I’m a hyperbolic person. I don’t really know how I ended up this way, but I tend to speak in extremes to express myself on a varied spectrum of emotion, and I find a lot of those statements to be humorous to me, too. Something is always the best ever, or the worst thing of all things that ever were a thing in all known universes. It’s been this way for a long time, but I’ve found a huge flaw in doing things that way. When something is particularly great, how do I express that when I’m constantly being over the top anyway?
SO. That being said? I think that “Day Three” may be one of the finest hours of television I’ve ever experienced.
There’s a lot to explain to justify that statement, but I’ll start this way: Peter Capaldi has stolen the show. The fact that the writers took such a huge risk in focusing the bulk of the episode on a character who was initially a side plot is fantastic enough in itself, but John Frobisher’s story is now the main plot, and WHAT A PLOT THAT IS. It was so gripping and exciting that I’d completely forgotten how “Day Three” had started. It’s not that watching Torchwood thieve some new supplies wasn’t exciting or kind of humorous, in an immoral way; it’s just that every single scene involving Frobisher, the 456, and Jack Harkness was just UNBELIEVABLE.
Truthfully, so much happened in “Day Three” that the entire episode felt like a ninety-minute movie. Torchwood found a new base in an old base, Jack’s daughter set up her own capture unwittingly, and Clem managed to get himself in a bit of trouble in a moment of desperation. These are all necessary parts to the story. It’s kind of victorious to watch the team get their new clothes, especially Jack’s iconic jacket. The team also had to acquire some supplies in order to play catch-up with the rest of the world. (That’s actually kind of fascinating, since they’re generally the ones who know more than the rest of the world.) It was also entirely needed to explore Lois’s own battle with the idea of committing treason on her nation in order to…expose treason? I suppose that’s sort of complicated to work out, and Lois was certainly aware of that.
But alien invasion stories have been done hundreds of times. How many of us who are fans of science fiction have seen this trope play out? Aliens land or make contact, and representatives from earth attempt to find out what they want. YAWN BORING WHO CARES. Hell, I’ve seen enough of this from The X-Files alone, not even considering the entire dearth of sci-fi. Yet I did not feel that one second of the entire alien plot that we are given in “Day Three” was stale, rehashed, or boring. From the moment that every child on earth stopped and began to point at London, I found myself completely in the hands of writers Russell T Davies and James Moran. They controlled me and I paid rapt attention to the events on screen.
The immediate question that is answered in the beginning of “Day Three” is the purpose of the chamber that is built for the 456. You have to admit that the 456 arrived on earth in the most spectacular display of force imaginable, beaming themselves into Thames House IN A PILLAR OF FIRE. I mean….GOOD GOD THAT IS AMAZING. How do beings even do that? Even better, it’s a method that makes it impossible for the government to hide this arrival, which increases the dramatic tension of the whole thing. The entire world knows that something happened in London, and the more time that passes, the harder it is to stay patient or to hide the truth.
But christ, the first scene in the room with Frobisher and Mr. Dekker? Absolute perfection. When the light from the fire died down and the two stood in shock at the gas-filled chamber, I awaited to find out what was inside. It is brilliant that we are never given a full glimpse of the 456 because it adds to their mysterious terror. What’s their shape? How do they speak? Why do they appear to get upset and shoot goo all over the glass and slam parts of their bodies against the chamber? Nothing makes sense and the silence that hangs over this scene just adds to the horror of it all. But, again, it must be said that none of this would have been as suspenseful or believable had it not been for Peter Capaldi’s performance as John Frobisher. He is a man forced to act as the ambassador for the entire world, knowing that at any moment he could take the fall for everyone, and his words are laced with the fear of such knowledge. His eyes tear up as an almost involuntary reaction to the stress of such a ridiculous and absurd situation: aliens just beamed into a sealed glass chamber in a column of fire, and he is the first man to speak to him.
And oh my god, the tension. I’m reminded of another Russell T Davies story during Ten’s run on Doctor Who that I thought of here: “Midnight.” (Actually, isn’t the actress who plays Sky, Lesley Sharp, the same actress as the newscaster throughout “Children of Earth”?) The real narrative power of “Day Three” comes entirely through communication and dialogue. The 456 do not speak in a way that is expected of the way we communicate, and that unsettles us. They do not respond in a timely manner. Many times, they do not respond at all. The space between lines spoken by Frobisher and the 456 is thick with tension and fright because we are left wondering what each party is going to say next. That is fantastic writing, and the actors and sound editors do an impossible thing by pulling this off so flawlessly. The 456 are also not beings of many words, and when they do speak, we are happy to get a one word affirmation, for when they stray from this, nothing seems to make sense.
I was on an airplane coming back from LeakyCon in Orlando when I watched this. This was a complete mistake because I had to stay quiet, prevent myself from flailing about dramatically, and the plane’s cabin suddenly had the most frightening claustrophobic sensation when Frobisher stepped towards the alien case. True story: When Frobisher and Mr. Dekker stepped out of the room and Frobisher collapsed in shocked relief, I breathed out so hard (I’d been holding my breath) that everyone around me turned to stare at me. SORRY EVERYONE ON THAT FLIGHT.
Of course, “Day Three” only gets more complexing when Ianto pulls up the photos of the other three people ordered to be killed by Frobisher and Jack recognizes them. How does he recognize people from 1965? It was obvious that whatever happened in 1965 was related to Clem MacDonald. As far as I could guess, Clem had escaped from whatever happened that night with all of the other children on the bus. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that Jack Harkness, while working for a government agency, would have had something to do with the events of 1965, especially given that we know the 456 had appeared on Earth some time in the past. Even with all this knowledge, it didn’t seem like Davies and Moran were aiming to make Jack’s involvement some huge surprise. It was the degree of his involvement that confused me. When he stole Frobisher’s wife’s phone and threatened to make the whole thing public, he said something that was unusually strange that I could not figure out. Why did he insist that Frobisher knew that the 456 could not be trusted? So obviously something had happened the first time around, and given that Frobisher had asked the 456 to keep that meeting confidential from the other earthly powers, I knew that I was basically massively unprepared for what was to come.
“Day Three” also does something else incredibly well: navigating the complicated world of international politics. Again, this particular episode lends so much space to smaller details that help shape the main narrative. (This feels very Davies, does it not?) There’s a lot of coordination that has to come out once the world’s powers descend upon London, and I was fascinated by the way that the show gave us the UNIT, American, and the British Prime Minister’s perspectives in a way that wasn’t overly stereotyped, nor was it unfamiliar to the situation, especially as the weirdness of the situation came out. It was such a scary moment to see all of them offer up Frobisher as their unofficial martyr, a move that is deeply political and sensible to them.
I can’t come up with enough varied words to praise the final fifteen minutes or so of “Day Three,” which straddles the worlds of science fiction, thrillers, and flat-out horror. To say that I was thrilled by the meeting between the world’s powers and the 456, led by a terrified and exhilarated John Frobisher, watched by the Torchwood team through the contact lenses that Lois Habiba was wearing, is the understatement of the year. I could not by hyperbolic about it enough. I know that long after I finish this mini-series, I’ll keep recommending it to friends. I’ll tell them to stick with it to episode three. I’ll tell them that they shouldn’t watch it without the lights on, and definitely not on a plane. (WHAT WAS I THINKING.)
The brilliance comes from how awkwardly spaced all of the dialogue is. When Frobisher asks a question, or when he gives his diplomatic introduction, he is met with silence. We cannot see these creatures. We do not understand their emotional expressions. We know nothing of their culture or their traditions. We are at an absolute zero. That is so ridiculously terrifying because we have no basis for anything. The 456 can say or do anything at this point and we literally cannot predict or anticipate anything that might happen. In this sense, everyone in this episode is just as unprepared as we are. And when the 456 blast out that goo for the longest period yet, I was just…I was so confused and terrified and frightened by all of this. It’s unbearable to watch. You are left hanging on every single moment, wondering what the FUCK these beings are doing here and what they want from the human race.
I could not believe the ending. This is one of the most stressful cliffhangers I’ve ever had to experience, and it doesn’t help that so many people in that room with the 456 look like they’re about to burst into tears. But the 456 want 10% OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION OF CHILDREN. For what???? WHYYYYYYYYY? It’s all made even worse when Jack Harkness returns from his little phone interception with Frobisher’s wife and Clew starts his familiar routine of claiming that the smell is closer and I realize HE WAS SMELLING JACK THE ENTIRE GODDAMN TIME.
I can’t. Jack helped give over twelve children to the 456. WILLINGLY. And now they’ve returned to ask for a gift: more children.
I CANNOT DEAL. HOLY SHIT MY BRAIN.
- I know it’s silly, but I nearly squealed with joy when Jack mentioned the Doctor. I LOVE THE DOCTOR DID YOU KNOW THAT.
- Ok, best placed joke was Frobisher’s children chanting, “WE WANT A PONY.” Bless! I would totally do the same thing.
- “Ianto, the world could be ending.” “The world’s always ending. And I have missed that coat.” UGH THIS SCENE WAS SO GREAT. That sexual tension was so hilarious. And then Rhys blocked it all with beans. BEANS.