On a dark night in 1965, a busload of Scottish children is driving down a deserted road. The bus comes to a stop and the children nervously get out. A bright light appears in the sky and the children go towards it. As they get closer one child runs away unnoticed. The light gets brighter and suddenly the night is dark again and the other children have vanished.
Switch to a bright sunny day in 2009. Children are playing in the park or at school recess. Then they suddenly stop everything and are frozen in place. Frantic parents and teachers desperately try to find out what’s wrong but the children are mute and immobile. After a few moments they say in a flat voice “We are coming” over and over. Then it stops as suddenly as it started and the children resume what they were doing completely unaware of what has happened. It all happens at the exact time to every child in the world.
Now of course as anyone who’s been watching the Torchwood series knows, that the obvious thing for the British government to do at this point is to call the Torchwood team and ask them to sort it all out. But not this time since it turns out that the government has a secret that they want kept very badly. So the Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) wants all evidence of the secret to be literally wiped out and instructs a senior civil servant, Mr. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) to make sure it happens.
So now the Torchwood team is suddenly being hunted by a black ops squad that is so brutal and lethal that they would make Dick Cheney’s mouth water were he ever to watch the show. Led by the brutal Johnson (Liz May Brice) the black ops team starts stacking the bodies and blowing up chunks of Britian. This is too much even for the Torchwood team to cope with and they are forced to go into hiding.
It is then that Mr. Dekker (Ian Gelder), a government scientist starts receiving transmission from an alien race so mysterious that they are only known as the 456 (pronounced four, five, six). First they start sending instructions and later they start making increasingly horrible demands. The children of Earth keep going catatonic and then start repeating cryptic phrases. Finally a defenseless world is confronted with a terrible choice.
It’s all a lot for the Torchwood team to sort out. At this point the team is down to three members. They are led by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) who was born on a far off planet thousands of years in the future and is apparently immortal. He severely tests his immortality on a regular basis. Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) is an ex-policewoman whose caring nature causes her a great deal of grief. The organizational genius of the group is Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Gwen’s husband, Rhys (Kai Owen), normally is a food wholesaler but is occasionally pressed into service. In this series they have an ally in Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo) a very junior but resourceful civil servant.
The Torchwood organization was founded in 1879 by order of Queen Victoria to combat nasty aliens. She had met some in a Doctor Who episode (Tooth and Claw) and was not amused. The main Torchwood base in London was destroyed by Cybermen and all that is left is the Cardiff branch. Apparently Cardiff is situated by a rip in the time-space continuum leading to all sorts of trouble. The Torchwood series is that rare phenomena in which the spin off surpasses the original.
All of this makes for a week of incredibly good science fiction that is not to be missed. If you like your aliens mysterious and scary as hell then you are in for a treat. Children of Earth contains of the best alien contact scenes ever. There are lots of moral dilemmas all through the five episodes some of which are as agonizing as they are compelling. This is not a feel good, happy ever after story but it’s very, very well done. A viewer would have to go a long way back to find a better five hours of science fiction and the search won’t be easy.