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July 10, 2009

Sad, isn't it isn't it isn't it?

Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Four

CoEday4 3:40 in, with 1:20 to go. That's when Torchwood finally sprang into action.

It was a long time coming. Too long, as I've complained before. But maybe the irrelevance of Torchwood to the first two thirds of this story is not a bug but a feature. Because I swear, the moment Lois said "Torchwood," and everyone panicked, my heart skipped a beat.

Despite the tragedy at the end of the episode, the darkest hour of the story is the centerpiece of the episode, as they argue over which ten percent of the children have got to go. We're dealing with two different kinds of terror here: The alien monsters, and the human monsters. It's the same kind of compelling, gripping drama we had in Midnight, only this time it's on a scare where millions are at stake, not just half dozen tourists.

These are the scenes that really sell the relevance of Torchwood. In the absence of the Doctor, somebody has to step in to stop this. And if the dubious quality of the first two series of Torchwood left you in doubt as to whether Jack, Gwen, and Ianto are the ones you want handling the situation, then surely, in that moment, you must have been a convert. The first three and a half episodes of Children of Earth seem designed to get us to this point where the viewer needs Torchwood as badly as the fictional world of the story does.

Day Four has some problems, of course. Clement's death, while dramatic and sad, leaves me feeling underwhelmed by the character's role in the story. And Jack's family, which I was hoping would play a more complex role in the story, at least with regard to Jack's character arc, seem reduced to little more than standard hostages. And more important to Jack than the imprisonment of his family is the big death in this episode.

RTD wouldn't use cheap tricks to get himself out of a corner. Would he?

The loss of Ianto is painful but, perhaps, necessary. For two seasons Ianto made Torchwood tolerable and was easily the best thing about the program, but that's simply no longer the case here. Killing Ianto takes the training wheels off while simultaneously providing one of the saddest death scenes I've seen in a long time. Killing the entire freaking building would have been sufficient, but taking out Ianto Jones makes it personal. It's shocking because at the end of series two, I never expected them to kill both Tosh and Owen, and with that wound still fresh in the program's memory I honestly thought Gwen and Ianto were both safe for this outing. But RTD has done nothing short of out-Whedoning Joss Whedon here, with the random unexpected death of a character who simply doesn't deserve it.

CoEday4b But is Ianto really going to stay dead for long? Cheating death has been a running theme throughout the first two series of Torchwood, with Jack being the most obvious example and Owen being another notable one, but let's not forget Suzie Costello or Eugene from Random Shoes. But Russell T Davies wouldn't write himself into a corner and then use cheap tricks to get himself out of it. That's beneath him. Isn't it? Isn't it? Isn't it?

Which touches upon my greatest fear for this series: that Russell will drop the ball where it matters most. If Day Five sucks, then none of the excellent four that preceded it will matter one jot and history will remember this as the Torchwood series that was almost good. Which won't be accurate, because regardless of what comes next the first four episodes have been spectacular.

So how's it going to end? A surprise cameo from the Doctor? A reset button that brings back Ianto (and Tosh and Owen)? The revelation that Mr. Dekker is a Time Lord (perhaps the War Chief)? A big musical number? Regardless, it'll all be over in a couple of hours and we'll be crying or cheering or heckling or whatever.

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