Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Torchwood: Children Of Earth reivew

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

This post assumes you have read all the regular reviews about this. I'm not trying to provide an overview, just adding some comments to what I have seen written elsewhere, such as: paulburgin.blogspot.com and bleedingcool.com and tvblog.ugo.com.

What made CoE (Torchwood: Children Of Earth) interesting was that it confronted us with a whole series of related but different ethical questions, and attempted to contrast them from each other.

Under what circumstances is it ever acceptable to sacrifice a person's life to save others?
How about if that person was a child?
How about if people being sacrificed are choosing to make the sacrifice themselves?
Can it ever be ok to choose to make a sacrifice of someone else's life?
What if the number of lives sacrificed are very small and the number of lives saved are very big... could you not be persuaded to change your mind?
If you were saving all of humanity, how small would the number of lives sacrificed need to be before it became acceptable? Would 10% be acceptable? Or would it have to be less? ... Just 1 in a million... Just 12.... How about if it was just one life in exchange for everyone else? Is that still wrong? How about if it was just the stupid people who got sacrificed? Or how about if it was children that no one would miss?

When Jack walks into the Thames house building and confronts the 456, although he doesn't intend to do this, he effectively sacrifices the lives of (nearly) everyone in the building including his lover. This is contrasted with obsequiousness of the impotent British government. Although the ministers sitting around the cabinet crisis meeting are revealed to be self-serving, callous, and discriminatory against the disadvantaged, they get rewarded with this great "I told you so" moment when Jack's attempt at brinkmanship achieves nothing but loss of life. Being "un-killable" Jack cannot ever make the choice of sacrificing his own life. And in addition this aspect of his character brings with it the prospect that his moral actions are motivated from a very long term view. What might that be like? When he ultimately sacrifices his grandson what might allow him to be able to do that? I think most of us could not. Someone who lives (nearly) forever though is presumably accustomed to seeing his friends and family die.

The 456 mockingly points out how the infant mortality rate is 29158 deaths per day - that many children dying every day under the age of 1 year old. Most of these deaths are preventable and due to causes like malnutrition. If we take Jack's stance of "not one single child", an alien drug dealer might be excused for wondering why humanity are happy to put up with this daily sacrifice of children.

When Frobisher is told by the prime minister that he must relinquish his children in order to protect the public perception of the government's compliance to the demands of the 456, he concludes that it is better to sacrifice the lives of all his family, than to allow the 456 to use his children in the way they intend.

It became clear through the development of the conversation in the cabinet room that the truly appalling thing was not the difficulty of how to respond to the choice/threat being exerted by the 456, but rather the fact that the cabinet was colluding with the 456 to keep the whole matter secret. If the debate over how to respond to the 456 had been conducted in public rather than in the cabinet room, how would it have been different?

RTD is gently teasing us into appreciating the value of public and private information and into seeing the impossibility of putting a market value on life ("units"), the value of any life, the value of one life. The impossibility of answering any of these questions in the abstract. We can only ever answer them with the concrete choices that we make, and even then we must always doubt those choices.

CoE succeeded where much of previous Torchwood has not because it was great drama with believable character motivations (regardless of whatever else was or wasn't believable, when character motivations are believable it is not hard to suspend disbelief on other matters). That CoE was about an extra-terrestrial threat, and a group of established characters merely provided a convenient setting for a brilliant thought-provoking drama. This is the way round it should be. The contrivances were put in service of the drama, rather than the drama in service of the contrivance. When Russell T Davies gets this right, he is an outstanding dramatist - as was shown in the Christopher Eccleston series of Doctor Who, but sadly only rarely since then.

Found this today, which highlights the aspect of CoE that is our cultural "obsession with children". Thought it was interesting. spaott.blogspot.com