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The third series of Torchwood, with a format changed from 13 mostly-standalones in series 1 and 2 to a five-part miniseries aired over a week in July 2009.

It's 1965. A busload of children, on their way to a new orphanage, stops on a country road in the middle of the night. The children dismount and — except for one — walk towards a bright light in the sky.

In 2009, the authorities have become alarmed by reports that every child on Earth became motionless at exactly the same time. A few hours later the same thing happens again, but this time the children deliver a chilling message en masse: "We are coming." As Torchwood investigates the affair in Cardiff, in London the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, John Frobisher, is also trying to manage the crisis. The government then receives a secret transmission from an alien species referred to only as "456" who have apparently made contact with Earth before. Whatever took place on that occasion, it is a secret so terrible that Frobisher orders the death of all those involved in the affair — which includes Captain Jack Harkness and, by extension, all other members of Torchwood. As the team go on the run, the world waits for the impending arrival of the aliens. Over the next few days, humanity will discover just what lengths it will go — and to what depths it will sink — to ensure its own survival.

Has a recap page.

This miniseries contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Alice Carter and Gwen Cooper have their moments, but of course the prize goes to Agent Johnson.

 PC Andy: "If she's Anti-Terrorist, I would not mind being Uncle Terrorist."

  • Action Mom: Alice sticks a long kitchen knife in her belt — and moments later knocks out a kevlar-clad soldier — the instant she thinks her child is in danger.
  • Aliens Speaking English: An important plot point, as it's a clue the aliens have been to Earth — and specifically the United Kingdom — before. Jack suggests the aliens might simply be speaking the most common language on Earth, but Ianto points out that's actually Mandarin Chinese.
  • Always Save the Girl: Well, guy. Jack is willing to surrender to the 456 if it will save Ianto.
  • Anything But That: Jack cries out tremulously, "Not him!" when the 456 expel the virus into the air and Ianto falls victim.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: PC Andy rips off his police uniform and starts punching out the soldiers who are trying to seize the children.
  • Black Comedy: Even this season has its moments of humor.
    • Gwen pistol-whips a fake ambulance officer, next to a poster warning of the consequences of assaulting ambulance officers.
    • Soldiers kick down the bedroom door of Ianto's brother-in-law and demand to know where he is.

 "Well, you won't find him in my bed, will you? I'm a married man!"

    • The whole scene where Gwen and Rhys are disguised as undertakers.
    • When Gwen gets Clem out of jail, there's an anti-drug ad on the wall.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: There are lee-ways that the 456 are simply "misunderstood" and don't understand themselves the harm they're doing to the children or that humanity means anything in the universe. They don't seem to be either particularly ashamed or proud of their addiction, not that much reluctant to admit what they use the children for (if they'd anticipate the humans' reactions, maybe they wouldn't have admitted that easily). They show signs of Psychopathic Manchild throughout the series.
  • Breaking the Fellowship
  • Butt Monkey: Frobisher.
  • Crazy Homeless People: Clement McDonald, the only one of the 12 children left behind in 1965.
  • Creepy Child: Try every child on Earth becoming this.
  • Dead Star Walking: The promotional material suggested that Dr Rupesh Patanjali would be joining the team as The Medic (to replace Owen Harper). He turns out to be The Mole sent to infiltrate Torchwood, and is left dead on the floor so Jack will return directly to Torchwood with his bomb and not waste time try to find him.
  • Dirty Coward: Prime Minister Brian Greene is probably the worst for handing all responsibility to John Frobisher, leaving him to take the blame for any of the government's reprehensible acts. In the end this turns even Bridget Spears and cabinet member Denise Riley against him.
  • Downer Ending: Although it could have been far, far worse in the larger scheme of things, the series does not end well on a personal level for any of the heroes.
  • Driven to Suicide: Frobisher.
  • Eagle Land: General Pierce appears to be there either to embody this trope, or he was there to show that America isn't the one doing the evil. He constantly points out that they kept America in the dark.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Prime Minister's first reaction after the crisis ends is relief that he can blame all their actions on the Americans. This is regarded as the final straw by the other members of his cabinet, who've taken no joy in crossing the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Alice ignores a barking dog, until it suddenly whimpers and goes quiet. Then she starts getting out the kitchen knives.
  • Expy: Lois Habiba for Martha Jones (who was originally intended to appear in it), though she plays a more naive, innocent version. No doubt that if it was actually Martha in the position, she would have been far more forthcoming in helping Torchwood in the beginning.
  • Fan Disservice: Rhiannon's husband Johnny in the nude.
  • Full-Name Basis: Jack, with Lois Habiba.
  • Genre Savvy: Mr. Dekker. When the alarms go off to signify that the 456 have begun filling Thames House with poison gas and sealed it off, instead of futilely trying to escape, he runs into an equipment room and quickly puts on a hot-suit. Incidentally, he's the only one in the building who survives.
  • The Ghost: Ianto's father, who died before the show began, once broke his son's leg and provoked his leaving home for London and Torchwood 1. Ianto lies about his profession to impress Jack, and Gwen's mistaken beliefs about the man reveal how little Ianto's colleagues actually know him.
  • Government Conspiracy
  • Guilt Complex: While Jack is usually seen as a clever, charming, flirtatious and impulsive man who doesn't like dwelling much on the bad stuff, Children of Earth shows us that there are many things he has been blamed for over the course of his life, which has been long enough to make for a massive Guilt Complex; he just had not spoken his guilt out loud. Most of these things were not his fault at all, but being in a privileged position (as the leader of Torchwood Three, but he also can't die) makes him feel responsible for the lives of those around him.
  • Guns Akimbo: Gwen Cooper, including a Leap and Fire at one stage.
  • Heel Face Turn: When Agent Johnson finds out just what her superiors in the government are up to, she and her Black Ops troops goes from hunting Torchwood to helping them.
  • He Knows Too Much: Everyone who handled the original 'exchange' back in 1965 is subject to a 'blank page' by the government. As one of these people is Jack Harkness, that means killing everyone in Torchwood 3.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The 456 are finally defeated by turning the signal they used to control the children against them.
  • Hollywood Silencer: If you look closely at the sniper rifle when it's being fired at Ianto, there's no actual silencer attached, despite the sound effect.
  • Hollywood Spelling: Averted — Gwen asks Ianto to look up both "Clement MacDonald" and "Clement McDonald", as she has only heard his name and doesn't know the spelling.
  • Hope Spot: Most of Day Four lulls you into a false sense of security thinking Torchwood will save the day. Then Ianto dies and things go horribly Grimdark from there.
  • Human Resources: The children produce chemicals which the 456 use — not to stay alive, or run technology that can only be Powered by a Forsaken Child, but simply to get high.
  • Iconic Item: Ianto, whilst escaping from a ticking bomb, tries to save Jack's coat.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Everyone's excuse for handing over children to aliens for an unknown purpose. However, what's originally justified as a Necessary Evil to save the entire human race quickly becomes a social eugenics program.
  • If It's You It's Okay: Ianto explains to Rhiannon that it's not just men, it's just... Jack.
  • I Have Your Wife: Jack and Frobisher play this with each other.
  • Imminent Danger Clue: See Evil-Detecting Dog.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with the (unseen) deaths of children in road accidents (because they froze while crossing the street), Frobisher's daughters, and the onscreen death of Jack's grandson.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The black-clad soldiers have difficulty hitting fleeing Torchwood members (in one case, a sniper with laser-sighted rifle trying to hit someone running directly away from him at short range).
  • Insane Troll Logic: The 456 are masters of this, maybe conditioned by their Values Dissonance.
    • First, they go with the theory that "it worked once, it will work again". This is ignoring the fact that the terms of the first arrangement were completely different, as one character partially points out. First, in 1965 they only asked for 12 children, which was feasible. Secondly, they gave something in apparent bigger value - the salvation for 25 million people. It was a trade. Now they're claming nearly as much as they saved while giving absolutely nothing except "Well, I let you live, isn't that enough?"
    • Another problem is with their logic that if people accept that children are dying of natural causes, they won't mind if aliens took them from them, which they consider almost identical. Nevermind maternal instinct and having your child plucked out of your hands, literally, by the state or some aliens, is completely different than being plucked by death, with the parents being unable to stop it or fight it.
  • Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: The 456.

 "We want ten percent of the children of this world."

  • Irony: Alice threatens Johnson with the vengeance of Jack Harkness if her child is harmed, only to have Jack do it instead.
  • Karma Houdini: Well, considering their actions across the whole mini, the entire UK government getting off with anything less than being publically lynched could be considered this. But specifically, there is also Bridget Spears, Frobisher's assistant who looks like she'll be coming out of the series smelling roses, despite being just as loathsome as the rest of her colleagues.
    • She pales in comparison with Home Secretary Denise Riley, who had the monstrous Moral Myopia to be indignant at the idea that the lottery wouldn't exclude her relative's children as well as her own, but was the first to suggest giving the 456 the "expendable" children. And she implies that she expects to succeed Green as Prime Minister after his deeds come to light.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Johnson's people believe the Torchwood Hub is somehow linked to Harkness' immortality, and hope that by destroying it they will destroy him. They're Genre Savvy enough not to rely on this however, and make sure to throw his remains in a cell just in case they're wrong.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: John Frobisher (and possibly Prime Minister Brian Green).
  • Laser Sight: Both Ianto and Gwen see the laser-sight of the backup assassin trying to shoot them.
  • Last-Name Basis: The first names of Agent Johnson and Mr Dekker are never revealed.
  • Mama Bear: Alice threatens to kill Johnson if she harms her child, and even though the latter is a Badass Action Girl she takes this threat seriously.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: People are willing to accede to the 456's demands as long as it's not their children being handed over, or someone they know. Children are even referred to as "units" by the Cabinet.

 Jack: "It was easier if you didn't know their names."

  • Mood Dissonance: 456 hisses, thrashes against the sides of its container and projectile-vomits green goo, yet speaks in the deep, calm voice of its translator. Those listening are noticeably spooked.
  • Mr. Exposition: Lois Habiba. The third series drew in a lot of new viewers and the producers seemed to have anticipated this. Lois was used to explain the origins of Torchwood to anyone who hadn't seen the first two series.
  • The Nameless: 456 is merely a placeholder name for the aliens, derived from the frequency on which they first contacted humanity. Even when asked directly for the name of its species, the 456 tells Frobisher to just keep using that designation. Also it's never actually stated which government organisation Johnson works for.
  • Playing Against Type: Peter Capaldi is best known for playing Magnificent Bastard Anti-Hero Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It — a man with no scruples or shame over the corrupt government he works for. In Children Of Earth he plays John Frobisher, a Butt Monkey Anti-Villain who is so ashamed of his governments' acts he commits suicide after murdering his family to spare his family from being turned over to the 456. The two characters are polar opposites.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Jack to Ianto.

 Jack: Ianto? Ianto? Don't leave me, please. Please.

  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The 456's "message". This was also used against them in the end.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Apparently, Gwen and Rhys have been using the Torchwood camera contact lenses for "fun". Yes, this kind of fun.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Furthering the Alternate Character Interpretation, Denise Riley stating 'what everyone was thinking' qualifies for this, if you consider her a Complete Monster - no one in the Cabinet is going to sign their children up to be taken by the 456, and if there's no other choice, why not get rid of the underperforming children who are likely to become the 'future drain on society' and protect the future leaders?
  • Punch Clock Villain: Most of the UK government is portrayed this way (especially Frobisher); it's one of the major themes of the miniseries.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: For Jack.
  • Sexy Secretary: Lois.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: John Frobisher's murder-suicide, though only senseless in hindsight.
  • Sinister Surveillance: For once Torchwood are on the receiving end. By a government unit with the same software and intel.
  • Something He Would Never Say: Gwen tries to gain the trust of Ianto's sister Rhiannon, but because Ianto has lied about his family details she naturally thinks Gwen is an impostor.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is For UNIT: Cabinet member Denise Riley, who says "what everyone here is thinking". None of the government big shots want their own children handed over, and if they're exempt, why not get rid of the ratbag element of society?
  • Sound-Only Death: John Frobisher's Pater Familicide.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: When the children are seized.
  • Stealth in Space: The one thing hampering even the idea of fighting back is that the government can't locate any spaceships in orbit, even with the alien tech they've scavenged over the past few years.
  • Super Senses: Clement's brain was somehow altered by the aliens, giving him the ability to smell if someone is lying. Or pregnant. Or gay.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Lampshaded by Gwen when she wonders why the Doctor doesn't come to help.
  • Trash the Set: The Torchwood Hub.
  • Van in Black: The dark gray Land Rovers used by Johnson's mooks. Also lampshaded in a scene where Ianto thinks a Black Van is sneaking up on him, but it turns out to be delivering newspapers.
  • Video Will: Gwen leaves one in the final episode for anyone who's still around to see it.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: The whole army vs. its people was utterly useless, as would have been handling the children to the aliens, or worse, not handling them.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Alice now looks older than her father Jack.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: Jack is 'killed' so he can be cut open and a bomb hidden inside his body, in order to destroy both him and the Torchwood Hub.