Torchwood's social critique and the education system

This week, many of us have been riveted to our TV screens more than usual. I have, certainly.


BBC experimented with a 5-part miniseries of the Doctor Who spin off show Torchwood, called Children of Earth. I’ve been a fan of Torchwood since the first season – while it hasn’t been a flawless show, it’s been interesting to see sci fi themes of a more adult nature (not in that way, you perv. Well, ok sometimes…) be approached.

This miniseries not only looked at the usual “alien invasion from the skies” theme, but also looked at Britain in a dark and disturbing way.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is the issue in a nutshell:

Britain is forcefully approached by “The 456”, an alien lifeform that approached it over 40 years ago. In 1965, the 456 requested that they were given 12 children, assuring Britain that they would disappear forever, never to come back. In 2009, the 456 comes back, this time requesting millions of children – 10% of the entire child population of the world. Otherwise it would destroy the human race entirely.

When faced with no other option than to obey the 456, the British government, UNIT, the American forces and a number of other worldwide governing bodies come to the difficult decision of choosing the children who should be handed over.

After discussions of random lotteries and “one loss per family” to meet the 325,000 children to be taken from the UK, one government member suggests what many have been thinking: Use the school league tables to select the lower ranking schools and rid Britain of the scum.

The blunt suggestion is accepted and buses are driven to the disadvantaged schools, providing the media with a spin story that the children are being taken away for inoculations as a means of protection.

I won’t give away the ending for those who still may not have watched the last episode, but will instead look at this situation. Sure, aliens are unlikely to land in Thames House tomorrow to make such demands but what about that bottom 10% of school kids?

In the real world of here and now, are we failing our youth by accepting that disadvantaged areas of the country must necessarily mean lower ranking schools, poorer grades and children who will grow up to spend their life on the dole? In top schools, children are expected to go on to further education and get good, meaningful jobs. Of course, they have the added benefits of a childhood in an independent fee-based school and the likelihood of parents who are more actively involved in their education. These aside, are we taking away the disadvantaged kids’ changes by setting expectations too low?

In this fictive situation, the government made the decision for these kids that they would never amount to anything and were therefore the best group to sacrifice, for the sake of the other 90%.

I don’t have kids and I certainly don’t have an answer, but it was insightful to see Torchwood broach what is a rather controversial topic in between battling aliens and saving lives.

3 thoughts on “Torchwood's social critique and the education system

  1. Marcus Povey

    For me it serves as a fantastical but emotive illustration of why too much state power is a bad thing.

    The state decided the criteria of selection (and I’m sure those failing children had value in the eyes of their friends and relatives) and then had the force to carry out its will unopposed.

    Fantastical in this instance, but given the overarching power of the British state could a future government round up an undesirable 10% of the population?

    Given that they can watch you through CCTV, track your car movements through APNR and with the incoming identity card and national identity register could disenfranchise individuals at the flick of a button – and at the risk of sounding like an NRA card waving gun nut, with the only people permitted to have arms being agents of the state I’m rather worried to think that the answer is a great big yes.

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  3. pa

    J’ai suivi quelques émissions de Torchwood.. et c’est mon genre de réflexions scifi, avec des enjeux philosophiques, et fictifs. Je pense aussi que vous expérimentez une autre dimension, avec le monde du web: surconsommation de commentaires de toutes sortes qu’on faisait autour d’une table entre amis. Les ‘ amis’ twitter vont peut-être subir un ‘info overload’ et risquent de vivre trop sérieusement dans une société virtuel.
    Dans mon temps, on pouvait choisir 5 postes de TV et 2 journaux. C’est maintenant illimité comme source d’infos. À nous choisir comment utiliser ou ne pas utiliser toutes ces infos.
    J’ai enseigné 2 élèves, piano pop et guitare et j’ai choisi une leçon sur Youtube pour les aider. Il y a beaucoup de qualité à notre portée. J,espère attraper un autre Dr Who ou Torchwood, mais ç joue pas souvent au Canada, Ontario, videotron.
    Please excuse my French. Hope V can translate for my friend A.

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