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Children of Earth and the “First Contact” Archetype

By Dylan • 22 January 2021

Allow me this week to take some time out of your day to actually write a blog post on something not only science-fiction related but also actually related to what we’re watching on the podcast. If you read my last post you know I talked in some unfortunate detail about Cars 2. This week I want to talk about Torchwood Series 3: Children of Earth (henceforth Children of Earth) and how it plays into tropes of the “first contact” archetype sub-genre of science-fiction.

Kiyan and I have talked at length about genre and specifically what science-fiction means as a genre term (you can find that discussion scattered throughout Zenith: A Blake’s 7 Podcast) and I don’t think I have enough space here to continue that conversation. For the purposes moving forward I’ll just assume you know what I mean when I say that I’ll be “analyzing” Children of Earth from a science fiction standpoint and specifically through the lens of a first contact story.

I’ve seen a lot of people refer to Children of Earth is pretty much a conspiracy thriller with some light sci-fi but I want to argue that its structure is actually pretty similar to two other first contact stories, specifically Contact (1997) and Arrival (2016) (which bizarrely both have single word titles). In fact I think the sort of “low sci-fi” angle of the story is a staple of this sub-genre and is not present in Children of Earth just because Russell T. wanted to write a conspiracy thriller. I should also note that as of writing I have yet to watch the final episode of Children of Earth, but I have watched the other four episodes. Moving forward there’s going to be spoilers for Contact and Arrival, obviously.

I believe that there are three distinct phases in a first contact story: the aliens arrive and are met with disbelief, humanity bands together to solve a common problem (either the aliens themselves or a problem the aliens present to them), and the aliens leave at the end having fulfilled their purpose. What makes a first contact story interesting is that the aliens exist as a plot element, but the main plot is driven by the character interactions and reactions to the aliens, as opposed to the aliens themselves like in most other sci-fi sub-genres.

The first and foremost staple of a first contact story is that when the aliens arrive, humanity will not believe them, or fail to understand their purpose here. For example, in Contact when the aliens “arrive” they send a coded message that is picked up by the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Jodie Foster’s character (Ellie Arroway) is the first to recognize it as an alien message, but the scientific community, nay, the world at large does not believe her. For a good part of the movie she’s ridiculed, disparaged, and quite frankly treated like shit. That is, until the aliens transmit a video of Hitler along with their initial message. This is the kind of “oh shit” moment where everyone realizes that this is actually serious.

In Arrival, too, when the aliens arrive, they are greeted with indifference and disbelief. Even though they arrive in giant pebble shaped spaceships that are kind of hard to ignore. Amy Adam’s character (Louise Banks) is called into help and translate the alien language since she already has security clearance and even she is incredulous until she’s actually inside the alien spaceship.

In Children of Earth this moment and plot point is represented by nobody in London really believing anything alien is necessarily happening when all the kids start talking in unison. They just think it’s pretty weird. It’s not until the kids start talking about “We Are Coming” that people really start to man up and go “hang on this could be something.” Even Frobisher doesn’t believe that this could be aliens and he’s encountered them before. He spends most of episode 1 and part of 2 decrying the return of these aliens.

This moment of disbelief is important for first contact stories because once it passes it serves as a catalyst for the human race to band together and work together to combat the alien threat (although in both the stories I have mentioned already the threat turns out to be quite benign). Let’s look back at Contact. In Contact the aliens transmit a set of blueprints that are encoded and encrypted. It takes first a huge collaborative effort (until John Hurt shows up anyway) to try and crack the encryption. From there the entire human race has to work together to build this giant structure even though they have no idea of its purpose. This mirrors aspects of Children of Earth, where London takes blueprints transmitted by the 456 and builds this chamber – Even though they have no idea what it does.

In Arrival, the different linguistical approaches taken by the US and China mean that they interpret an alien phrase differently. By the midpoint of the movie this tension in translation has lead to a breakdown of scientific collaboration, and Chinese and Russian teams have cut contact with the other countries teams. The aliens respond by providing linguists and scientists in each of the 12 crafts exactly 1/12th of a more complex message. It takes the entirety of the human race and scientific community to band together, tearing down these barriers to share what they know in order to translate the message and understand why the aliens have come to Earth.

Frobisher and Dekker look on at the chamber they've built for the 456

In Children of Earth this concept comes through when the 456 actually arrive in London, and Prime Minister Green (no relation) has to make the decision to share with the rest of the world that they have arrived in Thames House even though he would rather keep this fact a secret. He knows that anything that happens moving forward must be shared with the rest of the world. He’s going to need their help to fulfill the 456’s request for children. And once again the aliens force his hand by having the kids in each country recite the number of children they require from that country. It’s going to take a global effort to solve this problem.

Finally, at the end of the story the aliens must leave. This is quite obvious for Arrival, where the aliens leave having fulfilled their purpose. In Contact after Ellie makes, well, contact, with the aliens they reveal that they will have no further communication with humanity for the time being, as they’re not ready to join the galactic federation (or whatever it was, honestly the ending of Contact was a little unclear).

Which brings me to my prediction for Children of Earth. Torchwood, UNIT, Frobisher, someone ends up dealing with the 456, perhaps even killing the ambassador. And after that they leave to never be heard of again. Gone. Just as the sub-genre intends, just as the story requires. I don’t think the 456 will be killed off in their entirety. But I do think we’ll just never hear about them again. I do know that I’ll certainly find out in the next 24 hours, when I watch episode 5. But I’m pretty confident that I’m right here.

Based on the evidence presented, I think I’ve made my case that Children of Earth mirrors the first contact type story told in Contact and Arrival. And weirdly enough along the way we learned that Contact and Arrival are pretty similar movies, surprisingly.


Do you think that Children of Earth is a first contact story? Or do you think it’s a conspiracy thriller with alien elements? Or even both? Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.

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Qatsi

If we could have made this episode a tone poem we would have.

The audio quality in this episode is a little worse than normal because it was recorded quite early in quarantine (nearly a year before release) before we had figured out how to properly record these things via skype. Because of that Kiyan’s audio sounds a bit scratchy. Sorry about that. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t make it a visual poem, since maybe the visuals could distract you from the audio. Alas. What a kind of shit way to end the season of Triple Play. It’s Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi.


Show-notes:
12:23: Archdaily says Kowloon Walled City was 33,000 people on 2 hectares (215,278 square feet) of land.
17:53: Our Matrix episode from (oh god) 2016.
23:57: Our Godfather episode from (oh god) 2020. Just as we did here, we pronounce Coppola wrong for this entire episodes. Hell yeah. And by hell yeah, I mean damn.
29:26: The BBC explains why Prince changed his name to a symbol.
37:16: The Four Corners are where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet.
53:00: Yeah so apparently Reggio directed this music video.

Sources and other stuff:
Koyaanisqatsi dot org
LA times
Powaqqatsi’s soundtrack (vice)
Naqoyqatsi review (Variety)
Naqoyqatsi article from Spirit of Baraka
Philip Glass’ hands-on role with the soundtracks (New Yorker)
Making of documentary on youtube</a


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330: Obsessed with Beans (Children of Earth: Day Three)

Really riding this bean trend a little late.

Are we all ready to hear the story about the beans? You know the beans that I bought the other day? Well I bought some beans, and I took them home. And then I put them in my pantry. And that’s it. That’s the whole story. It’s better than getting invaded by aliens anyway. Speaking of which, it’s Children of Earth: Day Three, written by Russell T. Davies and aired on July 8, 2009.


Show-notes:
7:42: The original “Bean Dad” threads have been deleted, but here’s a summary from the BBC.
25:37: Here’s the blog post we’re talking about.
27:00: Check out Triple Play: A Movie Trilogy Podcast, our movie trilogy podcast.
1:05:36: For more INFORMATION on The Prisoner, check out our classic sci-fi podcast Inevitable: A Classic Sci-Fi Podcast, where we watched the entire series.


Torchwood © The BBC
Any other references belong to their respective owners, no copyright infringement is intended by this podcast.
The Torchwood title music was originally composed by Murray Gold. The version used in this episode was arranged by Murray Gold.

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329: The Most Whoa Moment (Children of Earth: Day Two)

Whoa, dude – Keanu Reeves

After our short interlude into Doctor Who territory we’re officially back with Torchwood. That’s right, we’re back with Torchwood. Jack is back. Well Jack never left even when we went over to Doctor Who, but now he’s back. So its Gwen, back from her little cameo mention last week. The gang’s all here: Jack and Gwen.It’s Children of Earth: Day Two, written by John Fay and aired on July 7, 2009.


Show-notes
38:44: I’m reading the Tardis wiki page for film here.
48:07: Here are the fake Doctor Who stories in question for: Classic Who, Classic Who (part 2), New Who, and New Who (part 2)
58:52: Check out our classic sci-fi podcast, Inevitable: A Classic Sci-Fi Podcast.
1:11:59: Check out Zenith: A Blake’s 7 Podcast, our Blake’s 7 podcast.
1:13:57: Here’s the blog post about the First Doctor’s Christmases. Shoutout once again to Steven for contributing this!


Torchwood © The BBC
Any other references belong to their respective owners, no copyright infringement is intended by this podcast.
The Torchwood title music was originally composed by Murray Gold. The version used in this episode was arranged by Murray Gold.

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Robocop

Dead or alive you’re coming with us.

So this time we decided to watch an action movie that turns out to have actually quite complex societal implications. We also watched two other pieces of crap, so it wasn’t really just the one movie. But we did watch that movie. Did you know Paul Verhoeven responded to me on twitter? It was just Paul F. Verhoeven and not the Paul Verhoeven who directed this movie. But same thing. It’s Robocop 1, 2, and 3.


Show-notes
3:20: Cyborg Anthropology wiki
5:52: Here’s Robocop Archive.
6:55: We have a blog now? Here’s its best post, a guest post.
25:48: The Jurassic Park book came out in 1990 and the movie came out in ’93.

Sources and other stuff:
Robocop 3 video game (Film Stories)
Robocop 3 (Robocop wiki)
10 Remarkable things about Robocop 3 (Den of Geek)
Basil Poledouris (Movie Music UK)
Behind the Scenes of Robocop 2
The Strange Case of Robocop 2 (Birth Movies Death)
Fred Dekker vs. Robocop (Robocop Archive)
Making of Robocop 2 (Robocop Archive)
Failed Prototypes (Robocop Archive)
Creating ED-209 (Robocop Archive)
Making of Robocop
Behind the Scenes of Robocop (Dangerous Minds)
Harryhausen’s Dynamation (The Museum of Unnatural Mystery)
Cain CG in Robocop 2 (Before & Afters)
Suicidal Robots (Syfy Wire)
I don’t even know how to describe this
Robocop 3 review from 1993 (Variety)


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328: Tea and Biscuits and Gravy (Revolution of the Daleks)

We’re back and tastier than ever.

Have you ever had meringue on your tea? I’m thinking now, it might not be so bad. The heat from the tea could cook the bottom of the meringue kind of like a hot pie crust would do, so that would be pretty cool. You could drink it then and bury your mustache in a meringue. That’d be pretty fun actually. It’s Revolution of the Daleks, written by Chris Chibnall and aired on January 1, 2021.


Show-notes:


31:10: Here’s the blog post we put out on our predictions for this episode.
36:18: I’m reading the TARDIS Wiki’s Prime Minister of the United Kingdom page here.
58:31: Check out Zenith: A Blake’s 7 Podcast, our Blake’s 7 podcast.
1:05:04: Meant Curse of Fenric here.
2:07:08: Check out One and Done, our April Fool’s joke podcast about reviewing other Doctor Who podcasts. (We reviewed our own first episode for the joke.)


Doctor Who © The BBC
Any other references belong to their respective owners, no copyright infringement is intended by this podcast.
The Doctor Who title music was originally composed by Ron Grainer. The version used in this episode was arranged by Segun Akinola.

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327: It Says Everything it Shouldn’t and Nothing it Should (Children of Earth: Day One)

Kind of sounds like me, on the podcast.

Have we ever had a five episode serial in Doctor Who? We have, right? I’m pretty sure we did but I genuinely don’t remember any more. A lot of classic who has been completely wiped from my mind because I needed the space in my brain for other things. I can’t remember what those things were anymore. It’s Children of Earth: Day One, written by Russell T. Davies and aired on July 6, 2009.


Show-notes:


2:08: Check out our movie trilogy podcast, Triple Play: A Movie Trilogy Podcast.
41:11: Check out our Blake’s 7 podcast, Zenith: A Blake’s 7 Podcast.
45:40: Apparently you’re considered an embryo until you’ve been in development for nine weeks. Then you become a fetus. The more you know.
1:00:55: Apparently Christopher Isherwood “only” wrote nine novels (if the Isherwood Foundation is to be believed).


Torchwood © The BBC
Any other references belong to their respective owners, no copyright infringement is intended by this podcast.
The Torchwood title music was originally composed by Murray Gold. The version used in this episode was arranged by Murray Gold.

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“The Feast of Steven” and Other First Doctor Christmases

By Steven Shinder

Hello, fellow Trustees, or Decorative Veggies, are whatever listeners call themselves. My Name is Steven (Editor’s note: Steven has been on many of our episodes. Most recently, he joined us to discuss the Torchwood episode From Out of the Rain), so of course “The Feast of Steven” had to be in the blog title, given that this is Christmas themed and that was a Christmas episode. Now that I have explained the joke, I can hear you all rollicking with breathless laughter.

Anyway, Christmas is that time of year when you can watch, listen to, or read a piece of media that focuses on comfort and makes you believe, if only for a moment, that maybe your life doesn’t completely suck. And this blog post is no exception to the rule. So let’s get on with it already. Here are some thoughts on First Doctor Christmas stories. I am not sure if these are all of them, but these are all the ones that I have experienced.

The First Doctor looking into the camera

“The Feast of Steven”

Ah yes. This is where the Doctor Who Christmas specials really started, 55 years ago. “The Feast of Steven” was pretty much a filler episode within the larger serial The Daleks’ Master Plan. The seventh episode of the serial, it was broadcast on December 25, 1965, and it did not really have anything to further the overarching story since it seemed that audiences would probably not be watching this episode. And now, you really can’t watch this episode. That’s right. If you wanna feast your eyes on “The Feast of Steven,” then your only option is to watch a reconstruction.

Even with the still photographs and the audio, the episode seems pretty bizarre and chaotic. The episode takes The Doctor, Steven Taylor, and Sara Kingdom through some wacky events, from evading police officers in 1960s England to stumbling upon a film set in 1920s Hollywood. And Charlie Chaplin was in there somewhere, apparently. I don’t know. It was confusing. We even get a yikes-worthy quote from The Doctor when on the films set: “a madhouse, it’s all full of Arabs.” Never believe anyone who says Classic Who was perfect. So glad that the show has evolved past this.

And as if all of that was not enough, we end on a scene in the TARDIS where The Doctor pours drinks for his companions, and toasts a Merry Happy Christmas not just to them, but “to all of you at home.” That’s right. He looks right at the camera. I’m not even sure how much I even want this complete episode to be found. I’ve had issues with some of the NuWho Christmas specials, but I think it’s safe to say that this is the worst one in the televised history of Doctor Who.
 
 
cover of The Little Drummer Boy

“The Little Drummer Boy”

Thankfully, if you’ve endured that whole thing and need a palette cleanser, you can read or listen to the Short Trips short story “The Little Drummer Boy.” Released in prose and audio forms in March 2003 and September 2016 respectively, this picks up right from the end of “The Feast of Steven.” You thought The Doctor, Steven, and Sara went straight back to dealing with Daleks? Hell no! They actually traveled to several different Christmases, including the Christmas truce in 1914. Yes, that Christmas truce. I have more to say about that later, but what I will say is that The Doctor here does focus on how while there is peace for the day, the fighting will continue the next day.

But the real center of this story is a mystery pertaining to a boy who keeps popping up as they keep traveling to these Christmases in different years. The boy looks the same no matter which year they end up. It is a tale that involves twins, illnesses, and a way of avoiding a paradox somehow. The ending is bittersweet. While I think it was well-crafted, I struggled deciding whether to rate the audio (narrated by Beth Chalmers) 4/5 stars or 5/5 stars. Ultimately, I landed on 4 since the resolution felt a bit unethical to me. But this is a story that is definitely worth experiencing.
 
 
cover of O Tannenbaum

“O Tannenbaum”

If you thought that was the only Short Trips Christmas story featuring the First Doctor and Steven Taylor, think again! They also experience a Christmas story in the form of “O Tannenbaum,” an audio released in December 2017 (a few days before “Twice Upon a Time” was broadcast, actually). Peter Purves provides the voices of both characters. While this story was not quite as good as “The Little Drummer Boy,” I still enjoyed it. The tale has to do with a father, his son, and…trees. The tree-angle kind of reminded me of a Christmas horror story I wrote five years ago.

To say more would potentially be spoilery, but I also hope I am not raising expectations too high. The story is pretty straightforward, and The Doctor makes an awesome branch manager pun. Weirdly, the story ends with Steven saying The Doctor’s line at the end of “The Feast of Steven,” wishing a happy Christmas “to all of you at home.” However, it is played off like he is saying it to his surroundings with nobody around listening, which is kind of sad. But anyway, this one was definitely 4/5 stars for me.
 
 
The Twelfth and First Doctors in Twice Upon a Time

“Twice Upon a Time”

Of course we had to talk about “Twice Upon a Time.” I mean, come on. Its acronym is TUAT. Isn’t that hilarious?

All joking aside, this is actually my favorite televised Doctor Who Christmas special. Seeing the flashback to a classic serial, in this instance The Tenth Planet, and then having the current story follow up from there is what I wanted for the series 7B episodes, given that they aired in the show’s 50th anniversary year. The recreations are done very well, and bringing in David Bradley, who depicted William Hartnell in An Adventure in Time and Space (where I actually felt something when he said “I don’t want to go” after I felt nothing hearing David Tennant say it), was a brilliant decision. And I am glad that he has gone on to play the First Doctor again in The First Doctor Adventures from Big Finish.

Sure, the sexism of the First Doctor is made more overt here, and I understand how jarring that can be. But ultimately, the First and Twelfth Doctors going through this arc where they realize just how important their roles in making miracles happen is is what saves it for me. I remember tearing up when I first watched that scene toward the end where “Silent Night” is sung in the trenches of World War I, and the Christmas truce takes place. For this one day, two opposing sides of a terrible war were sharing a merry celebration. Twelve reminds One that being The Doctor means to keep even just a few people alive for a little bit longer, thus perpetuating the fairy tale that life, at times, fails to become on its own. Plus, this story enhances the story of the First Doctor’s regeneration into the Second Doctor.

As I alluded to earlier, though, this was not the first Doctor Who story to feature the Christmas truce. The Short Trips story “The Little Drummer Boy” featured it in March 2003. And then less than two years later, in December 2004, it was featured in “Never Seen Cairo,” a short story included in Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury. In this instance, the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown were present, and a soldier declines The Doctor’s offer to visit another place such as Cairo, given his duties, according to the TARDIS wiki. (I haven’t read this story.)

a page from The Forgotten

And then in December 2008, the multi-Doctor comic book story The Forgotten featured a flashback in which the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler arrive at the time of the Christmas truce. Captain Harkness is mentioned to have survived being shot in the head and sent to the hospital, but Nine and Rose are unfamiliar with the name, as they haven’t met Jack yet. There is also a Benton present, which is funny considering that “Twice Upon a Time” would feature the Brigadier’s father. Nine is the referee during the football game.

So at the Christmas truce, Twelve, Nine, Five, and two versions of One could have been present. I think it would’ve been rather funny had these other Doctors just been in the background during “Twice Upon a Time.”

It is kind of ironic that it took a Chris — Chris Chibby, in this case — to end the tradition of televised Doctor Who Christmas specials. But at least the tradition ended on a high note, and I couldn’t think of better final moments for the First Doctor right before his regeneration.

If you’ve experienced all of these stories, what did you think of them? How would you rank them? Do you agree? Disagree? Wanna throw tomatoes at me? (Editor’s note: throw ’em Steven’s way on twitter: @StevenShinder. Or throw ’em our way on our Twitter or Facebook.) A Happy Christmas to all of you at home!

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xXx

No not that kind of xXx.

I used to be an extreme sportsman. Did you know that? Yeah it’s true, I used to do extreme podcast editing. One time we were releasing an episode of Trust Your Doctor but I Was busy skydiving, so while skydiving I took my laptop and edited while skydiving. Set a new record for highest podcast episode edited. I also set a record for fastest speed attained by someone actively editing a podcast. Yeah that was me. It’s xXx, xXx: State of the union, and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage


Show-notes:


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326: 50 Shades of Morally Grey (Exit Wounds)

Ok so this exact title doesn’t appear in the episode, sue me.

Besides, we’re covering 50 Shades of Grey on Triple Play at some point soon and it’s better not to make confusing and conflicting post titles. Yes, I’m for real serious that we’re covering that trilogy at some point. If you don’t believe me I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. It’s Exit Wounds, written by Chris Chibnall and aired on April 4, 2008.


Show-notes:


1:03: Check out Triple Play: A Movie Trilogy Podcast, our movie trilogy podcast.
2:20: We have a blog now, and our first (and so far only) post is on our predictions for Revolution of the Daleks.
3:30: I got the account name wrong. It’s actually teamtardiss.
9:07: Guess I’ll die.
21:28: There are two nuclear power stations in Wales and neither of them is in Cardiff.


Torchwood © The BBC
Any other references belong to their respective owners, no copyright infringement is intended by this podcast.
The Torchwood title music was originally composed by Murray Gold. The version used in this episode was arranged by Murray Gold.

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