Critics' Picks: The spawn of "Doctor Who"

The riveting science fiction miniseries "Torchwood: Children of Earth" comes to American screens

Published July 20, 2009 10:18AM (EDT)

John Barrowman in "Torchwood: Children of Earth."
John Barrowman in "Torchwood: Children of Earth."

" Torchwood: Children of Earth"

premieres at 9 p.m. July 20 on BBC America, available on DVD July 28

This five-episode miniseries (running for five consecutive nights) spins off the popular British series "Torchwood," which in turn was a spinoff of sorts from the long-running wacky sf series "Doctor Who."

Despite its attenuated ancestry, "Children of the Earth" turns out to be much more riveting than its predecessors, particularly the uneven, somehow shopworn "Torchwood," with its lame special effects and haphazard characterization. The remaining members of the original "Torchwood" team -- an ex-policewoman, the office factotum and the handsome, bisexual and mysteriously immortal Capt. Jack Harkness -- try to figure out why all the children on the planet are going intermittently catatonic and chanting "We are coming" in creepy unison.

And it is genuinely creepy -- party "X-Files," part "Close Encounters," with fine performances all around, especially from Peter Capaldi, as a Home Office civil servant charged with handling the crisis and responding with a courage that bestows an unexpected, tragic grace on middle managers everywhere.

By Laura Miller

Laura Miller is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia."

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