If you’ve been hearing about next week’s BBC America miniseries, Torchwood: Children of Earth, which I briefly review in TIME this week, you may have thought it’s not for you. You may think you need to be a fan and follower of the Doctor Who spinoff, Torchwood, or Doctor Who itself, to appreciate it. I can tell you that’s not true, because… I have never been a fan of Doctor Who.
OK, if the Doctor Who fans have stopped throwing things—ow! that almost hit my eye!—let me tell you a little about this excellent and chilling TV event.
First, because someone will ask, I don’t really know why I’ve never gotten into Doctor Who. I’ve given it several chances, over several series. Maybe I still associate it with the campy iterations I first saw as a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. Maybe it appeals more to Anglophiles, or harder-core sci-fi fans. (I’m a fan of a lot of sci-fi shows—Lost, BSG, The X-Files—but I don’t seek out sci-fi as a genre; I get drawn in more by character stuff than story or science, and for whatever reason Doctor Who’s characters never connected with me.)
The point being, I also gave a chance to Torchwood—the Doctor Who spinoff about alien investigators—and dropped it. So I went into Children of Earth with very little background—and I loved it.
What you need to know is provided in the series. One day, every child on Earth begins speaking a message: “We are coming.” As more messages come, the world is thrown into a panic, while certain members of the government, knowing more about the message than they let on, begin stealthily making preparations. This draws the attention of the Torchwood Institute (in the series, a group of investigators, led by the immortal Who associate Jack Harkness, who deal with extraterrestrial phenomena; but again, you don’t need to know much about that here). As the identity and intent of the message-sender becomes clearer, the entire planet is thrown into chaos, and world leaders are forced to make wrenching moral choices.
There’s plenty of action, suspense and sci-fi stuff in Torchwood: COE, but what makes it an unmissable event is how well it sets up its dilemma—a classic conflict over whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few—and how maturely it deals with both the morality and the politics of the premise. It’s a story about terrible things, but also about how decent people can be driven to do them.
I almost want to suggest that you DVR it (it’s five episodes, nightly from Monday through Friday), so that you can watch it straight through the way I did. Because trust me, once the end of episode 3 kicks in, you are going to want to watch another and another immediately.
It almost makes me want to go back and watch more Torchwood or Doctor Who. I probably won’t, but I’m guessing the longtime fans will love this miniseries as much or even more. And as for everyone else: trust me, it’s safe to come in. Join us… it’s bliss…