Torchwood had trouble carving out its own niche after becoming a major Doctor Who spinoff. After all, it's hard to build a reputation after branching out from a series that has been around since the 1960s. Seasons (or make that Series for you U.K.'ers) 1 and 2 followed the same serialized structure as Doctor Who, and followed the exploits of the immortal Captain Jack Harkness and a team of specialists that formed a branch of Torchwood, a secretive U.K. organization well above the government and MI5 who investigate and defend against alien and paranormal activities.
Children of Earth swapped the 13 episode formula for that of a 5-part mini-series, and the result is much more effective. The Torchwood narrative is better streamlined as it tells the story of an alien race known as the 456, which have returned to Earth after initial human contact to claim 10% of the world's children. As the story progresses, we learn of the horrific conspiracy regarding the 456 and why the government is trying to cover it up. This culminates with the attempted assassination of the Torchwood team and the betrayal of Jack Harkness who is now on the run from his own government. As the story continues to unfold, the darkest parts of human behavior are dragged into the light, creating a stomach-turning revelation that must be seen to be believed.
The series deserves its accolades and praise. This is not a show that is written haphazardly or irresponsibly. The sheer weight of the "what-if" scenario depicted in the series is enough to stimulate even the most average of minds. For perhaps the first time in a long time, Torchwood forces the viewer to consider the ultimate question. "What would you do?" And when you're forced to answer that question, you can't help but feel guilty and helpless all at the same time. It's literally that intense.
That however, is hard to prove unless the story is spoiled for you. That won't be happening here. This is a colossal experience for a TV show, and once again proves that Russell T. Davies' writing skills weren't exhausted on the smartly written Doctor Who. This is a VERY adult program so brutal in tone that it's impossible to feel good after watching it. Should you avoid it? Absolutely not. It's a riveting experiment in storytelling that is now being expanded upon with Torchwood: Miracle Day. It seems the spinoff has finally found its niche. Now all it has to do is flourish.