Torchwood Retrospective: Episodes 1-4

This is a guest column by Katherine F, and the first of three parts.

Now that the first series is done and dusted, it's time to take a look back and chart the highs and lows of a series that's been exciting, funny, scary, sometimes wonderful and sometimes ludicrous -- but never predictable. In the tradition of the Virgin unofficial TV series guides, I'm giving brief summaries of each episode, followed by consideration of how it fits under the following categories:

Cock-ups: Torchwood have a bad habit of causing more problems than they can solve. One fan described Torchwood as "Dad's Army with aliens". She meant it affectionately, but it does rather underline the point that despite the sexy slo-mo shots of all of them wearing long coats and sunglasses, Torchwood are a bit rubbish, and when they do manage to save the world, it was usually their fault it was in danger in the first place.

Post-Watershed Moments: Torchwood's writers and directors have taken full advantage of their late scheduling time, stuffing the show full of sex of every desirable variety (and some undesirable) and plenty of bloody, gory violence. I'm also including in here all the instances of Russell T. Davies's Gay Agenda, of which I approve heartily.

Sticking To The Mission Statement: Every episode begins with Jack's spiel: "...tracking down alien life on Earth and arming the human race against the future..." Except Torchwood often seem to spend more time cleaning up messes they made themselves (see "Cock-ups") or trying to get each other into bed (see "Post-Watershed Moments"). Sometimes, they actually are arming the human race against the future, or at least investigating weird happenings or alien technology, and such occasions are noted here.

Best Lines: My entirely subjective favourite lines from each episode, apart from any lines that would need giant wodges of context to be understandable.

1: "Everything Changes"

Written By: Russell T. Davies
Also Starring: Indira Varma as Suzie Costello, Tom Price as PC Andy

The One Where Gwen Joins Torchwood. A solid introduction to the premise, characters and theme of the show. Some people have said that it's very similar to Doctor Who's series 1 opener, "Rose", but Gwen is a lot more inquisitive than Rose, not needing to be dragged into the weird situation but actively poking her nose into it and strongly resisting all attempts to keep her away -- to the point of overcoming an amnesia drug. And "Everything Changes" is a great deal darker than "Rose", perfectly setting the tone of Torchwood and marking it out from its parent show.

Cock-ups: Nobody at Torchwood seems to notice that Suzie's gone batshit crazy and has started killing people, even though the weapon she used for the murders produced a very distinctive pattern of wounds and was lying around the Hub for anyone to see.

Post-Watershed Moments: Owen uses an alien pheromone spray to pick up a woman (and her boyfriend) at a bar. (Debate continues to rage among Torchwood fans as to whether this constitutes a form of date rape.) Some interesting vibes between Jack and Gwen, which had Doctor Who fans rolling their eyes and saying "here we go again!" The Weevil mauls a hospital porter to death, and Suzie shoots first Jack and then herself in the head, though Jack survives.

Sticking To The Mission Statement: They're investigating the alien artifact that will later come to be known as the Risen Mitten (and Suzie's investigating the Life Knife, though the others don't know about that). They end by putting it into the "not for use" drawer, though that's not going to last...

Best Lines:

JACK: There you go! I can taste it! Oestrogen. Definitely oestrogen. You take the pill, flush it away, it enters the water cycle. Feminizes the fish. Goes all the way up into the sky then falls all the way back down onto me. Contraceptives in the rain. Love this planet. Still, at least I won't get pregnant. Never doing that again.

PC ANDY: Bet you ten quid they're DNA specialists. It's all DNA these days. Like that CSI bollocks. CSI: Cardiff, I'd like to see that! They'd be measuring the velocity of a kebab.

JACK: Who the hell orders pizza under the name of "Torchwood"?
OWEN: Yeah, that'd be me. Sorry, I'm a twat.

JACK: And this is Ianto Jones. Ianto cleans up after us and makes sure we get everywhere on time.
IANTO: I try my best.
JACK: And he looks good in a suit.
IANTO: Careful, that's harassment, sir.

GWEN: But hold on, if no one can see it when the lift's coming up, there’s a bloody big hole in the floor. Don’t people fall in?
JACK: That is so Welsh!
GWEN: What is?
JACK: I show you something fantastic: you find fault!

2: "Day One"

Written by: Chris Chibnall
Also Starring: Sara Lloyd Gregory as Carys, Tom Price as PC Andy

The One With The Sex Monster. A silly and vaguely reactionary premise laden with silly dialogue which is only saved from being utterly contemptible by the remarkable intensity of Sara Lloyd Gregory, who plays Carys with utter conviction both as a confused young woman and an angry, hungry alien; there is the germ of an interesting idea in the scene where she wanders through the streets of Cardiff, confronted with a parade of sexual images, but this is too isolated an instance to redeem the episode as a whole. The guff about Gwen needing to humanise Torchwood is so crashingly obvious and so badly expressed that it's, frankly, embarrassing. Not impressive.

Cock-ups: Gwen carelessly tosses a chisel at Owen and hits the alien ship, thus releasing the alien. Oops. But Owen has nothing to be smug about, because later he goes down to the cell where Carys is being held (even knowing that the alien is producing intense sexual pheromones) and lets her strip him naked and steal his swipe card. Stupid boy.

Post-Watershed Moments: Carys fucks at least six men to death (two of them on on-camera; one of these instances gets caught on CCTV by a nightclub bouncer who's wanking off to the footage), snogs Gwen, and strips Owen naked. Jack kisses Carys to transfer some of his life-energy to her and makes a crack about how much better "the rest" will feel. And, once the alien has been caught and killed, Gwen kisses Jack, apparently out of gratitude. (Any excuse.)

Sticking To The Mission Statement: The episode starts off with Torchwood investigating an alien crash. The clearing-up of the subsequent mess could also be said to count, although it's really Gwen's fault that there was a mess in the first place.

Best Lines:

CARYS: I wish I'd never met you. I wish I was dead. No, I wish you were dead! Call me back.

OWEN: Didn't they teach you health & safety in the police?
GWEN: You two chucked tools at each other, so I --
OWEN: We didn't miss.

JACK [to postman Carys is seducing]: Put your trousers on and go. NOW! [postman scarpers] It always breaks my heart to say those words.

TOSH [seeing Gwen snogging Carys]: I thought she had a boyfriend?
JACK: You people and your quaint little categories!

OWEN: Period military is not the dress code of a straight man.

JACK [after Carys has killed her ex-boyfriend]: Lucky she's young. Work your way through my back catalogue, we'd be here till the sun explodes.

3: "Ghost Machine"

Written by: Helen Raynor
Also Starring: Gareth Thomas as Ed Morgan, Ben McKay as Bernie Harris

The One Where The Past Comes To Life. Here the show really comes into its own: this episode is taut, tense, clever and emotionally vivid, and adds some surprising layers to Owen's character. Blake's 7 fans will be pleased to see Gareth Thomas return to TV sci-fi, playing the rapist/murderer Ed Morgan, who comes to a sticky end, while Gwen's vision of a lost boy with a gas mask harks back to Doctor Who's "The Empty Child".

Cock-ups: Shouldn't Gwen use gloves when handling alien artefacts? The "ghost machine" could have been the detonator for a bomb, but her first instinct when she gets hold of it is to press the buttons.

Post-Watershed Moments: Owen re-lives a violent rape and murder. Jack teaches Gwen how to shoot using rather more full-body contact than is strictly necessary. While attempting to prevent the death of Bernie Harries, Gwen is accidentally responsible for the death of Ed Morgan, who runs onto the knife she is holding in her hand.

Sticking To The Mission Statement: Nice straightforward bit of alien-tech-investigation, though again they put the tech in question into the "not for use" drawer.

Best Lines:
JACK: This kid, Bernie, where does he live?
TOSH: Splott.
OWEN: Splott?!
IANTO: I believe estate agents pronounce it "Sploe".

[Shooting lesson]
GWEN: I don't even kill spiders in the bath!
JACK: Nor do I... not with a gun.

OWEN [to Ed Morgan]: Lizzie told her mother she'd be home at nine, didn't she? "Please don't," she said, "please!" "You're a bad one, Ed Morgan. The girls said not to go with you." And they were right!

4: "Cyberwoman"

Written by: Chris Chibnall
Also Starring: Caroline Chikezie as Lisa
Variant title: The Trouble With Lisa

The One Where Ianto's Girlfriend Is A Cyberwoman. After two fairly straightforward "formula" episodes, we depart into murkier and less predictable territory, as once again a member of Torchwood proves to have a dark and dangerous secret. But where Suzie's secret concerned her quest for more knowledge and more power, Ianto's is about love, which is why Ianto gets to come back. This episode veers between the unspeakably cool (a pterodactyl fighting a cyberwoman: that is the good crack) and the unbearably poignant. Ianto's been in denial for months about how far gone Lisa is, and when he finally realises that she's lost to him forever, you can almost hear his heart breaking.

Cock-ups: How long was Ianto keeping Lisa hidden in the basement? And nobody noticed? Mind you, I'm not sure whether this comes under the heading of "cock-ups" or "Ianto Is l33t". His level of quiet, unassuming competence becomes evident again in later episodes. However, it is undeniably foolish of Torchwood to have a security system that can lock them in for hours when it's drained of power, with only crude improvised backups to save them.

Post-Watershed Moments: Jack kisses Ianto to wake him up. No, that was not CPR. I know what CPR looks like, and it doesn't look like that. While Owen and Gwen are hiding from Lisa, they are subject to not one but two Fanfiction Clichés: being trapped in a confined space, plus threat of imminent death! Needless to say, snogging ensues, and because this is Torchwood, Gwen later remarks that she could feel Owen's hard-on. Also, there is Lisa's funky, if not particularly functional, metal bikini, which doesn't prevent her from killing Tanizaki, shocking Jack to death twice, punching out the pterodactyl while it's trying to eat her, or removing the brain of the pizza girl and transplanting her own brain into the pizza girl's body. Talk about a femme fatale. But none of this saves her from being shot multiple times by the entire Torchwood crew -- except Ianto, who points his gun at her but is too upset to fire.

Sticking To The Mission Statement: I suppose defending against the last remnant of the Cyberman invasion does count, though again I'm docking points from Torchwood for being responsible for the remnant's survival.

Best Lines:

JACK: You hid a Cyberman within Torchwood?! And you didn't tell us? What else are you keeping from us?
IANTO: Like you care. I clear up your shit. No questions asked and that's the way you like it. When did you last ask me anything about my life?

GWEN: What the hell was that?
OWEN: What?
GWEN: Snogging me!
OWEN: Last kiss for the condemned man! Little embarrassing given we haven't been killed. What? It's not like I fancy you or anything.
GWEN: I was on top of you. I could feel your hard-on.
OWEN: Yeah, well, you didn't exactly struggle, did you?

To be continued...

Other articles by Katherine F:
Torchwood: The Fangirls' Delight

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 11, 2007 2:04 PM

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