Torchwood Retrospective: Episodes 9-13
This is a guest column by Katherine F, and the third part of three.
We continue with the final part of Katherine's retrospective of Torchwood's first series:
9: "Random Shoes"Written by: Jacquetta May Also Starring: Paul Chequer as Eugene, Steven Meo as Josh, Celyn Jones as Gary Variant title: Invisible Eugene
The One Where Gwen Has A Dead Stalker. This episode is unpopular, perhaps more because of its odd placement in the sequence, disrupting the emotional arcs of the main characters, and because it reminded people of the even more unpopular Doctor Who episode "Love and Monsters", than because of its inherent qualities. Personally, I love bystander stories that give us an outsider's view of Our Heroes, so I was predisposed to like this episode. And I did: Eugene's naive and misguided optimism turns out not to be so misguided after all, as the alien eye gives him a second chance to understand his life and appreciate its preciousness. The upbeat ending is uncharacteristic of this show, and gives the episode a feeling of having been transplanted from Doctor Who. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Cock-ups: Not this time. Gwen is uncharacteristically competent in this episode; she's the only one who shows an interest in Eugene's case, and she does a very good job of investigating him, using the pictures of shoes on his mobile phone to identify the people he met on his last day alive.
Post-Watershed Moments: Another low-key episode; Eugene gets knocked over by a car, and that's about it.
Sticking To The Mission Statement: Torchwood investigate Eugene's death because he used to pester them, and when it looks like it was just a coincidence, Jack expects Gwen to give it up, until she brings up the eye.
JOSH: Eugene had "loser" written through him like Brighton in a stick of rock.
EUGENE: I'd trust you with my life! If, you know, I still had one.
EUGENE: The average life is full of near-misses and absolute hits, of great love and small disasters. It's made up of banana milkshakes, loft insulation, and random shoes. It's dead ordinary and truly, truly amazing. What you've got to realise is, it's all here now, so breathe deep and swallow it whole, because take it from me: life just whizzes by, and then all of a sudden it's --
10: "Out Of Time"
Written by: Catherine Tregenna
Also Starring: Louise Delamere as Diane, Mark Lewis Jones as John, Olivia Hallinan as Emma
The One With The People From 1953. Yes, this was an episode of Voyager once. But come on: any given concept that was used in Voyager could be given a better treatment by almost any other SF TV show. And this episode proves it: "Out Of Time" is slow and moody and has no action to speak of, but it's respectful to its characters and to the logic of their situation. There are no quick fixes or easy answers here: just three lost people trying to cope with a traumatic displacement. Surely even the stoniest hearts must be moved by John's meeting with his elderly son, so stricken with Alzheimer's disease that he can't even recognise his own father.
Cock-ups: Not really applicable to this situation, though Gwen could have tried harder to explain modern sexual practices to Emma -- on the other hand, given her own rather confused and confusing sex life, it's not surprising that she didn't do too well. Also, Jack would totally suck as a grief counsellor.
Post-Watershed Moments: Lots of Owen and Diane in bed together, both having sex and talking about it. We also see rather more of Gwen's boyfriend Rhys than anyone was bargaining for. John finds adjusting to the 21st century too difficult and commits suicide by breathing in car exhaust fumes, while Jack holds his hand.
Sticking To The Mission Statement: Not a bit of it. Torchwood are forced to be a sort of halfway house for these travellers stranded in a time not their own. They're not really trained for this sort of thing.
[supermarket door opens automatically]
DIANE: How did it do that?
IANTO: It's automatic. It knows you're there.
DIANE: But how?
IANTO: There are wave-bouncing detectors which emit high-frequency radio waves and then look for reflections --
DIANE [gasps]: Bananas!
IANTO: ...of course, bananas are far more interesting.
DIANE: Do you have a girlfriend?
DIANE: So who do all those beauty products belong to?
OWEN: Me, actually.
OWEN: Oy! Real men can moisturise too, you know.
OWEN: We could have an affair. We could be fuckbuddies.
DIANE: What's a fuckbuddy?
OWEN: It's a friend that you have casual sex with.
DIANE: There's nothing casual about what we just did! ...Sex shouldn't be devalued. Both parties should give it one hundred per cent concentration, because when you take off together, it's the next best thing to flying.
Written by: Noel Clarke
Also Starring: Alex Hassell as Mark Lynch
The One With The Weevils. The main premise is derived from Fight Club, of course, but is, if anything, more sinister and unpleasant than Fight Club: the men in the club are actually at risk of death and some of them deliberately let the Weevils kill them; and the men who organise the club don't know or care what the Weevils are or whether they feel any pain. Meanwhile, Owen falls into a downward spiral of misery, aggression and self-loathing, while Gwen, loses her moral compass and confesses to Rhys about her affair (after having dosed him with Retcon) in an attempt to clear her conscience. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
Cock-ups: Although the fake website Tosh puts together for Owen is hilarious and pretty convincing, it probably would have helped if the fake business they'd concocted had been to do with anything other than jellied eels.
Post-Watershed Moments: The Weevils are in a fighting mood (which is what comes of poking them with cattle prods): in the course of this episode, they slash Jack's chest, kill Dan Hodges and Mark Lynch and seriously injure another man. Lynch's sadistic treatment of the Weevil he keeps in his flat is distinctly unpleasant. Owen gets in a couple of fights in bars, since his usual pissiness is exacerbated by his having lost Diane.
Sticking To The Mission Statement: An odd reversal of their supposed mission, as Torchwood find themselves effectively defending Weevils from humans rather than vice versa.
[As Tosh and Jack are investigating a corpse, the Crazy Frog ringtone goes off]
TOSH: Is that his?
JACK: You don't think I'd choose that ringtone?
JACK [to Weevil]: Okay, Janet, time for a trip out.
TOSH: You call it Janet?
JACK: "Barbara" just never seemed right.
12: "Captain Jack Harkness"
Written by: Catherine Tregenna
Also Starring: Matt Rippy as the original Captain Jack Harkness (credited as "The Captain"), Murray Melvin as Bilis Manger
The One Where Jack & Tosh Go Back In Time. Heartbreakingly gorgeous and gorgeously heartbreaking, this episode combines a frantic and tense SF plot (leading into the next episode's finale) with an intensely moving meditation on love, war and mortality, as our Jack meets and bonds with the original Captain Jack Harkness, knowing he's going to die the next day, and urging him to seize life with both hands.
Cock-ups: Thanks to Bilis Manger's interference, Owen doesn't have the information to use the rift manipulator properly to bring Tosh and Jack back to the present day, but he doesn't let that stop him. Ianto shoots him in the shoulder in an attempt to prevent him (essentially) bringing about the end of the world, but it doesn't work. Should have aimed for the head, Ianto.
Post-Watershed Moments: As mentioned, Ianto shoots Owen in the shoulder (taunting him all the while about his relationship with Jack, which Owen seems to think is entirely one-sided); but the most harrowing moments come through dialogue, as the two Jacks Harkness exchange war stories. Between one thing and another, they form a close bond in a short time, culminating in a brief (and, to the 1940s people, shocking) dance and a lingering kiss. *sniff* It's all terribly sad.
Sticking To The Mission Statement: Tosh and Jack start the episode by investigating some odd temporal disturbances apparently relating to the rift.
TOSH: Why does that man have your name? I'm lost enough here without your holding out on me!
JACK: It's not my name. It's his. I took his. But I didn't realise he was so hot!
TOSH [chiding]: Jack!
JACK [serious]: I know too much.
TOSH: Then share.
JACK: You wouldn't want that, trust me.
JACK: I went to war when I was a boy. I was with my best friend. We got caught crossing the border over enemy lines. They tortured him because he was weaker. They made me watch him die. And they let me go.
THE CAPTAIN: Who were they?
JACK: The worst possible creatures you can imagine. I persuaded him to join up. I said it would be an adventure. He hadn't lived.
THE CAPTAIN: Have any of us?
IANTO: You need to let her go, like I did with Lisa.
OWEN: Don't compare yourself to me! You're just a teaboy.
IANTO: I'm much more than that. Jack needs me.
OWEN: In your dreams, Ianto. In your sad wet dreams when you're his part-time shag, maybe.
OWEN [sewing up the wound in his shoulder]: Good job you're a crap shot.
IANTO: I was aiming for your shoulder.
13: "End Of Days"
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Also Starring: Murray Melvin as Bilis Manger, Caroline Chikezie as Lisa, Louise Delamere as Diane, Tom Price as PC Andy
Variant title: Apocalypse
The One Where The Rift Opens. Well, Torchwood's first series certainly ended with a bang, didn't it? It's all rather Buffy-esque, and the enormous demonic beast unleashed on the world (or at least Cardiff) is both a bit incongruous with Torchwood's normal tone and rather too close to Doctor Who's beast (in "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit"), only without that beast's slow build-up of menace, which makes it feel like it came out of nowhere. However, the emotional beats are dead-on, with all the members of Torchwood struggling to keep up with a catastrophe on a scale beyond anything they've ever seen before, while they can't even keep together as a team. The coda, in which Jack expresses once more his desire to find "the right kind of doctor", and disappears to the sound of the TARDIS materialising, sets up Jack to appear in Series 3 of Doctor Who, and leaves the remaining Torchwood crew bereft and puzzled.
Cock-ups: Tensions are running higher than they ever have before -- and on this show, that really means something. The "oh no he didn't!" scene, when Jack brings out all the others' mistakes and indiscretions, is painful to watch -- did he really think that was going to change their minds? Mind you, opening the rift based on the advice of illusory dead people was a pretty bad idea, what with it unleashing the GIANT DEMON WITH SHADOW OF DEATH and all.
Post-Watershed Moments: Another shot of Rhys's bum, which Gwen likes a lot. (If you can get past the fact that until a couple of weeks ago she was screwing Owen on the side, her scenes with Rhys are really sweet.) Carriers of the Black Death slip through the rift and show up in a Cardiff hospital with really disgusting symptoms. Bilis Manger treats Gwen to a bloody vision of Rhys's violent death -- which he then brings about, despite Gwen's attempt to keep Rhys safe by locking him up in Torchwood's vaults. When the other Torchwood members decide to open the rift against his orders, Owen shoots Jack in the head, then shoots him twice more just to be sure. (It doesn't take.) And when the rift finally opens and Abaddon is released, it kills everyone touched by its shadow, up until Jack stands beneath it and lets it absorb his excess life force -- a painful process, by the looks of it. This time, Jack stays dead for days, while Gwen watches over his body and Ianto mournfully sniffs the collar of his coat; when he revives thanks to a kiss from Gwen, he hugs everyone on the team (even Owen, who to his credit is obviously repentant), and gives Ianto a quick kiss.
Sticking To The Mission Statement: Yet again, Torchwood spend most of the episode clearing up messes they made themselves. Seriously, rift or no rift, the world would be safer if they just closed the fuck down. Or killed Owen, since this is basically his fault. At least he seems to realise that he fucked up.
JACK: You people love any story that denies the randomness of existence.
GWEN: There's a Roman fort out at Gelligaer. Built around 75AD.
JACK: He was on his way, time splintered, he ends up here.
PC ANDY: Excuse me? Hi. Any time you feel like talking sense...
JACK: Under any other circumstances, an exuberant Roman soldier would be my idea of a perfect morning.
PC ANDY: Do you think this is the end of the world?
GWEN: Oh, Andy, don't be silly. Do you think the world's gonna end on your shift?
PC ANDY: I've seen you use that smile on a lot of people.
GWEN: What smile?
PC ANDY: The smile you use to reassure people when everything's gone to shit.
GWEN: There's something you can do, otherwise what's the FUCKING POINT OF YOU?!
Torchwood's first series has an air of having been cobbled together in a bit of a rush. Its highs are very high indeed, but its lows are excruciating -- and sometimes they come in the same episode. Tosh was criminally underused, as was Ianto, who kept providing tantalising hints of being something more than the simple clean-up-and-general-support agent he appeared to be -- hints that were never brought to fruition. The emotional arcs of the series weren't as consistent as they could have been, and the sci-fi devices didn't always make sense. Sometimes it didn't matter that they didn't make sense -- with "Small Worlds", for instance, the fairies fall into the category of "sufficiently advanced technology" and are basically magical. But when the big, pull-out-all-the-stops finale with a gigantic demon striding over Cardiff doesn't make sense, then you're in trouble.
All of that said, and despite many elements being derivative or unoriginal, there is nothing quite like Torchwood on TV. The show combines its sf/fantasy elements with a gritty, dark view of human life, satisfyingly twisted relationships, and a resolutely contemporary setting, without pulling any punches. On Torchwood, there's never any doubt that the gunshots hurt, or that lightly thrown insults mask deep, festering resentments. And despite the pat little formula that opens every episode, the show doesn't stick to a predictable format -- it's somewhat like its parent show in that respect, though with less obvious justification. Torchwood could be formulaic -- it could be essentially The X-Files in Cardiff -- but it isn't, and although some viewers have found this frustrating, I think it's the show's greatest strength. It keeps you guessing. It never lets you get comfortable.
There's room for improvement, sure. But if Torchwood's a mess, it's a glorious mess. Roll on series two...
Posted by Drew Shiel at January 15, 2007 2:09 PM