The regulars -
Everything Changes written by Russell T Davies and directed by Brian Kelly
Result: An awkward pilot and coupled with Day One on its opening night was almost enough to drive everybody away from Torchwood for good. I remember being quite miffed after watching 90 minutes of generally badly judged television and wondering how Russell T Davies could have got it so wrong. You only have to check out the rest of his oeuvre to see how this man has written some of the most sophisticated and honest adult drama to have hit the screens. His only New Adventure, Damaged Goods, was a cracking read and whilst it failed as a Doctor Who novel it was a brilliant piece of adult fiction with exceptional characterisation. When I heard Davies was going to be penning a new, grown up (I would debate whether Doctor Who is childish in it’s outlook but that is a debate for another time) I was salivating at the thought of him moulding a show that took all his creativity and mixed it with some developed characterisation and post-watershed themes. I thought it was going to be the greatest show on TV, mixing his penchant for children’s and adult drama. The truth is the result was an awkward fusion of the two that can never settle on a tone of maturity and juvenilia (and with all the sex, swearing and violence the two are treated as exactly the same thing). My real issue with Everything Changes isn’t the childishness of its nature but how none of the characters are especially likable. If Davies really is a fan of Joss Whedon’s work then he really hasn’t taken notes on his ability as creator of a agreeable company – Whedon’s gift is giving the audience a way in to an absurd premise like Buffy through hilarious, flawed but fundamentally decent characters. Davies in comparison fills his show to bursting with unpleasant people; morally bankrupt, egotistical, smug and self important. They aren’t people that you would want to spend any amount of time with and that is a real problem when you are trying to endorse a pilot for a longer series. Reports are that Torchwood was rushed into production and it pains me to say that it does show at times and the reaction of the production staff that perhaps they didn’t bring their A-game to the first series is understandable too. By trying to appeal to the trash brigade, sci/fi fans and a family audience it winds up missing all of it’s targets. So little of the pilot clicks into place as it should; the mystery is poorly introduced and wrapped up, the characters ill defined, the tone all over the place and the shock moments more laugh-out-loud than seat of the pants. The downer is the second episode is even worse. How something as accomplished as Children of Earth was born of this series perplexes me: 3/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/everything-changes-written-by-russell-t.html
Day One written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Brian Kelly
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/day-one-written-by-chris-chibnall-and.html
Ghost Machine written by Helen Raynor and directed by Colin Teague
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/ghost-machine-written-by-helen-raynor.html
Cyberwoman written Chris Chibnall and directed by James Strong
Result: Contrasting the first season of Torchwood and the first season of Sarah Jane is very worthwhile because one show is amateurishly childish whilst pretending to be adult and the other is surprisingly mature when it is trying to appeal to children. Cyberwoman demonstrates all my worst imaginings about Torchwood in 45 of the most painful minutes of television I have ever seen. It’s a stupid, illogical, violent, embarrassing, sleaze fest of an episode with no restraint at any point. The script feels as though it has been written by a teenage horny illiterate geek, there is no moment of sophistication or charm or relief. As far as I know this is the only time I will ever give this mark: 0/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/cyberwoman-written-chris-chibnall-and.html
Small Worlds written by PJ Hammond and directed by Alice Troughton
TO BE REVIEWED
Countrycide written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Andy Goddard
Result: Countrycide is a mini horror movie, brainless but very scary and very nasty. It is full of clichés of the genre but staged with such brutal clarity it transcends the stereotyped nature of the script and is ultimately a very effective and genuinely frightening slice of horror. The cannibal community is a ridiculous idea that they somehow manage to pull off with some of the most disturbing nasties around that deny any sense of closure to our heroes. Its interesting that it takes something this nasty to make us feel sorry for the regulars at this point, they are so vile themselves that it takes some even viler to revolt them. This wont be everybody’s cup of tea but as a huge fan of the genre I found it gripping, stylish and thoroughly enjoyable to watch: 8/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/countrycide-written-by-chris-chibnall.html
Greeks Bearing Gifts written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Colin Teague
TO BE REIVEWED...
They Keep Killing Suzie written byPaul Tomalin & Dan McCulloch and directed by James Strong
Result: Another season one disaster; a stupid, camp, specious mess of an episode that lacks any conviction or style. Its not a script that follows logical narrative progression but one that takes massive leaps, either ridiculous (bringing someone back from the dead to get the next clue, Suzie’s impossibly brainless plan) or so painfully simple its cringeworthy (the code that stops the Torchwood shutdown is an ISBN of Susie’s favourite book!). The Keep Killing Suzie leaps from one illogical set piece to another, drowning in melodramatic dialogue, abysmal characterisation (don’t get me started on that last scene again), lacking any kind of morality or decency of tone and slick with a depressing, moribund, almost unwatchable atmosphere. I’m not saying it’s not quite the nadir of televised drama (because that’s Cyberwoman) but if you had to point at something and say its as bad as TV gets at the moment my finger would be heading towards this episode. I remember when I first watched this with my hubbie and we were both on the verge of giving up on this terrible show that promised so much and had delivered so little. This was almost the last straw. Had Random Shoes not been as good as it was I doubt I would have continued to have had a relationship with Torchwood: 1/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/they-keep-killing-suzie-written-bypaul.html
Random Shoes written by Jacquetta May and directed by James Erskine
This story in a nutshell: Gwen investigates the death of a man whose dreams have all been shattered…
Jack’s Crew (Gwen): Its really interesting to see how outsiders look at the Torchwood crew since they look at them in precisely the same way as the audience, a bunch of selfish, narcissistic, ill moraled creeps. At least Gwen says hi to Eugene when he tries to contact Torchwood, all the rest just push him away and drive off. It almost feels as though Gwen is trying to make for how she treated Eugene and she responsibly wants to investigate his death even though all the others think it is a waste of time. Owen turns on her and shouts out that she thinks she is the only one with a heart – I’m really glad that somebody has pointed this out because it is true. Owen tries to convince that the rest of them are human as well but there is little evidence of that in the first season. Its really lovely that Gwen gets to her a romance with Eugene without even realising it, it doesn’t leave an ugly taste in my mouth like her fuck buddyness with Owen. Her reaction when Eugene saves her life is so perfectly performed it gives me goodebumps every time I see it.
Geeky Genius: Speaking as somebody who has disapointed his father and lost him because of it I found the scene where Eugene fudges up the maths contest on film with his father bellowing ‘Don’t let me down boy!’ deeply uncomfortable. Paul Chequer gives an outstanding performance in what turns out to be an unprecedented move in Torchwood, a character that is completely likable. Eugene is a dreamer, he looks to the stars to make his own dreary life more exciting which is honestly what a lot of us do but wont readily admit it. When Eugene comments that life can be such a let down and his discovery that his father isn’t the powerful man he thought he was but a complete failiure and that he wanted nothing to do with him I wondered if this script had been drawn from my experiences! He’s very keen on Gwen but cannot touch her which makes his quiet obsession all the more touching. The eye has given him the chance to look back on his life and see it for what it really was. He realises his dad wasn’t superman, just an ordinary bloke. His last message to the audience that life is amazing and that it flies by so quickly is even more magnificent than Elton’s summary in Love & Monsters.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All those cars. All those lives moving through space.’
‘The average life is full of near misses and absolute hits, of great love and small disasters. Its made up of banana milkshakes, loft insulation and random shoes. Its dead ordinary and truly, truly amazing. What you’ve got to realise is its 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 its…’
The Good Stuff: I absolutely love the juxtaposition of David Bowie’s Starman and our whizz through the solar system from the point of view of little Eugene. If there is a better example of a childs wonder at the universe (outside of a Paul Magrs book) I have yet to see it. The scenes of Eugene’s mum grieving are heartbreakingly observed and her line ‘that’s his tea, there’ is the most devastatingly normal thing a mother with a broken heart could say. There is a scene where Gwen visits the café and Eugene realises that someone that he sees everyday doesn’t even know who he is, that’s always an eye opener! Josh is such a vile bit of sleaze who is always looking out for himself regardless of anybody’s feelings and lacking charm or subtlety, I’ve met plenty of guys like him. Its funny that the two episodes where Gwen takes on a personal mission, Random Shoes and Adrift, are two of the most touching. I love the story of the eyes bids on ebay (the music is phenonmenal here)…its so good Psyhcoville nicked it for one of their funnier moments! The scenes where Eugene realises his friends have been preying on his desire to meet an alien and shatter his dreams so cruelly just to make some money are unbearable. Imagine if the last time you saw a friend they looked into your eyes and realised you had betrayed them? The funeral scene really chokes me up, its never overplayed sentimentality (like, say, the vomit indcuing excesses of Father’s Day), it just feels real. The last scene in Random Shoes is easily the most uplifting an eurphoric moment I have seen on television in a long time, I can watch it over and over and it will all make my eyes prickle.
Result: I was thinking of giving up on Torchwood and Random Shoes single handedly restored my faith in the series, at last producing something I considered to be exceptional drama. It dwells on the moments that make life worthwhile whilst at the same time exposing the utter banality of everyday living. The perormances are of an extremely high standing and Paul Chequer is far more likable and pleasant to watch than any of the Torchwood crew. Random Shoes is capable of moments of choking depth and making extraordinary comments on family life and obsession. So many emotions beats hit home for me in this gentle, heartfelt episode, easily one of Torchwood’s quietest efforts and one of the best. The ending never fails to make me want to hug the TV: 10/10
Out ot Time written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Alice Troughton
TO BE REVIEWED...
Combat written by Noel Clarke and directed by Andy Goddard
TO BE REVIEWED...
Captain Jack Harkness written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Ashley Way
This episode in a nutshell: We discover that Captain Jack Harkness is not his real name…and more besides.
Hunky Harkness: Excuse whilst I go on a little rant for a moment but why can’t Jack be written this perceptively on a more regular basis? If you tuned in to this episode you would be under the mistaken impression that this shows lead is a thoughtful, delicate, awkward fellow that makes tough decisions of the heart. Anybody who has seen the first season of Torchwood will tell you that this is exception rather than the rule but that doesn’t take anything away from what this episode achieves and that is to make Jack likable for the first time since the series began. That’s one miracle, the other is that they managed to pull of a gay romance without once ever making it feel sensationalist or gratuitous. Colour me impressed. But more on that later…
Jack stole the real Jack Harkness’ name, he knows too much about his future and he doesn’t want to share. Being back in the 1940’s is like a nostalgia trip for him, almost a school reunion! Who was he before he took his false name? Isn’t it wonderful how sexy, flirty, confident Jack Harkness becomes a shy, awkward teenager again when he falls for somebody that he has an emotional connection with. Lets give John Barrowman plenty of credit where it’s due, he makes the scenes between the two Jack’s anguishing. He sends Jack after Nancy to kiss her goodbye, a sweet, selfless gesture despite how it clearly hurts him. A Captain has to explain the risks and tell his men what to expect. Jack was forced to watch his best friend be tortured by the worst creatures imaginable – it is unusual to hear him opening up about his past, he must really care about his the other Jack. The look on his face when Jack tells him he is scared to fight is regret; he has fallen for him now he has admitted how he is really feeling. When they lock fingers and pull apart awkwardly when people walk past it would take the most cynical person not to will them to be brave enough to show their feelings publicly. Jack admits to Tosh that Rose brought him back from death and ever since he feels as though he is alive for a reason and he’s still trying to find out what. The moment Jack finally asks our Jack for his hand on the dance floor and they hold each other, aching to be together with Tosh watching on proudly is one of those winding emotional moments that Torchwood can achieve that no other show can. They look at each other with such longing. I love how Jack has no witty quips, doesn’t pull out a gun once or hurt anybody throughout this episode, he leaves the story a broken man who has lost another love and it’s heartbreaking.
Jack’s Crew: What a fantastic episode this is for Toshiko! After a season of wafting around like a bad smell and not really connecting with the action (except for the uneven Greek Bearing Gifts) we finally get some really interesting material for Tosh. Her Grandfather is 88 today and she’s off to party! Jack grabs her and dances her around the derelict dancehall in an unexpectedly intimate moment. I love how Jack treats this all as a jolly adventure but Tosh is genuinely scared that they will be trapped in the 1940’s and she has a life that she wants to get back to. She awkwardly dances with a squaddie and Jack has to step in to protect her honour. She is terrified of what will happen to her after Pearl Harbour despite Jack’s promises to protect her. It is Tosh that drags Jack back to the 21st Century telling him that they need him. It’s not a pairing I would have thought of but Jack and Tosh have surprising chemistry. The power games between Owen and Ianto are great, at least initially as they give the former a reality check and the latter something to do at last! They insult each others failed romances, Ianto turned to Jack for solace but Owen is still bleeding. Owen describes Ianto’s way as safe and boring. Owen and Gwen only share two lines but they are loaded with tension and regret. You have to cheer when Ianto puts a bullet in Owen’s shoulder, he really is pig headed in this episode. Once we get to Fragments in series two his actions here become much more understandable, not wanting to lose another love.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ll look after you but there’s nothing I can do for him.’
‘It was wartime but it was beautiful.’
The Good Stuff: A temporal shift to the 1940’s, Torchwood has dragged characters from the past to the present effectively and it pulls kicking our regulars into the past with just as much style. ‘Why is George dancing with a Jap?’ – I really liked the inclusion of the bullish, intolerant blond showing that beneath the veneer racism was running rife. Scenes of Gwen hearing the dance music in the deserted dance hall is pure Sapphire and Steel. Who guessed the title was referring to the real Captain Jack Harkness? Bilis Manger was the best villain of the first season (he is great but his competition was a sex alien, fairies, a Cyberwoman, a rapist, Suzie and a bunch of inbred cannibals!), he is effete, delicate and very sinister, his piercing eyes bite right through you. How he appears in both time zones feels as though he is haunting the building. Another moment of unspoken feelings comes when Jack awkwardly handles his trophy girlfriend, you can’t help but feel sorry for Nancy who he doesn’t say I love you to before returning to Jack. Tosh sending the details to help them forward in time, written in her own blood, is a gorgeous idea. White Cliffs of Dover is sung in an air raid shelter as young boys lose their virginity before heading off to war, this episode oozes period atmosphere. I like the gentler moments like Jack looking over at our Jack as he tells Tosh about his death.
The Bad Stuff: What a shame the Ianto/Owen testosterone match grinds up to such hysterical levels, it would have been a flawless episode otherwise.
The Shallow Bit: Ianto looks as handsome as he has ever been in his red wine shit and waistcoat. Matt Rippy manages to be rugged and gentle, he’s absolutely gorgeous. Is this the most anticipated kiss between two men?
Result: Reading my reviews of Random Shoes and Captain Jack Harkness might lead you to believe I have no issues with the first season of Torchwood. Nothing could be further from the truth but they are two exceptional diamonds amongst a whole heap of rough. It interests me that my three favourite episodes of Torchwood’s first year are all written by women (Ghost Machine is the other one) and Cath Treganna mixes war and romance to shattering effect. Captain Jack Harkness might dress itself up as a time travel tale but it’s really a tender chance romance between Jack Harkness and the man who stole his name. John Barrowman gives his best performance of the season and shares passionate chemistry with Matt Rippy, their scenes together enchanting. I’m glad we got to see more of Bilis Manger since he is the first Torchwood villain to really impress. The episode looks gorgeous and even has the time to perk up forgotten character Toshiko. Rift opening hysterics aside, this is a blisteringly good episode: 9/10
End of Days written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way
This story in a nutshell: All hell breaks loose in Cardiff…
Hunky Hero: Jack proves that he might not be the best guy for the job when Ianto discovers the answer as to why this chaos is being brewed up right on the nail and his lover tells him to shut up. If I were Ianto I would have said ‘ner ner ne ner ner’ or something of that kind when the danger was over. His management skills leave a lot to be desired too in general when Gwen tries to tell him that even Owen has feelings his dry retort is ‘well you would know’ like a jealous lover. Rule one – when the shit hits the fan you need to try and whip your team into as effective a unit as possible to deal with the crisis and not prey on their insecurities and start pointing the finger. To top off this glorious example of retarded middle management Jack declares that he cannot stop this threat and publicly humiliates Owen in front of all of his colleagues. Is Jack going for the ‘boss of the year’ award? John Barrowman is hilariously bad when he kicks Owen out of Torchwood, taking hammy to a whole new level. I love the fact that Jack grabs a hold of Gwen’s hand and half heartedly tells her that of course Rhys isn’t going to die and then a second later the entire base is bleached in the same red as her homicidal vision. Even dramatic irony is working against him. All the in fighting comes to a head when the Mickey Mouse Torchwood team are sick of Jack standing around posturing impotently and decide to take matters into their own hands. They have basically come to the same conclusion as me that he is a terrible boss and needs to be put down like Old Yeller. When he can’t get his own way he pulls a gun on his staff and threatens to murder them all and starts dissecting all their personality faults. As you do. In hysterical Torchwood fashion Jack finally steps into action by kneeling before the Abaddon like Jesus before the Devil and pours a white light into his ass and kills him. Its all so subtle I can barely perceive what is happening. Jack has been so neutered and perverted as a character it was going to take a massive intervention to try and get him back on track again so the final scene where we hear the TARDIS materialising nearby (tying in with the series three episode Utopia) it offers a glimmer of hope for the guy.
Welsh Babe: Its really nice to open this episode with Gwen watching Rhys sleep contentedly after the roller coaster cheat ride she has been on in season one. Gwen was supposed to be our audience identification character on this show but Davies did some quite perverse in making her more unlikable as the show continued, cheating on her long suffering boyfriend with an absolute asshole. It came to a point where Gwen was literally wretching up snot and tears over pizza on her own in order to connect to the audience and come to terms with what she has done and now we are at the other side of her affair where she has decided that she does love Rhys and wants to make a proper go at it with him. This whole affair malarkey leaves a really bad taste in the mouth as far as Gwen is concerned and in the future when they get married and have a baby it leaves a black cloud just on the horizon of these happy events. I don’t know if Davies thought it would make the character more interesting if she was as promiscuous as the rest of them or whether everybody has to be deeply flawed on this show but it was probably the biggest mistake the show made. Thankfully they seem ready to forget the whole sorry affair and so are we. Gwen has a smile that she uses to try and reassure people that everything is fine even though everything has actually gone to shit and that’s how Andy knows that her talk about time cracks is real. Clearly Gwen knows she is in a science fiction show because when Rhys is killed she starts suggesting they resurrect him with alien technology or that they head back in time to stop it ever occurring. Whilst its nice to know she has picked up something from her job its hardly the most stable response from somebody who has just lost their other half. When the tears do finally come its in true Torchwood style – she flings herself at Jack cussing and swearing and batters his chest as she wails like an out of control banshee. That’s a bit more realistic but without an inch of restraint it leaves Eve Myles looking like a right nana. Gwen moons over Jack’s corpse for an age after the events of the episode come to a head obviously forgetting that in the heat of the moment she threw the praise-worthy insult ‘what’s the fucking point of you?’ at him during the climax.
Dashing Doctor: Finally Owen is accountable for his out of control behaviour and attitude and he looks scared shitless at the fact. Jack has no compunction about protecting him and lays the blame directly on his doorstep. Owen is literally having palpitations as he braces himself to leave Torchwood for the last time – I can’t say that I’ve ever had that much trouble leaving a job. Owen pumps bullets into Jack because ‘he’s sick of people doubting him.’ What the hell were the psychological evaluation team doing during the Torchwood interview process? This is the man who is entrusted with powerful alien technology?
Eye Candy: I’m always happy for a show to add depth to their current episodes by referencing the past except when the past episode mentioned is Cyberwoman. Don’t do it again. We don’t need to have our memory’s refreshed that Torchwood was dishing out such ineptitude in its opening episodes.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I can see the whole of history but I don’t exist anywhere within it…’ – Billis Manger remains far more interesting than anything else in this episode.
- Finally we get a good idea of what a danger the Rift could be to the world and there are number of gorgeous Sapphire and Steel-esque horrors that burst from its recently opened maw and threaten the planet. Cue all the devastatingly epic scenes you would imagine from a finale from a show created by Russell T Davies – UFOs hovering over the Taj Mahal, Roundheads on the streets of London firing on the police, Romans hacking and slashing in Penarth and a general stir of panic and talk of the ‘end of days.’ It’s a great dramatic start for an episode that promises an awful lot. Whilst it has a touch of Army of Ghosts about it there is a simple visual of the spider web of time fractures bleeding out from the Rift that points the finger directly at Torchwood (specifically Owen) being responsible for all of this madness.
- Billis Manger was such an interesting character in Captain Jack Harkness precisely because he was so ambiguous (and menacingly camp which really marked him out as something a bit different) and it is definitely a point in this episodes favour that he returned so soon. Operating a horologists shop in Cardiff is a lovely touch and it would have been lovely if this character could have become a recurring menace for the Torchwood team. When he pops off into time to the sound of a ticking clock I was hoping that was going to be the last we saw of him until his next mysterious visit but alas his story on television was to end here. He had a future in a Gary Russell novel but that’s a fate no character worth this much deserves.
- The best thing this episode has to offer is the technical ability of its production team. I wont blame Ashley Way for the over dramatic script he is being asked to bring to life (he did a marvellous job with Captain Jack Harkness) and he does the best with what he is given. Whilst Rhys’ death might be dramatically vacant it is exquisitely filmed in a throbbing blood red light. When the conclusion threatens to tip the Earth into hell Way is on the ball offering slow motion savagery from the Weevils, screaming Romans and shattering windows. Its this imagery that sticks in the mind far more than the narrative itself.
- There is a beat of character that rings true at the end. I’m not sure that I buy everybody falling into Jack’s arms as soon as he is resurrected but when Owen breaks down in his arms I actually felt something for one of these characters for the first time in 45 minutes. Angel pulled off a similar trick with the character of Faith in the episode Five by Five when she had committed such terrible acts she breaks down in Angel’s arms and begs for forgiveness. One of the advantages of taking Owen to such ridiculous extremes is that his redemption begins here and it is genuinely affecting.
- In typical Torchwood fashion it is a case of ‘why have one really good threat when you can have a hundred barely dealt with ones?’ Roman soldiers on the streets would have been iconic had we seen some kind of pitch battle or an episode watching Owen trying to tackle the Black Death which is spreading around the world. Bigger isn’t always better but this episode keeps assaulting the viewer with more and more dangers until now of them seem to matter any more because the whole situation is unmanageable. You know that because things have become so out of control that there is going to be one great big reset button (on loan from Star Trek Voyager) that will make all of this go away. My personal favourite season finale for all of the NuWho seasons is The Big Bang because it doesn’t try and be as epic as possible but instead looks inwards at the season that has preceded it and focuses tightly on the characters. End of Days is the antithesis of that – a loud, insane, resource stretching blockbuster that is trying to bring Armageddon to Wales in as epic a way as it can possibly manage on a TV budget. Let’s hope they calm it all down a bit at the end of season two. Appropriately enough the most memorable ending to a Torchwood season is the advent of the death of a child – something as simple as that.
- When absolutely anything can happen like Tosh getting a cryptic ghostly message from her mother (what the hell was all that about?) and Billis Manger turning up and vanishing randomly nothing seems to matter. There doesn’t seem to be a plot in place but a random selection of things that happen that our heroes (and I use that term loosely at this point) react to.
- Owen asks what will happen when a disease from the future comes through that they don’t know how to handle. Its always a shame when an idea is touted as a throwaway line that would make a better episode than the one you are watching. I can see an escalating threat when a disease strikes that allows the human race to exploit their psychic abilities with Miracle Day style handling of the concept with big business trying to exploit people, people realising their abilities (telekinesis, telepathy…) in unexpected ways, children attacking their parents, etc, etc…
- ‘Who the fuck are you anyway?’ What precisely does the swear word bring to that sentence?
- Unbelievably the world is literally being torn apart by something that has emanated from Torchwood and instead of trying to deal with the problem they all stand around in the Hub screaming at each of histrionically and dealing with a HR issue! I can’t think why nobody found this organisation credible in their first year!
- I honestly do not understand why halfway through the episode Chibnall is introducing yet more dangers for the team to deal with. Suddenly the focus is away from the historical horrors that are striking the Earth and we are focussing entirely on the death of Rhys. Ultimately this turns out to mean nothing at all because the big fat red reset button is pushed so its inclusion baffles me. Time wasting shocks that have no substance aren’t clever. Besides, since Gwen saw Rhys dead in both the flat and at the Hub in her vision why did she taser him and take him from one location to the other? Surely the best thing to do would be to get him out of town altogether? This is the second time Rhys has been told the truth about Torchwood and the second time that that information has been wiped from his brain. Considering he finds out for good in four episodes time anyway what is the point of these constant rehearsals. By the time we reach Meat its lost its shock value. More to the point why does Billis Manger kill Rhys? Because he’s a villain and that’s what they do? To make sure the vision he gave Gwen came true? Because this is an end of season finale and that’s the sort of thing you expect to happen? Since we never see Billis again I guess you can choose one of the above for yourself.
- I’m not certain why Davies chose to go down such a positive route for Doctor Who and the Sarah Jane Adventures (both shows suggest that there are wondrous adventures to be had out in space and on Earth and a wealth of goodies to discover) and such a negative one with Torchwood (if you join this organisation you are going to wind up alone, depressed, memory wiped or dead. Usually dead). Its not even as if the latter one is the more realistic approach, its just bringing the audience down for the sake of it. Why the hell would anybody want to join Torchwood?
- ‘From out of the darkness he is come! The sound of the great beast! Cast out before time, chained in rock and imprisoned beneath the Rift…’ All hail Abaddon! The giant CGI monstrosity that looks about as convincing as the Loch Ness Monster and the invasion of the dinosaurs did in the day. Its not just that the effects are clearly not up to scratch or that this is practically a final nail in the coffin of Torchwood’s credibility to put something this ridiculous as its end of season threat. Oh no. Its that he has never been mentioned before or since, we learn sod all about him and he is dispatched as simply as swatting a fly. He’s a big grey roaring joke of a monster that comes from nowhere and goes back to nowhere. Its just another untidy element thrown into an untidy script. What makes me laugh more than anything is the focus on the road sweeper who stares up in horror and takes about five seconds to react and run away!
- All those climactic dangers that were so important in the early scenes are just whisked away like nothing ever happened. How satisfying!
The Shallow Bit: Rhys wobbles his considerable backside at Gwen in the first scene! Well this is Torchwood after all!
Result: Tone it down a bit Torchwood! Just because this is supposed to be a end of season spectacular it doesn’t mean that everything has to be turned up to a factor of 100! There is so much thrown at you in End of Days that halfway through the episode my brain just switched off and stopped taking it all in and it wasn’t helped that the characterisation of the regulars (which was started to come together since Random Shoes) is at its all time worst here. Jack is the worst offender who proves himself to be a terrible leader and bad friend but they get a moment to make you cringe. Clearly the cast have been given the finale pep talk and told how to give end of season performances so everybody is screaming (Eve Myles’ ‘Rhhhhhhyyyssssss!’ as she rushes to save him deserves an award) and pulling deadly serious poses and really focussing on their devastating reaction shots – the net result is a team of regulars that you cannot take seriously for a second. The fact that the episode promotes a wealth of dangers in its opening scenes and then proceeds to ignore them all in favour of in fighting amongst the characters goes to show that Chibnall does not have the writing chops to pull of such an important episode. That the ultimate threat from the Rift is a giant unconvincing CGI monster was enough to convince a friend of mine’s husband that he was never going to watch this show again. Torchwood survived its first series and whilst I don’t want to be too hard on a show that has produced episodes as good as Ghost Machine, Random Shoes, Out of Time and Captain Jack Harkness somebody desperately needed to take a good, long look at this show and iron out its manifold of problems. The primary one is epitomised by this episode which is that it is too too…too busy, too hysterical, too graphic, too lurid and too morally bankrupt. Restraint simply does not exist in the world of Torchwood. Pulling back a bit from some of these extremes would make this series (and certainly this episode) a far more enjoyable experience: 3/10
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way
This story in a nutshell: Introducing Captain John!
Hunky Hero: Jack is punished by his team for abandoning them at the end of End of Days (he’s been off having the adventures with the Doctor and Martha against the Master in Utopia/The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords) leaving his Mickey Mouse organisation to cope without him. Its what I’ve been saying all along…they are much more organised and sophisticated a unit without him! Jack is eager to make John’s acquaintance as soon as he realises he is in town and their shared history is summed up in how they can’t keep their hands off each other, kick the shit out of each other and then share a drink. He and John were partners in every sense of the word and as nothing could ever be simple for Jack they were stuck in a time loop so their relationship stretched to five years rather than the two weeks it actually was. Yeah, before Simon I had relationships that felt like that. When Gwen is selfishly whining on about being deserted I would have thrown in a comment that I had helped save the world (and incidentally her life) from Harold Saxon and told her to stop going on like a kid who has been dragged from a sweet shop empty handed. His time with the Doctor facing the end of the world has reminded him that he belongs with this group of people (it must have been especially tough if this is the better alternative). Barrowman doesn’t quite have the subtlety to pull this scene off, he should stick to lip locking and trading insults with Marsters because that’s where he looks most comfortable. When he is spectacularly thrown off a building Jack even manages to land in an over the top way.
Jack’s Crew: Gwen has a little paddy about Jack abandoning them and completely failing to notice how well they have coped without him. She and the whole team are frustrated with his evasiveness but seem to think it is more fun when he is around. Fun? Are you kidding me? They were ankle deep in corpses and spunk last year! There is a lovely moment where Jack starts getting frisky with Gwen (is there no such thing as personal space in Torchwood?) and discovers her engagement ring that puts a stop to all that. Or so you would think…she admits that she said yes because ‘no one else would have me’ which is just about the worst note to start a marriage on. How comes Gwen ran the team whilst Jack was away considering she is the most naïve and the least experienced? That’s probably the Torchwood employment policy! She was clearly going to say ‘tell Jack I love him’ just before she was about to sacrifice herself to the rift – after letting Owen bone her and now having an affair of the heart with her boss its any wonder she has any time left for the only man who will ever truly love her. If I were Rhys I’d move on to somebody worthwhile.
When we cut to Owen and Tosh in the storage locker I was shocked because I had forgotten they existed! When he asks ‘what are we doing with our lives?’ my first thought was ‘what lives?’ When they trimmed the fat out of the show and excised these two characters (despite losing a perfomer as strong as Burn Gorman) it is telling that the next season was the series’ peak.
Despite a couple of rounds of hide the sausage last year you could hardly say that Jack and Ianto got their relationship off to a solid start. Jack vanishes for an age and when he shows up again he snogs another man (not to mention his namesake last year)…and then he asks Ianto out on a date. And Ianto says yes! Clearly trust issues are not an issue in Torchwood and there is an open door policy (ewww) when it comes to relationships. Its not something that I can buy into so until I see some mutual respect and commitment between these two it isn’t a relationship of any sort that I recognise.
When the four of them were all inside the same storage container I was screaming at Jack & John to lock the lot of them in and throw away the key.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Torchwood!’ ‘Not Excalibur?’ – John wonderfully takes the piss out of our team name by suggesting something even more outrageous!
‘You live in the sculpture? Could you be any more pretentious?’ – John continues to sound like one of my reviews…
‘This is the entrance for tourists’ ‘I can remember the last time you said that.’
‘You take the roof. You’re good on roofs.’
· James Marsters’ Captain John really works although in a way he is just as ridiculous a character as Jack is. But that’s part of the reason why he does work so I’m not criticising. The reason all of the villains failed to make an impact in the first season is because they were either too earnest (Mary in Greeks Bearing Gifts), too dour (Susie), too unbelievable (Lisa in Cyberwoman…brrr!) or too ambiguous (the sex alien in Day One). Its why the best episodes for me were Ghost Machine, Random Shoes and Captain Jack Harkness because they didn’t even try to have villains, they just got on with telling a good story. Okay the last episode there had Billis Manger but he was mostly shrouded in mystery and was kept in the background so at that stage he was just an intriguing character rather than somebody who was openly opposing the team (when they tried to shoehorn him into a villainous role in End of Days he failed to work as a character on any level). The thing about John is that he is big, bold, daft, sexy and completely lacking in morality and trading his success on his charm offensive. He’s basically Jack but evil (or at least enigmatic which is much more fun when you are dealing with a villain – too often they try and make Jack ambiguous as a character which completely de-stabilises the show and leaves it without a hero) which gives him someone as equally improbable to bounce off of. When they are on screen together it feels as if the nonsensical characteristics of both of them cancel each other out and what is left is something genuinely sexy and witty for a change (‘I worked my way up through the ranks!’ ‘I bet the ranks were very grateful!’). Marsters’ plays the role with an eyebrow squarely arched at the audience which is a relief after the cringeworthy earnestness of some of the performances last year (when the show is this ridiculous you cannot take it too seriously as an actor – Eve Myles was made to look like a right pudding in much of series one because she reacted with such deadly solemnity to so many outlandish situations) and he shares great chemistry with Barrowman. When these two are together Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sings. Because they are such preposterous characters naturally the first thing they do when they meet is stick their tongues down each others throats and then beat each other up – it’s the only way two such over the top characters can say hello! The camera clearly loves him and when he is around it glides around him practically in slow motion like a fashion shoot ensuring he is given adequate coverage. His ‘help me Obi Won Kenobi’ was spot on funny. What’s really strange is that Captain John wouldn’t work in any other show…without the equally daft Captain Jack to compliment him he would feel hammy but these two orbiting each other like a pair of outrageously monstrous planets means he is right at home in big, daft Torchwood. Naturally Captain John has weapons stashed everywhere about his person except up his arse (although I bet he’s got some tucked away up there as well and is just waiting for an examination).
· Its nice to see somebody else from the Time Agency turn up but it also appears that we wont ever see much of this organisation as we are informed that it was shut down. It was such an odd backstory for Jack because in the four years and multitude of episodes nobody exploited the missing year/time agency angle that Steven Moffatt built into the character. When it clearly had a lot of potential. Oh well, let’s revel in this little snippet and the arrival of John which paints in a little more colour and detail to Jack’s history.
· ‘By the way…I found Grey’ is the dramatic punchline to this episode. Is this Jack’s son? Brother? Lover? Who knows but it at least shows willing that this series is going to tie some of Jack’s personal history into an arc. If the pay off isn’t great (Exit Wounds is a bit of a mess aside from one or two very powerful moments), the build up is at least tantalising.
· The pre titles sequence with the blowfish allowing the little old lady cross the road is emblematic of the embarrassing childishness of early Torchwood and how they got the tone so very wrong on the whole. Could you imagine this ridiculous scene turning up in either Children of Earth or Miracle Day? There’s actually a similar scene in the Sarah Jane Adventures where a Judoon waits at a traffic light after tearing the door of a police car which is much, much funnier and fits the tone of the series with much more alacrity. This is just odd…and does actually have much to do with anything. As an opener to the second series it seems to say ‘we’re back…and sillier than ever!’ The dialogue isn’t witty enough and the situation isn’t plausible or fun…although I think all three of these are supposed to be in evidence! The SUV looks more dafter than ever chasing a fish in a sports car around Welsh housing estates (I’m not sure if that sentence has ever been written before…or ever should be again) and tossing into the scene a man covered in blood and the suggestion that the ridiculous looking alien is smacked out on cocaine is such a discordant clash of the adult and the childish I was completely out of my comfort zone at the sort of tone Chibnall was looking for here. Then the giant, walking halibut opened its mouth and out came those cultured, aristocratic tones and he kindly spells out the character spec of each of the regulars…I’m at a loss for words, I really am. This really is television for morons.
· The scene where John forces himself on Gwen is filmed like the beginnings of a rape scene and is uncomfortably surrounded by the silliness of the rest of this nonsense.
· It’s when Chibnall tries to add some depth to the Jack/John relationship when it doesn’t work (‘he wont stay with you…he and I shared something…’) because it is two people who are all about sex, wit and violence trying to pretend they are about something more. Its why John’s return at the end of the season is nowhere near as effective because Chibnall pushes that angle too far and it loses all of its sparkle.
· Its not a great sign of the strength of a series when it offers up the suggestion of something far more interesting and I start dreaming of that instead. John suggests that Jack ditches the rest of Torchwood like the rotten baggage they are and they head off into time to have adventures. I would much rather watch that show! ‘The glitter of the galaxy…the mischief we could make’ is a much better tagline for a series than ‘the 21st century is where it all happens…and you gotta be ready!’
· When the team rush to save Gwen’s life the music is a direct steal from the dreadful Cyberwoman episode when Gwen was strapped to the Cyber-conversion table. I’m sorry but anything that reminds me of that season one disaster is counterproductive.
· John’s into bestiality too? There really is nothing subtle about this show, is there? Lusting after a poodle isn’t funny, its just a bit tasteless.
· Once this episode is over you realise that this entire instalment has been about introducing John and allowing for his ominous portent at the conclusion. What a waste of 45 minutes! After superabundant plots last year it feels like a massive step back to yank a narrative away from the series opener and focus on character vignettes alone. Especially when there is only one character worth investing in and he’s not even a regular. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is ultimately some funny lines, a bit of flirting, a few sketchy lines of backstory filled in and a lot of wandering around a very dull location. What’s especially interesting is that the whole diamond/bomb plot did not require the Torchwood crew in the slightest, it would have played out in exactly the same way for John wherever he went. When your regulars are completely superfluous to the seasons introductory episode you are in trouble.
The Shallow Bit: Speaking as somebody who has lusted after James Marsters’ cheekbones throughout the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I have to say it is something of a dream come true to see him enjoying some guy on guy action. To say that I didn’t have a raging boner during the scene where they snog would be a big fat lie. Its also one of the few times that Torchwood presents a gay sex scene that doesn’t feel gratuitous (the other for me is the kiss between the two Jack’s in Captain Jack Harkness because that was rather the point of the episode and also the Jack/Angelo romance which also was the beating heart of Immortal Sins) because it is steeped in the history of the characters rather than just being shoehorned in. Ianto’s sudden conversion to homosexuality in They Keep Killing Susie was embarrassing, their sex scene in the office in Adrift is completely out of place and that godawful moment in Rendition when Jack just goes off shagging without a condom because you can’t be killed by AIDS anymore throws back gay morality about 50 years. However you feel a genuine connection between Jack and John here which is actually bolstered by their intimacy rather than spoilt by it. And as I say getting to see James Marsters lip locking with another guy is hardly something I would object to.
Result: When it is focussing on Captain John, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is excellent because he is such a perfect fit for Torchwood as a baddie with his witty one liners, amoral sexuality and penchant for violence. He is a microcosm for everything that is twisted about this show and played with delicious playfulness by James Marsters his scenes really made me smile. Unfortunately concentrating so much on introducing this character leaves us without much of a plot or a point to this episode and the slack is made up with by horrendous scenes like the blowfish in a sports car, Gwen paralysed by lipstick and fake diamonds. As soon as we move away from the charisma and wit of the Jack/John interaction it is a shocking reminder of how tedious and mismatched the rest of the regulars are and how their vacuous characters flounder when they don’t have anything to do. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is such a discordant mixture of the very good and the very bad that it epitomises Torchwood rather well and if like a Chinese takeaway it is tasty but lacks any substance whatsoever at least it is entertaining whilst it is on unlike much of last years offerings. Far from an inspiring start to the second year but fun in places, the show really couldn’t have survived another year of episodes like this: 5/10
Sleeper written by James Moran and directed by Colin Teague
The Torchwood Crew: I’m going to be pretty harsh here but I would like it put on record that I think that the Torchwood characters can all work very well when injected with a little humour and humility as the best episodes prove. However there seems to be this incessant need to make this team as cool as possible which usually has the reverse effect. They drive around in that ridiculously camp SUV and leap from the car in slow motion wearing sunnies and barging in on police investigators with a holier than thou attitude. You just want to slap some manners into them and I don’t think the creators of this show have thought things through so well when terrible things happen to the characters and you think karma. Things would improve dramatically throughout the second season, the inclusion of Martha, a wake up call for Owen and a fantastic peek at how they joined the team filling out their backgrounds beautifully.
Jack’s bullying tactics don’t sit at all well with me – Gwen’s gentler approach seems to get so much more results! Besides John Barrowman makes an unconvincing bully. The only moment of charm for his character in this whole episode is where he offers somebody he doesn’t like a shag. Why is Gwen the only person on this whole team who seems to feel anything for people? The rest of them are all like robots just plot mechanics with no opinions or charm (Owen has to die in order to scrape some sort of character out of his big ball of hate). Ianto has gone from having zero personality in the first season to being insufferably smug in series two – pretty much every time he opened his mouth in this episode made me want to rip his face off and I really missed the days when I thought of him as ‘welsh bloke’. Fortunately Gareth David-Lloyd performance would improve and the writing for Ianto would get much better as the season progressed.
Terrifying Dialogue: ‘Lets all have sex’ ‘And I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse’ Yep that’s about as good as things get here.
The Good Stuff: Bet’s first view of the Hub manages to be a moment of magic in the paceless, dull first fifteen minutes. The Weevil is scared of Beth and her skin breaks needles and scalpels. Sleeper agents are an old idea but a very intoxicating one and these ones infiltrate planets, gather information and wait to take over. I really do like the Hub set, its full of quirky details. Suddenly the episode kicks into gear as the sleeper agents activate (the music is especially good) and the idea is chillingly realised but this really should have been the first scene, not halfway through the episode. Patrick Grainger being murdered in front of his family is utterly horrific. The high street explosion is so accomplished it looks as though it could be a terror attack. There are lots of hints that there are more sleeper agents about and I hope we get to see the actual invasion – it’s got to be better than this!
The Bad Stuff: The teaser is really quite scary but the idea is sabotaged by scary burglars with funny welsh accents and some shy direction which doesn’t show you anything. The zooms over Wales between scenes are supposed to be really hip but they just remind me of the spinning cuts between scenes in 60’s Batman. One Ianto really is shockingly unfunny and rude (his electric chair impression could be the nadir of his character or the moment he declares ‘Nobody knows more than I do!’ I really don’t like the idea that our heroes are torturing people in private even if they are mass murdering aliens, its surprisingly tasteless. Why did they have to have the baby being hit by the car? There’s no subtlety in any of this! The episode keeps cutting back to the ultra tedious Beth – this is one alien invasion I don’t want to have a human face – I just want some bloody action! Beth stabbing her boyfriend and the hysterics that ensue are hilarious – Torchwood tries so hard to be dramatic and serious and ends up being screamingly pious. This is one show that needs to lighten up. Jack runs down the alien sleeper and then pumps it full of lead; what a messy, bloody, charmless conclusion. It bugs me because episodes such as Out of Time, Random Shoes, Captain Jack Harkness, Reset, Dead Mans Walking, Fragments and Children of Earth prove that this show can be the best thing on television. Why should we give a toss about Beth’s sacrifice, she hasn’t been given a character, we’ve never seen her before, we’ll never see her again.
The Shallow Bit: I really fancy Owen. I’m not sure why.
Result: What an incredibly dull way to approach an alien invasion story, attempting to squeeze in some humanity into an episode that should throw punches from its first scene. Sleeper shocks into life halfway through promising an exciting take over but it all turns out to be false promises, a lame prelude to an invasion that never happened. The dialogue lacks finesse, the characterisation of the regulars is lifeless, Torchwood at its best is gripping television but at it’s worst (like Sleeper) it is as bad as it gets. I cannot believe this came from the pen of the same writer that gave us the superlative Fires of Pompeii in series four of Doctor Who: 3/10
To The Last Man written by Helen Raynor and directed by Andy Goddard
Hunky Hero: Jack gives a brilliant and completely comprehensible explanation of what is going on with time by using nothing but his imagination and a piece of paper. Raynor should give Steven Moffat some lessons in how to articulate ideas in an elementary way. Jack admits in a quiet moment that he left home many years ago and he doesn't really know where he belongs. He's not even sure that it matters any more. Isn't John Barrowman great when he gets to underplay?
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Once a year for you, it's every day for me.'
'It seems like there's always a war somewhere...'
'The War to End All Wars, they said. And then three weeks later they had the Second World War' - what an inspired piece of dialogue.
Foreboding: There is a thread running through this season highlighting that fact that most Torchwood employees die young. It's excellent forewarning for the dramatic events of the finale and a memorable assassination in Children of Earth.
Result: The Time Traveller's Wife, Torchwood style with some decent frights thrown in for good measure. Some writers are perfectly suited to some shows and a complete mismatch with others. Helen Raynor's Doctor Who contributions have hardly gone down in history as fan favourites, she seems to understand the ethos of the show without being able to tie her ideas to a satisfying narrative. Whereas her two Torchwood scripts were highlights of the first two seasons, stories with simple but heady ideas and plenty of genuine emotional content that have been vital for the audience to get close to some of the harder to understand characters. One of the lesser writers on one show and one the strongest on another. Obviously Torchwood plays to her strengths and exposes how she has matured as a writer. She includes a sweet romance for Tosh, a time bending plot that manages to tie itself up in a very satisfying way, the creepiest abandoned hospital I have visited for some time and lots of lovely character touches that remind us that the Torchwood crew can be presented as people and not grotesques. Naoko Mori isn't the world's finest actress but she does well with this material, she plays the meek and mousy Toshiko very charmingly when the writer remembers to balance her intelligence with sensitivity. Tosh and Tommy have lovely chemistry and their relationship doesn't boil down to the usual Torchwood schlock of hard-ons, cheating and rampant sex. It's just two very sweet people who have found each other through the strangest of means. To the Last Man works because it employs that little seen ingredient in Torchwood: subtlety. The character drama, the scares and the science fiction concepts are all delicately balanced and never swollen beyond their means resulting in a sophisticated piece and the first sign that season two is learning its lessons from the best and the worst of the debut year: 8/10
Meat written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Colin Teague
Meat written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Colin Teague
Hunky Hero: Cue the gratuitous 'have you ever eaten alien meat?' gag and Jack's predictable answer. Rhys has a real distrust of Jack which is borne out a natural reaction to his mistreatment of his wife. I can't wait to see how this develops. There aren't many people that would stand up to Jack but Rhys is such a convincing bruiser that I could see him damaging that pretty face of his. How nice to see Jack showing some real pity and helping out just because it is the right thing to do. Perhaps his sojourn with the Doctor and Martha has done him some good.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'What is this - Scooby Doo?' - You've been a part of Torchwood for over a year now, Gwen. That's exactly what this is. Scooby Doo with oral sex.
'Tell us how we are going to use it to arm ourselves against the future?' 'We could always hide behind it.'
'I used to look up and think - looks like rain, man. But now I'll look up and think of all the other worlds and planets...'
Adam written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Andy Goddard
Hunky Hero: After two episodes where Jack is more or less underwritten, John Barrowman struggles with the melodrama inherent in this episode. He doesn't look convincing rushing to Gwen's house to save her or leaping from the sewers after suffering a claustrophobic attack. Barrowman is such a large personality anyway that it is only when he is written delicately that his characters truly shines. Moments of frenzy see the actor going madly over the top and provokes laughter. Jack buried the memories of his brother being killed over 150 years ago. It's nice to probe a little deeper into this characters past. Never before have we had the opportunity to look further back than the point where the Time Agency stole a year of his life. His 'history' usually consists of his slow stroll through the 20th Century. In the 51st Century, the Boeshane Peninsula lived under the threat of invasion. We never learn what the screaming creatures are but they sound absolutely terrifying.
Welsh Babe: There is a clever use of before (Gwen and Rhys playing about on the bed) and after (Gwen thinking that Rhys is a stalker and coming at him with a knife and a gun) to highlight how dramatic the alterations in memory are. Rhys wondering whether Jack is trying to phase him out of Gwen's life is a fair comment, especially after he almost suffered a memory wipe in the previous episode. It does descend into a little too much hysteria for my tastes though. Rhys fears that if Gwen forgets him now what with everything else that is going on in her life that she wouldn't look twice at him. This is a chance for Gwen re-discover their relationship and it would be a great time to put to rest those wandering eyes of hers.
Brainiac: 'Just what I need, a small rodent looking at me while I work...' Within his fiction, Adam and Tosh have been enjoying a work romance on and off, sharing the odd kiss when nobody is looking. She's dressing up for him and is more confident for his presence. In this jiggled up format Toshiko is the insensitive one, not aware of Owen's feelings for her. That's a smart role reversal.
The Butler: 'My hands on her throat...and it felt so good.' Giving Ianto memories of murdering a woman is a vicious reaction on Adam's part to being exposed. It gives Gareth David-Lloyd the chance to play something really meaty that isn't associated with an ex-girlfriend turned Cyberwoman. This new nightmarish version of Ianto stalks women at night down rainy alleys and slaughters them. It doesn't measure up with Ianto's sense of self and the resulting confusion causes his brain to meltdown in the most disturbing of ways. Ianto screaming in the rain-soaked alley is one of the most disturbing things I have seen in the show to date, going for the psychological jugular.
The Good: Dropping Adam into the team almost invisibly is hard act to pull off but Catherine Treganna manages to pull it off by having the rest of Torchwood simply behave as though he has always been there. Including clips of him in the credits is inspired. For somebody switching onto this show for the first time they would be completely fooled into thinking this is the status quo...at least until the episode starts pointing out otherwise. Frankly Adam fits in better with the gang at the beginning of this episode than half of the actual team did for the majority of the first year. Quick edits show how Adama infiltrates peoples memories when they don't recognise him, slipping himself into their timelines as though he has always been there. Bryan Dick approaches the part of Adam quite cunningly, almost inconspicuous in his portrayal until the script chooses to point him out. If the character had been written and played as the most vital, wonderful member of the team his infiltration might have been too extreme but instead he exists as an amiable, functioning member of Torchwood. Not drawing too much attention to himself. I'm not sure if Dick is the strongest actor the show has ever featured (when he has to play an out and out baddie he doesn't convince) but he does very well within this insidious but cautious role. Kudos to the effects team for the memorable image of the Boeshane Peninsula, a cuboid habitation just off the coast. If you can't trust your memory then Treganna needs proof of Adam's penetration into Torchwood and Ianto's diary is a smart way of pointing out his recent arrival. He's a vampire, feeding himself on peoples memories to make space for himself. As long as people believe that he exists, it is so. The group therapy session should be the height of embarrassment but Treganna uses it as an opportunity to drop in lots of nuggets of information about the regulars (Owen's mum loved him but didn't like him, Tosh finds maths so reliable when so little in the world is, Ianto remembers falling in love and losing Lisa, Gwen admitting her feelings for Jack) and the director shoots it in a genuinely hypnotic manner. It is a chance for them to get close to each other just as we get close to them. For once there is plenty of physical closeness on this show but it is all affection. I've never been entirely convinced by the ret-con as a plot device but Treganna has finally found a decent use for it, using it delete the last 48 hours and wiping Adam from their minds. I love Adam's last ditch attempt to plant himself in Jack's childhood. It was always going to happen but Jack can't resist one last peek at his family regardless. Who could blame him? Having all the characters aware of the loss of the last 48 hours at the end of the episode but not being able to figure out why is a great reversal of the Red Dwarf episode Thanks for the Memory that plays the same trick in reverse. This time the memory loss is part of the solution, in Red Dwarf it was the mystery that kick started the episode.
Foreshadowing: Jack has a flash of an image of Grey, his brother, which could be excused as being part and parcel of the Adam experience but is actually an important moment in his past that is about to effect his near future. At first I wondered if it was supposed to be a younger Adam incorporated into his timeline. Inserting in these images of Gray in an episode where everybody's memories are altered is a great way of slipping them in under the radar.
Result: Clever, imaginative and probing, if a little too hysterical for my tastes at times. What I really like about Adam is how it manages to tell a smart standalone story whilst also being a fine ensemble piece, giving all of the regulars a reasonable share of the action and a journey of their own to go on. It is a great chance to mix things up and show different shades of the same characters. Ianto is psychologically unstable rather than the stalwart butler of old, Owen has embraced his inner geek and is far more personable as a result and Toshiko has had some confidence injected into her thanks to a long term relationship with Adam. In all of these cases the characters are more exaggerated and yet intriguingly more enjoyable as a result (although it is surprisingly how unlikable Tosh is with a little assurance). By giving the characters a fiction to live and allowing them to re-discover themselves it gives us a chance to get to know them all a little better and for them to get closer to each other too. The memory vampire is an inspired notion and one that is done full justice in Adam. The titular character is fascinating and it might have been interesting to have seen his inclusion in several episodes before highlighting and dealing with his infiltration. I thought Burn Gorman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd really brought their A-game this week but the work of John Barrowman, Naoko Mori and Bryan Dick was mixed, stumbling when the script pushed too hard. A strong story that is confidently brought to life by Andy Goddard, Adam only suffers when it strays into the Torchwood extremes of feverishness. It is those moments that keep it from being a classic but it is courageous and ingenious storytelling regardless. None of the last three episodes has been perfect but it has been a string of very good instalments nonetheless, marking a level of consistent storytelling the show hasn't yet experienced: 8/10
Reset written by J.C. Wilsher and directed by Ashley Way
This story in a nutshell: Martha joins Torchwood!
Hunky Harkness: What has happened to Jack? Martha coming to Torchwood has an astonishing effect on the usually surly, violent and unpredictable head of the organisation – suddenly he is bursting with charm, cracking jokes and very personable. I like him much more this way! He is still struggling to conquer his shyness, it’s the jaw line; once seen, never forgotten! There’s a scene in this episode where Jack tells Professor Copley that Torchwood usually goes where it likes – typical Torchwood bullying tactics and Jack basically gets told to go and jump with the backing of Whitehall! Jack says he has had a bad experience with a politician of late and he doesn’t really listen to Whitehall any more but that doesn’t stop him retreating with his tail tucked between his legs! He would rely on Martha if the world was ending and in fact he has. I did smirk when Jack suggested he was once intimate with Chris Isherwood especially since Matt Smith has just been seen playing the role! Its great to see Jack with a conscience, considering the treatment the aliens are getting at the Pharm tantamount to slavery although it does rather jar because this sort of thing was exactly his style in the first series.
Marvellous Martha: Freema Agyeman attacks this material with typically high levels of enthusiasm but she really scores on making the leap to Torchwood by showing just how much Martha has grown up since leaving the Doctor. She’s now the chief medical officer for UNIT since she was highly recommended for the role by an impeccable source. She is now a full-blown Doctor; specialised, professional and detached. Once the introductory scenes are out of the way you would think that Martha had been a part of the Torchwood team since the beginning she fits in so effortlessly. Martha sometimes misses the Doctor but then she comes to her senses and remembers that she made the choice to leave him. She puts herself forward as a test subject for the Pharm reminding Jack that she has been in far worse places. As a human being who has travelled in time and space she now has a unique immune system and manages to stay alive longer than any of the other test subjects incubating the insect larvae.
Jack’s Gang: Gwen and Martha must be the only two ladies in the world who haven’t ridden the Harkness bike! It’s wonderful to watch Owen and Martha working together, they dance around the laboratory doing all the sciencey bits smiling and grooving to some great music (even Owen is happy which is what we call in the trade a minor miracle!). Owen is a huge fan of Professor Copley and his research helped him to pass his exams so it is ironic that had should be the one to pull the trigger and end his life. Jack and Ianto dabble as the latter discreetly puts it and Mr Harkness is innovative and borders on the avant-garde. Tosh is quietly jealous of how well Martha and Owen are getting on and shyly asks him out on a date to which he surprises us all by saying yes. Isn’t it astonishing how much more likable these guys are in their second year? Everybody seems to be showing the right amounts of concern for one another and there seems to be some real effort going into their development.
The Good Stuff: Bringing Martha to Torchwood is a fantastic idea, it only strengthens the bond between this show and Doctor Who and that can only be a good thing when Torchwood is still finding its feet. UNIT are described as the acceptable face of intelligence gathering on aliens. Owen scaring the shit out of Ianto with his surgical scalpel is really funny (Gareth David-Lloyd’s reaction is priceless0. Reset cures diabetes and AIDS, an alien larvae incubating inside human bodies and creating the ultimate magic bullet, restoring the body to its factory settings. The bugs spewing from Marie’s corpse is a wonderful shock moment – who saw that coming? Alan Dale brings some gruffness and seriousness to what could have been quite a forgettable role as Copley. I really want some of those camera contact lenses with the texting capability! How awesome are they? Having the team typing to Martha as she is infiltrating is a great way to create tension. The camera rushes along the corridor to where the guards are approaching Martha – there is some very inventive camera shots in this episode. The giant bug shows how sophisticated the CGI in this show can be when they give it the appropriate amount of time (I seem to remember this being held back slightly to make it as good as possible whereas series one was rushed out and we had effects as lame as the troll fairies in Small Worlds). Maybe the police should all use Weevils as an intimidation method during interrogations? I screamed out loud at the exploding gut – eww! The final set piece has been set up very well with the previous stomach bursting scene and Owen’s inability to work the surgical scalpel which leaves Owen desperately trying to get it right as Martha’s stomach bulges disturbingly a very tense climax! You really feel for the capture Mayfly, forgetting that it is a special effect as Gwen presses her hand against the glass in sympathy for its torture. So often people are shot at it these programmes and are better again in the next scene so trust Torchwood to do it for real and really kill off Owen. They manages to have their cake and eat it – keeping him dead and letting him play a major role in the rest of the season. I was hungry to watch the next episode after the final shocking twist.
Result: Reset is a packed episode that handles all of its elements with poise and a whole lot of style. Martha slips effortlessly into the Torchwood team and they are all working together extremely well here – it’s a brand new style of amiability and co-operation amongst the regulars that is extremely welcome. Then you’ve got intriguing medical breakthroughs, industrial espionage, awesome giant bugs and even a gross out exploding stomach! Ashley Way’s handling of the episode is avant-garde, its one priceless moment after another and the pace is extraordinary. My one complaint is that the story could have done with 15 minutes more to explore its ideas more but that is not a luxury afforded to Torchwood so we get a rushed ending that still hits all the right notes. A stylish thriller a perfect demonstration of the shows growing confidence, this was exactly the sort of episode they were fudging in the first series: 9/10
Dead Man Walking written by Matt Jones and directed by Andy Goddard
What’s it about: Owen wakes up from the dead…
Hunky Hero: John Barrowman hasn’t quite mastered the gift of understatement and leaps onto the scene of Owen’s autopsy (which oddly the rest of gang have gathered around to watch) screaming ‘Stop! Nobody touches him until I get back!’ Calm down dear. I get that Jack wants to be able to say goodbye to Owen but seeking out the glove once again proves how dangerous these people are messing around with the natural order. When it turns out he brought him back for the code to the alien morgue it makes him seem more heartless than ever. Jack date Proust for a while and he was really immature.
Dark Doctor: Imagine being woken up from the dead and being told you have two minutes left to live? What on Earth would you fill your last two minutes with? Owen getting up and feeling for his own heartbeat and finding none there must be chilling. Is the a difference between a dead man walking and Death itself? Sleeping, drinking and shagging are his three favourite things and he can’t do any of them anymore and so he would rather sacrifice himself than continue dying like this. This is pretty surface characterisation in comparison to what comes in the next episode.
Jack’s Crew: Tosh takes the opportunity to tell Owen that she loves him and she always has which makes his continued consciousness…awkward. Clearly Tosh does love Owen but he makes it easy for her by telling her that she didn’t actually mean what she said and she was just trying to cope with her grief.
Martha is desperate to know what is beyond death and as a woman of medicine I can understand the need to understand it. She demands to know why Jack had the power to bring back the dead and didn’t share it with UNIT.
Sparkling Dialogue: Is it still necrophilia if I’m conscious?’ – the usual Torchwood sleaze talk given a dark imaginative yank.
‘My hunger will know no bounds but I keep getting redirected to Weight Watchers!’
The Good: Either they junked a real church or they built a massive façade of one in the studio but either way that is an extremely impressive set for only a few minutes of footage. Love Jack tippy toeing through the Weevils that are using the church as a squat. I’m glad that the writer mentions the events of They Keep Killing Suzie because they are remarkably similar. Something in the darkness beyond death waiting for you…that is a terrifying idea. I love the idea of Owen and Jack being jealous of each other because one might have seconds to live and the other has forever. The Weevil make up continues to impress and their supplication before Owen is effective. Something from the other side of death using Owen as a gateway to Earth, another scary concept. Owen puking out the black gas is a pretty stomach churning effect. Oddly the most affecting scene comes when Tosh lives up to her clichéd nature and screams at Owen as he closes a door between them and he heads off to give Death a bop on the nose.
The Bad: Just when the episode is playing it subtlety for a change with the chilling sequences of Owen trapped in the dark void it drops a clanger when he returns to the Hub with the campest black contacts I have ever seen – they’re huge. The direction of the scenes when Owen is wobbling all over Cardiff nightlife is distracting in an embarrassing way. This episode is trying to too hard. We could really have done without the scene where Owen fails to get a stiffy because he no longer has blood running through his veins. Jack and Owen fighting and screaming in the nightclub is symptomatic of this episodes penchant for overdone melodrama. Puking up his beer upside down and farting in the cell – I was starting to lose the will to live at this point. ‘I’m going to miss farting! And sex!’ ‘Sex more than farting I hope’ – typically bull in a china shop dialogue from Torchwood. Fortunately when Owen turned evil for a few seconds he looked straight at the CCTV cameras. Did they not think that killing off Owen twice earlier in the season might blunt his actual death in the finale? The rampaging Ressurection glove is more funny than it is scary but everybody plays the scene with deadly earnestness which makes it even more funny. There are two more examples of ‘we’re Torchwood so do as we say’ in this episode which makes you want them to fail…frankly the destruction of the Hub and their massive egos in Children of Earth cannot come soon enough. Bloody skeletons in the hospital beds – this episode has really missed the subtlety bus! Spare me the scenes of the young leukaemia patient alone in the hospital being pursued by Death and who reminds Owen that life is worth living! Rather awkwardly the living embodiment of Death seems to be a CGI skeleton that really needs to give up smoking. Owen waltzing with Death (I’m not exaggerating, it actually looks as though they are dancing together!) is really, really funny and I truly don’t think that that was the reaction they were aiming for. Martha gets a magical reset, Star Trek Voyager style, by the end of the episode so her ageing lasts one scene and makes me wonder what the point was!
Result: The weaker of the two episodes dealing with Owen’s sudden death, Dead Man Walking is a silly and unsubtle piece for the most part with the odd moment of potency. Basically Owen discovers that he can no longer have sex and so decides to see his death through before having a fight with a manifestation of Death itself, neither of which convinces in the slightest. Jack screams and shouts, Gwen can’t stop crying and Tosh hangs onto her one character thread offering moon eyes at Owen from a distance. Oh and Martha’s there but completely wasted in her second appearance. After running on the spot for half an hour the episode tries to throw in a couple of surprises in the last handful of scenes and wastes the idea of Martha ageing and death stalking a hospital because there isn’t the time to explore them. The episode tries all manner of creepy tricks to suggest the wrongness of Owen’s return but the result is an unrestrained and embarrassing affair. To see how this sort of thing should be done with sensitivity, imagination and real character insight stick around for Joe Lidster’s A Day in the Death: 3/10
A Day in the Death written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Andy Goddard
Dangerous Doctor: 'I'm made of glass...' The finest study of Owen Harper in his time on the show bar none, A Day in the Death opens with an impressive montage that reveals the drama, heartache and development that the character has already been through. Imagine experiencing death and yet not being able to rest? That is the premise for this episode, now that Owen has come to terms with the fact that he met his maker in the previous episode. He's still living the same life but he's not feeling anything and he is surrounded by people who eat and sleep and love and (ironically enough) it is killing him inside. He's no longer a member of the Torchwood team but a subject for study, relived of his position in favour of Martha Jones. Jack couldn't have just let Owen go during this troubling adjustment period, instead turns him into the coffee boy in Ianto's stead. If Owen hurts himself no he wont feel it but he will be stuck with the scars. Bruises wont heal, bones wont mend...he's fragile. That's a nice way of having to calm the character down and force him to live a quieter life. Owen shows the appropriate concern for Parker, something that was entirely absent from his character is the first series. It took him to die for him to start acting like a human being. The episode tries to convince you that this is Owen's swansong and offers a dry run of the parting of Owen and Tosh, a scene that is surprisingly affecting an would be even more so come Exit Wounds when it is played out for real. Owen is scared that if he closes his eyes he will be trapped in the darkness but recognises that he has friends around him now who will be his light. Especially Tosh.
Jack's Crew: Has there been a simmering tension between Ianto and Owen that I haven't been aware of? Owen mentions how far the previous butler has come on in the past year, always out on missions and sleeping with their boss, but I think that is all said in the heat of anger rather than being rooted in anything long term. Ianto stands up for himself, talking about his relationship with Jack proudly when it is dismissed as something of a fad. I can't decide whether Tosh turning up and asking whether she can eat when Owen cannot indulge in any pleasures of the flesh is insensitive or not. Given how he has treated her on occasion it is probably karma. It is long past time the two of them discussed their unrequited love and Owen considers this the perfect time given that he is now safely off the menu. He goes hell for leather, pointing out Tosh's insecurities and her obsession with him, questioning her choice and trying to push her away. As I have said before when she is shoehorned into the role of a victim Tosh really comes into her own and Mori's doe-eyed reaction to this onslaught might just break your heart.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Just because we're both planning on jumping it doesn't mean we have some kind of special connection.'
'I'm Doctor Owen Harper and I'm having one hell of a day.'
Result: 'You get to live forever...I get to die forever.' A superb character drama that never resorts to cheap tricks to make its impact. I remain convinced that Burn Gorman is the strongest member of the early ensemble and when he is given the appropriate character material to play he runs with it and never looks back. My problem is that he was characterised appallingly at times, often seen to be a complete bastard with no redeeming features. In series two the creators went out of their way to change that and turn his reputation around and come episodes such as Reset, A Day in the Death, Fragments and Exit Wounds he has been completely revolutionised. Russell T. Davies mentioned in The Writers Tale that the TV Skins put its main character through hell in the second series in order to force the audience to connect with him and Torchwood does precisely the same thing with Owen, making the same mistakes and jumping through the same hoops to rectify it. Owen had to die and live on for us to get close to him but in the examination of that macabre notion, Joe Lidster makes many profound points about life and pushes Torchwood into new areas of sophistication with the themes it can explore. Pretty much every member of Torchwood is dead inside anyway (as would be revealed in Fragments in one way or another) so it strikes me as perfectly natural that they should actualise that physically with two of the characters. A Day in the Death doesn't have the usual overload of plot and extreme content but instead chooses to examine its regulars and use the device of Owen's immortality to expose how things have shaken up the team. Like Adam, things are different because of this and the development that the team is experiencing in the second year is phenomenal. They might even be a functioning unit by the end of their second year. Gorman excels and there is a terrific support from Richard Briers and Christine Bottomley and director Andy Goddard deserve a round of applause for shooting this elegant episode with real artistry. What a shame that Lidster wouldn't write for Torchwood again. Their loss was SJA's gain: 9/10
Something Borrowed written by Phil Ford and directed by Ashley Way
What’s it about: On the morning of Gwen’s wedding she wakes up heavily pregnant…
Hunky Hero: Proving his sexual loyalties to be divided he moves from Gwen to Ianto on the dance floor. Daring to publicly expose his love for Gwen is just wrong and hanging onto Ianto but pining after Mrs Williams makes it look as though the butler is jut a stopgap. Either way Jack comes off looking like a right bastard.
Welsh Babe: This is the week that Gwen is getting married so naturally something terrifying and otherworldly had to befall her. Heaven forbid this show attempted a straight drama at any point! Mind you Gwen’s reaction to her massive stomach is perfectly timed by Eve Myles so for once it’s a gag that is given some time to brew and is pulled off with surprising success. Personally given the amount of flirting (and we’re talking about the eye locking equivalent of dry humping) that Gwen and Jack have done over the past season and a half she doesn’t deserve to be tying the knot with somebody as fabulous as Rhys. Beyond watching the film Alien and panicking a great deal can you even imagine the psychological ramifications of having a giant alien egg incubating inside your stomach? Did I just write that sentence? I feel sorry for Gwen’s father having the knowledge of Torchwood dumped upon him on her wedding day. Surely there was a better time to have this conversation? Gwen and Rhys’ assembled guests comes to no more than 30…surely they know more people than that? Unbelievably Gwen looks shocked (but not in an unpleasant way) when Jack lives up to the cliché and comes rushing in to stop the wedding – was she hoping he would whisk in and sweep her off her feet? What a cow. I think it is supposed to be a boost for his ego Gwen’s speech about Rhys being the only man who is willing to marry her when the possibility of being impregnated by an alien exists makes it sound as though she has settled on the one man daft enough to see past all of her flaws. Of which there are many. The scene between Jack and Gwen in front of the mirror made me feel physically sick – how could she say those things to somebody else on her wedding day? She’s the sort of woman that gives marriage a bad name. Had it been Gwen who was the zombie I could forgive them but as usual the heroine of Torchwood is proven to be morally corrupt. It doesn’t matter that Gwen and Rhys get married and are smiling all over because this episode has proven that her heart is still alienated. Wouldn’t it have been nice if just for once this show could make an expression of monogamous love? Jack and Gwen are so apparently obsessed with each other they even have a moment together on the dance floor in front of all the assembled wedding guests. The idea seems to be that this is the two of them looking longingly into each others eyes for one last time before she heads off to her husband and never looks back. But all that should have been tied up long before the wedding. Its not bittersweet, it adds a touch of dirtiness to the proceedings. And that’s annoying when this could have been really heart-warming stuff.
Big Softie: Entirely selfless to a point, Rhys doesn’t care how much money they have poured into the wedding because he just wants to make sure that his bride is safe.
Jack’s Gang: Owen admits that weddings aren’t really for him but I think the truth might be that he finds it awkward being around Rhys given he was screwing his bride just one year earlier. He would do well to keep his distance, if only to maintain a modicum of respect. Tosh might be as dull as dishwater (is dishwater really that dull?) because any character who is as nice as she is isn’t exactly going to set the screen on fire but the writers have latched onto a sense of forlorn sadness that she will forever be a spinster in season two that does make you feel for her. Whilst she is congratulating Gwen on her wedding day there is a bitter sentiment behind the smile. I rather like that.
The Good: The zombie attacks are very nicely directed, the film sped up to give it a real sense of frenzied violence. Gwen’s mum and dad (with understated performances from Sharon Morgan & William Thomas) are so damn normal. I was half expecting them to be as wild and melodramatic as their daughter. Nerys Hughes turning up was a surprise (can you imagine more ideal casting for Rhys’ mother?) and the unspoken rivalry between the two sets of parents is beautifully observed. The gag of the alien baby acting like a ticking time bomb that threatens to go off during the ceremony provides a number of moments that are both tense and funny – not the easiest of combinations to pull off. Bodies with guts ripped out discovered, a zombie attacking the wedding party and leaping through a window, Gwen packing a gun away in her bouquet and blowing away a zombie version of the mother in law - just a normal day in the life for Torchwood! Its all completely gaga but for once that’s okay because this is a comedy so everything being turned up to madness factor ten is expected, rather than a nasty surprise. Jack screaming ‘get back you ugly bitch!’ at Rhys’ mother shouldn’t be funny but it really is. The alien scalpel has been well established earlier in the season as being about as reliable as a chocolate teacup which makes Rhys’ attempts to cut free the alien baby at the climax very anxious.
The Bad: Most shows would open on a sexy and stylish night club to introduce Gwen’s hen do but not Torchwood. As if to accentuate that Wales isn’t a hip place to hang out we wind up in a cheesy wine bar with a tiny dance floor with a wealth of middle aged women grooving their thing to some pretty horrendous music. Yes this is sexy stuff. Upon closer inspection the make up for the pregnant stomach is decidedly rubbery looking. Talk about immaculate conception – how could anybody (least of all those who saw her only the night before) buy into the idea that Gwen has suddenly fallen heavily pregnant overnight? Its one thing to ask the cast of Torchwood to believe in these truly bizarre concepts (like the many sex-obsessed aliens out there) but quite another to expect the periphery (let’s say ‘normal’) characters to do so as well. Its exactly the same venue that Sarah Jane had her (almost) wedding at but I better not start comparing the two shows again because it might expose my favouritism between one show and the other (hint – look at which section of the review this sentence is in). I realise her hormones are unbalanced but Gwen telling her father that the baby isn’t Rhys’ is one of the stupidest things she has ever done. Are they saving money for something spectacular at the end of the season because Tosh and Banana Boat are bonded together in what looks like a web of black refuse sacks. Rhys going at his zombie mother with a chainsaw is insane, almost as crazy as Jack blowing her up with a gun the size of Wales.
The Shallow Bit: A lot of sentences in these Torchwood reviews start with ‘only Torchwood would…’ Only Torchwood would have one of the grooms guests seduced, have his hairy blamange of a gut exposed as a gorgeous babe kisses him all over and then have said babe turn into a zombie and literally eat into him. Bleugh. Although it is odd for Torchwood to shy away from the guts on display as it does here. Don’t tell me this show is developing a sense of good taste?
Foreboding: Did the handling of Gwen’s pregnancy here encourage Russell T Davies to have her experience the real thing in the next season?
Result: A Torchwood comedy? Aren’t they all? Actually there is something enjoyably Shaun of the Dead about this black comedy featuring zombies crashing Gwen’s wedding that helps it to pass muster. My only real complaint is the lack of subtlety in any respect (which can be found even in the best of zombie features, especially The Walking Dead) but then why change the habit of a lifetime when that is this shows modus operandi? I’ve noticed that I write these Torchwood reviews with a really sarcastic tone but in many ways I think that is the only way you can approach a show that happily features a bloodbath on the lead characters wedding day and turns the mother in law into a slavering zombie. Phil Ford’s record is decidedly schizophrenic; he’s the meat and potatoes writer on Sarah Jane, occasionally producing magic but more often than not turning out solid, if unspectacular scripts that are buoyed by confident directors and his one joint credit on Doctor Who is perhaps one of the strongest ever adventures since the series returned (The Waters of Mars). I had no idea what to expect from his Torchwood scribblings and to his credit he has tried to do something very different and quirky whilst still remaining focused on a tone that is undeniably Torchwood. The pregnancy storyline defies belief but there are some fun moments along the way (especially involving the duelling parents) although the dialogue is nowhere near as witty or clever as it should be for a wedding episode. Everything bubbles along quite understatedly for the first 30 minutes (or as understated as an episode with this premise can possibly be) but all hell breaks loose before the end and soon we are back in madder than a box of frogs Torchwood territory. Above average Torchwood, which makes this pretty middling television for any other show: 6/10
From Out of the Rain written by PJ Hammond and directed by Jonathan Fox Bassett
Hunky Hero: Hammond is the one writer that really likes to drive home the fact that Jack has lived through the entire 20th Century, it seems to be an idea that really excites him as it features in both of his episodes. Shots of him in his skimpy underwear working in a circus as the man who cannot die are divine, fully justifying the idea. It is in these glimpses of Jack's past that he is at his most interesting in the show. I could have easily forseen an entire season of adventures that jettisoned the usual Torchwood formula (it is a show that thrives on unexpected format changes) and followed Jack throughout different events in the 20th Century. You could take in all kinds of historical incident, visit different parts of the world and comment on how things developed over a century. If not a season, it would have made a cracking two part story. At least once Children of Earth came along Jack's past wasn't jettisoned, there are important plot implications in both next season and Miracle Day that link back to his waltz through the last century. Jack remembers his time with the circus wistfully, recalling travelling from town to town and trying to find paying customers the right way. A nomad existence, but a memorable one.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Their days were numbered. Cinema may have saved their images but they killed off the travelling shows. Killed them.'
'He's part of this freak show' 'Some things never change.'
'What are you? There's not a breath in your poor, sad body...'
'What worries me is all those long lost pieces of film, tucked away in dusty cellars. The Night Travellers could still be there. Somewhere...'
Adrift written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Mark Everest
This story in a nutshell: A boy has gone missing and Gwen investigates the case…
Hunky Hero: Jack lies through his teeth to Gwen when she asks him why he might have been on the barge on the night of Jonah’s disappearance but at this stage we have no reason not to believe him which makes the revelation that he has been lying a heart stopping moment. What could be so bad that he would hid the truth from his best friend who has been investigating this case with some interest? I wanted to slap Jack around the face with a wet halibut when he told Gwen he wasn’t sure shat she wanted him to do after he is presented with the horrifying accumulation of evidence that the Rift is gobbling innocent people up. It’s a clever scene because this is exactly the sort of inhuman response we have come to expect from him and yet it is hiding the real truth that he has been helping these people for years without anybody know about it. The way this episode gives this cold-blooded automaton a heart is worthy of applause. Gwen realising that these are all the people she has been investigating and discovering Jack at the heart of it throws a dark shroud of mystery over his character again. It’s the most interesting he has been in the first two seasons. Setting up the facility to help the victims of the Rift is the most human thing he has done yet in the series and I especially like the fact that there are only seventeen victims at the moment. Proof that there are still loads of victims out there that haven’t been found. That has an honesty to it too.
Jack’s Crew: Gwen has always been the emotional face of Torchwood and she is exactly the character to take up the heartbreaking challenge of having to find a missing boy. At first her Torchwood attitude seems prevalent until Andy asks her if something as simple as a missing child is beneath her these days which was exactly the sort of slap around the face she needed. I was literally applauding when Andy told Gwen that she had become hard and that she used to care about people no matter who they were…it’s the wake up call she has needed for a while to snap her out of the slow motion swaggering, gun toting ways she has developed since joining this ridiculous organisation. This episode is as much about Gwen coming to terms with herself as it is the mystery and she feels so strongly about the condemnation of her character she asks the closest independent observer – Rhys. Gwen and Rhys discussing children has some emotional weight to it in hindsight since in three episodes time she would be announcing her pregnancy. Gwen tries to do her best by Nikki and to give her the son she so desperately wants to see again. When confronted with the horrifying truth Nikki asks Gwen to promise to not do this to any of the other parents who have lost their children because the hope that one day their kid will walk through the door unharmed is preferable to facing such a monstrosity. It’s a marvellous moment of ingratitude that is completely understandable and as a result you really feel for Gwen despite the fact that she has only done what she thought was the right thing.
Catching up with PC Andy is always a joy because he is stuck in the uncomfortable position of both condemning Torchwood for the way they walk all over everybody (and who wouldn’t think that?) and wanting to join them because it looks cool. Andy also has the hots for Gwen but now she has learnt where her loyalties lie (the fabulous Rhys) his feelings are unreciprocated (unusually for this show). Its almost as if Torchwood has learnt that holding back every once and a while creates tension and drama – go figure! Like a tap he cannot switch his feelings for her off and he wont be a hypocrite and endorse their wedding when he thinks that Rhys is beneath her. When she cuts him out of the investigation when it gets too ‘Torchwood’ you feel genuinely sorry for the guy who kick started this whole thing because he had a heart. Even the sudden ‘no’ when he asks her if she would ever ask if he could join Torchwood felt real because Andy’s ‘thank you’ isn’t the reaction to an insult but a thankful response for some honesty at last.
Rhys laughing his head off at Andy’s feelings for Gwen feels very real to me. Its so much more entertaining than had he gone off in a jealous rant (and had this episode taken place earlier in the run before Torchwood discovered subtlety it so would have taken that angle!). Their toasty passion in the morning make me smile, Myles and Owen have such lovely chemistry at this stage. Gwen viciously fights the idea of having kids because of her job and Rhys (always the voice of reason) reminds her that she is saving the world over and over for a reason (with a couple of fucks thrown in to drive the point home and make her really listen). They do it so people can live their lives and they have the right to do that as well. Gwen seriously needs someone like Rhys in her life to provide the perspective of normality otherwise she would get entirely whisked up into the delusions of grandeur and sacrifice that Torchwood peddles. She cannot think that he extraterrestrial shit she deals with is more important than real life and that is exactly the tone the series has needed to adopt since the beginning. It got so caught up in the camp excesses of violence, swearing and sex that it forgot that the show needed a beating heart of emotion too.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I sleep in here some nights. Bury my head in the pillow. It still smells of him except the more I do it the more it smells like me.’
‘What is the Rift doesn’t just leave stuff behind? What if it also takes?’ – it’s a fresh idea and one tied into the shows mythology. Coming just a few weeks after a zombie fest at a wedding it proves that Torchwood still has some tricks up its sleeve.
‘We don’t have to be this hard! It isn’t a badge of honour!’ – hurrah! Its like Chibnall has taken away a list of all my complaints about this show and decided to do something about them!
‘It was better that I didn’t know. Before you I had hope.’
The Good: Do you know I fell in love with Gavin & Stacey and especially with the character of Nessa without realising that I had already seen Ruth Jones play this character on Torchwood. Not because she is unmemorable in the role, quite the opposite. She gives a touching performance and imbues her character with an uncomfortable, almost incestual longing to find her son (curling up on his bed is a discomforting moment for this viewer whose mother in law invests a similar sort of emotional attachment to his husband!) but it was because she is so different from Nessa (even to look at) that I did not make the connection. The pre titles sequence is nicely shot to resemble some kind of alien abduction – it actually feels as if the scene has leapt straight from The X-Files because of its dramatic simplicity and attention grabbing execution. The music is superlative in this episode – Torchwood has often employed a bombastic and unsubtle score because that is exactly the sort of show it is but with the delicate, emotional atmosphere of Adrift it gives the composer a chance to really show what he is made of and he takes you on an emotional musical journey too. The way the episode shows that Nikki has turned the search for her son into a crusade is heartbreaking because it has consumed her entire life and you know that whatever the answer is, even the finality of death, it will force her to break down and accept the loss she is denying herself. All the tapes scattered around her front room where she has been monitoring all the CCTV footage is a strong image that captures the obsession that has gripped her. What Ruth Jones brings to the role is a calm acceptance of this mania that is hypnotic. Everybody can see how unhealthy this except Nikki. It’s the most emotionally honest the show has been since Random Shoes. I love the sequence where Nikki accepts with some solemnity that she will be the only person who will come to her ‘missing persons’ meeting and then the room starts filling up with grieving parents who have also lost their kids. It opens up the episode by suggesting there is some much more frightening and far reaching going on here through a moment of spine tingling sentiment and not the usual Torchwood leap of logic (and the music is superb). Gwen and Tosh investigating all the missing cases grips because for once the investigation actually means something. It wouldn’t surprise me if Russell T Davies said he stole the idea of exploiting the horror of losing children for Children of Earth from this episode because it is such a palpable threat in both pieces of storytelling. I don’t know what kind of answer I was expecting to the mystery of Jonah’s disappearance but I didn’t think it would be as surprising and satisfying as a mental hospital set up out of the way for victims that have been swallowed up and spat out by the Rift, all with emotional and physical scars. It’s a chilling place and feels very real. Robert Pugh pulls off the superb feat of being both tragic and menacing as the older Jonah and the scenes of him screaming silently as the horror of the Rift grips him stayed with me long after the episode had ended. Its one of my enduring images of this episode, his eyes full of terror as he screams an endless scream. The moment Gwen has to tell Ruth that she has found Jonah was the moment I broke, I couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. Mother and son reunited and she rejects him outright before her the evidence she needs to realise this scarred monster is her boy. Being dragged away from him because he needs special care is a harsh ending for a character who deserved a happy ending.
The Bad: Just to remind us this is still Torchwood there is a scene with Jack and Ianto stark bollock naked grinding away over his desk. Is it really necessary? If I want to watch pornography I know where to look and I don’t usually look for it in a Doctor Who spin off. It’s the one off kilter moment of unsubtlety in an episode that treads a fine line of delicacy throughout.
The Shallow Bit: Although neither of them is what would accepted as conventionally attractive (whatever that means?) I find both Kai Owen as Rhys and Tom Price as Andy to be absolutely gorgeous. It could because the characters feel so real and likable but there is definitely something special about both of these blokes that draws me to them.
Result: Is this really a Chris Chibnall script? Adrift is so tightly focussed on the story it wants to tell and approaches the material with an emotional honesty that before the end titles my eyes were full of tears. It wears its Welsh setting as a badge of honour and the location filming is as beautiful and attention grabbing as the episode itself. What I really love about Adrift is that it doesn’t cheat the audience at any point. It promises them us the mystery of the missing boy and we see how Gwen (who has always been the beating heart of this team) slowly puts the pieces together to lead to a satisfactory and shocking conclusion. Along the way we discover a great deal about Jack and the nature of Torchwood which manages to genuinely shock and we reach a devastating conclusion about what really happened to Jonah. It isn’t camp, shallow, stupid or illogical – all of Chibnall’s worse script excesses and it makes me wonder if he can produce something this good why hasn’t he done it before? If Torchwood was as good as this all the time during its standalone period they would have never moved to the serial storylines. Adrift is emotionally sincere and gripping, it is excellent: 9/10
Fragments written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Jonathan Fox Bassett
Hunky Hero: 'I don't exist, and for a man with my charisma that is quite an achievement.' I love how the rest of the team walk around the warehouse quite slyly whilst Jack cannot resist melodramatically turning each corner with his gun poised, like a child playing cowboys and Indians. This guy just cannot resist making a show of himself. The caption 1392 deaths earlier for Jack's flashback brings a smile to my face every time. Only on Torchwood. Waking up with a bottle in his stomach is a quick and dramatic shorthand for the kind of life (or rather death) that Jack has had to suffer over the years. It is surprising that he isn't more psychologically unstable given the number of undignified and brutal murders he has been forced to endure. It explains a lot about how he seizes each day as it comes and behaves so radically over the top. When you cease to fear death, the rules of life change. Jack was convinced that if he lived through the 20th Century and met up with the Doctor again then everything would be put right. His curse of immortality would be put to rest. Jack cuts quite the figure in his grey cloak and bushy sideburns, working for Torchwood post Tooth and Claw. I'm so pleased that this important segment of Jack's life is sketched in, it fills in so many of the gaps between The Parting of the Ways and Everything Changes (or if you are only including Doctor Who - Utopia). Jack is the only member of Torchwood to survive long term but that is only because he cannot die. Otherwise the life expectancy of it's staff is not hopeful. What is fascinating about the sequence where Alex murders the Torchwood team (the one assembled before the one we currently know and love) on New Years Eve is that he might have a point that they were mercy killings. In the next year Jack would lose Owen, Tosh and Ianto. Who is to say that if he slipped them a pill it wouldn't be a more humane way to go?
Shy Geek: At first Fragments looks as though it is only going to tell us that Tosh is really clever. Big whoop, we know that already. However the purpose of the sequence where she infiltrates the Ministry of Defence is to reveal that she was convinced into working for Torchwood. A splinter group threaten her mother to harm her mother if she doesn't put her skills to good use and UNIT walk in on that operation, capturing what they think to be a terrorist. The shot of Tosh alone in a barren cell with big brothers eye looking down on her exposes the bleakest moment in her life. Toshiko is essentially blackmailed into joining Jack's team, given the unenviable task of helping with the hunt for alien technology or being made an example of by UNIT. It is a good thing that she ultimately learns to love her work because it was never the path she would have chosen. I've always said that Tosh works best when she is portrayed as a victim (it works to Mori's strengths as an actress too, pulling at the heartstrings) and her tale proves that she has always been the underdog, the one who is pushed around and mistreated. What a life. Jack sees something in Tosh and thinks he can bring her out of her shell. She's certainly more confident as a part of Torchwood than she was in her life before. It isn't an entirely altruistic act (after all he wants her skills) but the fact that he sees potential in her is very sweet and step in the right direction for her.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'By the way... love the coat.'
The Shallow Bit: Hands on hips, flirtatious and unafraid of their sexuality, the ladies of Torchwood in the Victorian era are clearly infected with the same lack of sexual inhibitions as the current lot. Perhaps there is something in the water. It strikes me that everybody that has ever worked for this organisation is bisexual. That isn't a criticism, just an observation made because there is a relative dearth of bisexuals on television and so it really stands out.
Children of Earth: Day One written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn
This story in a nutshell: One day all the Children of the Earth stopped…
Hunky Hero: Jack has the potential to be such a fascinating character it really pissed me off that the writers of the first season tried to suggest he was an all out action thug who solves his problems with a shotgun and sleeps with anything that comes to hand. I couldn’t relate to him in the slightest despite John Barrowman’s occasional attempts to make him gentler. This is a man who has lived through the entire 20th century waiting for the Doctor to turn up and rescue him. There is so much potential for a man who has lived through some of the most shocking, romantic and unforgettable historical events. Towards the end of the last series they began to shows us what he had been up to in that time, joining Torchwood, working in a circus…and here Davies introduces us to Jack’s daughter and his grandson who thinks Jack is his uncle. His character is developing very nicely; I hope they can keep this up. Alice asks Jack to stay away because she looks older than her father, he makes her feel old. She can see right through her father and his wish to spend time with his grandson on the day that all the children stood still and she warns him away. Jack really objects to being told he is part of a couple and is surprisingly brutal towards Ianto. Poor Jack is shot dead and soon as he wakes up is shot dead again!
There’s Lovely: What a wonderful little touch when Gwen touches the photograph of her two dead comrades and says good morning to them. Gwen’s approach to recruiting is much more touchy feeling than Jack’s, she goes out to the poor sap that they have lured in and she talks to him. Brilliant, beautiful and completely bloody magic – her life is bigger since she joined Torchwood. Rhys is very understanding of Gwen’s job these days, he’s such an adorable fella she is lucky to keep hold of him. When Gwen is told she is pregnant she is left reeling with shock, it was the last thing she expected to hear. Once it is confirmed she thinks the news is bloody brilliant.
Jack’s Fella: Ianto is suddenly in very safe hands with Russell T Davies and he suddenly feels less like a spare part and more like a real person. He is childishly excited when Jack acknowledges their relationship in public and grins that this is all a bit new to him. The scenes between Ianto and his sister are vital because they ground the character like never before and are beautifully performed by both actors. When their father died he couldn’t wait to get away from his family and move to London almost as if he was ashamed of his background. When Ianto quietly admits his relationship with another man (‘its not men…its just him’) I actually felt something for the character for the first time.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We are coming…’
‘What’s in there?’ ‘Big science fiction super base!’
‘The civil service…the cockroaches of government.’
‘I’m going into England! Farewell forever!’
‘Have you gone bender?’
The Good Stuff: I love that they have disposed of the ridiculously camp theme tune and simply gone for a simple, gripping introduction instead – it really feels like this show has grown up. What’s even scarier than Village of the Damned style evil children – the thought of the children of this planet being manipulated into doing nothing. Aliens that induce endorphins in the body making you dying happy – you’ve got to love considerate nasties! Its great to finally see the government tackling with all these alien menaces that the Doctor, Sarah Jane and the Torchwood crew have been handling, its long past time we saw the serious bureaucratic side to alien incursions. Peter Capaldi is such a superb actor it is wonderful to see him earning such a pivotal, unforgettable role in this story. He adds a touch of class to every scene he appears in. Rupesh stalking Torchwood mirroring Gwen’s introduction really hits home how they fudged the first episode and how Davies is now showing how they deal with things. The camera gliding through the groups of children screaming in unison is really scary. All the children of the world talking at once…and one old man, now that’s intriguing. Ian Gelder is brilliantly creepy as Mr Dekker; there is something unbelievably unnerving about his smiling confidence in the face of such terrifying events. Lois is an instantly likable character in a way none of the regulars were in the first season. I love Ianto’s greedy niece and nephew who snatched at the notes he offers without a thank you. I love the Welsh scum stealing the SUV and mooning out the window as they drive past whilst Ianto’s brother in law throws bricks at the car! There is a quiet intensity to Susan Brown’s performance as Bridget that is mesmerising. Lois discovering the order to kill on Jack is excitingly directed and perfectly paced. Rupesh shooting Jack is a fantastic shock – it comes completely by surprise and I jumped out of my skin the first time I watched it. The thought of Jack exploding is horrible and surely there is no way back for the character even given his invulnerability. The final word of the episode chills the blood.
The Bad Stuff: This is gripping stuff, for once no complaints.
The Shallow Bit: Rik Makarem as Rupesh is just about the most mouth-watering bloke I have seen on the telly in years. What a shame he had to turn rogue and be shot! Is it my imagination or does Charles Abomeli look like a coloured slightly plumper Colin Baker?
Result: Torchwood has graduated from Cardiff and is now taking place on an impressive national scale. Whereas the focus of the first two seasons was ‘isn’t Torchwood cool?’ and for the most part proving the exact opposite it is brilliant and bold step to twist a knife into that reputation and have the government not only considering them a pain in the ass but to actively seek out to eliminate them from these proceedings. To have our team as victims automatically wins the audience over and suddenly we care about these three renegades in a way that we never did when they were heroes. The show feels bigger, bolder, far more confident and features a cast to die for – Children of Earth was a quantum leap forward for this show and it shocked an unforgiving audience into giving it a second chance. The character work that Jack and Ianto receive is incredible and suddenly they are real people with families and a relationship to question. With all these innovations it’s easy to skip over Euros Lyn’s typically stunning direction, the sweeping musical score and a cliffhanging final five minutes that will leave you reeling. The mission statement is clear and by the end of the episode that daft SUV is gone and the daft secret underground base has gone and Torchwood has finally grown up. This is event television and at it’s finest and the perfect opening step for this mini series: 10/10
Children of Earth Day Two written by John Fay and directed by Euros Lyn
This story in a nutshell: The Hub has been destroyed, Jack is dead and Gwen and Ianto are on the run…
Hunky Hero: I don’t think it will come as a shock to anybody if I said that I don’t find John Barrowman a particularly convincing leading man. He’s a fabulous entertainer and very enjoyable to watch when he is a sidekick in Doctor Who but I just don’t feel he has the gravitas and that special something that commands your attention as a lead. So it came as a great surprise to me when I realised during Children of Earth that he really could convince as a lead but only when he has been stripped away of everything that made this show what it was in the first two years. With the Hub destroyed, his life constantly under threat and no chance to be generally abusive, heartless and blackly humorous at all the wrong times he comes across as a real person in a desperate situation and I really wanted to watch him. All it took to make this character work was for Russell T Davies (in typically unsubtle Torchwood style) to blow him up inside his place of safety and put him back together again as a fugitive. Go figure. Its not the only loss Jack will suffer this year but it seems the more this character endures the easier it is to like him. Wowza, finding bits of Jack in the wreckage is really nasty but blackly funny in a way that only Torchwood in its in yer face glory can be. For once Torchwood allows our imaginations to do some of the work rather than shoving the offal up our nose and the twitching body bag that sees Jack being Humpty Dumpty’d had me applauded for all its off screen grisliness. Drowning Jack in concrete that will set around his body and murder him over and over again is bloody quirky and quite wonderful and affords the show the chance to indulge in a great big silly set piece worthy of the first two season when Gwen and Ianto shatter the concrete block and release him. All this horror and the first sighting of John Barrowman’s flaccid penis and grubby ass! How much indignity can one character take?
Welsh Babe & Brilliant Boyfriend: they really have turned Gwen into an action heroine in the style of Lara Croft, haven’t they? Watch as she juggles two guns and takes down a sniper on the roof! Gwen has always been our eyes and ears on Torchwood so suffering is her rasion d’etre be it the culture shock of joining Torchwood, her agonising guilt over her affair with Owen, losing him and Tosh, now losing her place of work and later this season losing another friend. She’s got victim written all over her by simply associating herself with this insane organisation and yet what I love about her is that no matter what they throw at her she never loses that fighting spirit and always comes back kicking and screaming (and juggling pistols). You have to admire that kind of persistence and self inflicted pain! Poor Rhys is the doting husband who does as he’s told for the most part (but gives her a good slap, emotionally speaking, when she needs it) and when she comes home and orders him to get out as soon as possible he knows it has to be something serious. You have to feel sorry for the guy! Kai Owen is such a huge asset to the show (I can completely see why Gareth David-Lloyd got the push but they kept Owen on for Miracle Day) because he plays Rhys as such a wonderfully normal character – he’s like O’Brien on DS9. The every guy who you can completely invest and who can step up to the plate and be a hero when you least suspect it. The scene where Gwen tells Rhys that she is pregnant as they lie on a shifting load of raw spuds is delightful for its sheer incongruity but mostly because Owen’s smile and good humour is so infectious. Only Rhys would think about his stomach when their contact from inside the government is agonising over committing treason on her second day on the job! Steak pie and politics – brilliant!
Sexy Secretary: By invading his sisters house in the dead of night the horror extends to Ianto’s family and not just his own safety. It makes this feel very personal and invasive. I usually hate the way the working class man is portrayed in dramas as violent and uneducated but there is something about the sheer brio of using this rough Welsh neighbourhood violently that is a moment of triumph against the authority. Under any other circumstances watching a mob threatening the establishment would be despicable but it says something about this show that it can turn all that on its head so the thugs are the good guys. His brother in law admitting they are the only family Ianto has is quietly very touching. We learn that Ianto’s father was quite abusive but in very subtle ways. How comes he is only becoming interesting now he is on the way out? Being forced to listen to Jack’s screams as he is tortured means that Ianto’s tears for his lover mean something – compare this to his tears for Lisa in the ridiculous episode Cyberwoman where you just didn’t give a toss about his hysterics and you can see how far we have come.
· Lets put this into perspective because it is so nice to be able to say good things about Torchwood – this is a show that is willing to take risks in order to win. At the end of the last episode Russell T Davies blew up the central location which will never be seen again, killed off the main character who wont be around for a little while and forced the remaining team members to go on the run. Not many shows would shake up the format to that extent and in cult TV I can only think of a few examples when it is done this well (Blakes’ 7 destroyed the Liberator in a devastating season three finale and DS9 kicked all of its regular cast off the station and moved in all the enemies for quite a period) and it really shows what Davies has been saying all along about this show. That nothing and nobody is safe, characters come and go and the format can be changed on a sixpence. Its refreshing to find a show that takes those kind of risks (I don’t think Stargate SG-1 surprised me in any way to this extent until its ninth season) and it means that if you don’t like the show as it is now (although why that should be because it’s the best it would ever be at the this point) there will be a new premise, location and regular cast next year. Not good for those who enjoy continuity but like Doctor Who it has proven to have a malleable format that gives it staying power. The story literally doesn’t give you a second to breathe and take in these developments, opening on a fantastic action set piece with Ianto and Gwen on the run from assassins.
· Graeme Harper aside, Euros Lyn is the greatest find for NuWho and he has the ability to capture beautiful images on a budget and still pace a story beautifully whilst encouraging the actors to give their best. If this story was a gift to him for bringing such gems as The Girl in the Fireplace to life so vividly it is a massive compliment to his skill. Look at the POV shots of Gwen in the wreckage of Torchwood – her sound as muffled by the explosion and the flames flicker and wobbles as she tried to get her bearings. You’ve got dynamic action set pieces, intimate moments between characters and ambitious plot twists (the children freezing, Jack’s reassembling, smashing the concrete block) and Euros Lyn barely breaks a sweat in bringing these very different styles together into one cohesive whole.
· I love the idea of the government trying to destroy Torchwood. When Gwen asks the question you have to wonder if she has been paying attention for the last two seasons where they have been pissing off the authorities at every single turn and offering a two finger salute at anybody who thought they could criticise them! There comes a time when the real power will no longer indulge a controversial element and has to crush it and using a national emergency to cover their tracks is just about the best way to do it.
· Nice to see PC Andy turning up but the poor bugger is trapped on the wrong side and finds himself dodging bullets that Gwen is shooting!
· There’s a fascinating titbit of information on the write up of Torchwood that Lois reads – Torchwood Glasgow is thought to have disbanded. Perhaps if a fifth series was to go ahead we could relocate there with the characters who survived Miracle Day and build up a new regular cast with the rogue members of this team.
· The ‘we want a pony’ gag is sifted pleasingly from the horrific child possession plotline and shows how sophisticated the humour is compared to the ‘the end of the world is nigh, lets have sex’ crap last year.
· Peter Capaldi is just so good in this role, just like he is in every role he takes. I loved the moment where he thanked the Prime Minister for giving him a chance to be the middle man in these affairs and he learns he has been put in the front line because they are the first to fall. His reaction is gorgeously simpering. Thank goodness Capaldi isn’t playing his character from The Thick of It otherwise he would have unloaded a barrage of expletives that would have made Gordon Ramsey blush down to his toenails!
· Now we have experienced the children freezing act a couple of times we know that only unpleasant information is going to be imparted each time it happens. Which means around the 32 minute mark my buttocks clenched in anticipation when they began intoning in that horrid alien tone. Having the show originally take place over five days means that lines like ‘we are coming tomorrow’ takes on a whole new meaning.
The Bad: Lois is such a fine addition to the cast and her slow induction into Torchwood is beautifully done so it seems such a shame that she vanished between this story and Miracle Day.
Result: Day Two is a transitional episode switching the attention onto the government characters whilst exploring life on the run with Gwen and Ianto and it says something about the skill with which this story has been put together that it is still packed full of exciting set pieces, memorable imagery, striking character moments and a feeling of momentum. Giving Peter Capaldi such a large slice of the action was a winning notion because he drives this season with a nuanced performance that really grabs your attention. The Jack-in-a-bag subplot is fantastic also because whilst the series is busy sophisticatedly rewriting its DNA, these darkly funny moments remind us there is still enough room for grisly madness in here. I remember at the time loving the fact that the dramatic impetus that the episode introduces was going to continue throughout the week and how the writers managed to include just the right balance to subplots to give the story some real substance. In previous seasons I found myself fighting against the current of ridiculous plotlines and childish extremes (you know the sex’n’swearing’n’blood) but now it is so easy to just go with the flow and enjoy the classy storyline. They manage to eek out the surprises and developments a bit at a time so you are always desperate for more (Ian Gelder is so menacing he deserves the cliffhanger here). Torchwood has done a complete u-turn in terms of quality it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this was the only series to gain viewers as it continued: 9/10
Day Three written by Russell T Davies & James Moran and directed by Euros Lyn
TO BE REVIEWED...
Day Four written by John Fay and directed by Euros Lyn
TO BE REVIEWED...
Day Five written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn
TO BE REVIEWED...
Miracle Day: A New World written by Russell T Davies and directed by Bharat Nalluri
This story in a nutshell: One day nobody on planet Earth died. And the next, and the next, and the next…
Hunky Hero: A smart audience will figure out the picture of Jack is from World War II and that he hasn’t aged a day. Standing there before Esther like a living embodiment of the immortality that has struck the world, he cuts quite an imposing figure. The biggest miracle is that Jack has hurt his arm – it appears that whilst everybody has gained his regenerative powers he is now mortal again. That’s another strong idea because we had all become desensitised to Jack ever being in trouble no matter how much cement they pour on him and this makes him a character to genuinely care about again. Jack feels responsible in keeping Gwen safe as the last member of his team to survive.
Welsh Babe: Gwen is living out in the countryside now as far away from her old life as she can get without leaving Wales. She and Rhys have the most beautiful house on the beach where they are brining up their baby. Gwen is both haunted by and missing her old lifestyle and secretly tells her daughter stories about the aliens that she met. They live in a blanket of paranoia every time someone knocks on the door and treat the most innocuous events with suspicion (with good reason, it appears). Gwen feels completely impotent because this is exactly the sort of thing she used to deal with all the time in Torchwood but now she has left all that behind. Visiting her dad in his hospital bed is as useful for her character as Ianto visiting his sister in Children of Earth was for his. Rhys is furious that Gwen is interested in the Miracle and reminds her of her responsibilities to her daughter. There are few things on this Earth cuter than Gwen putting the earmuffs on her daughter before unleashing a volley of bullets.
CIA Survivor: I’m not sure that opening on this character smiling in the face of somebody being diagnosed with Leukaemia is the best idea Davies has ever had. I get that he is a hard nosed CIA operative but I still don’t buy that any human being could be quite so cold as to laugh in the face of a terminal illness because it would mean promotion. He thinks the UK government is like kindergarten which means he can’t be all bad. When Rex flicks through the news channels and has an outspoken nurse crying out that he should be a corpse, that is the first time I felt something for his character. Without the Miracle he would be dead which gives him a very personal interest in this spell that has been cast over the whole world. He asks the questions a lot of the survivors must be asking: ‘What happens to me when it ends? Do I die?’ When I first watched this I found Mehki Phifer’s performance a little too hysterical to be convincing but how else could you play a man who has survived a pole to the chest who is in excruciating pain and pumped full of drugs? The last death on planet Earth co-incides with the Torchwood being splashed across the CIA computers which gives Rex a strong link to follow up.
New Girl: Whilst the performance is a tad too earnest at this point, I really like the approach of Esther being intrigued by the notion of Torchwood and beginning her own private investigation into the organisation. In a way you want to scream at her to run away and not bother because her life will be turned upside down but in another you really want her to succeed because she will be a cute new member of the team. Because she was talking to Rex when he crashed his car Esther feels as though she is responsible and she owes to herself to look into Torchwood.
Daring Doctor: Of the new actors brought into the show it is Arlene Tur who makes the greatest impression on me. She’s world wise and hip and very humanistic and Vera looks like she is going to be a very welcome addition to the Torchwood team.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t reprieve a man you failed to hang because the rope snapped.’
‘Anyone who worked for Torchwood died in action. And they died young.’
‘Warfare’s even worse when bodies refuse to die.’
‘Its like the British equivalent of New Jersey!’ and ‘I’ve got to pay for this Bridge? Damn Wales!’ – which pretty much exactly what I said when I travelled on the Severn Bridge!
The Good Stuff: I much prefer the subtler title sequence – I know some people want Torchwood to be all bombast and style but this is a much quieter title sequence which drives home the Miracle Day premise. A huge round of applause for the Miracle Day premise which is so simple and yet opens out so many storytelling possibilities it is one of those ‘why the hell hasn’t anyone thought to do this before?’ ideas that crops up every now and again. I have seen many shows deal with immortality for one character but by opening out this curse to the entire human race you have a premise that will see the entire Earth facing extinction in a very unusual way in four months and you know the populace will get more and more desperate as the show continues. Bravo Mr Davies for such a dazzling concept. Opening on the horrific murder of a paedophile which proves to be very discomforting to watch, Miracle Day looks like it is going to walk in Children of Earth’s footsteps with some uncomfortable material. I really like the idea of Torchwood being this long forgotten organisation that nobody knows about but is treated in the higher echelons of the CIA as something to be whispered with reverence. The show has managed to mythologise itself successfully. Rex being speared with poles is a shocking and nasty moment. The majestic sweep across the Welsh countryside is beautifully achieved by the director, it’s the sort of location work this series has been capable of since its inception but it has always gone for the harsher industrial look of Cardiff City. Bill Pullman plays Danes with such a odd accent that is both barely decipherable and very creepy at the same time. After a slow premise building first half it is nice to get some action and a sniper blowing himself up and our heroes leaping out the window to safety is just what the Dr ordered. The sniper whose body is burnt to a frazzle and still breathing (and having his head chopped off!) is exactly the sort of twisted horror that Torchwood excels in and I hope we see more this can of Tales of the Unexpected style black humour in later episodes. I was recoiling in shock and laughing at the same time, great stuff. You can really feel the budget during the exciting Welsh action sequences and the sight of that black helicopter appearing at the window is truly dynamic. I can just imagine Americans flocking to the beach in which this gorgeous dusk chase was filmed – they manage to make Wales a genuinely dynamic place that should satisfy even the American fans!
The Bad Stuff: A man accused of the rape and murder of a 12 year old girl is exactly the sort of concept that no other science fiction show would touch and Torchwood seems to revel in the dirtiness of. Even though it lack subtlety that isn’t what I have a problem with it’s the hyperbolic statement ‘She should have run faster.’ Its not only really distasteful but means the character is hard to believe before we even meet him. The guy who talks to Danes in prison bugged me because he had some great lines but the performance is dreadful. Rex’s journey to the UK feels really quick.
The Shallow Bit: Jack looks unbelievably hot after he has jumped in the fountain.
Result: Whereas Children of Earth felt like a transition story cutting away all the usual Torchwood nonsense and homing in on the characters, Miracle Day feels like a brand new pilot for Torchwood and it begins with a great degree of confidence. Imagine for a second that the first three series never existed this actually feels as though it is the first ever episode of Torchwood dealing with an old British organisation. Because it is setting up the premise and characters it isn’t so much a strong piece in its own right but as an opening piece it is one of the stronger pilots I have seen of late. There is tension, action and a fantastic premise at the heart of the show. In a way I wish they had left Wales behind and started the whole show afresh in America but some of the shows best scenes are those featuring Gwen’s paranoid life. By the end of the episode I was intoxicated by the potential of the Miracle Day idea and cheering as Gwen was brandishing a rocket launcher during a stunning beach sequence. Rex and Esther have yet to grow on me (but by the next episode I’m sold) but Vera is a great new character who I hope they keep on. Its not the best episode of Torchwood because it has to do too much but it certainly kicks things off in exactly the right direction: 8/10
Rendition written by Doris Egan and directed by Billy Gierhart
This story in a nutshell: On the way to America, Jack realises he is all too mortal…
Hunky Hero: Jack really must feel like the bad penny because every time he shows up something awful seems to happen to his friends. Making him mortal is just about the most interesting thing that could be done with his character because the audience has become so adjusted to his immortality. Suddenly he is the only man on Earth who is in danger of being killed, it’s a fascinating role reversal but oddly still doesn’t make him any less reckless! Every bug in existence is out to get him, the only man who can get sick and die. He tells Gwen he went a long way away after the events of Children of Earth but cannot answer her question of it helped.
Welsh Babe: Irritated by the fact, Gwen has been missing Jack and since it has been so long she was starting to wonder if her time with Torchwood was a fairytale.
Holding the Baby: When Rhys is defending Jack from Gwen’s bile you know there has to be something wrong with the world. Whilst the cuts back to England did begin tire by the end of this season Rhys (for me) is the most likable and engaging character left in this show and as the ordinary bloke the only one I can truly relate to. Gwen barking orders on the plane is hilarious, its probably Eve Myles’ best scene to date because she gets to play comedy and drama with equal vigour. Her scream when she found the orange wire and cut it regardless as whether it is important to the function of the plane they are flying in or not made me punch the air.
CIA Survivor: ‘The more you struggle the more he enjoys it’ and clearly Rex is getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of ripping a baby from its mother and taking her across the world which might not be the best creative decision considering he is supposed to be our new hero. Mehki Phifer grows into the role (and the style of the series) very quickly but these first few instalments see him playing Rex as a twitchy, nervous sort of guy. I understand that he has suffered a pole through his shoulder and risen from the dead but it comes across as the actor unsure of his place within this world and not the character.
New Girl: Esther is about to get a severe reality check as 50,000 dollars is wired into her account and she is set up to take the fall for her nosing into all affairs Torchwood.
Daring Doctor: Vera is by far the best new character this season and she’s played with real charm and gusto by Arlene Tur. Her assertion that they are handling this emergency the wrong way around is inspired. They shouldn’t be dealing with the major injuries first because those people aren’t going to die. It’s the people with the minor injuries that should be a priority because they need to bed space for the long term patients that aren’t going to get better. She is smart enough to recognise that they cannot assume anything except that things are different now and they have to handle the situation on a day by day basis.
Anti Christ: In the grand scheme of things I am not certain I understand the purpose of Oswald Danes with regards to the series because he becomes nothing more than the punch bag that everybody can take their anger out on in the last handful of episodes. His character spec still bugs the hell out of me – I’m not sure why Torchwood always has to go to such extremes and making Danes both a paedophile and a rapist is so distasteful that even suggesting we should ever sympathise with such a man feels dirty. I like it when shows push me into uncomfortable grey areas but this is not one of them – its asking the impossible. And yet his ascension to some kind of dark messiah and voice of the People feels oddly believable.
Public Relations: A character that gained more importance and interest as the series continued (so the antithesis of Esther who got less appealing as the show continued), Jilly Kitzinger is a firing redhead out for herself in this mess and willing to make a deal with the devil (twice over it turns out) in order to profit from the Miracle. Lauren Ambrose is the surprise hit from this season as Peter Capaldi was in Children of Earth and she plays the character with a giddy, twitching self confidence that hides a darker distaste for what she is having to do to make a name for herself. When she is on screen my eyes don’t look anywhere else and that is a sign of a actress who can make something out of an incidental part.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If the devil himself walked the Earth he’d need representation’ ‘If the devil himself was walking this Earth he’d definitely be working in PR.’
‘What if your big success is one Welsh woman and a dead body?’
‘If you’re the best England has to offer…’ ‘I’m Welsh!’
The Good: Oswald Danes’ death turning up on You Tube with a comedy video over it is exactly the sort of perverse nonsense net nerds get their kicks out of and it really feels as if the show is representing the now. I think it is astonishing in hindsight that there is so much emphasis placed on the Miracle itself in the first half of the season when that turns out to be massive red herring to what the is really going on (reorganising the planet and ensuring it is controlled by the right elements). It frightens me to think that forcing Oswald Danes to confront a photograph of the young girl that he raped and murdered live on television is exactly the kind of sensationalist stunt that would pulled by today’s media to shock and excite its audience. Esther’s escape from the CIA is nicely paced and claustrophobically directed, its smartly done to keep the character looking intelligent whilst also feeling as though a hand is closing around her. I love action scenes in cramped plane cabins and this is one of the best I have seen with Gwen literally ripping up the floor and smashing the galley to find what she needs to save Jack. Its furiously paced, beautifully performed and very exciting. I don’t know if Vera’s plan is medically sound (I assume that it is) but it is certainly the most dynamic way of curing somebody from arsenic poisoning that I have ever seen. The cuts to Vera and her team trying to help reminds me of the scenes in World War Three when Jackie and Mickey are menaced by a Slitheen and the Doctor works furious to figure out their weakness, it has that same furious velocity.
The Miracle: One thing that really impressed me this year was how many different ways they managed to explore the Miracle and what it meant on a sociological, theological and medical level. The idea that you can’t kill your enemies is having an inflammatory effect, a Hutu village was destroyed in Rwanda with men, women and children having their brains bashed with hammers, thrown into a pit and bulldozed over. 80% of India is Hindu and reincarnation is no longer on the table with nothing to keep peoples behaviour in check. Esther predicts the most likely outcome is war with Pakistan but to everybody’s surprise the Indian Prime Minister announces his desire to reconcile with Pakistan since now they only have one life they have to make it count. Does suicide even exist anymore? If you can’t kill yourself now it will have no effect but the intent was there – what does that mean on religious level where such an act would ordinarily prevent and place in heaven? Hospital beds are filling up because those who should heal aren’t including people with infections, they are becoming germ incubators. Germs will stay within the livings bodies and the more antibiotics they get they will become resistant and within six months drug resistant organisms will be everywhere. This is fantastic, very clever observations using this premise to its fullest effect.
The Bad: Coarse sexual humour is a real bug bear of mine when done badly (go and watch the Inbetweeners to see how it can be really funny) and Rex’s ‘I’ll let you feel me up’ to the air steward (who has to be gay) is a little tasteless. ‘I’m American too! Can’t I contribute to our global cultural hegemony with a nice frosty cola?’ is a truly dreadful line and the sort that was excised in Children of Earth. The fight at the airport should have been far more hard-hitting rather than the kung-fu panda moves that are on display. At least Gwen looks embarrassed about the moment when the CIA bitch stands in front the taxi with her head on the wrong way – its not a bad idea in theory but the realisation sucks.
Result: At this stage of the game the Miracle is still an thrilling new concept and the first half of the episode is devoted to throwing up some very interesting and unusual developments around the world as the human race refuses to die. Then with a suddenly acceleration of pace the second half of Rendition explodes with excitement as Jack is poisoned and Gwen fights to save his life and Esther realises how much danger she is in. If there is any material that lets this episode down it is the unsubtle approach to the Oswald Danes plotline but that is handled within two or three uncomfortable scenes and doesn’t hamper the good work being done elsewhere too badly. Both Vera and Jilly make their presence felt are by far the most appealing new characters and the set piece on the plane deserves a round of applause for its ability to make you laugh and gasp in equal measures. Two episodes in and Miracle Day is bubbling with fresh ideas and excitement and the show feels as though it is truly on its way to being an international epic. Only the last few painful minutes after the plane touches down drag this down from a 9: 8/10
Dead of Night written by Jane Espenson and directed by Billy Gierhart
This story in a nutshell: The plot comes to a crashing halt…
Hunky Hero: Jack tried to convince Rex that Torchwood works alone and Rex throws that back in his face by reminding him of his dead friends that worked his way in the past. It’s like a slap around the face because Rex might actually have a point.
Welsh Babe: I’m pleased that Gwen is giving Rex a hard time considered he ripped her away from her child, arrested her and treated her like a criminal on no evidence whatsoever. There is lovely quiet moment between Jack and Gwen where they talk about Ianto and how small a team they are now that reminds me of the restrain this show is capable of and guess what – its pretty touching! Its clear from this scene that Gwen would choose her family over her loyalty to Jack and that day is fast approaching.
CIA Survivor: I’m still not sure if I am supposed to like this guy or flirt between that and finding him repulsive but I was definitely experiencing the latter when he was waving his gun sadistically in Friedkin’s face and prolonging his agony. I just think there are better ways to get what you want than throwing your weight around with a gun – oh gosh I’m turning into Sarah Jane! He’s even a complete bastard to his only friends, giving Esther a hard time because she wants to contact her sister who isn’t well.
New Girl: I can’t decide whether I find Esther a little useless because she panics and flounders in tense situations or brave because she throws herself into these insane Torchwood plans despite having no experience. Its quite an interesting mixture because one second you are groaning at her and the next applauding her. Her quiet admission to Gwen that she’s not sure if she can do this anymore is beautifully played and proving Rex wrong is just about the best reason I can think of for Esther to go on.
Daring Doctor: I wasn’t sure about Vera insulting a mans religion to his face (seems a bit playground bully to me) but her assertion that deformed babies that should have died in the womb being born being a mistake is a relevant one. I’m glad it was Vera who stated that we don’t deserve this kind of miracle because we’ll just screw it up – it’s a pessimistic view of the human race but a realistic one. I’m not sure why Rex and Vera couldn’t just be good friends but this being Torchwood naturally they have to jump into bed and screw each others brains out at the first opportunity.
Anti Christ: More offensive material as Oswald is harassed on the street and then beaten up by police officers. None of this is enjoyable to watch, its just violent, ugly television. ‘You should have run faster, Oswald…’
The Good: The direction continues to be inventive with Esther, Jack and Gwen all sliding across the screen in different locations in one continuous motion to suggest this is a team that is working together. I’m really pleased that Gwen kept hold of the alien contact lenses because they are the greatest innovation this show has provided and perfect for espionage.
The Miracle: The Soulless are a new cult preying on the consequences of the Miracle and the scenes of them flooding through the streets with their sad face masks on are some of this episodes most memorable moments. If a man tries to murder his wife to the point where she cannot function but thanks to the Miracle she is still alive they are reclassifying that as assault rather than attempted murder. We’re looking at half a million more pregnancies a day because the 50% of people that spontaneously abort are not aborting. Gwen wonders what all those poets are going to write about other than death.
The Bad: From the first episode I have been unconvinced of Wayne Knight’s portrayal of the head of the CIA. He just doesn’t have the gravitas and the performance errs more towards the comedic than the dramatic. Torchwood is usually filmed in the UK but for this series there is a majority of the production in Wales so wouldn’t it be hilarious if there were loads of gags explaining that the British and the Americans calls things different names. Um, no. Its called subtlety, look it up. The teaser is furiously paced and leads you to believe we are going to get to the centre of this mystery with some speed but then its half an hour of character building scenes that go no where and that is one of the biggest problems with this overlong series. There are moments, sometimes entire episodes that are punchy and dramatic and push the story forward but they are spread amongst moments of laxity and prevaricating that make the whole experience drag far more than it should. Dead of Night is probably the worst example but we’ll experience a few more pointless interludes as the story progresses. I don’t like to make unfair comparisons because clearly Torchwood has a far bigger budget than the Sarah Jane Adventures but when Sarah, Rani and the Brigadier infiltrated a secret facility and the camera pulled over their shoulder as they gasped with astonishment it was a high facility with spaceships and all manner of alien paraphernalia. When Torchwood does the same thing it is a warehouse full of drugs. Personally I prefer the SJA version. The sequence of Rex learning that he cannot even trust his closest friends is pretty redundant, surely he learnt that lesson when his entire organisation turned on him. The infiltration scenes are pretty blandly directed and didn’t we scenes of this exact nature featuring Martha is Reset and Lois Habiba in Children of Earth? Jack being violently beaten is extremely distressing viewing.
The Shallow Bit: John Barrowman tried to convince the audience that the sex scenes in Dead of Night were important to the plot but aside from proving that Jack has mortal needs (and like we ever needed reminding of that) they are entirely gratuitous. I find their inclusion pretty offensive and not because we are seeing intercourse in all its glory and sexualities. There is a time and a place for pornography (which is what this is) and as a ten part storyline is just getting going this not the right place for it. Its inclusion is just to remind people that Torchwood can do sex and hasn’t been censored by the Americans. Big whoop. It’s a shame that something as pant stirring hot as this sequence should feel so pointless and distasteful and insulting to its audience. The response ‘What for? Can’t die now, don’t need nothing in between’ to Jack’s question of protection is one of the ugliest things I have ever heard a character say on TV.
Result: After two genuinely dynamic episodes Miracle Day grinds to halt with Dead of Night and an episode that for the most part that feels entirely redundant this early in the run is a troubling sign. The pace is far too sluggish throughout with pauses for some gratuitous sex and bitch fights and the dialogue made me groan far more than it made me whoop (astonishing considering Jane Espenson is one of my favourite Buffy writers because of her dialogue). I’m not sure what is going on with the Oswald Danes storyline but it isn’t doing anything for me and all the interesting stuff surrounding the Miracle is pushed aside for some dull character building material. Its such a shame that this season couldn’t have been condensed into six episodes because with filler material like this excised I’m sure the audience would have grown rather than reduced. For the most part this reminds me of the worst of the first season of Torchwood; fractious relations between unlikable characters, pointless sex and violence which makes the show feel more immature than it does adult and some really unpleasant moments. After Children of Earth and the first two episodes of Miracle Day this feels like a massive step backwards for the series: 3/10
Escape to LA written by Jim Gray & John Shiban and directed by Billy Gierhart
This story in a nutshell: What is PhiCorp up to? Torchwood investigates…
Welsh Babe: Really cute scenes between Gwen and Rhys which actually mean something because we are already invested in these character from previous seasons and their relationship continues to flourish throughout this story. She has never felt so far away from home (even if she is enjoying the LA atmosphere) and doesn’t trust the hospitals to look after her Dad. She will soon learn just how right she was about that. How effective is Gwen’s cold fear as she is held at knifepoint and told that her pain will last forever – its sadistic and horrible.
CIA Survivor: Suddenly, shockingly Rex is one of the good guys and being written with some element of likeability. Its not like he had some kind of epiphany in the last episode so I guess the writers have just decided its about time we started getting on with this character. Considering what an asshole he was in the first three episodes its quite a leap. However I much prefer Rex this way so lets judge it a leap in the right direction. He’s very touchy about the subject of his family which is understandable when we meet his estranged father who blames Rex and the people he represents for the situation at the moment. He is living in squalor and he doesn’t want to live forever in poverty and when Rex sheds a tear when he dad doesn’t give a damn how close his son came to dying we realise that he does have a softer side underneath all that bluster. Rex cannot believe that the old Torchwood members keep treating this mess as though it is a game. You want to slap him when he violently blames Esther for messing up and then applaud him for scaling 66 flights of steps with a ruptured chest. By the time he reaches the top he is covered in blood and exhausted and his strength of will is extraordinary.
New Girl: Esther visiting her sister is useful for her character but it is a complete narrative dead end and they devote far too much time to it. It is useful to see how badly people are reacting to the scaremongers on the internet talking about diseases running riot across America and Esther does make a very tough decision to phone up social services and get the children to safety. Its good material. I just wish it had been developed, followed up and led to some kind of conclusion. Its dropped in the middle of this television novel diverting us away from the central plot and ultimately feels superfluous which is a shame.
Anti Christ: I have to say that despite my reservations with the Oswald storyline thus far I have to hand out some kudos to Bill Pullman for bringing to life such a thoroughly loathsome creation so convincingly. Its not easy to take on a role that can be described as ‘the Devil in human form’ but he attacks the role with absolute conviction, stressing the wrongness of this guy at every turn with his slurred speech, slavering eyes and the way he touches and smells everything as though it is the first time. The way he calls Jilly ‘Missy’ makes me want to throw up because he somehow manages to patronise her despite his history. When the cameras move away from him onto the latest crackpot group to benefit and thrive on the morality of the Miracle he is genuinely upset because he knows that when people get bored of his rhetoric he will be thrown back to the wolves. Its astonishing that in the midst of all this sickness and pessimism at the heart of society the one ray of hope comes from a man like Oswald Danes. I don’t know if I should be impressed or depressed about this development but it is sure an uncomfortable direction to take his story in and that I applaud. Suddenly he is talking on behalf of the sick and the living dead as some kind of messiah for the undead. To see a convicted paedophile holding up a baby as a symbol of hope for the sick is so twisted I can barely comprehend it. Brave, indeed.
Public Relations: More Jilly can only be a good thing after she was tucked away in the previous episode and practically reduced to a walk on – unthinkable! Her loose morals are on display as she admits that she cannot stand the sight of Oswald but if those she works for think that he is important she will kiss his boots if she has to. He unbridled glee at Oswald’s disgusting display of Godhood is genuinely very funny.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He was just about to tell us…and you shot him in the throat!’
‘We have been planning this so carefully for such a long time. Because we are everywhere. We are always. We are no one. And soon the families will rise.’
The Good: I wonder if Billy Gierhart had déjà vu when putting this episode together because it starts with lots of character scenes and ends with an espionage sequence just like the last episode! However he seems to have gotten the hang of this material now and injects the right level of energy and fun into the undercover scenes here that was completely lacking in Dead of Night. The sequence of Jack and Gwen pretending to be all American overbearingly proud parents in order to steal Nicholas Frumkin’s voice print, fingerprints and retina scan really works and the season could have done with far more amusing moments like this. Ellen is a delightfully madcap character who is using the Miracle to gain public profile and preaching isolation of the sick and hiding her twisted morals behind religion. I love the way she suggests to the cameras that she is not doing any of this for herself but for a new heaven on Earth but as soon as Oswald steals her limelight her ego is seriously affronted. Her eventual fate to live the rest of her life crushed inside of a car with just an eye staring out in horror from the wreckage is so offbeat and quirky for a second I remember that I am watching Torchwood and not a current affairs show. With the heist suddenly we are in Alias territory with Gwen in disguise as a sex kitten and lots of ariel shots of skyscrapers! Rhys phoning to give Gwen and update on the family during their top secret missions made me grin from ear to ear (Rex cannot believe there is so much domestic activity when they are supposed to focussing on the job at hand!). With Torchwood being shadowed throughout the episode, bodies piling up in their wake and the violent methods of their attacker during the heist there is a palpable sense of danger that is essential to make this sort of thing work. Fantastic direction as we hear Rex’s heartbeat pounding in his ears as the blood rushes from his chest wound – its really grisly. I love the mysterious triangle symbol, the writers created an ominous background threat now that they have to live up to. This time the heist actually pushes the plot forward with the reveal of the Overflow camps and a timely call from Rhys (hang on…they could have just hung about eaten crisps and he could have told them about the camps without all that malarkey!) to say that Gwen’s dad has been taken to one of the camps suddenly ties the two plots on either side of the globe together beautifully.
The Miracle: After putting the central issue aside this episode picks up the Miracle and keeps on shaking it until all sorts of interesting ideas fall out. People who have had heart attacks are being replaced at work but its not as if they are going to die. The Dead Is Dead campaign is all about treating those who should be dead as though they already are dead. Short term measures are being put in place to tidy away the sick in something akin to plague ships from yesteryear. People are starting to move from the panic of the Miracle to thinking it might be a Golden Age but only as long as the sick and the old are moved out of sight. ‘Sometimes segregation is vital and necessary’ – that brings a whole new meaning to ouch. I like that the writers show that in extreme circumstances the human race will go to disgusting measures to try and pretend that everything is normal in society by tucking away the diseased to suffer amongst themselves.
The Bad: Hanging out on a beach in LA is more about saying ‘look we’re filming in America!’ than it is an actual necessary shift of location. Its pretty but once again this material is completely pointless. Get on with the plot already. Every season the writers seem to want to constantly remind us of the people that suffer because Torchwood gets involved and this episode explicitly states it and then perversely murder Nicholas Frumkin knowing he will have to stay alive with a severed neck or something else equally appalling to drive the point home. Why the fuck should we want Torchwood to resurrected when its clear they murder as many people as it save? Can’t the writers ever look on bright side of this organisation?
The Shallow Bit: Barrowman looks smoking hot dressed up as the delivery man and Gwen should set some shippers minds reeling as she goes undercover dressed as a sharp businesswoman. ‘Whoever wears heels to work is heroic!’ she notes.
Result: Storylines start to converge and tangle but things are definitely interesting again. Escape to LA is packed full of the one thing its predecessor was lacking in serious doses…fun! There is a great deal of energy and frothiness to this episode which is only occasionally marred by moments of Jerry Springer-esque melodrama. Its lovely to see the Torchwood team (new and old) working together so successfully and this is the mission that finally gels them into an effective unit. Rex in particular is handled with much greater care in this episode and despite the odd moment of madness (screaming at Esther whilst she is trying to concentrate might not have been the best of ideas) he emerges as a hero (the pain he suffers to save Gwen and Jack is agonising to watch). The Miracle is given some real consideration again and things are developing at a rate of knots with Oswald and Jilly. I would suggest skipping from Rendition to Escape to LA because you wont lose a thing (maybe some hot steamy sex) and the story would flow far more enjoyably without 50 odd minutes of padding jammed in the middle. We’re back to intelligent, essential storytelling again and they better make sure and keep it up: 8/10
The Categories of Life written by Jane Espenson and directed by Guy Ferland
This story in a nutshell: Torchwood investigates the overflow camps…
Hunky Hero: Considering he is unique in this situation (as Esther points out he is category Jack) he is starting to feel a bit like an extra in his own show. The team is starting to gel, Gwen has her own narrative back in Wales and everybody else is off investigating the overflow camps but poor Jack is left to watch the screens and wait. If I were going to insist upon a gratuitous sex scene like the one in Dead of Night I probably would have added it here.
Welsh Babe: Seeing Rhys dressed up as a chauffeur and picking up Gwen from the airport means that more cute scenes between these persist. Remember in season one when Gwen was sleeping with Owen behind Rhys’ back and drugging him with the amnesia pill after admitting the truth? These two have really come a long way. Its pretty awesome that some of Gwen’s job has rubbed off on her mother who has been investigating the locations of the overflow camps! Of all the things she has fought in the name of Torchwood Gwen cannot believe that it is red tape that stops her now.
CIA Survivor: Once again Rex shows how brave he is by infiltrating the overflow camp as a category one patient and being carried inside the tomb like modules. It feels as though he is starting to find some happiness with Vera which is always a bad sign for a Torchwood character and by the episodes close he is unable to prevent her death and has to film it to expose the horrors that are going on inside the camp. What an awful decision to have to make – if it was my husband I don’t know if I could do it but respect for the character for forcing himself to watch the woman he loves be burnt alive to bring this whole sorry business down.
Daring Doctor: The idea of Vera joining the cause is the best thing I have heard since the series began – she by far my favourite character. Patience are being held behind barbed wire fences which means she wants to get the whole sorry Miracle business resolved. Her assertion that Torchwood calling themselves freedom fighters sounds like ‘terrorist’ is a succinct one because the way they have been behaving of late, working against the system would certainly be considered terrorism. Her blind anger when she realises how badly the overflow camps are being run is electrifying to watch. Watching the resentment between Vera and Maloney break out violently is so uncomfortable to watch and grabbed my mouth with shock when he grabbed the gun and shot her twice. Its so quick and violent and you don’t see it coming which makes it all the more effective. Vera writhing on the floor screaming for help as she bleeds to death is deeply uncomfortable and yet the worst is yet to come. Knowing that you are going to die must be the most awful feeling and Vera is burnt alive screaming for help. The series suffers because of her absence but this is definitely a dramatic high for the season.
Anti Christ: ‘You can’t have Miracle Day without a miracle…’ 20,000 people have turned up to listen to what Oswald Danes has to say – that really is a miracle but again I do understand it because in times of change and terror people do turn to the most appalling of sources for comfort. Even the Oswald storyline leads to a tense moment at the climax as to whether he will endorse PhiCorp (as Jilly wants him to) or condemn them (as Jack suggests). Its an important moment for the character because he gets to prove if he really is just glory hunting or genuinely looking to help the situation.
Public Relations: I could watch Jilly and Oswald all day because theirs continues to be a fascinating relationship where she almost enjoys winding him up about how much people hate him whilst at the same time having to dance to his whims. Her ‘careful with the blood lust, its showing’ was a fantastic line. Lauren Ambrose is very impressive and I am pleased her role only strengthens as the show progresses. It would appear that Jilly is being noticed by all the right people – she is on the Families radar now.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They have taken control of life and death…’- this line is essential to the overall story because that is exactly what the Families are after.
The Good: Anwen is the cutest thing I have ever seen on television. I actually squeed when I saw PC Andy because it is another (albeit tenuous) link to the past. In fact the early scenes with so many of Gwen’s family and friends taking centre stage and the action back in Cardiff are the most Torchwood like material of the series so far. We are approaching Children of Earth levels of discomfort as PhiCorp takes uses the Army to prevent people from seeing their loved ones or removing them from the overflow camps. There is nothing more frightening than a sense of helplessness and seeing Gwen panic as she can’t smart talk her way past the armed guards and see God knows what is going on with her dad is very tense. Miracle Day is suddenly taking the personal approach and we are a lot more emotionally invested as a result. Keeping the Modules out of view of the public suggests there is something to hide and it is a great mystery to keep this series chugging along. There is a crane shot of the overflow camp that reveals the kind of money they are throwing at this series – what looks like hundreds of extras and a convincingly staged military medical facility. Colin Maloney is such a vile, patronising misogynist and he is played to perfection by Marc Vann who deserves a lot of kudos for playing such a nasty piece of work so convincingly. It’s the way he hides his casual sexism and fear of the what he is doing to the category 1s behind smiles and that southern drawl of his – you just want to smack him in the face from the moment he enters the story. Unbelievably in the middle of all this suffering he has a golf cart with his name plastered above the American flag to drive himself around the camp with a comedy horn! Gwen learns the hard way that her interference might not always be the best option as her rescue attempt causes her father to have another heart attack whereas he was perfectly fine in the overflow camp. The scenes of Rex waking up inside the module with the bodies stacked up like slabs of meat on metal beds are deeply unpleasant and yet utterly gripping – I was desperate to know what was going on. Filming scenes directly from the camcorders point of view is a very dramatic device, its really well done. Maloney proves what a weak man he is by murdering Vera to cover up his own inadequacies. Just the thought of building ovens to burn people alive is stomach churning but to have to witness Vera die in this fashion is obscene. This is great television though, Simon and I were literally slacked jawed when the credits came up and mouthing ‘but…but…’ for about a minute. What really sells this a brilliant development for me was that me and my husband started discussing the rights and wrongs of the situation, how the government would deal with population control and whether these people who should be dead have a right to be alive or not. Any show that can provoke that sort of heavy conversation must be doing something right.
The Miracle: Bureaucracy has been pushed aside and instead of dead and alive there are now three categories of life. Category one is people who have no brain function or anyone who would have normally died. Category two is everybody in between, people who are alive and functioning with an illness or injury that will persist but not killed. Category three is ordinary people with no injuries who are fine. Anybody who is considered category 1 or 2 is to be taken to the newly constructed overflow camps. Through the category system the government now has the power to condemn you as dead or alive. Those people without insurance are being kept in ‘storage’, not fed or given any medical attention.
The Bad: I have watched Torchwood for long enough to know as soon as the team is all smiling, touchy feely and making out bad things are on the horizon. Although I wish that wasn’t the case. What was the point of Jack shadowing Oswald?
Result: Wow, that was bleak. Completely gripping viewing but the last ten minutes of The Categories of Life show Torchwood at its desolate best. This is million times better than Jane Espenson’s first script; the dialogue is sharp, the plot roars ahead and the characters feel much more real. Having two narratives investigating the overflow camps on both sides of the world gives this episode much more focus than the others so far this year – Rex feels like he is really in danger and Gwen has a very personal stake in this operation. But ultimately this is Vera’s episode and the way Espenson tricks us into thinking she part of the team before dispatching her in the most violent way imaginable is both audacious and very cruel. It’s a shame that halfway through the season that this is as unmissable as the Miracle Day plot gets (there is another stellar episode but it is a complete diversion from the main storyline) not because it isn’t any good because for the most part it is excellent but because there are still five episodes to go. If the whole run had been as attention grabbing as this they would beating down Davies door for another series. A fantastic mystery, some ominous and exciting build up and a satisfying, distressing and shocking payoff at the climax, The Categories of Life is by far the strongest episode of Miracle Day yet. If I were to show just one episode to prove this season was worth making this would be it: 9/10
The Middle Men written by John Shiban and directed by Guy Ferland
This story in a nutshell: Rex is tortured, Esther kills, Gwen rescues and Jack investigates...but nobody achieves all that much.
Hunky Hero: Its nearly 20 minutes into this episode until Jack shows up which reveals just how the emphasis of this show has shifted. Until that point I wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t been in it and in all honesty the scene in the bar where he tries a little emotional blackmail with a PhiCorp administrator is easily the weakest scene. John Barrowman does know how to underplay because we have seen it in the past, he just doesn’t do it very often. This could have been a subtly menacing moment but instead its just a bit embarrassing. We he gate crashes Ernie Hudson’s dinner and exposes his affair to his wife I was cringing.
Welsh Babe: Gwen continues to be our emotional lynchpin for this series and her plaintive pleas to have the category of her father changed are heartbreaking because we know what fate awaits him if she fails. She categorically informs the medical staff that they can no longer call themselves Doctors if they are knowingly sending people to their deaths. Now they are executioners. I don’t think I have ever felt the series has tried to push her more into the role of an action heroine than at the moment where she drives away from an almighty explosion in slow motion. Its typical Torchwood subtlety but it sure packs in some class.
CIA Survivor: Finally Rex is starting to feel like one of the team and it all starts when he admits that he is now working with Torchwood and starts showing some appropriate emotion after what he witnessed in the previous episode. Shoving a hand held camera right in his face allows Mekhi Phifer to emote with appropriate intimacy and we feel closer to the character than ever. He’s put through hell (again) which seems to be the only way we can be made to feel for him. Considering how horrid he has been to her so far it is lovely to see Rex comforting Esther after her first kill. Mind you after the High School Musical hug he tells her to ‘get it together…and fast’ so I guess he needs to work on his method.
New Girl: It surprised me that it was Esther who was the one who took Colin out. Its nice to see that she has teeth when she needs them. Of course she immediately loses points for forgetting that nobody dies today and just as the killer in a horror movie will have one last stab and taking the hero out before finally expiring Colin returns from the dead to give her a beating.
The Miracle: The 45 club philosophy is to get as close to death as possible, committing suicide in all but consequence and existing in a near death state. We learn that Phi Corp bought some land in Shanghai for some unknown purpose but as soon as it is investigated by an agent he kills himself after what he discovers. ‘I’m not the one who makes the rules’ says one of the Doctors who know that their patients are being burnt. That’s how they sleep at night.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Everybody gets sick which means one day everybody ends up here. Those ovens are waiting for all of us.’
‘This place is being built on institutional murder.’
- The appearance of Ernie Hudson in the first scene made me smile. I’m one of those 30-somethings that absolutely adored the Ghostbusters films when he was growing up. Its important to remember the sort of acting talent Miracle Day managed to attract (see all John de Lancie, Nana Visitor and Bill Pullman).
- Its only when you watch the special features on the DVD that you can see the lengths that the set designers went to to convince that they actually went to Shanghai to film. These atmospherically dressed scenes give the piece a truly international feel.
- Colin Maloney continues to be an interesting character simply because he is so vile. Marc Vann plays him as a weak man who is trapped in impossible circumstances, a man who tries to fight against such hideous acts but has been forced into doing so because he is a pathetic man who wants to try and salvage his reputation after murdering Vera. Its fascinating to watch him get deeper and deeper in shit as continues to hurt our heroes and hinder their investigations and there is an uncomfortable anxiety to his violence that makes him feel really unpredictable and dangerous. After murdering Vera I couldn’t wait to see Rex dish out some punishment. What I like about the inclusion of Colin is that he isn’t the central villain of the piece but loathsome man who has been caught up in the works of this plot and has taken the opposite path to Torchwood, hurting instead of helping. He’s irredeemable and whilst he is the one torturing Rex you know there will come a time when the tables will turn. He is marked. The way he keeps going on about badminton is really funny and quite chilling, he’s trying to cling on to his old, normal, life when he knows that he has gone too far to ever claim that back again. ‘All I want to do is go home…’
- One thing that Torchwood has achieved really well in both Children of Earth and Miracle Day is that truly discomforting feeling of having to try and defy the law once it has gone to hell thanks to the aliens demanding children/the Miracle leading to them burning people alive. In Children of Earth it meant trying to hide away a handful of children from the buses that have come to collect them. In Miracle Day it means trying to save Gwen’s father from the furnaces. In both cases there is the uncomfortable truth that the authorities have become the bad guys. It’s a whole different ball game when the bad guys aren’t aliens or devils with pointy horns but the very people who run the world, when they come in police uniforms and medical smocks.
- Rex being stabbed with the pen in his bloody wounds is really horrible. Somehow its more horrible than when the pole speared him in the first place because there is somebody at the other end of it trying to make him feel pain.
- Gwen’s explosive message to the government proves what a kick ass action hero she really is. And that is a great explosion.
- The cliffhanger is excellent and is exactly the sort of thing to entice you to watch again next week but some part of me thinks (considering all the polyfiller that holds this episode together) that this should have been the pre titles sequence. It comes to something when the first point during an episode where the plot progresses is the last scene.
The Bad: It says something about the confidence of this season that they are willing to spend the first five minutes of this episode with none of the regular characters and head off on a plot diversion that we have no understanding of at this point. It could alienate some viewers who want this epic piece of storytelling to start to coalesce but by not involving any characters we recognise it doesn’t feel like it is going to have any consequences. What made Categories of Life so effective was that all the characters felt as though the situation was carrying them in its wake and they were powerless to stop it. You simply didn’t know what extremes the authorities were going to and when you found it out it was truly horrifying. By having Rex pose as a guard and get up to the usual Torchwood shenanigans a lot of that danger has vanished and instead the situation starts to normalise. It feels safe. There comes a point when even the Colin Maloney sequences start to drag. When it all comes down to a big bloody bitch fight between him and Esther I was screaming ‘just die already!’ at the TV so we could move with the story. I wasn’t entirely sure how Rex could condemn Colin the one hand and excuse Ether on the other when they have both murdered somebody. I know Vera being burnt alive and Colin being strangled are two very different things in this situation but murder is still murder. Proving that this has all been a massive diversion Gwen helps to free her dad from the Overflow camp and then says that she’s back off to America to get on with the plot. She seems to globe trot like a jet setting secret agent.
Result: The Middle Men has much to recommend it but proves what I have long suspected about Miracle Day – that it is simply too long and unwieldy to work. There is probably enough plot in the season to sustain about six episodes and so what that leaves us with is four episodes worth of padding. The Middle Men, like Rendition before it, is a breather episode after the dramatic high of The Categories of Life. Some of the padding is affecting such as Gwen’s protection of her father and some of its annoying like Jack’s investigation of PhiCorp. Some plots seem to have been forgotten altogether this week. Oswald Danes? Who’s he? And the fallout of Vera’s death is practically nominal. Children of Earth worked so well because at five episodes long there was little room to breathe so it kept giving and giving and built to an incredibly climactic final episode. In comparison (and despite some truly outstanding material) Miracle Day is flabby and full of dramatic dead ends. Ernie Hudson’s speech about middle men is a perfect example, completely irrelevant but pretending to be otherwise and ultimately revealing nothing because it is too early in the season to do so. I love the Colin Maloney sequences because they are so nasty but ultimately these are just filler too. And even the sequences with Gwen and her father are just character development and have nothing to do with the plot either. The Middle Men is all about running on the spot for an hour and offering the barest crumb of information (something about ‘the Blessing’). Its beautifully acted and filmed but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t just fat injected into Miracle Day to fulfil its running time. The title and theme of this episode prove that, this is the Middle Men of episodes: 5/10
Immortal Sins written by Jane Espenson and directed by Gwentyh Horder-Payton
Hunky Hero: It’s the damdest thing but John Barrowman seems to get worse as a performer as this show continues, concentrating on his entertainment roots rather than a dramatic background to bring the character of Jack Harkness to life. And yet you ask him to take part in a historical version of Queer as Folk and he’s all over the material like a fly around shit, playing the character as a thoughtful, nuanced individual who is not afraid to make tough choices. It’s not even that I think Barrowman is engaged because this is a gay romance to sink his teeth into because he always gives 100% (well 200%, that’s the problem), but it does seem that all of a sudden he has remembered how to bring it down a little and imbue the material with some depth. It happened in season one’s Captain Jack Harkness too. In my own backhanded way this is me saying that it is one of the most complex and accomplished performances Barrowman ever gave on the show. There is undeniable chemistry between him and Favilli as Angelo and when it comes down to it (if you know what I mean) they make a pretty hot couple. But it is the complicated turns their relationship takes that makes it really work. Jack was in a unique position in twenties to not give a shit what people thought about his sexuality, the fact that he was unable to die meant that he could take more risks than the average person. It looks like, for a short time, Jack has a companion to hang around with that he genuinely has feelings for (he even makes the comparison between himself and the Doctor in this respect). If people were continually taken away from him, or killed, or aged and died then I guess it explains his rather ambiguous approach to most relationships. For a religious man who hasn’t watched the first series of Doctor Who and all of Torchwood and has seen the man he loves shot in the head and then resurrected a year later it would be one hell of a mind fuck. It’s no wonder that Angelo starts to doubt Jack’s word and sees him as something more dangerous than the guy he fell in love with. Jack’s very nature is what prevents them being together and it is something he is going to have to hide in the future in order to make relationships work. At the end of the episode it genuinely feels like Jack and Gwen are saying goodbye to each other and she asks for him to tell her all the things that he has never said about his life. Surely living all those lives is some kind of consolation…but Jack swears it is still not enough.
‘Next time just ask for help. I’m sick of Torchwood acting like amateur clowns’ – aren’t we all, mate.
The Good Stuff: This is the sort of thing that Angel used to do all the time, dipping into its central characters past in order to add some depth to a situation that is playing out in contemporary times. I believe there was an episode where we saw Angel murdered over and over again as well so the inspiration for this episode is pretty obvious. Something that Torchwood does very well I think is to put its characters in tough positions and forces them to make hard choices. Sometimes it pushes this to extremes (Jack killing off his own grandson at the end of Children of Earth was as horrible as it was gripping) but other times it really gets the balance right (the twist that people were being burnt to death in camps to prevent the population rising over a certain level was a magnificent shock at the end of episode five this season). Gwen is put in the impossible situation of betraying her friend or saving her family in Immortal Sins and whilst she makes the right call it cannot have been easy. The show promoted the impossible situation and didn’t back out of forcing Gwen to make the choice and I respect it for that because so many drama shows promise hard decisions and then duck out at the last minute. I liked the conceit of both Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures (the Trickster) being mentioned in an episode that is so unlike both of those shows, tying Torchwood even when it is off doing its own thing into the overall mythology. Angelo and Jack involving themselves in extra terrestrial activities in the past proves to be surprisingly fun and I could have hung around with the pair of them for much longer than we do (‘here’s one of the secrets…run!’). The scenes of Jack tied up and tortured are some of the most disturbing the show has ever produced but it doesn’t feel over the top the way Torchwood often does because it is an event that springs organically out of the story that has been told. It harms all the more because Jack has been betrayed by somebody who he thought he could rely on. As everybody steps forward to cut away their pound of flesh I was left wincing at the cruelty of the punishment but entirely understanding the mentality of the crowd that were dishing it out. It’s one of the shows best moments. Uncomfortable but understandable and grounded in character. Even the score is fantastic. Afterwards Jack looks genuinely haunted, like this is one event he wont be getting over in a hurry. Angelo had a choice and he made the wrong one and as a result he loses the man he loves. It’s not the first time somebody has made that mistake and it certainly wont be the last. How this all ties in with the contemporary Miracle Day narrative is yet to be determined but the awesome cliffhanger (featuring one of my favourite actresses – Nana Visitor) certainly suggests that this dip into the past has certainly been for a reason. Time will tell. Plus it shows that CIA boy and the newbie aren’t just hanging out on the periphery but actually can provide a surprise or too. This new Torchwood team seems to be working out as they rescue Jack, Gwen and her family in one swoop. Bravo.
The Shallow Bit: It seems that every script that Espenson writes this year has to include a gay sex scene. It was gratuitous and tasteless in Dead of Night but has found a much more comfortable home in Immortal Sins, which at its heart is about the relationship between two men. Angelo is a character in his own right and the chemistry between the actors is right there on the screen and so the intimacy that they share is built into the episode itself rather than simply being a thrill for its own sake. It worked for me, anyhow. Plus all the dirty talk foreplay made me come over all peculiar (although I was momentarily dragged out of the moment by the bizarrest description of a kiss ever: ‘all teeth and wet and hot’). The ensuing post coital chat between Jack and Angelo is gorgeously played by both actors – I don’t think Barrowman has ever looked so comfortable in the part.
Result: When the prolonged deviation from the main plot turns out to be the best episode of the season it does start to make you wonder about the veracity of the Miracle Day plot but a winner is still a winner and this episodes scores big in terms of storytelling, performances, characterisation and direction. Not bad for a show that is supposedly on its last legs. Jane Espenson has always been much more comfortable as a character writer and this suits her talents far more than her efforts earlier in the season where she was asked to juggle a hundred plots at once. It’s a return to old school Torchwood bringing the show back to being about Jack and Gwen, dealing with the formers waltz through the 20th Century and the latters choice between her best friend and her family. What Immortal Sins proves is that the show has learnt some valuable lessons from the first two seasons of the show as this material is far more subtle and intelligently written than much of that early output with some real character development as both characters are forced to make some uncomfortable decisions. The 1927 scenes have a gorgeous atmosphere to them, like we have literally stepped back into New York of the past (the sepia tint helps to convince that we have leapt into an old photograph) and the Jack/Angelo relationship is one I can genuinely buy into because the chemistry between the actors is so strong. You can feel from the off that something is going to go horribly wrong between these guys but when the moment of betrayal comes it still cuts deep (literally) because it is Jack’s nature that turns Angelo against him. Things are about to get overly complicated and the show will limp home to a disappointing conclusion but at this point Miracle Day is firing on all cylinders. It might not be the most necessary story to be told within this season of Torchwood but it is an atmospheric, gripping and extremely well realised episode. By far the best of the year: 10/10
End of the Road written by Jane Espenson & Ryan Scott and directed by Gwenneth Horder-Payton
End of the Road written by Jane Espenson & Ryan Scott and directed by Gwenneth Horder-Payton
Hunky Hero: It says something about Jack's effect on Angelo that after they split he spent the rest of his life looking for a way to share his immortality. Angelo's granddaughter figures that he must be horrified because he has grown so old but Jack rebuts that by admitting that that is how he sees the whole world. Jack sported a pretty horrific moustache in the seventies, as witness in a photograph on Angelo's mantelpiece. I'm not sure if Angelo spying on Jack across the decades is touching or a little creepy but it does add more weight to their relationship in Immortal Sins. Clearly he had a profound impact on the man. I like the fact that somebody turns around to Jack and points out that he isn't so remarkable and that there are life forms on Earth that could also be considered immortal, even before the Miracle. This feels like quite a responsible take on his character, not mythologizing him as so many writers feel the need to but humanizing him. Throughout Miracle Day it has seemed as though the writers have opted for such a radical shift in the human race to make sure that Jack is fallible...now we are being told that it is his 'gift' bestowed by Rose that caused this problem in the first place. Jack wasn't above giving Angel some tips about the 20th Century to navigate his way through and make a profit, there's something that the Doctor would never do. A touch of continuity with a gentle mention of Ianto, this show hasn't forgotten its past completely despite appearances this year.
Welsh Babe: 'You will be removed from American soil immediately and God help Great Britain!' Returning to Rhys and Gwen's parents just doesn't feel relevant anymore. It feels like we should be wrapping this series up now, not padding it out with even more character work.
New Girl: Esther is something of a liability. Not aware that there is gunplay happening in the side mirrors of her car, distracted by her ailing sister (okay I can understand that) and how many times does Jack have to tell her to stop talking about the raised platform in Angelo's bedroom before she takes the hint? She's the most useless character which is irritating because Alexa Havins gives one of the best performances of the year.
The Miracle: There is something horribly ironic about Angelo waiting his whole life to achieve immortality, failing and then as a withered old man receiving the gift because of the Miracle. The story says it started with three men each representing different family. And when Jack was being murdered over and over these three men came and witnessed his resurrection (this nicely ties Immortal Sins into the central plot making the events of that episode the catalyst for Miracle Day). They made an alliance to purchase the power of resurrection and when Jack escape the three families swore they would find the gift again. They lost Jack but they still had his blood, all they had to do was to figure out how to use it. The Blessing is a mythical event that has been referenced but nobody knows what it means. The MSA is the Miracle Security Act, it look like the event is starting to shape national security itself. I loved the gag about smoking becoming the next great joy now mortality is no longer an issue. Death itself is found beneath a gay mans bed, there's a metaphor that will have the left wingers spinning with discontent. The Miracle itself is used as an example to justify Torchwood. The sort of technology that was utilized to create the Miracle was exactly the sort of thing that Torchwood was designed to protect and keep out of public hands. I quite like that, the very nature of this series validating why the organisation is needed again.
The Good: It is starting to feel like a Star Trek convention with Nana Visitor and John de Lancie appearing in the same episode. Fortunately de Lancie is given more of an opportunity to shine, playing a cocksure, mouthy CIA boss who dissolves tension by stamping on everyone in the room. It's another impressive turn in a season full of memorable guest appearances. Torchwood continues to rise from the ashes of a world on the brink of chaos. Both Children of Earth and Miracle Day seemed to have the objective of dragging the organisation into obscurity only for its central operatives to defy expectations against insurmountable odds and save the day through controversial means. It was urgently required because the arrogance of the team and their egotistical approach to their investigations was a real stumbling block in the first two seasons of the show. It wasn't until they were being belittled, literally dragged through the mud that I began to feel anything but apathy for Torchwood. I can usually always find it within myself to sympathise with the underdog and Torchwood very much fits that description in the shows final two season, especially in Miracle Day when they always seem to be on the run for their lives and treating abominably. By enemies and allies alike. Come seven episodes of watching a disparate group of characters coming together in desperation under the loose banner of Torchwood it now feels as though there is a semblance of a team at work, and finally those in authority have stopped taking pot shots at them and started working with them. It probably should have come a lot sooner in the season (perhaps by cutting out Dead of Night and The Middle Men) but you can see how the organisation is stating to repair and make a name for itself again. It is clear, chartable, if protracted, journey. Another traitor in the CIA? It should be old hat but the series needed a unexpected surprise at this point and I never saw this one coming.
Result: 'Dying of old age can now be considered a crime!' A much needed bottle episode (or as much of one as you will get with a US funded Torchwood) which contains most of the characters together in one location for the first half and dishes out some explanations. I'm not saying that End of the Road comprehensively explains what this season has all been about but it does start to tie together the loose threads. The side effect of that is to expose all the aspects of Miracle Day that have been made to appear important but have actually been little more than padding. The Oswald Danes plot goes off the boil and descends into tasteless gags about his paedophilia and beating up women. It's all very nasty and uncomfortable to watch. Nana Visitor is wasted in a bit part role which is terminated the second she has gotten through a ton of exposition. Wales feels more distant and irrelevant than ever, a quick phone call home to Rhys and Gwen's parents to reminds us that they still exist. And does anybody give a damn about Esther's sister? Is that actually heading anywhere relevant? On the plus side you have a responsible take on Jack with Barrowman turning in a sensitive performance, a feeling of a Torchwood team starting to cohere and become relevant again and a general impression that this story is heading somewhere after flopping about like a fish out of water for so long. Mind you if this does just end up being a case of technobabble city (sorry morphic fields) then this whole season might turn out to be a colossal waste of time. End of the Road is a bizarre mixture of a series that is starting to live up to its promise but also revealing that a sizeable chunk of what we have already seen is unnecessary: 5/10
The Gathering written by John Shiban and directed by Guy Ferland
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Blood Line written by Russell T Davies & Jane Espenson and directed by Billy Gierhart
TO BE REVIEWED...