Friday, 26 February 2010

Torchwood: Small Worlds

“…For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

I’m not that familiar with P.J. Hammond’s work, having only seen the first one-and-a-half “assignments” of Sapphire and Steel in spite of having owned the box set for ages, but he’s impressed me here and no mistake. It’s a brilliant, bleak, imaginative treatment of a fantasy archetype and yet another genre / mood for Torchwood. It’s just a shame that Tosh, Owen and Ianto make little more than token appearances, although it’s noticeable that Tosh shows some medical skills here.

We (and Gwen) get to see a little more of Jack’s past as we’re introduced to Estelle, his ex-girlfriend from before the war, and Gwen realises he’s not only immortal but apparently ageless; “He’d be in his early nineties now,” says Estelle of Jack’s “father”. We also learn that he was in India (well, Lahore was in India then…) in 1909 at some point, although where exactly this slots in is not yet clear. All this nicely develops the mystery of Jack and promises us a lot of juicy goodness to come. All the same, though, this new serious version of Jack is now looking to be a worryingly permanent presence, and John Barrowman isn’t quite as convincing as this version of the character.

But the story is about the faeries (I’m going to spell them that way, ‘cos it’s cooler), of course, and to make them sinister, all-powerful beings whose origin is shrouded in mystery but hinted at in a really cool way (“lost lands”) is a masterstroke. The story focuses on their “chosen one”, Jasmine, perhaps to the extent of neglecting most of the regulars but successfully nonetheless. Her fairy protectors deal with bullies, a sinister paedophile (an eyebrow-raising inclusion) and her stepfather Roy, who quite cleverly is shown to be just about nasty enough to deserve his fate, at one point telling Jasmine “…No wonder your dad left,” and later striking her. Worst of all, of course, he drinks horrible lager from a can. You’ve got to say it for the bloke, though; if you want a fence putting up lightning quick then he’s your man.

The ending is bleak and powerful; there’s absolutely nothing our heroes could have done. Jack is absolutely right to give in, as the only alternative is the end of all life on the planet. The team’s reaction to him is a bit callous, though, and stinks more than a little of moral cowardice. What else do they think he could have done, exactly?

There are a couple of niggles over Jack’s character and the neglect of members of the team other than Jack, Gwen, and to a lesser extent Owen- this is starting to look like a running sore- but as an episode this was superb. Not perfect, but still enough for a 5/5.

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