Sunday, 21 March 2010

Torchwood: Out of Time

“Of course, bananas are far more interesting.”

Another new writer, then: Catherine Tregenna. A new type of story, too- ten episodes in and we’re still getting an extraordinary diversity of genres and storytelling styles, a pleasantly surprising legacy from the parent show.

For the first time, there’s no physical threat; the whole thing is entirely a character piece. It’s an extraordinary departure, but it works brilliantly. Our three refugees from 1953 are paired off with three of the regulars: Diane with Owen; Emma with Gwen; and John with Jack. All three regulars get a nice bit of development, although once again Tosh and Ianto are neglected, a problem which seems to be intensifying.

The first few minutes are filled with nicely humorous culture clash moments; the bananas line, “I made it myself,” and Diane’s confused reaction to seeing “smoking kills” written on a cigarette packet. But soon we get to see the very different reactions of our three time travellers. Emma eventually adapts, John is unable to cope, and Diane, brilliantly, is rather bored with her new surroundings and embarks on a ridiculously dangerous, thrill-seeking flight through the rift again to face the unknown.

Jack and John are a fascinating pairing, giving Jack what is probably his best bit of characterisation he’s had so far in the series. The two of them quickly bond through having fallen both through time. But John is soon showing signs of being unable to deal with his new surroundings; his tyrannising of Emma shows us that he’s likely to struggle with modern social mores, and his only connection to the life he knew is a son with dementia. Eventually he turns to suicide, as Jack discovers. But there’s a twist: Jack confesses that he is “a man, like you, out of his time, alone and scared.” It’s “bearable” because “it has to be”. As Jack sits alongside John in the car, harmlessly inhaling the fatal fumes, we’re made to suspect the only difference between the two is not that Jack doesn’t want to end it all, but that he can’t.

Emma’s arc is comparatively straightforward; she’s young, and able to adapt. Once again we see the caring side of Gwen as she takes her in, gently introduces her to the modern world (I love their little chat about sex). But this leads to an “oops” moment as Rhys discovers that Gwen’s mother does not, in fact, know anything about Emma. “What worries me is how easy it is for you to lie to me, Gwen,” says Rhys. This particular fault line can only widen as the series approaches its end.

The most interesting couple are Diane and Owen, of course. Diane does not fit either Owen’s or our stereotypes about the ‘50s, being wild and independent yet somehow seeming rather more grown-up than people today. Particularly Owen, who thinks that “We could be fuck-buddies” is a good post-coital line. We get a good conversation about “casual” sex here; Diane has a rather deeper understanding of such things than Owen. In fact, Owen’s his usual self here, by which I mean he’s a bit of an arse; his convoluted confession of love to Diane shows this perfectly. Of course, she means a lot more to him than he does to her. Diane is a free spirit, craving experience and stifled by the ease and convenience of the twenty-first century, while Owen’s a bit clingy and, well, shallow. The manner of Diane’s departure is perfect.

Very good indeed, a high 4/5.

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