Monday, 24 May 2010

Torchwood: Sleeper

“Let’s all have sex.”

“And I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse…”

The “21st century is when everything changes” spiel is back, it seems. Except that now Torchwood is ready. Ooh.

No beating about the bush; this is the best episode of Torchwood yet, basically. It’s James Moran’s first script to crop up in the Marathon and he nails it first time. It’s not just the script, though; Nikki Amuka-Bird is just amazing, and surely gives the best guest performance in Torchwood to date.

The set-up seems deceptively simple at first; a simple murder mystery with an apparent supernatural cause. But things get very tense and nuanced and well-written as soon as things turn to the interrogation of Beth. This touches all sorts of issues; civil liberties; habeas corpus; torture; the “war” on “terror”; but it all boils down to the abuse of power by unaccountable agencies. The script is admirably restrained in the presentation of these scenes, but I think it’s clear once again that Torchwood are not necessarily supposed to be the good guys, however likeable they may be as people. Even Gwen’s scruples amount to little more than self-reassurance as the boundaries of what is acceptable keep getting pushed a little more.

Still, at least they’ve managed to lighten up a bit while engaging in their morally dodgy behaviour. Jack and Ianto even manage to do a bit of flirting, and in spite of the situation Jack is far from being the misery guts of last season.

But there’s a twist; Beth is indeed an alien sleeper agent, part of a plot to take over the planet. And then there’s another; her surface personality, which is essentially her, has no idea of any of this. What are Torchwood to do with her? She’s simultaneously innocent and incredibly dangerous. Again there are parallels here on the issue of what to do with unconvicted terrorist suspects, although I’d be wary of taking that analogy as far as the story’s conclusion; a lot of these sort of topical references are more a question of tone and resonance than any kind of developed analogy, and rightly so. Possibly. I should probably have a good think about all this but I want to get a move on with my reviews. It’s good to see Torchwood doing this sort of thing, though.

The team attempt to compromise with cryogenics, a cop-out (representing control orders?), but other sleepers are awakening, in some fantastic scenes. Particularly effective is the scene of the baby in a pushchair rolling into a busy road.

Things speed up as the sleepers go into action, while an escaped Beth just wants to see her husband- and the alien inside her kills him. Amuka-Bird is again incredible here. Her eventual “suicide by cop” is shocking yet believable; as Jack says, she knew they’d have to kill her, so she made it easier.

Incredible, 5/5, the finest yet. Not only is it incredibly nuanced in its handling of its themes and character, it manages to achieve this while simultaneously maintaining the lighter side of things. Simply fantastic. The bar has been raised. And I notice for the second episode in succession all members of the team get a decent amount of screen-time, something which seemed so difficult last year. Can they keep it up?

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