Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Torchwood: Fragments

“The 21st century, Jack. Everything’s going to change. And we’re not ready.”

It’s the penultimate episode, the calm before the storm; time to do something a bit quirky while running on the spot arc-wise. What better than a Secret Origins episode? Rather a good one, too; the framing device is a bit by-the-numbers but that’s all it needs to be, and it works.

Jack first, and at last we get to meet the Torchwood lesbians. My vague memory of the season had me believing we’d see them sooner, but better late than never. Almost as cool as seeing them, mind, is that caption: 1,392 deaths earlier. And about a century ago, very close to the turn of the century judging by the words of the tarot girl (so we do see her again!). Jack has spent the past six months or so getting drunk in dodgy bars and telling all and sundry about the Doctor. And Torchwood, just twenty years after the events of Tooth and Claw, are naturally interested.

We see his recruitment (and another blowfish, which is cool, as is the fact that it behaves just as “ours” did back at the start of the season, even “joyriding a horse and carriage”…), but at this stage he’s just a paid hireling, a long way from feeling any real sense of responsibility. Flashing forward to New Year’s Eve 1999, though, this changes. Torchwood’s leader, “Alex”, has used an alien artefact to see the future (foreshadowing Jack’s later wariness of such artefacts?). He sees that in the upcoming century his team will be forced to precede every mission with a trite little opening catchphrase. Naturally, he wishes to spare the team this terrible fate and kills them all, as you do. His last deed before offing himself is to bequeath Torchwood to Jack. How nice.

Next, it’s Tosh. Er, remember what she said back in Countrycide about never having been in a cell before? You know, that story which was written by Chris Chibnall, just like this one? Well, er, that’s not quite correct. It seems that she was in fact arrested by UNIT and imprisoned for life without trial until Jack intervened. Now, I have a big problem with this. It’s clearly supposed to be all topical and War on Terror and all that and to be asking what it thinks are thought-provoking questions on the balance between liberty and civil liberties. But no; locking people up without trial and the arbitrary waiving of habeas corpus are very bad things, full stop. There’s no moral ambiguity here; the rights and wrongs are perfectly clear. There needs to be a very good reason for any kind of step in this direction to be justified, and we’ve been given absolutely no such reason whatsoever. And as far as I’m concerned the involvement of UNIT here makes them the bad guys. Jack manages to avoid this implication, as he seems to have no control over any of this and there’s no suggestion he in any way approves, but this whole section left a bad taste in my mouth. And it didn’t tell us much that was interesting about Tosh, either.

It’s Myfanwy next, everyone’s favourite reptilian member of Torchwood- it’s all gone a bit Primeval. Well, plus a bit of Ianto. A bit brief, this, but it nicely establishes Ianto’s tenacity, and shows us a bit of retrospective sexual tension between him and Jack. Also, we learn that Ianto is able to wait outside for Jack to emerge at an undetermined time and hand him a cup of coffee which is somehow the perfect temperature. Now that’s talent.

Over to Owen, who in the present has conveniently not suffered any injuries as these won’t be able to heal. Oh, and isn’t it fortunate that the only person to have been killed in the explosion was Jack. Anyway, Owen’s story is the most affecting and the most effective, helped yet again by some outstanding acting from Burn Gorman. His situation is horrible- first seeing his young fiancée apparently succumbing to ridiculously early onset Alzheimer’s, then seeing the truth of the situation (a worm-like alien dangling out of Katie’s head), and finally thinking he’s undergoing a breakdown as it’s all covered up. This is all very good drama, although the concept of a well-adjusted Owen prior to the trauma doesn’t quite fit with our impressions of his childhood from Adam. Owen’s reaction to seeing Jack in the cemetery- repeatedly punching him- is good, as is the line about becoming a doctor because saving just one life would make his own worthwhile, only to then find himself swamped by the never-ending stream of lives demanding to be saved. Jack’s reasons for recruiting him are a bit of a stretch, but just about work.

We finish with a bit of a teaser for next week; it’s Captain John and Gray. How very exciting!

A little uneven overall, but there’s some very good stuff here, especially concerning Jack and Owen. 4/5.

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