Oh, the huge manatee. Strangely, this was not dissimilar to last week’s Doctor Who, with its giant alien space whale whose cries startled my cats. But rather than humans using its shit for fuel, this one was being butchered alive, which is an altogether more disturbing prospect. I’m glad to say the standard of the special effects have improved in the intervening years, as the only thing less convincing in this episode was John Barrowman trying to do serious acting.
This one felt like a little bit of a misstep after the steady improvement so far. Rhys and Gwen’s relationship took centre stage, which is rarely a good thing. I quite enjoyed having him as part of the team temporarily, and I hope that his newfound knowledge of Torchwood will lead to a new, less annoying relationship dynamic. Their arguments are so unpleasant that they’re like nails down a blackboard to me, and all they do is remind me of how terribly Gwen has treated him thus far. Her affair with Owen was somewhat of an elephant in the room whenever him and Rhys were on screen together, and the ending is undercut when you remember that she’s happily retconned him before, when it suited her.
So while it’s an intriguing development, it’s not quite there yet. They’re clearly trying to make Rhys less of a mug this time round – the presence of aliens in Cardiff really shouldn’t be that shocking to him considering all the extra-terrestrial activity that’s happened in Britain over the last few years, and he must be the last person to Cardiff to have heard of Torchwood. When he was following Gwen in his car, flabbergasted at everything he saw, he reminded me of Truman Burbank finally starting to figure everything out.
Meanwhile, I’m absolutely not on board with Tosh lusting after Owen again all of a sudden. It’s threatening to undo all the good work that’s been done to move the characters along, with Tosh reverting to type after the events of the last episode being particularly galling. While Owen is still nowhere near as twattish as he used to be, there were flashes of the old him when he had to act like a complete oaf, ignorant to her advances.
And once again there’s a plot that, to at least some extent, relies on the stupidity of the characters. The team themselves are off the hook for once, but the baddies are complete idiots. They find Rhys loitering around the premises, so they bring him in, show him around and tell him everything. They’ve got the brains to capture an alien species, keep it sedated and set up an elaborate meat processing and distribution system, but they don’t have the sense to keep it schtum.
One aspect that did seem to continue Torchwood’s slow stumble towards maturity was the insistence on using stun guns instead of real ones, and the determination not to turn the situation into a bloodbath. It seemed like they were deliberately distancing themselves from the likes of Countrycide, and with good reason. In-universe, perhaps Jack’s new found pacifism, along with the value he places on the creature’s life, are a result of his recent reunion with The Doctor – when you travel with him, he makes sure you know what’s important and what’s right.
But the best thing about the episode? Mary from Corrie is in it. She’s amazing, and seeing her flirting with Captain Jack was a joy.