Well, the unprecedented long run of not-terrible Torchwood episodes had to end some time. It committed the cardinal sin in the Doctor Who universe of being dull, which is so rare that it’s almost offensive when it happens. On the basic level, you can get some enjoyment out of otherwise rubbish stories from something like a well-crafted setting, an interesting backstory, guest characters to care about, some decent humour, or even a so-bad-it’s-funny factor. This episode didn’t bother with any of those things.
It was the distinct lack of detail or imagination that caused the dullness, no more so than with the baddies. What a waste of Julian Bleach to cast him as a villain with so little complexity – I’m glad they made amends for that soon after. They had no motivation for their evil; they weren’t trying to conquer or survive, they just wanted to steal people’s souls for the sake of it. They’re just shits.
The lack of science and rationale annoyed me too. They’ve escaped from a film, have they? They’ve stolen people’s “lifeforce”, which is definitely a thing that exists, and now they’re making more people come to life from a film, just by playing it in a cinema. Also, they’re made of film, and you can kill them by filming them so that they turn back into normal film, and then over-exposing the resultant film. It’s bollocks, is what it is.
It’s a strange subject matter for the show, to highlight the detrimental effect that the birth of cinema had on the fortunes of travelling shows. It didn’t feel very Torchwood, which probably ought to be a good thing, but it just didn’t work. There was then a huge gear change at the end when we returned to the default level of bleakness, as the ringmaster-film-ghost-thing deliberately killed all the people whose “lifeforce” he stole – including a child, whose brother was also orphaned. It’s horribly grim, completely out of kilter with the rest of the episode, and so jarring that it ends up feeling distasteful.
Then there’s an attempt at a Blink style ending, which implies that the monsters could be lurking in any old bit of film you might find at a car boot sale. This is not a good message to send to Doctor Who fans if we ever want to find any more missing episodes.