The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Well, there is certainly a lot to process here, having experienced this rather epic tale for the first time since broadcast. And I haven’t had to tag this many returning characters since The Five Doctors (or possibly Dimensions In Time). There are more notes to make than I have time; brace yourself for a fuckload of small to medium sized bullet points.

* This is essentially the entire four years of the revival thus far in one go. It’s a pleasantly nostalgic greatest hits package, celebrating a truly brilliant period in the show’s history, but the joy is slightly tempered by the knowledge that they’re going to do all this again in five episodes’ time.

* Well, Torchwood are less sweary and sex-obsessed than usual. They seem to be over Owen and Tosh already, which should save some time come Series 3. Over on the other spin-off, poor old Maria and Clyde weren’t invited to the party, but at least Mr Smith is better now. The last time we saw him, he was intent on killing Sarah Jane and destroying the world, but this was probably not the occasion to dwell on that.

* The obligatory RTD Episode 12 celebrity cameos: Richard Dawkins! Why is he there doing spacey sciencey stuff? He’s a biologist; it should have been Brian Cox or suchlike, but then Brian Cox isn’t married to an ex-companion. Also, Paul O’Grady! And his dog! Ianto’s a big fan, even if the rest of us aren’t.

* Usually when the human race is threatened by aliens, they all band together and look after each other. This time, they react by setting fire to shit and looting, to the extent that nobody notices Rose running round with a big space gun, at least not until she starts threatening people with it.

* Sarah Jane’s reaction to the Daleks nearly got me going. All four former companions were scared, but it was especially emotional when it was Sarah Jane, hearing those voices again after so many years. The sheer terror they inspire in these characters really sells them as a threat. It’s interesting that these days, the villains are shown to react like that upon realising they’re up against The Doctor.

* It’s a shame that The Doctor spends so long poncing around with the Shadow Proclamation while the exciting Dalek stuff happens without him. While he’s there, he says “someone tried to move the Earth before” – I assume he’s talking about Dalek Invasion of Earth, but does the fact that he said “someone” mean that they’ve retroactively decided that Davros was behind that? If so, excellent.

* Speaking of whom, Davros is utterly excellent. He’s got a metal hand! Within moments, he’s shown admonishing a Dalek for sounding proud, keeping their emotions in check. Considering how much they veered from their fundamental principles in their last appearance, it’s a good statement of intent now that their dad’s back.

* The spooky woman in the Shadow Proclamation who tells Donna that she’s “sorry for the loss that’s yet to come” – that’s a dickish thing to do. If you’re a soothsayer and you can see that something terrible is about to happen to someone, either come out with it so that they can prepare, or just say nothing. Don’t vaguely allude to it and then fuck off.

* So, bees are aliens, and they abandoned the planet when they sensed its impending destruction? The last ever bee message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to ingest nectar, process it and store the resultant substance in a honeycomb, but in fact the message was this: “So long and thanks for all the pollen”.

* I have SO MUCH TO SAY on the big Harriet Jones conference call. Highlights include:

  • Cribbins saying that webcams are “naughty”.
  • Sarah Jane telling Torchwood off for using guns, as it’s not suitable for Luke.
  • Martha’s mum getting a cameo for not particular reason, although it’s nice for her to get some closure on her abandonment issues from the fact that Martha subconsciously chose to teleport home.
  • The Mr Copper Foundation? Not sure he quite warranted a mention, but then everyone else from the last four years seems to be getting one.
  • Rose being jealous of Martha, in a neat role reversal.
  • While everyone’s firing up their supercomputers and their secret alien technology, Martha’s big contribution to the effort is forwarding on a phone number.

Wasn’t as keen on Harriet attempting to justify her Belgrano move on the basis that this latest alien invasion proves that you need to kill all aliens. However, her ultimate sacrifice does provide redemption her character deserved.

* When The Doctor joins the party, he says that “everybody except Rose” is there. Everybody? Has he forgotten the dozens of companions he had when his adventures were 4:3? Justice for Dodo.

* Then Jack fucks off to find the Doctor, abandoning Torchwood and leaving Gwen and Ianto to the Daleks, and then comes the big reunion. Despite not having been on board with the returned Rose thus far, it put a big grin on my face and nearly a tear to my eye. How perfectly tragic would have been if the Doctor actually regenerated at this point, so that she got so close but still never touched her Doctor again. The giant fuck-off “TO BE CONTINUED” that followed is a bit stupid, but kind of justified – it really is one of the greatest cliffhangers of all time.

* Sadly, the resolution to said cliffhanger is all very convenient, with each individual threat neutralised by a hitherto unmentioned safety net: Mickey and Jackie turning up (sans Pete, sadly), Torchwood’s magic bubble and The Doctor’s sneaky hand job. It’s not deus ex machina – very few people who use that term as criticism seem to know what it means – it’s just a bit of a shame. They got away with quick and easy cliffhanger resolutions loads in the old days, but that’s because there were at least three of them per story – with this one, the resolution would ideally have matched the epic nature of the set-up.

* A few random notes from the opening stages of Journey’s End: DALEKS SPEAKING GERMAN! It seems so right, for reasons obvious to anyone who’s watched Genesis. / The Doctor is not often this scared. This is good. / When Jack’s body got incinerated, how come his clothes didn’t?

* All these years later, I’m still not sure what I think about the Meta-Crisis Doctor. I mean, it’s a complete waste of a regeneration, considering he thinks it’s his penultimate one, but it’s kind of cool to have a double dose of TV’s greatest hero. That is until he starts talking like Donna. The only thing more annoying than Catherine Tate doing comedy is David Tennant impersonating Catherine Tate doing comedy.

* Davros wants to destroy reality itself. This is certainly in keeping with the core principle that every non-Dalek life-form must be destroyed, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory. Destroying all matter as well as all life would make them supreme masters of absolutely nothing.

* Other than that, absolutely everything Davros-related is amazing. The moment where he recognises Sarah Jane is even better than when she recognised him. On an intellectual level, I think Davros betters The Doctor for the first time; the argument that his companions turn into weapons is not something I would have necessarily agreed with, but Davros convinced me. His final victory indeed. The montage of all the people who have died in The Doctor’s name was RTD going all JNT on our ass.

* It’s the perfect build up to a big climax, with all the ex-companions’ individual plans failing one by one, and the TARDIS rising from the ashes. But then the day is saved by Donna suddenly becoming magic. I know I didn’t complain when it was a magic version of Rose fixing everything, but this is why this blog is a document of an experience, rather than a series of objective reviews – it may not be fair, but it’s how I reacted. I just don’t like Donna very much. And the only thing more annoying that David Tennant doing smug is Catherine Tate impersonating David Tennant doing smug.

* Which is a bugger, because everything else is very good indeed: Sarah and Rose exchanging pleasantries while shoving a malfunctioning Dalek around; Captain Jack’s cheery suggestion of a multi-Doctor orgy; Dalek Caan turning out to be a traitor. I actually shouted “YES!” when K-9 popped up to say hello.

*The Meta-Crisis Doctor is faced with the old do-I-have-the-right dilemma, but he presses the button without thinking twice. That’s not The Doctor. The proper Doctor offers to save Davros, and he’s right to later chastise Pretend Doctor for committing genocide. In his defence, he was forged in battle, like The War Doctor before him. Perhaps the process extrapolated and personified all the worst, most dangerous aspects of The Doctor, like the triplicator in Red Dwarf, or Richard Herring playing himself at snooker.

* Can you imagine the ecological damage that’s done by dragging the Earth from one end of the universe to the other? Nevertheless, it’s a joyous scene to end the episode… except that there’s still ten or fifteen minutes to go. We then get a long sequence of long goodbyes. Why exactly does he drop off Sarah Jane, Jack and Martha all in the same park? Ealing is nowhere near Cardiff.

* I’ve been trying to figure out whether Rose’s return diminishes the impact of her initial departure. I don’t think it does – I still cried like a baby when I rewatched it recently. It’s like how people complain that a cover version “ruins” a song, or a remake “destroys” a movie – no it doesn’t, because the original still exists. However, the beautiful tragedy of these two soulmates being forever separated is certainly altered by Rose being given a Doctor-shaped sex doll. It’s just all a little grubby – he’s not The Doctor, not the same man she fell in love with, but she’s happy to make do with a lookalike, even though he’s out there continuing his life without her? Nah. At the very least, we should have got to finally hear him – either of him – say “I love you” to Rose. That would have at least provided some level of genuine closure for the audience, if not the characters.

* Sadly, if predictably, the “a companion will die” prophecy turns out to be bullshit, as it was before and has been since. The memory wipe isn’t even a particularly stable metaphor for death – it’s actually saving her life. I found the sight of The Doctor enacting the procedure without her consent, while she’s pleading with him not to, a little disturbing. I mean, he’s doing the right thing, but Moff dealt with this issue a lot better with Clara.

* But at least this deed is a promise that Donna will never come back. Wilfred is damn right when he says “she was better with you” – he must be gutted to have to live with the old Runaway Bride Donna again. The permanently miserable Sylvia can do one and all, but Cribbins is just the best. Despite the high levels of emotion throughout, his goodbye to The Doctor was the only moment that made me shed a tear. Seriously, he’s one of the best actors the show’s ever had. Ever.

* Favourite Dalek lines: “The abomination is insane.” / “The males, the females, the descendants.” / “My vision is NOT impaired.” / “Exterminate Torchwood.”

So, what to make of all this, after comfortably the longest post in the history of this blog? Well, The Stolen Earth is one of the best episodes ever, but Journey’s End not so much. As has been the case for much of Series 4, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to look past the faults now that so much time has passed – it’s not the “current” show any more, it’s just one brief chapter in a long history. Rather than having to worry about what state the show is in, or which direction it’s heading, I can just judge it on its sheer entertainment value. On that level: massive, massive win.

RATING: 9

And so I come to the end of a series that I thought I hated, but then when you look at the scores…

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: 30 of 35.58
  • Stories watched: 198 of 269.67
  • Individual episodes watched: 751 of 834

…the average rating is actually higher than Series 2 (although admittedly, Fear Her is a massive statistical anomaly). I dunno. I still dislike Donna, and I’m definitely starting to go off Tennant by this point, but again, with so much water under bridge, I can now look past those annoyances and see what else each episode has to offer. I guess the conclusion is that there’s very little Doctor Who that’s without a significant amount of merit, but sometimes it’s just a case of taking a few steps back before you can see it.

And now, a short break for a wedding, to coincide with the first of revived Doctor Who‘s short breaks. Join me again in a few days to begin another voyage through a whole bunch of spin-offs and specials.

Torchwood: Exit Wounds

It has become apparent over the last couple of weeks that I can’t have been paying much attention to Torchwood in early 2008. There have been so many details and plot twists that I’d completely forgotten about, which has pleasingly meant that I’ve been able to watch the stories unfold as if it were the first time. And I have to say that yes, I was duped into thinking that John was doing all this just to spite Jack. I guess it’s because I found the character so unappealing the first time round, I was prepared to believe that he’d be capable of such ridiculous behaviour.

I should have clocked something was up when the stakes were raised to ludicrous proportions – taking over the Hub and unleashing the odd Weevil is one thing, but blowing up half of Cardiff is a bit of an overreaction. Destroying a city is an expensive business, which is presumably why we never got to see any of the actual destruction, just the insides of a police station, a server room, a hospital basement and a nuclear bunker. It’s such a shame that it was all left to the imagination, because it really didn’t carry the weight and impact that something like the utter annihilation of the UK’s eleventh largest city ought to.

Then came the reveal that this wasn’t Jack’s ex doing it out of spite, but in fact it was Jack’s long lost brother doing it out of spite. Grey does admittedly have the excuse of being driven insane by torture as a prisoner of war, so this is better. But despite his ability to survive such horrors, and then to capture John, turn him into a bomb and force him to carry out his extraordinarily convoluted evil plan… he’s a fucking idiot for not realising that the ring John throws into the grave is going to end up being relevant to the plot.

Instead, he heads back to the Hub, shoots Tosh and then gets distracted by a mysterious knocking sound and runs head first into his eventual downfall. Thus proving that the inability to spot an obvious trap is a familial trait. I did like the twist of Jack having already been rescued by a previous Torchwood team, but it’s rotten luck that they didn’t set the timer for two minutes earlier, before Tosh got shot.

Yes, this is the episode that kills two ever-problematic characters with one stone. Now that their stories are complete, I can conclude that Owen did improve significantly in the second series, but not quite enough to redeem his earlier behaviour, and that while there was some fleshing out of Tosh’s character, it was still pretty thin on the ground and most of it revolved around her feelings towards Owen.

I couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or baffled by the decision to use some of Tosh’s precious final moments to resolve the question of why she was pretending to be a doctor in Aliens of London – I’m a fan of continuity tie-ups, but it felt tacked on, and it was hardly a question that was begging to be answered. Other than that, their deaths were both well realised and suitably sad, but neither character will be a huge loss to the show. There’s a reason those two don’t have shrines. (I mean, there’s no reason for Ianto’s shrine either, but more so for those two.)

So endeth the series, and indeed the first incarnation of the show’s formula, with the team 40% lighter but resolving to fight on. Which is all well and good, but meanwhile Cardiff has still been destroyed. Actual present day Cardiff, setting of many of Doctor Who adventure, completely fucked. And Jack has spent the best part of two millennia screaming and choking and dying in agony, over and over again, countless times, seemingly with little to no psychological effect. I feel like I’m far more aware the scale of the damage that’s unfolded than the show is – they barely seem to acknowledge the enormity of what’s occurred, and it makes for a flawed, but still fairly fun, finale.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 6

  • Torchwood series watched: 2 of 4
  • Torchwood stories watched: 26 of 37
  • Individual Torchwood episodes watched: 26 of 41

Ahhh. I have enjoyed the second series a lot more than the first, but I’m still nevertheless extremely glad to be getting back to Doctor Who – it’s been wall to wall spin-offs and specials for so long now that the relative normality of a regular series is increasingly appealing. Even though I’m not a fan of the series in question, I’m looking forward to re-examining why.

Torchwood: Fragments

This was a bit more like it. In most series, a format-breaking episode is often a risky proposition, diverting from established best practices out of some practical necessity or the urge to experiment. On Torchwood however, it’s just nice to not have to watch another bog-standard episode of Torchwood, as we’re presented with four short origin stories, explaining how the band got together. I mean, ideally, this kind of backstory would have been useful to know a little earlier – say, more than one episode before half of them die – but you can’t have everything.

Let’s take those stories one by one, then…

Jack – It’s always good to see glimpses of olden days Torchwood, and this is very much the version of the organisation that Queen Victoria founded, with its zero-tolerance approach to the presence of aliens. Jack too is recognisably closer to the version from Doctor Who Series 1; the wise-cracking whilst in peril is one thing, but also the morally dubious decision to accept Torchwood’s bounty hunting missions is far more in keeping with the rogue Time Agent mentality than the version of the character we have today.

So the how-Jack-got-recruited bit was all well and good, but the bit explaining how he took command was a bit weird. It makes sense that it would come after every other bugger had died, but you’d hope for something a little more epic than one of the team going mad and killing everyone, following a glimpse at an unspecified future event. It seemed like it was mostly there to serve as an origin story for the notion that the 21st Century is when everything changes. In fact, given the date, there was a brief moment where I hoped it would be something to do with The Master pissing about in San Fransisco, but it wasn’t to be.

Toshiko – Yep, could very much have done with a bit of backstory at any point prior to this. We finally know why she’s there in the first place – she was just an ordinary woman who got caught up in some alien-related shit – although the way it panned out made it seem slightly less voluntary than you’d hope. Jack basically blackmailed by giving her the choice between working for him and rotting in a UNIT facility for the rest of her life. Since when did UNIT treat people like that anyway? They’re the good guys, always have been – it’s like someone was getting them and the pre-Jack Torchwood muddled up. The Brig would never have stood for that shit.

Ianto – We basically already knew Ianto’s story, as it’s all documented in Cyberwoman, if you can bear to look. Therefore, this was a much lighter and more comedic story than the others, and also the most enjoyable. Ianto basically fanboyed his way into the organisation by turning up and doing the job anyway, and it was nice to see the origin of the pterodactyl too, just to complete the set. Note how Jack didn’t relent and offer Ianto the job until after they’d rolled around on the floor and nearly snogged. The dirty get.

Owen – This was always going to be the tricky one – can they come up with a decent justification for this guy being a complete prick for the entirety of the first series? As soon as you saw him with a long-term partner, you knew it would end badly. I thought they were going to go down the route of her leaving him or cheating on him, thus setting him off on a spree of revenge against womankind. But actually, the story of her illness was a lot more touching and sensitively-handled that I’d have thought.

So ultimately it’s the trauma of losing a loved one that makes Owen like he is, which I’m not sure is justification for his rampant misogyny; the same thing happened to Ianto and he wasn’t a prick about it, plus if his experiences gave him an irrational hatred of anything, it should be aliens, not women. But at least there is now a reason to feel sympathy for Owen – some element of humanity to soften his personality and help us to accept his flaws. This was urgently needed about 23 episodes ago. Ah well.

Oh, and the reanimated corpse of Owen was completely fine after standing next to an explosion and being buried in debris, by the way, despite how we’ve previously been told that he might as well be made of glass. The framing device was perfectly standard Torchwood farewalk into a massive trap, nearly get killed, figure out who set the trap – but a decent way to set up the finale. Just a shame it’s Captain John again. The big bad of the series is not an alien invasion, or an all-powerful monster, or a power-hungry evil genius  – just a petulant git who wants Jack to give him some attention.

RATING: 7

Torchwood: Adrift

I’m extremely surprised to discover, during my customary post-viewing Googling, that this is widely regarded as one of the better episodes of the series. I don’t disagree with much of the critical response – that it’s good to explore the emotional impact of what happens to rift victims and their families, and that it was interesting to present a situation that had no easy solution – but it left me completely cold, in spite of those things.

A lot of the reviews talk about how this is a great example of sci-fi and what the genre can do, which leads me to ponder how weird it is that I don’t consider myself a sci-fi fan particularly, despite my two favourite programmes (Red Dwarf and Doctor Who) being sci-fi. But I fell in love with those two shows on the strength of other elements – character comedy and the brilliance of the lead character, respectively – the sci-fi was almost incidental.

So while I obviously have an affinity with and fondness for the genre, I need something extra on top if I’m going to really enjoy it. With Doctor Who and associated programming, I’m often in it for the characters, the way they work together and how they love and care for each other. Therefore, an episode which is essentially a complicated cycle of people being complete dicks to each other is going to struggle to get me going.

I don’t like Jack keeping secrets from the rest of the team – I thought they’d got past that with this series. He’s supposed to be all-knowing, compassionate, always-in-the-right Doctor substitute that we gravitate towards – how are we supposed to do that if we can’t trust him? We’re told that Gwen and Andy are great mates, but she’s horrible to him throughout, and he can’t stop making digs about her husband. Speaking of whom, seeing a man scream “I fucking hate you sometimes” in his wife’s face is not a pleasant image.

We were supposed to be on Rhys’s side during that argument, as he points out that nothing’s more important than everyday people’s everyday lives, but The Doctor he ain’t, and the point he’s making gets muddled when he says that Gwen’s work doesn’t matter. What Torchwood do is important, and he doesn’t get that Gwen is sacrificing her own everyday life for the sake of everyone else’s. He comes across as a selfish manbaby, petulantly complaining that his woman isn’t giving him 100% of her attention.

Gwen’s self-sacrifice is about doing what’s best for the greater good, which feels like it should be the theme of the episode, but the dots are never quite joined up. Jack is keeping the victims hidden away from their loved ones so that they don’t have to witness their suffering, and their memories of them are preserved. That’s great, and I can see why that’s the right thing to do, but why exactly does he have to keep it a secret from the team? Why doesn’t he just explain his reasoning to Gwen, rather than allowing her to bring Ruth Jones to the island to see her mutilated son screaming for 20 hours a day? He’s ruined that woman’s life just so that he can say “told you so”.

RATING: 5

Torchwood: From Out of the Rain

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.

RATING: 4

Torchwood: Something Borrowed

And now for something altogether lighter: Torchwood‘s attempt at a Coronation Street comedy wedding, but with more murders and far fewer laughs. You could tell that it was all supposed to be funny, but it seldom managed to actually be funny. The only time I went so far as to laugh was when Jack steamed in and screamed at Nerys Hughes to “get back, you ugly bitch”. I think it was the shock more than anything.

The light-hearted tone did make a nice change, it’s just that this was slightly at the expense of a believable plot. Gwen’s determination to marry Rhys no matter what was nice, but it was there to provide an excuse for a farcical situation to unfold, and it was no more sophisticated than the worst brand of Get Me Hennimore! style sitcom contrivances. I love a good farce, from Fawlty Towers to Friday Night Dinner, but you either have to a beautifully constructed slow escalation, or go the Bottom route and just go balls out – not for the first time, Torchwood attempted to do something in between, and ended up falling short.

Speaking of sitcoms, the shape-shifting alien element obviously reminded me of Red Dwarf‘s various Polymorph-based episodes – there were two of them when this was made, but there’s since been a third. Series XI’s Can of Worms (reviewed by some handsome fellow here) is actually a much closer match than any of its predecessors, as it contains the added element of one of the shape-shifters impregnating one of the crew. Red Dwarf did the comedy better than Torchwood, but Torchwood handled the implications much more sensitively, which is not a sentence I ever expected to write.

Despite my reservations, it was again an enjoyable episode, continuing the now unexpectedly long run of Torchwood episodes that are pretty much alright. It all went a bit Hot Fuzz in the middle, plus, for the record, I was already thinking of The Evil Dead before Jack went and directly referenced it. The sheer chaos into which the wedding descends was ridiculous, but the fun sort of ridiculous that Torchwood is just about getting away with this time around.

But the old problems are still there, and so often I come away from the episode with nagging thoughts about things that didn’t quite work. As we see the reception in full swing, I can’t help but wonder why everyone looks so happy after they’ve all seen shape-shifting aliens shot to pieces, Gwen’s mysterious pregnancy mysteriously disappearing, and one of the guests being murdered and eaten.

OK, they were all retconned afterwards, but a) that doesn’t explain their behaviour before they were drugged, and b) it opens up problems of its own. What do they remember, if anything? It’s obviously lovely that Gwen and Rhys got married after all, but it’s not nice for them that none of their friends and family will remember a damn thing about their wedding day.

Also, fuck off with the weird sexual tension between Gwen and Jack – it’s bad enough when it’s on a mission or at the firing range, but on the dance floor at her fucking wedding reception? Stop being weird with literally all of your employees, Jack.

RATING: 6

Torchwood: A Day in the Death

Considering how much I truly dislike Owen Harper, I’ve really quite enjoyed this little trilogy of episodes that are ostensibly about him being a whinging little baby. At least he’s got something to whinge about now, and this episode did a really good job of getting into the specific details about exactly how his new zombie life works – he can’t eat or sleep, he doesn’t heal, he has to exercise to stave off atrophy, and he can’t breathe. But he can talk, so I’m not sure exactly how this works in conjunction with that last one.

This episode was the most successful of the three, which is quite remarkable considering that it’s the one that’s had the highest concentration of Owen – he’s barely off the screen, and the rest of the team are merely peripheral characters. It does help that he’s assisted by two notable guest stars; Mel from Early Doors did an excellent job as the co-lead in the framing device, much better than the previous one-off protagonists the series has managed.

And then of course you’ve got the caretaker from Paradise Towers, appearing in his more familiar guise as the lovely, doddery old posh man. It’s something he did so well in the latter stages of his career, although rarely was he called upon to mix in quite so much nihilism or references to lying in his own piss. I greatly enjoyed his line about Owen being “a very violent doctor” – reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor enthusing about a butler – and his strange, somewhat colonialist flirting with Toshiko.

His role in the story was the guardian of the MacGuffin. It was clear that the alien device was there to function as a reason for Owen to go on a mission of self-rediscovery, and when it led him to his failure to save Richard Briers, it seemed like job done. But then it slightly misfired, firstly because of the aforementioned thoughts about how weird it is that Owen can’t breathe at all considering everything else he can do, but also because they didn’t leave the MacGuffin alone.

It felt like a bit of a cop-out to be told that something is about to blow up and kill untold numbers of people, only for it to turn out to be some sort of intergalactic nightlight – the equivalent of firing a gun and a “bang” banner unfurling. Either make it a genuine threat and have the team quietly neutralise it, or have Owen discover it’s harmless straight away; having the emotional goodbyes ahead of a heroic sacrifice that doesn’t happen is just having your cake and eating it.

Which is a shame, because all the other emotional notes hit home; this was, for the most part, a rare example of Torchwood getting the tone spot on. One of the things the series gets right, for me, is its attitude towards death – it’s characteristically bleak and pessimistic, but it’s also a philosophy I subscribe to. There’s absolutely fuck all waiting for you afterwards, so you might as well cling on to life for the occasional joy like the first sip of tea in the morning.

And finally, this episode concludes Martha Jones’s secondment to Torchwood, and it’s a shame that she didn’t feature nearly as heavily in the second two episodes as she did in the first. She had a decent amount of screen time, but when she first arrived she went out and got involved in adventures; thereafter, she mostly just stayed in the office and did some admin. Here she’s got nothing to do but perform tests on Owen, and then snog Jack as she says her goobyes. I didn’t like that – we’ve just been told she’s got a new boyfriend. What is it about Torchwood that does that to anyone who happens to drop by? I suspect Owen and his alien sex drugs.

RATING: 7

Torchwood: Dead Man Walking

I seem to have very little memory of this episode whatsoever, which is surprising considering some of the extraordinary sights it contains. I’d remembered that they find a second resurrection glove to bring Owen back, and that he somehow stays as a zombie for the rest of the series, but nothing else about the plot beyond that. I’d assumed, for example, that the “something waiting in the darkness” that Suzie mentioned was the big baddy from that year’s finale. Nope.

This was a mostly enjoyable exploration of an interesting idea – what happens to a corpse if a brain is brought back to life, but the rest of the body isn’t – but with an additional, more conventional monster-of-the-week story bolted on towards the end. It does the first part well; it’s entertaining, well thought through, and even well performed at times. But I wasn’t so convinced by the other stuff, and it weighed the rest of it down.

When I went through the list of common Torchwood pitfalls yesterday, I forgot one – comically stupid things happening. Things that are so bizarre and incongruous, and often so spectacular, that they’re the only things you end up remembering. You can have as much nuance and intelligence as you can muster for the majority of an episode, but it’s so frequently undone by one minute of madness.

It happened so often during this one that I decided to make a list. This is my list of the stupid things that take place in just one episode of Torchwood:

  • Captain Jack going to a speakeasy to meet a little girl, who tells him where to find the resurrection glove by consulting tarot cards.
  • Captain Jack strolling up to a church and kicking down the sign for no reason.
  • Owen being filmed exclusively in Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Cam for a full minute.
  • Owen projectile-vomiting an entire pint of Guinness.
  • John Barrowman attempting to deliver the line “I guess I was hoping for a miracle. I still am.” with a straight face.
  • The resurrection glove coming to life and attacking the team by flapping about at them.
  • Ianto attempting to defend himself using a hockey stick.
  • Martha getting Sara Kingdom-ed.
  • Owen projectile-vomiting the Smoke Monster from Lost.
  • Owen grappling with a giant smokey skellington.
  • Martha getting better again for no adequately explained reason.
  • The episode ending with Owen looking like he’s about to say something profound in response to Tosh asking what they’re going to do now, and then just not saying anything.

This episode was almost all nonsense, but hey – it was entertaining nonsense. I enjoyed it, and I’d take this over the po-faced, self-consciously serious nonsense of last year. I am, however, finding my tolerance starting to drop the longer this series goes on. It’s got to be nearly over now, right?

RATING: 6

Torchwood: Reset

Martha Jones! I’d kind of forgotten about her stint in Torchwood until she popped up in yesterday’s next time trailer, so this is a bonus. As you’ll have gathered from my posts on Series 3, I’m quite a fan of hers, and it’s nice to see her doing so well for herself after leaving the TARDIS – she’s a fully-qualified doctor now, and working for UNIT. She shows up and instantly puts Owen in his place; she was always an incredible capable companion, so it’s no surprise that her ability is head and shoulders above these clowns.

The rest of the team seemed to up their game in her presence, and as such this is one of those rare episodes where Torchwood are vaguely competent in their approach to the threat. Jack even acts like a leader, and it was lovely to see the bond the exists between him and Martha after their experiences with The Doctor and The Master. Even though they were only together for three episodes, the strength of their friendship felt real, and he was right to put his faith in her – she has faced worse threats before.

The big baddy here was of course Jim Robinson, who at this moment in time was cult TV’s most perennial guest star worldwide. He didn’t have a great deal to do – he was only in a handful of scenes – but he did it well and made an impact. Then, of course, he became the greatest hero ever in the history of the Doctor Who universe. He killed Owen Harper.

Despite the improvements that have undoubtedly been made to his character for the second series, the despicable wanker from the first still looms large in the memory, and so my reaction to him being shot amounted to a small cheer and then an ever-expanding grin. The joy is tempered only by the knowledge that he’s going to come back – amusingly, Wikipedia refers to this as “the first death” of Owen Harper – but I do recall that this arc is quite a good one, and I even remember feeling sad for him at one point. I’ll look out for that over the next few days.

So after a couple of episodes in which the show fell back into old habits, I’m now coming back round to thinking that this series isn’t too bad. There’s basically two traps that it falls in to – plots that rely on the team’s incompetence, and the team behaving like utter twats. It’s still inconsistent on the first point, but killing off Owen and replacing him with Martha Jones makes the group a thousand times more likeable. It’s only temporary, but I’ll take it.

Besides, having a series each of Sarah Jane and Torchwood to watch between series of actual Who is making me miss the proper show, so having a recent companion around will help with that. And also, once again there are elements of the plot that remind me of the series currently airing – I’ve seen two races of alien insects curing human illnesses in as many days. Is Moffat mining Torchwood for ideas? I’m sure his successor was hoping for first dibs on that.

RATING: 7

Torchwood: Adam

New rule for the Who universe: if you find yourself teamed up with someone called Adam, you’re best off not trusting them. I love the idea behind this episode, and it’s well seeded with glimpses of Adam turning up in a slightly altered pre-titles. It’s the kind of premise that could pan out in any number of ways, and this episode chooses to use it to explore what’s fundamental to each of the main characters, and turn them on their heads. As this is Torchwood, the results are mixed.

Perhaps the most successful strand is Gwen and Rhys, which is surprising considering past form. Crucially, he came out of it pretty well, and it was an opportunity to clarify what they see in each other, and what they mean to each other – Gwen can often do with a reminder of what’s important, and the stall seems to be firmly set out that theirs is now a happy, stable, positive relationship. Finally.

What Adam does to Ianto is deeply disturbing, but again a fascinating idea. It’s well-written, but it’s slightly marred by the fact that I can’t take Ianto’s big crying face seriously after the ridiculousness of Cyberwoman. I quite like him when he’s the slightly sarcastic tea boy, and also when he’s being a useful member of the team, but I think they resort to putting him through intense emotional distress a little too often, and I struggle to avoid finding it comical.

The same goes for whenever John Barrowman tries to be super serious. Those flashbacks to the Boeshane Peninsula are supposed to be scary melodrama, but it’s just hilarious to see the adult Captain Jack – another one whose face is a size or two too big – steaming around in there, shouting for his daddy. He has never been the most convincing leading man, but it’s getting a bit embarrassing now, and it’s detrimental to the show. He’s really poor here.

Then, as I so often find myself saying, there’s the other two. The two whose personalities are constantly being rewritten all the time anyway, so it was always going to be tricky to explore such inconsistent characters. Owen just switches from an alpha male to a geek, via the medium of a cardigan and glasses, which is mind-numbingly unoriginal. Tosh gets to be confident and sexy once more, but Adam forcing her into a sexual relationship with him made me uncomfortable; it’s tantamount to rape, which is something that the show didn’t see fit to comment upon.

But the further issue with what they did with these two is that when it’s all fixed at the end, they go back to normal – Tosh is timid and self-conscious, and Owen is cocky and a bit of a prick towards her. How is this better?

Mind you, I did find the ending interesting – the team wake up with no memory of the last two days, and all the records have been wiped, including one of their diaries. It could have been the starting point of a whole other story, where Tosh discovers that someone’s finished her jigsaw, Owen and Ianto get broken feet, and there’s a gravestone dedicated to the memory of the memory of Adam Smith.

RATING: 5