For previous installments:
Series 2 was largely even better than Series 1, as Jack and Ianto get into a relationship, Martha Jones from Doctor Who Series 3 crosses over for a three episode stint (“Reset,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “A Day in the Death”), and of course, Captain John Hart played by James Marsters.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, To the Last Man, Adam, Reset, Dead Man Walking, Adrift, and Fragments
- Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was great for not only having the fantastic Blowfish scene, but also that after that, introduced Captain John Hart, making an eventful opener;
- To the Last Man was a great episode centered on Toshiko and a man destined to die;
- Adam, Reset, and Adrift are three of my all time favorite episodes of Torchwood, each for different reasons, like how Adam allows us to delve more into Captain Jack’s past, Reset brings the fantastic Martha Jones to Torchwood, and Adrift deals with a strong moral dilemma, as well as a secret about the Rift;
- Following Owen’s death, and resurrection in Reset, Dead Man Walking deals with these immediate repercussions and,
- Fragments is neat in how is tells the story of how the team eventually came together, minus Gwen because we saw this in the pilot.
According to the Digital Spy review of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang:
“Bloody Torchwood,” seethes the pensioner in the delicious pre-credits sequence. It’s a view unlikely to be mirrored by the viewers, as the second season premiere is slicker, faster and funnier than previous efforts – but not without its flaws.
The humorous slant to proceedings is evident from the beginning with the wonderfully realised ‘blowfish’ chase that instantly propels us into the action, equipped with a beaming smile. The laughs start flowing with the self-consciously iconic arrival of James Marsters’ Captain John, full of swagger, innuendo and a wonderful Star Wars reference in his answerphone message. It does edge dangerously close to parody at times, which threatens an attempt to take the narrative seriously and feel the potential danger, but Marsters is such a joy to watch, in a similar vein to his role in Buffy.
The change in Ianto Jones’ general demeanour is symbolic of the apparent change in tone for the show. Once a brooding misery guts whose idea of fun entailed stashing away his mangled cyberwoman girlfriend, he now seems to be equipped with the best one-liners and serves as the object of sexual attention from both Captains Jack and John.
However, there’s a certain something that leaves a feeling of unfulfillment as the end credits role, despite the tantalising “Gray” revelation. For the actual plot throughout the episode feels very disposable and non-engaging. Until the denouement, where Captain John finds himself bound to both explosives and Gwen, the storyline feels like more of an excuse to put certain characters together and watch them interact, with a distinct lack of urgency. Still, at least the camerawork helps to propel the action along, being fairly American in its adoption of the ‘MTV Aesthetic’ – packed full of quick zooms and fast cuts.
Although the episode feels like a passive viewing experience, it’s still enjoyable and generates a great deal of fun, mainly through the witty and smutty dialogue and confident performances.
According to the Digital Spy review of To the Last Man:
Sometimes the final shot can stay with you forever. Think about the moving final image of Francois Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups or Harrison Ford’s ambiguous expression at the end of Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut. ‘To The Last Man’s closing tracking shot of Toshiko, as she walks away from Owen, is another example of a resoundingly triumphant ending that conveys so much via the simple image.
Toshiko’s face, in this short sequence, bears all the emotions of the episode as her countenance flits from a smile about the happy moments she shared with thawed soldier Tommy, sadness and regret at sending him back to his death, uncertainty about her own future – all underlined with a sense of her blossoming as a woman. It is poignant, touching and actress Naoko Mori and writer Helen Raynor deserve a great deal of credit for reaching such dramatic heights.
The episode consciously tones down the action in favour of a character based drama, functioning as a fine contrast to ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’. At times, the pacing does lag, with a slight impatience growing as little happens in the actual plot until the ‘ghosts’ from 1918 start to seep through into the present day and the dreaded Time Shift occurs. Fortunately, along the way the performances of Mori and the superb, understated Anthony Lewis as Tommy help us to emotionally invest in their predicament, meaning that the inevitable sadness contains greater impact.
Also thrown into the mix is a refreshingly non-mawkish glimpse at the brutality of war and humanity, as the shell-shocked Tommy will be murdered by his own comrades under the flimsy misdiagnosis of ‘cowardice’. However, the Jack-Ianto snogfest does feel rather contrived and breaks up the flow of the narrative.
Overall, a moving episode that demonstrates the dramatic versatility ofTorchwood in the vastly improved second series.
According to the IGN review of Adam:
One of the best things about the science fiction genre – especially in television – is that it enables the series to flip things around. A single concept can change up the dynamic, alter the setting, or reverse roles. This has happened a number of times on Joss Whedon’s shows (The introduction of ‘The Key’ in Buffy, any time Angelus popped up in either show…) and is a staple throughout the genre – from “Mirror, Mirror” on the original “Star Trek” to the Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean) episodes of The X-Files. Altered memories, identities and characters who never were or shouldn’t be – come in to shake things up.
Adam is such a being. He’s an alien that exists by living in other people’s memories. He doesn’t really seem to be that hostile – if you’re willing to look past the fact that he is, essentially, “mind-raping” everyone. The fun in the episode comes when Gwen suddenly has no idea who Rhys is. And all this right after the poor guy has come to grips with what Gwen really does. In fact, this is apparently her first day back since her last mission that outed her to Rhys. The bloke takes it in stride though, and seems to finally have learned to trust Jack.
But – is that a good idea? Let’s look at Jack for a moment, shall we? Sure, he technically can’t die – as far as we know. He is, as the Doctor said, something that should not exist. So there’s that. And yet – he makes terrible tactical decisions that seem to be motivated by his own chaotic emotions. Ianto offers to accompany him to a site where something may have come through the rift. However, since Jack is seeing the ghost of his brother – he petulantly decides to go alone. Torchwood members are not traffic cops. This isn’t a simple job. It’s not like you’ll go to a place where something may have come through a rift in time and space and then give it a citation. Why would he want to go it alone?! And, lo and behold, it is a bad decision, because it’s here that Adam gets to him.
It’s through Adam that we finally learn a little bit about Jack’s past, and what would be the closest to his present timeline that we’ve ever been – the 51st century. As a young boy he lived under constant threat of invasion – from what we don’t know (but they’re not Daleks, which was my first guess). His father died and he lost his little brother, never even finding remains after three years of searching. It’s a tragic past – and one that Jack had chosen to bury. He chooses to do so again even after Adam digs it up.
The episode ends with all of the Torchwood team wiping the last 48 hours of their memories. There are things that they feel that they’re no longer aware of. There’s Owen’s love for Tosh, Gwen’s love for Jack, Jack’s fears and loneliness – and the generally tragic state of the entire team. These are things that were exposed to us by Adam – though we’ll have to wait for the team itself to come around to the revelations themselves…
According to the IGN review of Reset:
Seeing Freema Agyeman on Torchwood is a mixed blessing. While it’s always great to see her – as she did a terrific job as Martha Jones on Doctor Who, her presence here only serves to remind us that Torchwood lacks the verve, style and assured hand of its ancestor. This is clearly an attempt to inject some of the Doctor’s spirit into the proceedings – and it works only intermittently.
The story involves a parasitic alien that could be the cure to all of Earth’s diseases, if it didn’t incubate in people’s bodies and kill them. Bit of a hitch, that. Martha comes in to conduct the autopsy and quickly partakes in Torchwood’s cavalier and slapdash way of doing things. In an attempt to infiltrate a diabolical research group named The Pharm, Torchwood once again exhibits their total lack of manpower, connections and apparent relevance in Cardiff’s social hierarchy. Part of me is waiting for the team to figure out that Jack is a crazy person just pretending to have an official sanction to be doing this.
Alan Dale is a welcome presence as the head of The Pharm. Astute viewers will recognize Dale from Lost, where he plays Penny’s father (and he was just in the terrific episode “The Constant.”) Dale adds a bit of menace and has a real presence as the villain, but his story is a bit lacking. Again, the logic of the situation simply doesn’t hold up. It’s the little things that undermine the show. Take the scene where Jack triumphantly berates Dale declaring that he’s shutting down his institute. Then, the minute Jack turns away to help Owen with Martha, Dale slips away. This of course leads to disastrous consequences and the death of a team member.
The shooting at the end of the episode is a great moment. It’s surprising, sudden and well played. It’s just enough – with the addition of Agymen – to rescue the episode from being a mostly preposterous affair. Even Dale points out that Jack recklessly put Martha in danger by sending her into The Pharm. It makes sense that The Doctor travels alone, works alone – he’s a wanderer through time and space. Besides, the entire tone of Doctor Wholends itself to flights of fancy and the absurd – whereas Torchwood seems to be playing at being a bit more grown up. If they’re going to add the violence, the sex, and the language that means it’s playing with the big kids – then it ought to adhere to at least some rudimentary story logic.
It’s not enough to play out an unnecessary medical musical montage to be hip and cool. The show has to further develop its reality – the world in which it functions. Instead they use this genre shorthand of having the cops say “Here comes Torchwood…” whenever they arrive on scene. That’s supposed to clue us in that they’re top secret “outside the government, beyond the police.” Here they re-establish the existence of U.N.I.T. – which Martha works for. Wouldn’t U.N.I.T. be involved in the majority of what Torchwood handles? Why is the world leaving these issues of great import in the hands of an oversexed, overworked, sometimes-competent group of five people? There’s only so long you can watch this show without crying foul.
According to the IGN review of Dead Man Walking:
Sigh. It’s tough to review these episodes of Torchwood without feeling like you’re nitpicking. However, the show seems to have become sloppier as time goes on. It’s little things that crop up here and there and undermine our ability to suspend disbelief and the whole show starts to sag, until it collapses under the weight of its own ineptitude.
First, let’s talk about the good stuff. That’s what’s probably most frustrating about Torchwood is that it has its moments. It used to be full of promise, but half-way through season 2 – you either are or you aren’t something – it’s not about promises anymore. Nobody wants to be tuning in to the finale of season 4 thinking “Maybe thistime they’ll get it right!” Instead of all that potential, Torchwood is a mish-mash of the ludicrous and the effective. Most of the effective stuff comes in the form of style.
There are some fun moments where Owen realizes the particulars of his condition. There’s his night out at a club – which contrasts with other scenes we’ve witnessed when Owen was far more successful with the ladies. And then of course there’s the simple fact that Jack uses another glove to bring Owen back – which is a call back to events from last season.
However – the show undermines much of its own intended coolness. For instance, if Owen’s blood stopped circulating and he can’t “get it up” – and his digestive system has shut down so he can’t get rid of the beer he drank – then you have to stick with that idea. His eyes wouldn’t stay wet (or blink), his tongue wouldn’t move, none of his motor functions would still exist, rigor mortis would have set in and he’d be falling apart. You can’t go half way on this – especially when you craft two different scenes around the idea. There’s not even a techno-babble excuse for it – they just don’t address why some functions are clearly working and others are not.
Then there’s the conceptualization of “death” in this episode. While the team tackling the issue of what exists beyond life – if anything at all – is somewhat intriguing – the specter of death itself is boring. Of course, they hint that it might be some sort of trans-dimensional being, an alien, or what have-you, but it looks like a CGI version of the skeleton you had in your 9th grade biology class. And it’s surrounded by CGI smoke – probably a 2nd cousin to the stuff found on the Lost island. And how does Owen defeat this beastie? By wrestling it! This moment comes after an equally goofy Evil Dead 2inspired wrestling match with a disembodied hand.
So there you have it. Owen is back, sort of, though I suppose the real impact is yet to come. At least Torchwood doesn’t skip over such major issues as that. Nonetheless, the execution in this episode leaves much to be desired and placed an emphasis on style over substance, and even then – some of that style was downright shoddy. This one isn’t winning anyone over, that’s for sure.
According to the IGN review of Adrift:
Just when I was ready to write Torchwood off as a hollow offshoot of Doctor Who or a pale imitation of The X-Files – this episode happens. “Adrift” is the kind of science fiction that every series should aspire to create. It’s exactly the kind of show thatTorchwood should be – thoughtful, mature not just in its willingness to drop the F-word, but in the complex exploration of its themes. In a perfect world, if Doctor Who was DC Comics, Torchwood would be Vertigo. For the most part, that’s not been the case – but now the show has shown us what it can do.
Everything about this episode works: from beginning to end, from the photography to the music, the performances to a terrifically brilliant, tightly written and moving script. The score to this episode, written by Ben Foster, is just beautiful, and worthy of a feature film. It helps give this episode a much grander feel than a typical episode – as does the location photography. It’s nice to see Torchwood taking place outside, in the sun, and in real locations. This episode belongs up there with Doctor Who’s“Blink.” The episode also manages to pull off double duty as being a mostly stand-alone episode that works even for people who’ve barely seen the show and a quintessential episode of Torchwood that progresses every regular character in the series.
The episode begins normally enough: a boy goes missing when he sees a strange light. That could be any episode of Torchwood, or The X-Files – orSupernatural – and on and on. However, Torchwood manages to tell such a fascinating and moving story in under an hour, that it’s possibly the most intriguing and thoughtful talk on this subject ever found in this genre. Along the way, this is also the best episode Gwen has had to date, showcasing not just Eve Myles range – but shows that Kai Owen (Rhys) has tremendous power as an actor. The moment where Rhys tells Gwen off and insists that the reason she’s in Torchwood is so that people can live – is so good it should be bronzed. It’s a scene that gets to the core of any character who works for an organization like Torchwood – it’s an insightful incision into this genre that you almost never see.
There have been episodes where I was convinced that Rhys was a buffoon who was, frankly, beneath Gwen. I didn’t understand how she could live with someone who didn’t go through what she goes through at Torchwood. Even Andy (a character I’d mostly forgotten about) thinks Rhys is just a fat oaf. In this episode we learn exactly why Gwen loves Rhys – and it all makes sense. He’s a much stronger character, a much more real character – then we’d seen so far.
The mysterious back-and-forth going on between Gwen and Jack in this episode was at first frustrating. Jack seems to be an emotional and sometimes arbitrary leader. I’ve argued before that he seems to be a terrible leader, operating irrationally and petulantly. That’s what seemed was happening here – until we learn that there’s much more to it. It appears that there was only one reason that Jack was keeping the island and Jonah’s fate secret from her: because she wasn’t ready to know. This episode is a great example of how Jack’s long life has given him experiences that benefit him tremendously in Torchwood. As we see here, many of these experiences are hard, and probably not experiences you’d wish on someone you loved. It’s an experience that Jack certainly didn’t wish on Gwen.
Someone once wrote (it may have been John W. Campbell) that science fiction isn’t really science fiction if the story still works without the SF element. That holds true here. While the episode would almost work as a missing persons story with a hard truth at the end – the rift is key to the story. Without it you don’t have the essential madness that lies at the story’s core. Not just the “heart of a dark star” that drove Jonah mad, but the explosion of his mother’s reality that the truth brings. This comes across in the great scene where Gwen had to call Andy so that he could vouch for her sanity.
The ultimate conclusion is tough. The mother facing reality and mourning her hope. Gwen ultimately knowing that her idealistic pursuit of the truth has possibly hurt more than helped. And then there’s the realization Gwen has that Jonah has lost most of his life – his mother missed out on nearly all of it. It’s with this knowledge that she comes to Rhys not just to embrace the life he was urging her to live – but to share with him the details of her story that, at one time, she would have kept secret.
Not every episode of Torchwood need be this somber, or deep and mournful – that would be draining. However, this is how the show should work: a harder edged take on the world of Doctor Who. The reality of what can happen to ordinary people. The maturity doesn’t come from rushing in with guns blazing, or the sex and blood – it’s the willingness to explore themes that are not easily explained and leaving the audience with more questions than answers. This is very nearly a perfect episode of not just Torchwood, but the genre of science fiction and the medium of television.
According to the IGN review of Fragments:
In “Fragments” the team is nearly taken out when they are lured to a bomb attack. Gwen only avoids being caught in the blast because she oversleeps. While the rest of the team is pinned beneath rubble, they all flashback to the moment they joined Torchwood. It’s a well tread device, but one that has yet to be used for the Torchwood bunch – and as such it’s a mostly effective episode.
First up is Jack. We find out that he was killed over and over again by Torchwood members at the turn of the century. Ultimately, once they can’t figure out quite what to do with him – they offer him a position as a Torchwood operative. Jack then finds out he won’t meet up with The Doctor for another hundred years. Thus, Jack stays working in Torchwood throughout the century until something happens to his commander at the turn of the century. When the commander kills the rest of the team and then commits suicide, Jack takes over.
As unlikely as it is that Jack would have taken a backseat and simply accepted being an “operative” in Torchwood – it’s even less likely that Jack would never have come into contact with previous incarnations of The Doctor. Considering that Torchwood was supposedly looking for The Doctor all this time, and that they work with UNIT, it seems he’d have crossed paths with the Timelord. Maybe he did – and that’s a story for another time, but this origin of Jack does pose quite a few problems of character and logic that, unfortunately, are par for the course with Torchwood.
Then there’s Toshiko. She gets involved with Torchwood when her mother is kidnapped and she’s forced to steal secrets. However, Jack realizes that Tosh was able to create a “sonic inducer” from plans that didn’t work. He recognizes Tosh’s brilliance and brings her into the fold – but tells her that she won’t be able to keep in contact with her mother. Which begs the question of is this still true? Because if Tosh can’t be in contact with her loved ones, how is Gwen able to be with Rhys?
Next up is Ianto’s origin. We know that Ianto got into Torchwood in Cardiff because he wanted to use the facilities to save his girlfriend who had been turned into a Cyberman. However, here we see the process that Ianto had to go through to convince Jack to let him into the team. This does help explain why Ianto seemed to be a glorified secretary, and is only now a full fledged member of the team – because there was no position available. While his girlfriend may have been the motive for his desperation, there is already sexual tension between the two here – which is a bit of a retcon, because there wasn’t much of that in the first season. The past adventure in this portion has some pretty dodgy effects with a badly rendered dinosaur. It’s some of the cheesiest and least effective stuff Torchwood has done and it undermines the effect of Ianto’s origin.
Then there’s Owen’s story. This is the most surprising because we find out that carousing, closed-off Owen was engaged to be married. Unfortunately his fiancé had the bad luck to find herself the host of an alien being. This ultimately kills her and results in Owen meeting Jack. It’s a tragic beginning and explains much of Owen’s emotional being. It’s also fun to watch Burn Gorman play Owen as a much different man, who is rational to the point of believing he must be having a “mental collapse” when he’s taken to the Hub.
It seems a bit of a cheat that the team makes it out of the explosion with only a few scratches – a broken arm for Tosh, but that’s about it. It turns out that Captain John Hart was behind the attack, revenge for feeling abandoned by Jack. Overall, “Fragments” does work to solidify the characters on the team, and the presence of Hart promises an interesting finale to the season.
Meat, and From Out of the Rain
Because I am not too particular to episodes that focus on Rhys, Meat definitely was not an episode I liked that much. From Out of the Rain, however, was far worse than Meat because they brought in the circus.
According to the Digital Spy review of Meat:
‘Meat’ is a juicy treat to devour, combining heightened drama, genuine emotion and nice touches of humour.
The decision to foreground the supporting character Rhys works very well, enabling us to experience the mundane aspect of everyday working life and forming a clever contrast with the activities of Torchwood. Sharing his subjective perspective also allows us to once again be in awe of the actual Torchwood Hub, as we share his wonder in much the same way as we did with Gwen in the first episode. Since then, familiarity with the environment has taken hold, so it’s fitting to be reminded of its sublime architecture and swirling pterodactyl.
The furious domestic argument between the couple, a unique spin on the kitchen sink melodrama usually seen in EastEnders, has a real impact and emotional honesty due to the wonderfully earnest performances from Kai Owen and Eve Myles. Packed full of expletives, sexual jealousy and resentment, there’s a real naturalistic edge to the scene. They patch up their differences and proclaim their deep love for each other, but just witness the tantalising look that Gwen gives Jack when she snogs Rhys in the Hub. Sometimes a simple image can say more than a thousand words.
The eco-friendly plot ensures we feel for the plight of the space blubber, with the emotive howls of pain, big puppy-dog eyes and heartfelt score all combining to test the tear ducts. It cleverly enables Captain Jack to display a forgotten aspect of his character, given his recent ruthlessness with Beth and Tommy, by highlighting his sympathy for the distressed creature and desperation for it to survive. Fortunately, the eventual ‘mercy killing’ just about manages to stay on the right side of contrived sentimentality. The melancholic tone of ‘Meat’ is also occasionally eased by some witty lines courtesy of chief quipper Ianto Jones, with his “we could release a single” line a hilarious riposte to the suggestion that the space whale meat could feed the world.
‘Meat’ isn’t totally tasty however. The villains of the piece appear to be two-dimensional plot functions rather than humans, while there’s a distinct moral black hole in the episode. Namely, why are the team so against the murder for meat of an alien creature when they are only to happy to buy Meat Feast pizzas that benefit from the slaughter of cows and pigs? Mammals of this planet that have feelings, individual characters and the ability to emotively howl in pain like a blob from outer space can do. Come on Torchwood – you have to turn veggie now!
We await aliens disguising themselves as lumps of tofu in a bid to infiltrate the Hub in future episodes.
According to the IGN review of From Out of the Rain:
“From Out of the Rain” is an admirable attempt by Torchwood to recapture some of the promise it showed in the early episodes. It’s got some creepy moments, disturbing imagery and throws in a nice metaphor about the media as well. However, the episode is dragged down into drudgery by painfully slow pacing,Torchwood‘s ever present logic-shambles and lots and lots and lots (and more lots) of talking.
First, a caveat from your friendly reviewer. Every once in a while an element will pop up in a story that – for unexplainable reasons – just doesn’t sit well with me. The circus is one of those issues. I don’t like stories, movies, books or anything else that focus on the circus, carnivals (never watched Carnivale for this reason…) and especially freak shows. Seeing a man in a top hat standing near covered wagons and a tent drives me crazy. It’s not that I’m afraid of it – it’s just that whatever I’m watching seems to find these elements intrinsically interesting or magical or scary – and to me they are none of these things.
With that out of the way, you’ll perhaps better understand why this episode bored me to tears. The imagery of the old films, the flickering pictures from a lost time – are interesting. That’s all good stuff – but once the “night travelers” come out of the film things go down hill. The “Ghostmaker” and the “mermaid” run about town stealing breath in what seems – in tone, style and substance – to be a poor lift from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s episode “Hush.” These are no Gentleman.
What’s worse, these two villains hang out by an empty pool talking about what they’d like to do next. It completely robs them of any mystique and slows things down with lots of talking. However, the Torchwood team takes the prize for the talk Olympics in this episode. Jack has two scenes where he talks about why he shows up in the old films that Ianto sees. Then it seems like whenever something is about to happen – we end up back at the hub talking about something. There is virtually no action (not just slam-bang action, but action period) until the final ten minutes of the show.
Then, once things do get going – Torchwood throws one of its logic whammies at us. Jack seemingly declares – rather than legitimately discovers – that if you film the “night travelers” again – and then destroy the film – then it will destroy them! Makes total sense, until you think about it for more than a nanosecond and you realize this isn’t really a solid rule as much as it is tortured pseudo-logic used to advance the plot and end this episode. This realization happens in the same scene where Ianto and Jack seems disturbed to smell film – when they are surrounded by film canisters.
This episode feels like a series of missed opportunities. Even with my admitted bias against circuses and travelling shows and such – the episode could have worked. The exposition about Jack’s past is tossed aside. The flashback to the Night Travelers is a throw away bit and used only for more exposition. The actor who portrays the Ghost Maker walks around with bug eyes and reminded me of villains from a movie you’d see on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and not an episode of Torchwood. Once again we see someone try and attack Owen, only to realize “He’s not alive!”
Someone should make the same diagnosis of this show – it’s flailing about, telling sloppy stories, ripping off elements of much betters shows and repeating itself – and not the good parts. It’s a shame because the show has shown real potential – both last season and with the premiere episode of this season. Unfortunately, it’s squandering that potential with ponderous and boring episodes like this one.
The next in best and worst is Series 1.