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Torchwood: The Story So Far
by Andrew Panero
Geeks bearing Gifts and Other Tales
As Torchwood steams into the second half of the first season, it continues
a variable run of the absolutely brilliant and the strangely awful. At least
when this series messes up it sure does it with style and usually several
gallons of studio blood.
Greeks Bearing Gifts
by Toby Whithouse
It seems that betrayal is a major theme for this series; in the first episode
we had Suzie abusing her position by pursuing her own desire for power over
life and death, then we had Ianto betraying the others by sneaking his Cyber-converted
girlfriend into the base. Shortly after Gwen betrays her boyfriend by starting
an affair with Owen Harper. Owen it seems has a particularly relaxed attitude
to sexual mores, well he’s a bit of a shit actually and one of his former
conquests it seems is Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) the stunning yet geeky IT
specialist at Torchwood. She forms the focus for this episode, which establishes
in the opening scenes her alienation from the others, particularly Owen and
She is therefore ripe for exploitation by Mary (Daniela Denby-Ashe), a shape-shifting
alien exile on Earth, who offers her both sexual fulfilment and a device
for reading other people’s minds. What Toshiko discovers there is not always
to her liking but she soon finds herself addicted to the power it gives her.
At first the power is almost too much for her, but after she uses it to stop
an alienated, angry, father from killing his family, she soon sees potential
benefits of such a device. However she conceals the device from her colleagues
and under Mary’s thrall gets the shape shifter into the Torchwood base. There
Mary attempts to use the transporter she was banished to Earth with a guard
nearly two-hundred years before to escape from the planet. Jack tricks her
by altering the controls so that Mary is transported to the centre of the
Clearing up the emotional backwash later on, Gwen tells Toshiko not to be
put off by being betrayed by a cunning alien shape-shifter with a psychotic
tendency to tear people’s hearts out of their chests. Jack allows Tosh to
destroy the mind reading device. She comments that reading his mind was like
trying to read the mind of a dead man, to which he gives no answer.
A fairly robust script from Toby Whithouse struggles to make the connection
with the title by having Mary refer to herself at one point as Philoctetes
who in Greek Mythology was exiled to the island of Lemnos. Her exile to Earth
she claims is for political reasons, although her actions speak otherwise.
A great performance by all the regulars and Ms Denby-Ashe, makes this a better
than average episode.
They Keep Killing Suzie
by Paul Tomalin and Dan McCollach.
This episode begins very much as it means to continue; in welter of gore.
The local police summons the Torchwood team to the scene of a murder, mainly
because the name ‘Torchwood’ is smeared in bloody letters near the corpses.
All of this is part of cunning plan by their deceased colleague Suzie
Costello (Indira Varma), who we last saw in ‘Everything Changes’, to force
them to bring her back from the dead. For in a moment of incredible foresight
she saw that they would kill her and so she had programmed a group of unwitting
members of a local support group using the Torchwood amnesia drug, wittily
called Retcon by the scriptwriters. This she had been overdosing her victims
on and then hypnotizing them to become mass murderers unless they hear the
recited lines of an Emily Dickinson poem.
I don’t know if it is a side effect of having two scriptwriters for this
story, but the plot seems to pull in all kinds of different directions at
once. Suzie, who now ranks as the one recurring villain in the series is,
like her more cartoonish antecedents in Doctor Who itself, big on schemes
but low on plausible motives. We can only assume that she is a hideously
deformed sociopath, whose basically fucked up personality stems from childhood
abuse at the hands of her father. Or at least that is my guess, given that
she tricks Gwen into allowing her to visit him where he is dying of cancer
in hospital simply so that she can disconnect the ventilator keeping him
alive. One gets the impression this wasn’t meant as an act of mercy, particularly
as it comes in the context of Suzie telling Gwen that she is slowly dying
of a gunshot wound to the head. Having used the ‘Resurrection Gauntlet’ to
bring Suzie back to life, along with the vicious stabbing knife that comes
with it, Gwen’s life-energy is slowly being drained to keep Suzie alive.
With the Torchwood team in pursuit we are told that Gwen only has minutes
left, outside the car it is night-time. However by the time they catch up
with Gwen at Hedley Point where Suzie intends to escape on a boat, it is
daylight. The sun must rise a lot faster in Wales it seems, or maybe Owen
got his sums wrong. Either way we are set up for a bloody and rather pointless
denouement on a pier as Jack repeatedly blows bits of Suzie away before destroying
the Gauntlet and restoring Gwen to life.
An awkward episode with too much plot, the level of violence making it almost
a low budget parody of a Quentin Tarrantino film, ‘They Keep Killing
Suzie’ has very little going for it. It was good to see Indira Varma again,
but even she seemed to struggle with her character, who at times seemed far
too ironically detached to be really committed to such fell deeds. We do
learn that there is nothing beyond life, only blackness and that something
wicked is on the move out there in the darkness.
by Jacquetta May.
Almost as if to keep us guessing about this whole life after death thing
we are presented here with story narrated by a dead man. Eugene Jones (Paul
Chequer), failed maths genius, part-time telesales operative and full time
geek, finds himself the victim of a hit and run accident. However, he has
swallowed an alien eyeball and as a result is condemned to be an invisible
voyeur in the afterlife. It is from his semi-omnipotent point of view that
the viewer is led in this episode.
Like this years Doctor Who episode ‘Love and Monsters’ this episode
uses the device of viewing the regular crew through the eyes of an outsider
to gain an extra perspective on the story. Like the protagonist of that story,
Eugene is an obsessive follower of their actions who desperately tries to
attract Torchwood’s attention in real life. One gets the feeling that they
can’t be much of a clandestine outfit if members of the public are tracking
them in this way. Nevertheless he eventually manages to succeed in grabbing
their attention after his death when they come to investigate his life. Gwen
becomes determined get to bottom of things and is accused by Owen of trying
to compensate for the fact that Eugene had a crush on her.
The random shoes of the title are a series of photos saved onto Eugene’s
phone that Gwen manages to access and use to find people he knows. These
include his fellow workmates Gary and Linda; both are upset when they learn
what has happened. Linda explains how Eugene had offered to pay for her to
go to Australia to make a new start in life.
It seems that Eugene’s plan to raise the money consisted of selling the eye
on e-bay; to his surprise the bids toped £15000 however no one knows
who the highest bidder was. However it comes to light that Gary had put in
the bids using a variety of aliases on the web. When the bids soared over
the £15000 mark Eugene became convinced the buyer was an alien trying
to get the eye back.
What wonderfully bonkers stuff this sounds as I type it now, a mixture of
plausible, ordinary human relationships with high levels of weirdness. Torchwood
episodes can vary quite markedly in their approach and degree of success.
I feel overall that this episode succeeds in more ways than many of the earlier
and later episodes. Curiously it is the one episode where the team is (with
the exception of Gwen) almost entirely in the background. So we have a sympathetic
figure in the shape of Eugene who takes up foreground and keeps things moving
with his first person account of life after death. A person the audience
can identify with in a situation beyond ordinary understanding; sounds like
a classic definition of a sci-fi story to me.
The Second Bits:
Cyber ladies, vicious faeries and crazy welsh cannibals...
Episodes four and five certainly step up the pace in terms of drama and
excitement levels. The first season of Torchwood seems to be getting into
its stride. Episode six marks for a turning point in the character arcs
of Gwen and Owen Harper but leaves us a bit puzzled as to why it was in
a science fiction series.
by Chris Chibnall
Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) hasn’t really had much of a role so far this
season; up to this point his contributions have been mainly in the coffee-making
department. This all changes as he plunges the Torchwood base into the direst
danger imaginable. For he has a dark secret in the basement; a half-cyber-converted
girlfriend called Lisa (Caroline Chikezie) who he has smuggled in and is
using a converted cyber converter to keep alive.
So, waiting until the others head off down the pub he smuggles in a Japanese
cybernetics expert Dr Tanizaki (Togo Igawa) to help save his girlfriend.
Dr Tanizaki is delighted to have such an opportunity to acquaint himself with
said Cyber lady and is most impressed with her fleshy bits as well it seems.
For Cyberwoman has not been converted in the way that the new Alternate Earth
Cybermen have been converted- by ripping the brain out of a human skull and
shoving it in a robot shell. Instead she has been converted in a more traditional
(Mondasian?) cyber-fashion-by piecemeal replacement of human organs with
cybernetic implants and artificial limbs. That is why she still has a human
face and fleshy patches. Apparently in the last stages of the fight for Canary
Wharf (as seen on ‘Doomsday’) the Cybermen got so desperate for soldiers
they opted for this more slap-dash approach.
Tanizaki and Ianto manage to free Lisa from the Cyber-conversion equipment
and take her upstairs to the autopsy room where Ianto hopes they to be able
to reverse the process; what Tanizaki hopes for is not clear although he
looks sceptical that she can be restored. Up until this point it seems that
Lisa has retained her humanity. With Tanizaki’s help they manage to get her
breathing independently however at that point the others interrupt them by
returning to checkout a UFO sighting.
Tanizaki returns Lisa to the basement whilst Ianto deals with the others;
when they get to the room with the Cyber-converter Lisa turns on the Japanese
man and throws him down on the conversion unit. Upstairs there is a massive
power drain and Ianto rushes down to the cellar to investigate. He finds
Lisa, now speaking in a cyber-voice who tells him calmly that Dr. Tanizaki’s
upgrade has failed; on the floor the unfortunate man lays dead, a chunk of
cyber-implant sitting crudely on his battered skull.
The rest of the episode is basically a run around with the Cyberwoman
being discovered and attempting to convert the others. Along the way an
unfortunate pizza delivery woman has her brain emptied to make way for Lisa’s,
Owen snogs Gwen whilst they hide in a compartment in the autopsy room and
we get to witness the first fight between a Pterodactyl and a Cyberwoman.
The consequences for the team of Ianto’s betrayal are pretty dire and
one can’t help but wonder if this will have further ramifications later
in the series. As an episode it generally works well despite some major
difficulties such as why the up and down stairs bit at the beginning and
if the Cyber-conversion unit was keeping her alive how could Lisa survive
the first journey? (Also, how did Ianto smuggle in so much equipment without
the others noticing?) The acting is good and the terror felt by all the cast,
except perhaps Jack is fairly palpable. We also get to see Jack dying and
coming back to life again, as in the first episode and so do the rest of
At the end of the episode Gwen asks Jack whether he has ever loved someone
enough to act in the way Ianto did for Lisa. This obviously anticipates the
following week’s story where we get to meet one Jack’s old flames, however
he declines to answer Gwen’s question. She tells Jack that for a moment she
thought it looked like he could actually die. Jack’s reply is that for a
moment it felt as if he might die as well and that this made him feel ‘so
by P.J. Hammond.
We have some more back-story for Captain Jack as the team investigate
malevolent fairies that have come to claim Jasmine (played with great conviction
by Lara Phillipart) for one of their own.
An old flame of Jack’s Estelle Cole (Eve Pearce) is lucky (or unlucky
in this case) to capture some of the creatures on film. Once her back is
turned they cease to be the charming little beings with gossamer wings that
we know so well and mutate into man sized green skinned monsters.
Meanwhile young Jasmine is on her way home from school when she is accosted
by a predatory paedophile Goodson (Rodger Barclay); he is seen off by a threatening
invisible presence and a disembodied voice tells the young girl to run.
Goodson is so plagued by bizarre and threatening experiences that he runs
to the police and begs to be locked up. Later on he is found dead in his
cell with hundreds of rose petals stuffed into his mouth. Coincidentally it
seems that Jack has been dreaming of similar things, which occurred over ninety
years earlier on a train through Lahore. How Jack came to be there is not
explained (maybe it was one of his missions as a time agent?) but it seems
apparent that he was part of the British Army and that he was an officer.
The group of men he was in charge of had been responsible for the accidental
killing of a young girl from a nearby village. The girl was one of the ‘chosen
ones’, those whom the fairies wanted to claim for their own; in revenge the
fairies killed all of Jack’s men by stuffing their mouths full of rose petals.
This story works well on the whole and manages to avoid some of the pitfalls
that the series seems prone to; such as the constant adolescently charged
sexuality one gets in other episodes. The relationship with Estelle is poignant
and believable and we get more of a rounded view of Jack Harkness as a result.
In some episodes he comes across a rampant sex-obsessed psychopath and indeed
a lot of the time it is members of his own team such as Ianto who are screaming
at him that he is the monster. Here we get to see him as a person capable
of vulnerability and of giving as well as receiving love.
Another reason why this episode seems more mature is it’s uncompromisingly
bleak ending, in which a grieving Jack is forced to concede to the fairies’
wishes in order to save humanity. P.J. Hammond inverts the mythology of these
creatures to produce a truly scary, demonic foe.
by Chris Chibnall.
The team head out to the countryside to investigate a series of strange
disappearances that they are sure are attributable to the time rift expanding.
So begins a episode of desperate misdirection, as the audience as well as
the team believe they are on the trail of some odious alien psychos.
The reality it seems is both obvious and surprising, in that it involves
no supernatural or extraterrestrial explanations. Having watched a very gory
French horror film the night before I found myself experiencing deja vous
on a phenemenal scale as corpses in various states of dismemberment are
thrown at the screen. Not since ‘Real Time’ as there been such a gruesome
Who-derived story as this one and at least that was animated.
There are some particularly grating parts to this story that has
to be said, particularly some of the lines that Owen Harper (Burn Gorman)
has to enunciate. Indeed in an article for ‘The Mirror’ Jim Shelley notes:
I can't help thinking there's something inappropriate about a Doctor Who
spin-off where one character asks another, "When was the last time you came
so hard, you forgot where you were?"
Indeed, and Eve’s subsequent falling into bed with Owen is again so obvious
one doesn’t expect it. This episode as well as huge quantities of gore also
offers up more of the aforementioned adolescent sexuality. We have Gwen passing
the time with her fellow ultra-cool, special ops types by asking them when
they last had a ‘snog’; a term that I’m sure isn’t used by anybody over
the age of twelve. When Ianto tells her, again unsurprisingly, that the
last person he snogged was Lisa, one can’t help but wonder why she didn’t
see that one coming. I guess we know then his still a little upset by all
that Cyberwoman stuff.
The First Bits:
It is perhaps odd that in it’s forty-three years of life Doctor Who has
not spawned more spin off stories in it’s own medium. There have been numerous
Doctor Who spin-offs in comics, books and audio dramas, but aside from
the execrable ‘K-9 and Company’ and the abortive Dalek serial Terry Nation
attempted in the sixties, precious little has happened on TV. Until
now; and wow, what a spin-off this is!
by Russell T. Davies.
I guess the scene is set pretty much straight away when we are presented
with a bleeding corpse on a rain-strewn pavement. PC Gwen Cooper (Eve
Myles) arrives on the scene to find the SOCO’s (British equivalent of
forensics) pulling back. To her astonishment she learns that a ‘special
ops’ unit known as Torchwood have been given privileged access to the body,
something she finds hard to reconcile with normal police procedure for
Cue Captain Jack and his mysterious sidekicks, entering in a totally
blacked out 4x4 with creepy blue lights. Murray Gold’s score is
very effective in setting the mood for this scene with a frenetic, bass
line building up tension. Wanting to see what these peculiar people are
up to PC Cooper enters an adjacent tower block and climbs up to a balcony
that gives her a perfect view of the crime scene. She arrives in time
to see Suzie Costello (Indira Varma who starred in last year’s ‘Quatermass
Experiment’) use a silver claw device to bring the dead man to life momentarily.
So begins Gwen’s descent into the bizarre and somewhat paranoid world
of Torchwood and alien technology. With more than a nod and a wink to the
Men in Black we have a clandestine organisation secreted under the streets
of Cardiff led by the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman)
and staffed by an assortment of ultra-cool freaks with a penchant for the
fantastic and the extraterrestrial. As with ‘Rose’ we have a figure whom the
audience is meant to identify with in the shape of Gwen, whose life is turned
upside down by this encounter with the exotic; like Rose she also has a boring
boyfriend at home, but thankfully we don’t see much of him. Gwen at least
makes for more interesting conversation as well and by following her instincts
and the fortuitous ordering of a pizza by bad-boy Owen Harper (Burn Gorman),
she is able to find the Torchwood base under Cardiff’s millennium centre.
After a brief introduction to the guys she is taken up stairs in Torchwood’s
invisible elevator ( a bonus left by the TARDIS’ visit in ‘Boomtown’) and
taken for a drink by Captain Jack. Being such a cad he drops a Mickey Finn
in her drink that wipes her memory of that evenings revelations. In vain
she tries to type a message to herself on her computer, only to have it hacked
and deleted by Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd). However she is able to retrieve
her lost memories by the end of the episode and is instrumental in creating
a vacancy in Torchwood at the same time.
This episode is very much a scene setter of a story but nevertheless
manages to tick all the right boxes as well as cross-referencing Doctor
Who on the way. We learn that Captain Jack cannot die after his resurrection
by Rose in ‘The Parting of the Ways’, although we do not learn how he
made it to 21st Century Cardiff.
Sexuality is also highlighted as a recurring theme that could not be
explored in detail on Doctor Who for obvious reasons. We were all aware
of Captain Jack’s ‘omni sexuality’ as Russell T. Davies has described
it and it seems that in Torchwood a number of his colleagues are also
that way inclined. There is a scene where the rather slimy Owen Harper
goes out to seduce women with an alien equivalent of a pheromone based
spray. He is successful in seducing a woman who wouldn’t look at him normally
only to have her lary boyfriend turn up and threaten to kick his head in.
To save an argument Owen sprays himself again and the irate boyfriend immediately
kisses him on the mouth saying he is going to ‘have him’: Well, it is an
RTD story after all, so what does one expect!
by Chris Chibnall.
GWEN: All right, I'll give them a call. Put out an A.P.B. "Woman possessed
by gas knobbing fellas to death."
The sexuality theme is explored in greater detail as a strange meteorite
lands outside Cardiff and the Torchwood team, including the freshly seconded
Gwen go to investigate. They find a piece of what Owen describes as ‘bog
standard space junk’ that Gwen accidentally pierces when passing him a
chisel. A gaseous creature emerges and makes its way into town where it
finds young Carys — Sara Lloyd Gregory-outside a noisy nightclub. The gas
creature surges into her lungs and compels her to go find men in order
to copulate with; at the moment of orgasm her first victim crumbles to dust.
A voyeuristic nightclub bouncer who was busily masturbating over the CCTV
at the time when the fatal coupling took place tips off the Torchwood team.
Using old-fashioned police techniques and a database that matches names
to images the team are able to track Carys to her home where they arrive
in time to stop her killing the postman. Taking her back to the base it is
soon evident to Gwen that Carys is suffering as a result of her being taken
over. Carys it seems is possessed by a form of alien life that feeds off
human orgasms, or to be more specific male orgasms as she rejects Gwen after
seducing her with more miraculous pheromones.
Owen Harper is able to explain how the contamination that Carys is
suffering from will eventually lead to a very painful death and is then
instrumental in her breaking loose in search of more victims. The rest
of the episode is mostly a race against time as the team try and track
down Carys before she kills again.
During this episode we learn that the rest of the Torchwood team know
as little about Captain Jack as Gwen does. Gwen’s role within the team seems
to be one of reminding the others about their humanity a theme familiar
from Doctor Who; she is the only one of the team who seems genuinely concerned
about what will happen to Carys. Captain Jack recognises this as a valuable
asset to the team and warns Gwen to not let the job consume her and to
continue to have as normal life as possible. We are left wondering how
likely this is as Gwen finishes the episode eating lasagne with her boyfriend.
by Helen Raynor.
‘Blake’s 7’ actor and veteran of Big Finish audios, Gareth Thomas guest
stars in this episode as the malevolent sex criminal Ed Morgan, whose crimes
a long time ago have left him paranoid and depressed. In this disturbing
and thoughtful story an alien device is recovered from a petty criminal Bernie
(Ben McKay). When Gwen activates this device at the train station where
they track Bernie down, she is witness to a young boy with a label on his
clothes who appears to be lost and alone. Later she is able to trace the
young boy down and it transpires the scene she witnessed took place in the
Second World War when the boy had arrived in Cardiff as an evacuee from
London. Now in his late sixties the man still lives in Wales, having nothing
to go back to after the war.
Owen also has a similar experience whilst fiddling with the ‘quantum
transducer’ and witnesses the prelude to a violent rape that took place
in the sixties.
He becomes obsessed with what he has seen and tracks down the man responsible,
Ed Morgan, who lives as a paranoid recluse. Gaining access to his home
by pretending to be a gas engineer he tells Morgan that he knows what he
has done and is ejected from his home. Morgan cryptically hints that someone
else has been trying to blackmail him about this. When Owen leaves the
house he spots Bernie and gives chase, catching him and then arranging
to meet up with the others in a pub. It transpires that the ‘quantum transducer’
was amongst a stash of stuff kept by an old man in a biscuit tin. There is
another half to the device that when put together with the original piece
allows the user to view the future as well as the past. Again it is Gwen
who uses this device and is horrified to see a vision of herself holding
a knife covered in blood.
This episode as with the others before it explores a number of well
worn themes in science-fiction, in this case the morality of being able
to predict the future and whether it is possible to do anything about an
event that has yet to happen. There is of course nothing new under the sun,
so Helen Raynor is certainly to be congratulated on bringing a fresh angle
to an old temporal paradox.
I suspect there will be many Doctor Who fans who will have little time
for ‘Torchwood’ and will doubtless be glad that it is a relatively canonical
free spin-off series. In that respect I feel that they are mistaken because
‘Torchwood’ is great television sci-fi and could perhaps stand on its own
merits separately from its parent programme. How the relationship between
the two develops shall be interesting to see and we should have some more
of that after the next episode entitled simply ‘Cyber woman’.
Web site © 2005/2007 Visagraph Films International/John
Rocco Roberto/Andrew Panero.
Photos © 2007 British Broadcasting Company.
Torchwood series © 2006 British Broadcasting Company.