Torchwood: Everything Changes
(1 episode, s01e01, 2006)
Evolving from Excalibur, a science-fiction crime drama idea from Russell T. Davies, Torchwood was developed as a post-watershed (mature/adult audience) companion to Doctor Who. It was the first spin-off for the franchise since K9 and Company twenty-five years earlier.
The series (and this story) begins with murder. PC Gwen Cooper and her fellow officers are investigating the crime scene, but are quickly escorted away as Torchwood arrives. Led by Captain Jack Harkness, the team of Doctor Owen Harper, Suzie Costello, and Doctor Toshiko Sato get to work. Gwen, meanwhile, moves to higher ground in a parking garage to get a better view.
Jack waxes about contraceptives in the rain as Suzie puts a metal gauntlet on her hand and examines the corpse. The gauntlet shocks the corpse back to life for two minutes, during which time the team interrogates the dead man for clues. The victim didn’t see who stabbed him, and Jack’s questions about death also prove fruitless. The team is frustrated and Gwen is startled when Jack asks her for advice. Gwen responds by running away.
Gwen arrives home later and joins her boyfriend, Rhys Williams, in front of a television drama as they catch up on the day. They go to bed, but Gwen spends the night sleepless. The next day, she asks Yvonne to look up Jack Harkness before taking coffee to the detectives investigating the murder. She and her partner respond to a bar brawl and suffers a blow to the head. At the hospital, she notes a familiar figure in a blue coat racing up the stairs and gives chase, but she stops at the top floor because it is sealed in plastic. She asks a porter about the seal, but he’s no help, so she breaks it and investigates.
She finds what she assumes to be a man wearing a mask – a standard Doctor Who alien, yeah? – and asks about the man in the coat. The porter returns to update Gwen and is soon eaten by the creature. The Torchwood team springs into action as Jack escorts Gwen from the room. When Gwen goes back outside, the Torchwood team drives away so she gives chase in her patrol car.
Her partner is left behind at the hospital.
She runs the license plates as Yvonne gives her an update on Jack Harkness and his history. The chase ends at Wales Millennium Center, but Gwen loses the team when she looks away. Control has no record of the license plate, and Gwen and her partner – he walked all the way there – can find no evidence of where the team went. Also, there are no missing porters at the hospital. Dismayed, Gwen goes home where she lies to Rhys and continues her investigation of the Millennium Center.
She follows a hunch and visits Jubilee Pizza where she learns that they frequently deliver to Torchwood. She orders a pizza and hand delivers it to the address on file. Ianto Jones points her down a secret passage and Gwen arrives at the Hub in Torchwood Three, home to the Cardiff team. She spots a water feature in the center of the room, a severed hand bubbling away in a container, and the team who are all apparently ignoring her as a joke.
They tell her that they have been watching her stalking them for the last three hours. They also explain how they erased the evidence of the porter’s murder. As a pterodactyl squawks overhead, Jack offers to show her the murderer. It’s the creature from the hospital, commonly referred to as a Weevil by the team, which is part of a group living in the sewers.
Returning to the Hub, Jack makes introductions to the team despite Gwen’s protestations that Torchwood is classified. Jack hands out job assignments before escorting Gwen out via the scenic route. They rise up on a platform into Millennium Center, shrouded in a perception filter. Jack presumes that it’s because “there was once a dimensionally transcendental chameleon circuit placed right on this spot, which welded its perception properties to a spatial-temporal rift” – we call it Boom Town – but otherwise it’s just cool. They head to a local bar where Jack challenges Gwen’s lack of belief with the undeniable evidence of the Christmas Invasion and the Battle of Canary Wharf. After a little back and forth, including Jack’s revelation that Torchwood scavenges alien technology to prepare for a future invasion, Jack dissuades Gwen of the idea that Torchwood is trying to solve the stabbing murders. They’re just trying to figure out the gauntlet, and the more violent the murder, the better for the device.
Jack gives her a little trivia: Torchwood One was Canary Wharf in London, Torchwood Two is in Glasgow, Torchwood Three is this team in Cardiff, and Torchwood Four has vanished. Jack also reveals that he drugged Gwen’s drink in order to erase her memory and maintain the team’s secrecy. She races home to jot down as much information as possible before she collapses. Ianto hacks into her computer and erases the file.
Oh, and the idea that all that alien technology is supposed to stay in the base? Tosh, Owen, and Susie have all ignored that mandate. Tosh scans a copy of A Tale of Two Cities with one touch and uploads it to her computer. Owen tries to pick up a girl (and ends up in a threesome) with an alien pheromone spray. Suzie uses the gauntlet to resurrect a dead fly.
Owen’s a bit of a git, honestly.
Rhys wakes Gwen the next morning with coffee and a kiss, concerned that she was drinking after a head wound. Later at work, Yvonne reminds her about Captain Jack Harkness. Gwen goes up to the detective offices and spots the mock-up of the murder weapon, an image that haunts her all day as images of her lost trip to the Hub flit through her subconscious. In her home office, she spots a brochure for Millennium Center with a note scrawled on it: “Remember”.
Gwen returns to Millennium Center and finds Suzie, who produces the murder weapon with the hope of breaking Gwen’s amnesia. Suzie pulls a gun, remarks that only Gwen can make the link, and reveals that although she loves her job it is driving her mad. She killed three people in order to get practice with the gauntlet. During her confession, Jack comes up the lift, presumably hidden by the perception filter. Suzie can see through it and shoot Jack in the head before turning the gun on Gwen, but Jack rises up behind her to stop the threat.
Suzie decides her own fate by committing suicide.
Gwen remembers, Ianto puts the gauntlet in storage, the rest of the team surrenders their illicit tech, Suzie goes into the Torchwood morgue, and Jack is immortal. Jack was made immortal by Bad Wolf, and he’s in search of the right kind of Doctor to help explain it. He asks Gwen to keep it quiet before asking her to join Torchwood.
She accepts as the pterodactyl flies overhead.
As pilots go, this was a great one. It’s dark and moody, establishing the direction and atmosphere for the series to come. We get to catch up with Captain Jack again, though the mystery of where and when he’s been since he encountered Bad Wolf is still a mystery. I also enjoy how we are in Gwen’s shoes for this story, uncovering the mystery as she does.
Since this is a spin-off and not primarily set in the Doctor’s timeline, there will not be a regeneration handicap. Not that it needs one at any rate.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: Day One
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.