Torchwood: To the Last Man
(1 episode, s02e03, 2008)
A story of love and loss across time.
Cardiff, 1918: At the climax of World War I, Gerald Kneale and Harriet Derbyshire of the Torchwood Institute are investigating reports of ghost activity at St. Teilo’s Military Hospital. Heading into the ward, they see a bright light and a glimpse into the future where Tosh and a soldier named Tommy are huddled. Tommy tells the 1918 Torchwood team that they need to take his earlier incarnation from the recovery ward to ensure his existence in the future.
Cardiff, 21st century: Tosh dances about in her home as she gets ready for work, then goes to the Hub where Torchwood Three is about to awaken Tommy Brockless from cryogenic hibernation. Apparently, they have to revive him every twelve months, and Tosh is able to calm him down when he comes back to life.
Tommy settles in for a meal with the team, complimenting Tosh on her dress while he eats. Later on, during his examination, he recites name, rank, regiment, and parents’ death dates. Elsewhere, Jack briefs Gwen on the events from 1918 where time zones were colliding. Agents Kneale and Derbyshire left orders sealed with a temporal lock, and when the time is right, Tommy’s presence will prevent the temporal collision from spreading to the rest of the world.
Tosh takes Tommy outside for a day in the world while Gwen looks into the 1918 Torchwood team. Gwen decides to investigate the hospital. She finds a man with a missing leg who vanishes and a team of firemen who intend to demolish the building. Jack arrives soon after and theorizes that the workers may have released psychic trauma that has charged the Rift. As the workers continue to tear into the building, Jack feels a burst of energy and sees a man being wheeled down the hallway. Gwen sees an injured man in a chair being tended to by a nurse. Unlike all of the other ghost sightings, however, this time the nurse notices her. Gwen’s not supposed to be here, she says as she chases her back.
Tommy and Tosh share drinks over a pool game. Tommy sees news from hostilities in Iraq on the television and laments the fact that there is always a war somewhere. He asks if the human race is worth saving, and Tosh immediately says yes. He feels a bit of the psychic energy from the hospital before the pair head to the boardwalk. Tommy gives Tosh a kiss, but she returns some mixed signals before kissing him back. It’s evident that they’re falling for each other, but before anything else can happen, Jack calls them to the Hub.
Demolishing the hospital is the trigger.
After a briefing, the team heads for the hospital to start setting up rift monitors. Owen cautions Tosh about her relationship with Tommy, telling her that he doesn’t want to see her get hurt. Gwen calls them with a strange note from the 1918 report: “Through a hole in the external wall, we hear the roar of great engines. Outside is a woman in strange armor, ripping a Union Jack, perhaps some future heroine of the Empire.” Owen spots a car advertisement through a hole in the wall matching the description. Today is the day, punctuated by the Rift monitors alarming.
On cue, the temporal lock lifts and Jack reads through his orders from 1918. The instructions are for Tommy and Tosh: Tommy needs to be ready to jump through the fracture when it opens, leaving present Tommy trapped in the past after sealing the fracture with a Rift Manipulator.
Separately, Jack tells Tosh that Tommy will die three weeks after returning. His mind will revert to the way it was before being frozen, shell-shocked from the war, and he will be executed for cowardice. Tosh protests, but she has no choice.
Ianto pulls Tommy’s hospital attire out of storage, preparing him for his trip. Tommy then joins the rest of the team in the Hub and wonders what to do with the rest of his time. Tosh offers to take him to her place for the night. Back at the Hub, Ianto asks if Jack could return to his own time as well, but Jack wouldn’t want to sacrifice all of the amazing things he’s done since leaving home.
Both couples consummate their respective relationships, but Tosh’s is bittersweet.
At 6:30 am, the Rift monitors alarm and ghosts begin to appear. Tommy hears the 1918 Torchwood team speaking to his past self, realizing that Torchwood took him for this purpose, and he begins to question his role in this operation. He says that Torchwood is no better than the Army, knowing that if he goes back, he’ll be headed back to the front.
Tosh comforts him as the fracture begins. They find themselves in 1918 and Tosh tells Tommy that he has to step up and save the universe. He issues his orders to Torchwood 1918. before Tosh kisses him goodbye. Tommy heads to bed like he’d never been away.
Tommy watches as Torchwood 1918 takes his previous self away. As he climbs into bed, he doesn’t trigger the device. Tosh engineers a psychic projection so that someone can remind him to use the key. Tosh volunteers since Tommy trusts her the most. Once projected into the past, she helps him to activate the key and seal the fracture.
Tosh laments Tommy’s sacrifice as she packs his modern era clothes away. Jack thanks her as she leaves. Outside, Owen tells her that she saved the world. Tosh disagrees: Tommy saved the world.
But she wonders if humanity is worth it.
It was great to see Naoko Mori in the spotlight as Tosh. The last episodes with her in a major role were Greeks Bearing Gifts and Captain Jack Harkness (also a time shift episode involving a world war), and they are few and far between. We also get a good look at the Torchwood Institute as it would have functioned closer to its inception.
There was a humorous callback to Doctor Who with Tommy’s remark about how silly it would be to save the world in pajamas. The Tenth Doctor embraced that silliness just after his regeneration.
Overall, this story was a breath of fresh air in a franchise that often deals with darkness and drama. It handled weighty issues like sacrifice and historical approaches to PTSD while letting the sun in for a little bit. That is much appreciated.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: Meat
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.