Torchwood: A Day in the Death
(1 episode, s02e08, 2008)
“If there is even a tiny glimmer of light, then don’t you think that’s worth taking a chance?”
Owen Harper, still a walking dead man, meets a woman on the edge of a building. Maggie Hopley wants to jump to her death, and Owen relates the story of the last three days to her. He tells her about being dead.
Following the events of Reset and Dead Man Walking, Jack relieves Owen of his duties and places him in the care of Martha Jones for study. Owen is reluctant, but he eventually relents despite the frustration under the surface. A quick pep talk from Ianto buoys him up enough to start the medical exams.
The team meets about a man named Henry Parker who hasn’t left his home since the 1980s. While the team deploys with their assignments, Owen is left without a task. As Martha continues her examination, Owen inadvertently cuts his hand open with a scalpel. Martha sews it closed, but since it can’t heal on its own, it will have to be restitched every week. Owen is upset about the fragility of his immortality.
Without a substantial job to do, Owen heads home. Television doesn’t hold his interest, so he dials up some music on his iPod and removes everything from his house that he no longer needs. After that, boredom sets in. At some point, Tosh makes a house call and tries to tell him about her day, but Owen tunes her out.
Owen asks why she bothered coming around. She wants to help him, and she reminds him that she loves him. Owen angrily replies that he’s broken, breaking his own finger as evidence. He storms out and runs to the Cardiff canal where he jumps into the water and sinks to the bottom.
He spends thirty-six minutes underwater. He doesn’t drown despite his best efforts. He emerges to find Jack watching him.
The Torchwood team wants to retrieve the alien device that Henry Parker has, but they can’t go in with all of the sensors on Parker’s property. Owen volunteers since he is able to defeat them. The team helps Owen sneak into the house by diverting guards while he disables the site’s electrical generator. He gets past the internal security guard and locates Henry Parker, a bedridden man who has suffered three heart attacks and relies on the object to keep him alive. Owen tells him that the device doesn’t have any life-sustaining properties. Instead, it’s building up energy like a bomb.
The men have a discussion on the nature of life and death. Owen, still a medical doctor, tends to Parker as he convinces the dying man to surrender the device. After giving the object away, Parker goes into cardiac arrest and dies. Owen tries CPR, but since he has no breath, the effort is wasted.
The device’s energy output skyrockets. Owen says his farewells as he offers to absorb the object’s energy.
Owen returns to headquarters and bids farewell to Martha Jones – “Thank you for everything.” – as she returns to her job at UNIT. She makes the rounds, giving Jack a kiss as he offers her a job when she’s done with UNIT, before walking into the darkness.
Later, Owen and Tosh share a moment: Owen is scared of the darkness that is death, and Tosh offers to stand by his side. As he walks home, he comes back to the framing story.
Maggie wants to jump because her husband died on their wedding day. Today is the anniversary of their wedding and she believed that it would all get better. It never did. Owen’s story captures her attention, especially when he pulls the device out of a bag. He explains that it is a reply from alien life to mankind’s broadcasts into the deep dark of space.
It is proof of life among the stars. It is hope.
There is a good character story here, particularly with the typically self-centered Owen breaking out of his element to save a single person. I’d like to believe that he takes time out for Maggie because either he’s truly good at heart or he’s trying to make up for losing Henry Parker.
We have to overlook the narrative shortcuts here about the talking dead. The act of speaking requires airflow over vibrating vocal folds in the larynx, so Owen would be able to perform rescue breaths without issue. It’s the same talking dead narrative shortcut that applied in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel when discussing talking vampires, so it’s easy to hand-wave away.
We get some touches from the past in this episode. First, flashes of Owen’s life come strictly from our time with him, specifically Everything Changes, Ghost Machine, Out of Time, Meat, and Reset. Second, Henry Parker was played by Richard Beiers, who we last saw as the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers.
The story is touching, but it moves a bit too quickly to maintain the narrative punch needed to sell Owen’s predicament. It feels rushed and less cohesive than the rest of this trilogy of episodes. Still fun, but not as good as it should have been.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: Something Borrowed
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.