(1 episode, s02e12, 2008)
Torchwood Three: This Is Your Life!
The Torchwood Three team is investigating a derelict building. Ianto pages Gwen to join them as soon as possible, then teams with Owen while Jack and Tosh take a different direction. As they explore, they each find an explosive device that ticks to zero.
Gwen wakes up to Ianto’s message and rushes to the scene while we tuck into a series of flashback stories.
Captain Jack Harkness – 1,392 deaths earlier
Jack resurrects with a wine bottle in his gut. It’s 1899, thirty years since he accidentally landed in the era while searching for the Doctor. He finds himself face-to-face with two women in Victorian garb – agents Alice Guppy and Emily Holroyd – who kidnap and interrogate him. They try different methods of killing him, intrigued by his 14 deaths in the last six months, and ask him about the Doctor.
Eventually, they identify themselves as the Torchwood Institute – at this point, they’re still dedicated to fighting the Doctor – and decide to take him on as an agent. His first mission is apprehending a Blowfish, but he’s angry when Torchwood agents kill the alien in cold blood. He also finds out that his employment is mandatory.
When he turns down his next assignment, he encounters a tarot card reader who prophesizes the Doctor’s return in a century. With nothing better to do, he returns to Torchwood and passes the years with his work.
Decades later, on New Year’s Eve 1999, he’s working for Alex Hopkins. Unfortunately, Hopkins is fearful of the new millennium and kills the entire team in the Hub. He leaves Jack the entire operation as he puts a bullet in his brain.
In the modern time, Jack wakes up to find Rhys and Gwen standing over him. He directs them to find Tosh, who is trapped under a fallen support beam.
Toshiko Sato – 5 years earlier
Tosh, working for the Ministry of Defence, steals information for a vicious gang that is holding her mother for ransom. Using the blueprints, she assembles the sonic modulator device and arrives at the exchange site, but she’s caught during a UNIT raid.
Locked away in a top-secret black site for an undisclosed period of time, she’s eventually visited by Jack. Her mother has been Retconned and taken to safety. Tosh, who successfully built the device from faulty plans, is offered a pardon in exchange for her service to Torchwood.
Back in the modern time, Rhys and Gwen attempt to free Tosh, but they’re not able to do so alone. Gwen rushes off as Jack comes across Ianto, who is trapped under a pile of rubble.
Ianto Jones – 21 months earlier
Jack is wrestling with a Weevil when Ianto comes to his aid. Ianto is looking for a job after his former workplace, Torchwood One, was destroyed. Ianto’s persistence (and constant praise of Jack’s coat) eventually pay off after he helps capture Myfanwy the pterodactyl. Jack claims that it wasn’t his first experience wrangling dinosaurs since he was present when they perished after an impact from space.
In the ruined building, Jack and Gwen pull Ianto free and put his shoulder back in place. Jack takes Ianto to help with Tosh while Gwen looks for Owen.
Owen Harper – 4 years earlier
Owen and his fiancée Katie are planning their wedding when she starts having memory problems. They consult with a brain surgeon who suggests early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. When Owen presses the issue, they discover that Katie has a tumor in her brain. In reality, the tumor is an alien and when it is threatened, it releases toxic gas and kills everyone in the operating room.
Jack arrives moments too late and expresses his condolences as he explains the situation to Owen. Owen protests and Jack knocks him out. When Owen wakes up, he discovers a massive cover-up and is given time to sort his affairs.
He meets Jack again at Katie’s grave, and after a fight, Owen agrees to join Torchwood as the team’s medical officer.
In the present, Gwen finds Owen precariously perched beneath a guillotine-like window. After a tense moment, Gwen pulls him free.
The team assembles outside to find that the SUV has been taken. They receive a holographic message from Captain John Hart. Hart claims credit for the bombs and reveals that he has taken Jack’s brother Gray hostage.
The synopsis may be brief, but there is a lot to unpack in this story as it puts our heroes on a collision course with the finale. Specifically, we get the backstories for most of the Torchwood team. Suzie Costello is the only original member not to be put under the microscope at this point, but we still know quite a bit about her from previous appearances. Being the rogue agent/black sheep of the family, it makes sense that she’s not explored any further.
Of course, we don’t need a backstory for Gwen. Everything since the pilot episode has been her story with Torchwood Three.
This marks a couple of firsts for Torchwood: First, the Doctor is explicitly name-checked here instead of just being nodded to. Second, this is the first appearance of UNIT in the series, and they are far more malevolent than we’ve seen them in the past. Jack’s probably right that this is due to the political climate of the era since Tosh’s flashbacks take place circa 2003, right in the fervent upswing of the Global War on Terrorism.
That’s science fiction doing what science fiction does best: Acting as a lens on the human condition.
A cynic from the Joss Whedon School of Screenwriting might think that all of these revelations mean bad omens for our team. Sadly, they would be right, which we’ll find out next week when the John Hart/Gray arc finds its resolution.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Torchwood: Exit Wounds
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.