Timestamp #197: Planet of the Ood

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood
(1 episode, s04e03, 2008)

 

The revolution is at hand.

Mr. Bartle, the executive of an organization that is selling Ood, reviews a commercial for his operation and is then electrocuted by his personal Ood servant Delta Fifty. The Ood’s eyes glow red as he takes joy in the act.

The TARDIS dances as the Doctor randomizes their destination. When they touch down, Donna goes from excited to chilled as she opens the door into an arctic landscape and blowing snow. The Doctor is pleased to finally see snow (as opposed to the last three snow events), but his joy is interrupted as Donna steps back inside the time capsule and retrieves a parka.

An incoming ship, which Donna compares to a Ferrari against the Doctor’s “box”, contains Klineman Halpen. The arrogant man is set to replace Bartle, and his briefing includes a discussion on “red eye” syndrome from Dr. Ryder and a PR rep named Solana. They also discuss Delta Fifty, who has since gone to the snowy plains and died after being shot. The Doctor and Donna are there when he dies, having followed the Ood’s telepathic song. Delta Fifty’s last words were “The circle must be broken,” which accompanied the red eyes and his last breath.

The Doctor tells Donna about his first encounter with the Ood before they crest a hill and spot the facility in the distance. They join a buyers tour, using the psychic paper as their credentials, as another Ood succumbs to red eye and is nearly executed before displaying new symptoms. Halpen orders Commander Kess to take the Ood to Dr. Ryder.

As the Doctor takes stock of where they are – even mentioning the close relationship between the Ood and the Sensorites – Donna muses about being in the year 4126 and how humanity has survived global warming and the disappearance of the bees. Donna interviews one of the Ood and it mentions the circle before being taken away. The Doctor and Donna decide to abandon the tour and venture on their own.

Halpen examines the renegade Ood and orders an autopsy. The troops comply by shooting it.

The Doctor and Donna watch as the Ood are driven like cattle. They note Halpen’s trek across the compound to Warehouse 15. Inside the warehouse are an awful stench and a red glow emanating from an unknown source. Solana reports that the Doctor and Donna do not belong at the compound and Halpen heads back to his office.

The Doctor and Donna enter a different warehouse and find containers packed with Ood. They ask about the circle and the Ood reply in unison that it must be broken so that they can sing. Donna asks about the Ood being treated as slaves and the Doctor muses that they still exist in Donna’s time. After all, who made her clothes?

The guards find Donna and lock her in a container with three Ood. Meanwhile, Commander Kess plays the crane game with the Doctor before Solana intercedes. When Donna is released, the three Ood attack. As the Doctor, Donna, and Solana run, the rest of the Ood join in. The Doctor demands that Solana help them stop the red eye, but she betrays their position instead.

Kess reports to Halpen – who has been going bald and drinking “hair tonic” this entire time – and the boss orders them gassed.

The Doctor and Donna find the Ood conversion facility, the place where the natural-born Ood are converted into servants. They find a cage with a small group of these Ood, and the Doctor’s mind is flooded with the Ood’s Song of Captivity. He uses his telepathy to share it with Donna, opening her eyes to their plight, before opening the cage and joining them. One Ood shows the Doctor and Donna a brain in his hands, and they discover that conversion means cutting out their brains and replacing it with the translation ball.

The Doctor and Donna are apprehended soon after and taken before Halpen. The Doctor is furious to find out that the entire lot has been ordered to die. While the execution countdown begins, every Ood in the facility shares the song and attacks the assembled buyers. The Ood swarm the facility as the humans fight back. Commander Kess is trapped in the gas chamber as the countdown ticks to zero.

Halpen and Ryder try to escape, followed by Halpen’s Ood, Sigma, who hasn’t turned. They leave the Doctor and Donna to the rampaging Ood, but they are saved as the natural-born Ood telepathically tell the revolutionaries that Doctor-Donna-friend. The travelers run through the battlefield and find Ood Sigma as Ryder and Halpen enter Warehouse 15.

Halpen intends to destroy the mysterious red light with explosives, knowing that if it dies, all the Ood die. The Doctor and Donna arrive and discover that the red light is emanating from a giant brain, surrounded by a circular telepathic dampening field. When the Ood hindbrain is removed, the external brain assists with its continuous song.

The reason that the Ood have turned is due to Ryder’s association with a pro-Ood activist group. Ryder turned the circle down as low as possible. Halpen executes Ryder by tossing his over the side. Halpen turns a gun on the Doctor and Donna, but Sigma reveals that he has been poisoning Halpen over time with an Ood graft suspension. In short, it has transformed Halpen into an Ood, and Sigma says that he will now take care of the Halpen-Ood.

The Doctor disables the telepathic dampener and unleashes the song. The Ood end their rampage and join into the song that resonates across the galaxy. All of the Ood are returning to the Ood Sphere to be led by Ood Sigma.

As Sigma sees the travelers off, he remarks that Doctor-Donna will never be forgotten in the songs of the Ood, even though the Doctor’s song is soon to end.

 

This is a solid story about the revolution and the emancipation of slaves. The common thread of the song is a beautiful addition, linking the proliferation of song to the absolute freedom of the Ood. It’s also a nice bit of social commentary about modern-day slavery in sweatshops and poor working conditions.

Besides the nod to The Sensorites, we also get ties to Time and the Rani (use of a giant brain by the antagonists), Torchwood‘s Meat and Reset (exploitation of alien life for human benefit), and the potential mass extermination of a group of alien beings (Doctor Who and the Silurians).

The downside is the plethora of gunplay and violence, but we do get more threads laid for the future in a story that develops Donna, the Doctor, and their evolving relationship as they careen through time and space.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem and Doctor Who: The Poison Sky

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #196: The Fires of Pompeii

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii
(1 episode, s04e02, 2008)

 

Just one act of kindness can make all the difference.

The TARDIS door opens on what the Doctor calls ancient Rome. Donna is enamored, particularly by the translation capabilities of the time capsule. She tries a bit of Latin, but it comes out as Celtic with a Welsh flair. He also mentions that he had nothing to do with a certain great fire in Rome, but we all know that to be a lie.

They round a corner, muse about the missing landmarks, and glance to the horizon as the ground starts to shake. There’s a volcano ahead of them. It is Mount Vesuvius, which means that they are in Pompeii, and it is eruption day.

While the travelers run for the TARDIS, a red-hooded woman reports back to her fellow sisters and the High Priestess of the Sibylline Sisterhood that the “blue box” has arrived as written in prophecy. Speaking of the TARDIS, it has been sold by a local shopkeeper to a marble merchant named Caecilius. The merchant considers the box to be a lovely piece of modern art, and his family is very superstitious. His daughter, for instance, is training to be a seer in the Sisterhood, and spots an irregular being in the vent leading the magma below.

Donna wants to save everyone in Pompeii, but the Doctor tells her that it is an impossibility. The event is a fixed point in time and cannot be altered. The Doctor and Donna find Caecilius and pose as both Spartacus and marble inspectors. Donna tries to tell them about the volcano, but the locals don’t even have a word for it.

Lucius Petrus Dextrus, the chief augur of the town, arrives and gives the Doctor praise during a verbal sparring match. Caecilius has developed a piece of art for the augur, which looks just like a circuit board, and Caecilius’s daughter Evelina arrives to shed light on the travelers. Both Evelina and Lucius see though the travelers, prophesy her return, and speak of Donna’s future.

Later on, Donna visits with Metella as she cares for Evelina. The girl is sickly and her arm is turning to stone. Meanwhile, the Doctor consults with Caecilius about the creature in the vent and how the vapors from the geothermal exhaust have enabled the soothsayers to predict the future with uncanny accuracy.

The Doctor and Quintus make a midnight trek to Lucius’s home where they find a wall of the circuit engravings. Lucius declares that the gods are using them to gift him the future, but the Doctor decrypts them as an energy converter with an unknown purpose. Lucius declares that the Doctor should die, and the Doctor escapes with Quintus after revealing the augur’s stone arm.

Lucius responds by sending the creature underground in pursuit of the time lord.

Donna continues her visit with Evelina, revealing the future of Vesuvius, which is transmitted to the Sisterhood as a new prophecy. The High Priestess declares that Donna must die for her foresight.

As the Doctor and Quintus return to Caecilius’s home, the creature erupts from the vent. The family treats the being like a god, but turn on it when it kills a man by dousing it with water. In the commotion, the Sisterhood kidnaps Donna.

He tracks Donna to the Temple of Sibyl and rescues her just before she’s murdered. He tells the Sisterhood about Sibyl, noting that she would be ashamed of them. The High Priestess demands to speak to the Doctor and reveals herself as nearly changed to stone. The Doctor recognizes that the people are being seeded by an alien species and demands that they reveal themselves. The being declares itself as a Pyrovile, a species that arrived a millennia ago and were awakened by the 62 earthquakes. The Pyroviles are a psychic race that can see through time. The Doctor holds the High Priestess back with a water gun as Donna opens the hypocaust and they escape into the volcano.

As they walk on, Donna asks about the fixed points. The Doctor replies that he can see them because that’s how he views the universe as a Time Lord. She’s still aghast that he will not save the people of Pompeii, but he cannot break a fixed point.

They reach the heart of Vesuvius, which is inhabited by the Pyrovile in their adult form. They spot the circuitry of an escape pod and recognize it as the same pattern that the augur has been coveting. Speaking of, Lucius reveals their presence. During the standoff, Lucius reveals that the Pyrovile homeworld is missing, and the creatures want to take Earth for their own. Donna and the Doctor dive into the pod and figure out that the Pyrovile are using the energy of Vesuvius to advance their plan. To save the world, the Doctor must allow Pompeii to be destroyed. It’s a question of 20,000 people versus the entirety of Earth, and Donna helps the Doctor choose.

They choose to save Earth.

Pompeii erupts around the pod, destroying the Pyrovile and ejecting the pod into Pompeii. The travelers rush to the TARDIS as the villagers panic and the Sisterhood is lost. Donna tries to help the people, but it is no use. With a heavy heart, she begs the Doctor to save Caecilius and his family, but he starts the TARDIS dematerialization sequence.

As they take off, she levels her fury at the Time Lord. Her frustration gives way to sorrow, and the Doctor tells her that he cannot save the people of Pompeii anymore than he can save his own people. Donna reasons that he can save just one family.

So he does.

In a burst of light, the TARDIS rematerializes and the Doctor extends a hand of salvation.

They all watch from a nearby hilltop as the town is destroyed. Caecilius takes solace in the thought that Pompeii will be remembered, giving the name “volcano” to the carnage. Evelina has lost her power of sight, but the family is united in strength through sorrow.

Donna and the Doctor sneak away. She thanks him and he tells her that she was right: Sometimes he needs someone, and she’s welcome to be that companion.

Six months later in Rome, Caecilius’s family is happy and healthy. Quintus is studying to be a doctor, and before he leaves for the day, he gives thanks to the household gods. The relief reveals them to be the Doctor, Donna, and the TARDIS.

 

This story hits the mark on every level. The dialogue is quick and witty, but also serves to propel the plot forward instead of simply being clever. The setting is well crafted and makes Pompeii feel large even though it’s obviously the same street set redressed a few times over. Donna’s pleas and the Doctor’s internal battle tug at my emotions every time I see it.

The franchise mythology is on full display here, from the past (mentions of Gallifrey, identifying the Doctor as a Lord of Time, citing the Shadow Proclamation, nodding to the classic era while exploring the mysteries of the revival era’s Last Great Time War) to the future (the Doctor Who debuts of Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan, laying some groundwork for the rest of this series as well as the future of the franchise, and beginning the lore of fixed points in time).

That “fixed point” business? It’s always been there, all the way back to The Aztecs when the First Doctor told Barbara that she could not change a single thing (“not one line”) in history without suffering dire consequences. The trick is making a difference in history without changing history. Thus, the blessing and curse of the Time Lord.

Some of the more obscure trivia about the episode includes the TARDIS as modern art, which is a nod to City of Death – one of writer James Moran’s favorite classic stories – when the Fourth Doctor parked the time machine in an art museum. The humor Mary Poppins gets a bit of screentime here with the “positions!” scramble to save breakables from the rumbling. We also get a nod back to Barcelona, which is where the Ninth and Tenth Doctors wanted to take Rose.

The Fires of Pompeii is a masterful episode of television.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #195: Partners in Crime

Doctor Who: Partners in Crime
(1 episode, s04e01, 2008)

 

Only this diet plan can help repopulate a society.

After the introduction of a new electric theme mix, we find Donna Noble walking down the street toward a high rise office building. The Tenth Doctor is also arriving, though he breaks in through a back door instead of the lobby. Both of them are posing as officers from Health and Safety, and they crash a press conference presented by Miss Foster of Adipose Industries.

Penny Carter, a science journalist from The Observer pushes for more details while our heroes independently make their way through the call center, inspect the gold pill-shaped necklaces presented as subscription gifts, and look to the printer for a copy of the client list.

The duo track down separate Adipose clients. Donna chats with Stacy Campbell while the Doctor interviews Roger Davey. At 1:10am every morning, Roger wakes up to the burglar alarm but there’s no movement in the house. The Doctor presumes that the cat flap (but not cat people) has something to do with it. Meanwhile, Donna gets personal with the problem as Stacy’s fat literally pops off into an adorable little blob.

The incident triggers a tracking device in the Doctor’s pocket as Miss Foster initiates full parthenogenesis after Stacy witnesses the creature’s birth. In short, she dissolves into a herd of the little guys who jump out the window. Miss Foster’s security team arrives at Stacy’s house to capture the little guys as Donna and the Doctor search for them in a series of near misses. Neither of them catches up to the security van.

Miss Foster reviews the security footage and figures out that they have a spy in their midst. The necklace that Donna took triggered the event. Meanwhile, Donna goes home and suffers through nagging lectures from her mother. Donna takes her leave and joins her grandfather Wilf as he stargazes with his telescope. The pair are great together, and Donna makes Wilf promise to let her know if a blue box appears in the night sky.

She’s never told her family about what happened at her Christmas wedding, but she knows that she’s waiting for the right man.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is talking to himself as he analyzes the necklace. He’s a lonely man, still missing Martha.

The pair return to Adipose Industries, both in blue vehicles, and make their way upstairs. Donna hides out in the restroom and waits for the office to close. The Doctor does the same, but in a utility closet in the basement. While Donna waits, she’s interrupted by Miss Foster and her hit squad. They find Penny Carter and take her to the corner office for interrogation.

The Doctor and Donna both follow, one outside on a window washing rig and the other just outside the main entrance…

…and then we come to one of my favorite scenes in the revival era of Doctor Who as our heroes cast their gaze on the pill that gives rise to the creatures of living fat.

Let’s leave this comedy gold to the shooting script:

The Doctor lifts his head up… looking left, to the desk.
Donna lifts her head up… looking right, to the desk.
Then the Doctor looks straight ahead, seeing –
Donna looks straight ahead, seeing –
The Doctor!!!!
Donna!!!??!
Big long moment, both just boggling, open-mouthed. Then, all shot through the glass, in silence, big gestures:

The Doctor: Donna???
Donna: Doctor!!!!
The Doctor: but…what? Wha… WHAT??!?
Donna: Oh! My! God!
The Doctor: but… how???
Donna points at herself! It’s me!
The Doctor: well I can see that!
Donna: oh this is brilliant!
The Doctor: but… what the hell are you doing there???
Donna’s just so thrilled, she waves! Big smile!
The Doctor: but, but, but, why, what, where, when?
Donna points at him – you!! I was looking for you!
The Doctor: me? What for?
Donna does a little mime: I, came here, trouble, read about it, internet, I thought, trouble = you! And this place is weird! Pills! So I hid. Back there. Crept along. Heard this lot. Looked. You! Cos they…

And on ‘they’, she gestures and looks towards Miss Foster.
Who is staring at her. As are the guards. Penny, too.
Donna freezes. Oops.

Miss Foster sics her goons on the duo, so Donna and the Doctor run. They rendezvous in the stairwell and head to the roof where the Doctor rigs the window washing crane while Donna talks about her efforts to track down the Time Lord, the Titanic buzzing Buckingham Palace, and the disappearance of bees.

The Doctor and Donna descend, but Miss Foster uses a sonic pen to sabotage the car and break the cables. The Doctor and Donna dangle during feats of derring-do as he disarms Miss Foster and takes her sonic pen. He opens a window, dives inside, and rushes down to rescue Donna and free Penny.

The Doctor and Donna run into Miss Foster – who is really Matron Cofelia of the Five-Straighten Classabindi Nursery Fleet, Intergalactic Class – and learn about the adipose. She’s been hired by the Adiposian First Family to breed the next generation from the people of Earth after losing the breeding planet. When Foster threatens to kill them, the Doctor uses both sonic devices to stage a diversion.

They rush downstairs as Foster captures Penny and accelerates her plan. After all, the Doctor has notified the Shadow Proclamation of her illegal plan to seed a Level Five planet. The Doctor hacks the building’s induction core while he and Donna discuss Martha, Rose, and Donna’s quest to find him.

A series of miscommunications result in Donna being invited to travel on the TARDIS. Meanwhile, one million customers across Great Britain start decomposing into adipose. The human witnesses look on as the adipose march through the streets toward their wet nurse. As Foster doubles the power of the signal, Donna comes to the rescue with her necklace and disables the inducer.

In the end, ten thousand aidpose walk the streets as Foster’s ride arrives to take them all home.

Hilariously, Wilf is listening to music and looking in the opposite direction as the nursery ship enters the atmosphere.

The nursery ship uses levitation pulses to take the adipose aboard. The Doctor recognizes this and runs with Donna to the roof, refusing to blow up the ship with all the children aboard. Martha has done the Doctor well, Donna remarks. Unfortunately, he knows that the First Family plans to eliminate Foster to cover their crime. Sure enough, they cut the levitation beam and she goes splat.

The Doctor drops the sonic pen in the trash as he and Donna head to the TARDIS. Donna begins pulling luggage from her car – she’s been planning on this since Christmas – but loses her head of steam as the Doctor looks on with a forlorn gaze. He draws a line in the proverbial sand: He just wants a mate.

No, not to mate, Donna! A friend. A traveling partner.

A companion.

Donna agrees and rushes off to leave the car keys for her mother. She finds a trash bin and phones her mother, leaving instructions with a nearby observer.

That observer is Rose Tyler. She vanishes just after Donna leaves.

Donna’s first request is a fly-by over Wilf’s hill. She waves at him as she leaves on her trip through space and time.

After all, she’s finally found her man.

 

This episode fires on all cylinders. The humor keeps an otherwise by-the-numbers plot entertaining – particularly the classic comedy trope of characters missing each other by fractions of a second, just like the companions in The Romans, and the aforementioned miming skit, which echoes the Third Doctor and Jo Grant in The Sea Devils – and Donna Noble’s obvious homage to sneaky investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith is a nice nod. Donna has a bucket load of character development here, and it’s refreshing after the last two companions.

Donna doesn’t want a relationship with the Doctor. She wants an adventure with the Doctor.

And with these two and their amazing chemistry, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp: Torchwood Series Two Summary

Torchwood: Series Two Summary

 

Torchwood‘s second series took the messages and meanings of Series One to greater heights of humanity, compassion, and companionship.

From tales of family and friendship to a mission to save what was effectively a space whale from a life of torture, we saw the next evolution of empathy and compassion mixed with the dark and gritty atmosphere that made Torchwood so distinct from its parent franchise. That darkness reared its head with multiple deaths this round, including an exploration of what lay beyond with Owen’s trilogy of stories in the middle of the run.

Like Series One, what remains is a shattered team, but this time around we see a stronger resolve among the survivors. Jack, despite the gaping hole in his heart from the dark resolution of his brother’s story, remains as a stronger leader this time around and anchors Ianto and Gwen going forward. Owen and Tosh will be missed, from their combined medical knowledge to their respective acerbic wit and technical expertise. I loved Tosh from the start, but Owen grew on me as time went on. Their unrequited love is the grand tragedy.

As with last time, it’s obvious that we can’t make a direct comparison between Torchwood and Doctor Who, but we can look at the scores so far to get an idea of how it fits within the Timestamps Project’s scope.

Torchwood Series Two earned a 4.0 average. That places it on par with the classic Twelfth Season – the debut of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor – which is the ninth highest in the history of the Timestamps Project. It’s also slightly higher than the first series of Torchwood, which is a good sign going forward.

 

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – 4
Sleeper – 4
To the Last Man – 4
Meat – 4
Adam – 4
Reset – 4
Dead Man Walking – 4
A Day in the Death – 3
Something Borrowed – 4
From Out of the Rain – 2
Adrift – 5
Fragments – 5
Exit Wounds – 5

Torchwood Series One Average Rating: 4.0/5

 

Since I’m approaching the revival era from a (mostly) chronological order, we’re headed back to Doctor Who proper with the return of Donna Noble and Series Four. After that, the second series of Sarah Jane Adventures and the third series of Torchwood, with bits of David Tennant’s final year specials sprinkled throughout.

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Partners in Crime

 

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.

Timestamp #TW26: Exit Wounds

Torchwood: Exit Wounds
(1 episode, s02e13, 2008)

 

Gray’s revenge tears Torchwood at the seams.

Picking up right where we left off, Tosh detects severe Rift activity St. Helen’s Hospital, the Cardiff Police Station, and the Central IT Server Building. With their SUV missing, the team piles into Rhys’s car and heads to their respective assignments.

Jack returns to the Hub and finds John Hart. Hart shows his love by unloading two machine guns into Jack’s chest. Captain Harkness wakes up chained to the wall and subject to the disappointment of an apparently lonely Time Agent. Hart fires up the rift manipulator, takes his captive to a nice vantage point, and pages the rest of Torchwood Three.

Gwen and Rhys head to the police station to find PC Andy Davidson supervising bloody corpses and the Weevils that caused them. The Weevils apparently targeted the four most senior officers on the force. Convenient, that.

Ianto and Tosh arrive at the Central Server Building to find three cloaked figures wielding scythes. The menace is easily dispatched with a little gunplay.

Owen finds a Hoix at the hospital and takes care of it with a sedative and a pack of cigarettes.

When John Hart pages their comms, he orders the team to their respective roofs. Once there, they watch helplessly as Hart detonates explosives in fifteen locations around the city. Hart then whisks Jack away from Cardiff Castle into the past.

The city, meanwhile, is crippled.

Jack finds himself in 27 AD. John Hart refuses to take Jack back to the present, revealing that he is a walking bomb and that his vortex manipulator is fused to his arm. Jack’s brother Gray arrives and Jack apologizes for abandoning him. Gray doesn’t accept the apology, preferring to stab Jack in the chest with a large knife. Gray is furious that he was left to suffer unspeakable torture for years, and he wants Jack to suffer as he did.

Gray throws Jack into a grave, destined to die from asphyxiation and resurrect thousands of times over the next 2000 years. Hart protests, but relents to Gray’s wishes as he throws a ring to Jack and fills the grave. Gray travels to the Hub in the present and releases Weevils into the streets.

Gwen takes command of the local police, dispatching them into the city to deal with the crisis. Tosh and Ianto are reassigned to the Turnmill Nuclear Power Station where a potential meltdown looms, but the Weevils block their path.

When Tosh detects Gray and Hart’s arrival in the present, Gwen returns to the Hub and finds the captain. Hart explains things to Gwen, especially Gray’s story. The vortex manipulator releases from his arm as Gray promised and Hart uses that as evidence that he is telling the truth. He tells Tosh of a tracker – the ring – that he left with Jack as the only means to save him, but the signal is nowhere to be found. Tosh and Ianto return to the Hub and help wrangle the Weevils still in Torchwood HQ, but Gray traps Ianto, Hart, and Gwen in the vaults.

Meanwhile, Owen uses his status as “King of the Weevils” to navigate the streets to the nuclear plant. He finds Nira Docherty, a scientist trying to singlehandedly prevent the meltdown, and convinces her to leave with a can of Weevil repellent. Owen establishes comms with Tosh and they set to work, but Tosh is interrupted by a gunshot.

She has been fatally shot in the stomach by Gray. As he looms over her, a pounding echoes through the Hub. Gray tracks the sound leaving Tosh to drag herself to the autopsy room and inject herself with a massive load of painkillers.

The pounding was coming from the morgue. Gray finds Jack in a drawer, and Jack tells his brother that he forgives him. The Torchwood Institute team from 1901 found Jack, who has at that point crossed his own timeline, and fulfilled his request to be frozen until the present day. Jack uses chloroform to incapacitate Gray.

In the vaults, Hart rigs a recall command for the Weevils. Jack finds the captives and releases them.

Tosh re-establishes comms with Owen and walks him through the recovery process, but the core is too far gone. The only option is to vent the coolant through the containment building, for which Owen will need to set up a delay to avoid being destroyed. Unfortunately, a power surge triggers and emergency lockdown, trapping Owen in the room.

A hopeless Owen falls apart, but Tosh asks him to stop before he breaks her heart. The two talk as they each prepare to die, although Owen is unaware of Tosh’s condition and Owen realizes that he will die by watching himself dissolve. They also talk about that one time that Tosh had to cover for Owen just after he was hired… that one time with the space pig.

Owen apologizes for the two of them missing each other and never getting that date. The coolant begins to fill the room, and Owen tells Tosh that everything is okay. His last words are, “Oh, God.”

Jack, Gwen, Ianto, and Hart find Tosh. She tells them about Owen before dying in Jack’s arms.

The next morning, Rhys and Gwen watch the news. Rhys holds Gwen as she mourns. At the Hub, Jack prepares to freeze Gray, unprepared to add more death to that which has already torn at the team. John bids Jack farewell with his condolences and a kiss.

Jack and Gwen pack up Owen’s and Tosh’s belongings as Ianto logs them out of the system for the final time. The team gathers around Tosh’s terminal as a message pops up.

It’s her farewell.

She thanks Jack, admits her love for Owen, and hopes that her death meant something. As she fades from the screen, Jack resolves that they should carry on. The end is where they start from.

 

I knew it was coming and I still cried. This story does what Torchwood does best by mixing action and drama and ensuring that the stakes are kept high. Doctor Who often pulls out the last-minute save and keeps the tone (mostly) hopeful and light, but Torchwood doesn’t pull punches. Everyone there is living on borrowed time.

It’s the last time that we will see the Torchwood Three team that we met in Day One together. It’s a milestone for the series.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Series Two Summary

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW25: Fragments

Torchwood: Fragments
(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.

Snap.

Boom.

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.

We also get quite a few brushes with Doctor Who mythology, from Earthshock to the television movie and all of the elements of Torchwood established in the revival era.

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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW24: Adrift

Torchwood: Adrift
(1 episode, s02e11, 2008)

 

The Rift taketh and the Rift giveth away.

A young man is walking home from football practice along the Cardiff Bay Barrage when he vanishes in bright light and a gust of wind. Seven months later, Gwen and PC Andy Davidson are investigating the case. They catch up about the wedding and their relationship, and Davidson tells Gwen that this case is personal for him.

He shows her CCTV footage, hinting at the type of thing that Torchwood pays attention to. Gwen is intrigued when Jack appears on the footage as well. She checks with Tosh, discovers that the Rift was quiet, and gets nothing from Jack about the incident.

Andy is unimpressed with the effort.

Gwen visits Jonah Bevan’s mother who has been scanning crowd videos for her son’s face. Nikki Bevan refuses to give up hope and she asks Gwen to come to her support group meeting. Gwen returns home and apologizes for being late in more ways than one. The next morning, she gets a lead from Tosh about a negative Rift spike during the event, which she normally considers to be aftershocks.

She wonders, though, if the Rift could take material from our world instead of only depositing it.

Gwen and Andy go to Nikki’s support group meeting and are surprised at the number of people who attend. To say that there is a lot is an understatement. Gwen is overwhelmed but inspired by the scope and asks Tosh to help process the dates of disappearance against Rift activity.

Gwen makes considerable progress, correlating walls of missing person posters with Rift spikes. Unfortunately, Jack doesn’t know how to practically stop the disappearances when they cannot predict the Rift spikes. He shuts down her research project, but Gwen isn’t ready to give up.

Unfortunately, it starts to tear at her relationship with Rhys. She returns to the Hub, interrupting an encounter between Jack and Ianto to plead her case. Jack tells her no, but Ianto leaves her a GPS unit on her desk that she takes to Andy. The coordinates lead to a facility on Flat Holm, and Gwen leaves Andy on the pier as she contracts a boat to the island.

The facility houses seventeen victims of the Rift who have been taken and returned, but in the process have been aged and (in some cases) deformed. Gwen finds that Jack knew about all of it. She also finds Jonah, who was trapped on a burning planet for forty relative years. He was rescued and witnessed the burning of a solar system.

Jack tells Gwen that he set up this facility to house the victims and that before he took over Torchwood Three, the victims were locked away in the vaults and neglected. They cannot be fixed, only cared for. Gwen promises to bring Nikki to the facility, an action with which Jack vehemently disagrees. He eventually relents.

In order to reunite Nikki with Jonah, Gwen has to tell her about Torchwood and the Rift. Nikki meets her son and doesn’t recognize him at first, but they soon share memories that only Jonah would know. Nikki calms herself and finally sees beyond the scars to her son, but the reunion is shortlived. Jonah has a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that forces him to scream for twenty hours a day after he looked into a dark star and was driven insane.

The screams are so intense, so primal, that they drive everyone away. Nikki is devastated.

One week later, Nikki makes Gwen promise that she will never do this to anyone else. She says that it would have been better to remember her son as he once was, not as he survives now. Her hope has been extinguished.

Gwen tears down her research as Nikki disposes of her life of sorrowful searching. Gwen returns home and tries to make amends with Rhys, but ends up breaking down in his arms. They mend their bridges by discussing her experience.

 

The exploration of the darker side to Torchwood is fascinating, particularly since Jack serves two purposes here: First, he keeps this secret from nearly everyone in his employ, and, second, he takes on the role of the custodian of these lost souls when no one else will. Just when I think I have Jack figured out…

It’s especially heartbreaking given the ignorance of the victims’ families. They think that they want answers about their missing loved ones, but the truth of what the uncontrollable Rift does with them is beyond what they can bear.

The lingering question concerns the staff at the facility. Do they about Torchwood, or are they privy to just enough information to do their jobs?

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Fragments

 

 

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.