Timestamp #TW11: Combat

Torchwood: Combat
(1 episode, s01e11, 2006)

 

The first rule of Weevil Fight Club…

This adventure starts with Jack pursuing a weevil. It evades him, apparently immune to the weevil spray, and runs past where Gwen and Rhys are having a tense dinner. Rhys has none of it, but Gwen leaves with Jack after he curses at her. The pair track the weevil to a parking deck, but the being is apprehended by masked strangers in a white van.

The next morning, the team analyzes a wave of weevil attacks. There has been a surge of injuries at the local hospital and Tosh can’t track the van from the night before. Meanwhile, Owen is drowning his sorrows over Diane at the bar. He gets in a fight with the bartender’s jealous boyfriend – a man whom he easily bests – in between bouts of ignoring calls from work.

Tosh confides in Gwen about Owen’s relationship with Diane: Tosh is upset and Gwen is oblivious. In the holding cells, Jack and Ianto watch as a weevil howls. They are supposedly somewhat telepathic, and something is inducing psychic pain in this one. Tosh finds the van on CCTV, prompting Jack and Tosh to investigate the docks. They find a male corpse, presumably attacked by a weevil, and a call on his cell to stay out matters that they don’t understand.

Owen finally rolls back in and conducts the autopsy. The victim was attacked by humans before the weevil attack. Ianto also has no luck tracing the victim’s cell records. Gwen and Owen go out to notify the next of kin, and they have a heart-to-heart about their affair that doesn’t end well. Owen walks back to the Hub just in time to receive orders for an undercover assignment. He meets with real estate agent Mark Lynch as a businessman looking for space at the docks. He places a sniffer device on Lynch’s computer so Tosh can download the hard drive. After Owen leaves, Lynch does a web search on Owen and his jellied eel business. He ends up confident that Owen is the real deal.

Jack sends Gwen home to patch things up with Rhys. As soon as she gets there, Rhys heads out with his friends to the bar. Gwen is left home alone.

Jack and Ianto interview a weevil victim at the hospital, but the victim doesn’t want to discuss the matter. He’s afraid that someone will kill him if he talks, so Jack decides to release the captive weevil – he’s nicknamed it Janet – with a tracker to monitor its movements. Janet gets snatched by the white van moments later, and the team finds the tracker on a fence.

Owen and Lynch meet up for drinks. Unfortunately, it’s the same bar with the jealous beau. Fortunately, Lynch helps Owen defeat the thugs. The duo return to Lynch’s place. After the fight, Lynch is aware the Owen isn’t who he claims, but he still confides in Owen that something is coming. Owen later sneaks into a locked room and comes face-to-face with a chained-up weevil. Lynch catches up with Owen, uses the creature as a punching bag, and eventually shows Owen the entire operation.

Rhys returns home and shares a drink with Gwen. Gwen confesses her affair, an act that devastates Rhys but one that he won’t remember since Gwen spiked his drink with Retcon. Gwen begs him for forgiveness, but Rhys slips under the drug’s spell before offering it. She takes pizza to the Hub, but everyone else is out. She’s alone once again, but luckily she’s around as the corpse’s phone rings with a text message: “CF10 6BY.” She quickly figures out that it is a location and passes it on to Jack.

That location? It’s the same place where Lynch and Owen are. It’s a weevil fight club.

The person who stays in the cage with the weevil longest wins and the warm-up is men fighting with each other. The corpse in the Hub refused to leave the cage and ended up mauled to death. Lynch forces Owen into the cage with Janet – let’s be fair, Owen is more than willing to jump in regardless of Lynch’s threats – and Janet recognizes him. Owen tells Janet to attack just Torchwood Three arrives. They tend to Owen’s wounds and disperse the crowd as Lynch locks himself in the cage with Janet. The weevil tears Lynch to shreds.

Jack visits Owen in the hospital with a bag of grapes. Owen tells Jack that he didn’t want to be saved. Jack tells him to be back at work the next day. When he reports in, Owen has a moment alone with Janet and the other weevil. They hiss and growl, but Owen musters a sinister snarl that sends the weevils cowering into the corner.

Owen leaves with a satisfied smirk.

 

There is a lot to unpack here. I mean, okay, sure… they did Fight Club with weevils. But going deeper, there’s so much more with our main characters here. Owen and Gwen are two sides of the same coin, explaining why they ended up having an affair together, and they’re both torn apart by their respective loneliness. Owen takes it to one extreme by attempting suicide by weevil, and Gwen takes it to another extreme by drugging her boyfriend in a twisted attempt at forgiveness.

And this is the point where I lost a ton of respect for Gwen. Sure, she’s in a tight place with no good solution, but her move here was pure selfishness and vanity. Instead of coming clean and healing the rift in her relationship with him, Gwen continues to what’s best for her instead of what’s best for them.

I don’t know that she deserves forgiveness at this point. As an outside watcher, I’m having trouble seeing how to forgive the character myself.

The other big character moment here is how Jack handles each subordinate’s crisis. In Owen’s case, Jack effectively tells him to “man up” and get back to work. In Gwen’s case, he gives her time off and forces her to pursue reconciliation. It’s inconsistent in approach but says a lot about how Jack sees each of his employees.

Speaking of, Tosh and Ianto are (once again!) lost in the wake of the drama. That’s unfortunate.

 

Since this era of Doctor Who is rife with spinoffs, the Timestamps Project is proceeding in airdate order (for the most part). As such, we’re headed back to the Tenth Doctor for a Christmas Special before coming back to close out Torchwood‘s first series.

 

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride

 

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.

 

 

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Timestamp #TW10: Out of Time

Torchwood: Out of Time
(1 episode, s01e10, 2006)

 

Lessons learned from the most unexpected people.

The team patiently awaits a plane called the Sky Gypsy at a local airport. The twist on this arrival is that it hails from 1953, and the passengers – pilot Diane Holmes, Emma-Louise Cowell, and John Ellis – are surprised that they have flown through the Cardiff Rift. The accidental time travelers are taken to the Hub and debriefed, but the news is hard to take. So is the revelation that they can never return home.

The newcomers learn about how their families fared, and they’re fascinated and appalled by modern items such as automatic doors, televisions, DVDs, lads’ mags, and tea bags. Torchwood Three takes on the task of caring for the travelers until they can adapt to the 21st century. Jack befriends John, Gwen looks after Emma, and Owen tends to Diane.

Diane wants to keep flying – aviation is in her blood – but her license expired long ago. Between her independence and desire for chivalry, she and Owen strike up a relationship. And by relationship, I mean Owen is typical Owen and Gwen has been replaced in the casual sex department. Their relationship builds, but Owen and love are no replacement for the open sky. She leaves him a note and heads for the airport. After a goodbye kiss, Diane takes to the sky once again in the Sky Gypsy, firm in her belief that the Rift will take her home. Owen softly cries as she disappears into the clouds.

Emma’s parents have died during her journey, and after getting a cheerful start with a couple of roommates (and a small altercation with an overprotective John), Gwen takes her home. Emma sleeps on the couch, gets an eyeful of Rhys, and poses as Gwen’s cousin from out of town. The trio goes out to a nightclub, but Emma gets some mixed signals about how relationships work in the modern era. Emma later gets a job at a shop in London, and although Gwen wants her to stay in Cardiff, she changes her mind when Rhys discovers that Emma and Gwen are not related. Emma moves on to London, but the damage is done between Gwen and Rhys.

John was a traveling salesman who wants to reconnect with his family. Specifically, he wants to find his son, Alan, his only surviving relative. Sadly, he is devastated to find his son suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and barely able to make connections to his own past. Jack feels for him since there is no enemy to fight and no clear way to solve the problem. John is watching the end of his family line rushing right toward him. John steals Ianto’s keys and drives to his former home. John sees no other way out besides suicide, and even Jack can’t talk him out of it. Together, they sit in an enclosed garage with the idling car and John dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. Jack is shaken because John was a kindred spirit, a fellow man out of time, and now the captain is alone once more.

Miles apart, all three of our heroes reminisce over the last week and how their lives have been changed.

 

For the three travelers, the adaptation to modern life over one week is both adorable and tragic. The wonder of the new world in their eyes is fun to watch, but it’s also overwhelming. The way that it affects Jack, Gwen, and Owen is wonderful and adds just a bit more dimension to their characters. Jack Harkness’s story in this episode was particularly touching.

The parallels to Countrycide are evident: Sure, there are no backwoods cannibals here – in fact, there is no enemy at all in this story – but the drama that doesn’t rely on Doctor Who tropes is exceptional. The science fiction is limited to time travel that we don’t see in action, and the superhuman abilities are limited to Jack’s passive ability to withstand carbon monoxide poisoning. We also see Owen and Gwen’s affair, which started in Countrycide, starting to fall apart here.

We also continue the Torchwood tradition of post-watershed f-bombs. Hey, it’s another Countrycide parallel!

On the downside, Tosh and Ianto were minimally used in this episode. That’s the second story in a row, and a trend that I hope gets reversed.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Combat

 

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 #TW9: Random Shoes

Torchwood: Random Shoes
(1 episode, s01e09, 2006)

 

Instead of Love & Monsters, we get Love and Ghosts

Eugene Jones, a man who monologues about science, wakes up in the middle of the road. He wanders a few feet to find Torchwood Three investigating his dead body, a victim of an apparent hit-and-run. He apparently knew the team and was interested in their work. His mobile phone rings and the team leaves (with Eugene’s ghost) to tell his mother the bad news.

During the drive, Eugene reminisces about his childhood and how he froze during a math competition. While he was down, his science teacher showed him an eye that fell from the sky. His father left home and Eugene obsessed over the eye, resulting in an interest in UFOlogy and (subsequently) Torchwood Three.

The team notifies Eugene’s family and investigates his belongings. Some of the alien artifacts are fraudulent, but Gwen notes the stand where the eye should be. They leave with a box of things to research and return to the Hub. While the team gets to work, Eugene takes a tour of Torchwood’s headquarters, including a particular focus on a certain severed hand. Gwen begins the autopsy but is interrupted by news of a driver who admitted to the crime. Eugene faints at the autopsy, wakes up later, and goes for a long walk.

Gwen feels that there is something more to the goings-on, but she can’t put her finger on it. She offers to return an overdue DVD to the video store, but when she finds the store is closed, she stops at a local diner and goes through Eugene’s mobile. She finds pictures of random shoes, and after Eugene arrives, she phones someone called Gary on his suggestion. Gary’s call goes to voicemail.

Gwen returns the DVDs and reluctantly pays the £34 in late fees. A discussion with the clerk at the store plants seeds of doubt in Eugene’s head. Gwen’s next stop is Eugene’s former employer, a telemarketing firm, as she tries to match the shoes in the pictures. A pair of Converse All-Stars belong to Gary, who hadn’t seen Eugene on the day he died. She also meets Linda, a friend of Eugene’s, who is broken up by his death. She agrees to meet with Gwen later. Gwen looks over Gary’s desk and finds a flyer similar to one in Eugene’s belongings.

Over lunch, Linda fills in some missing details. A few weeks back, Eugene was depressed. He offered to help Linda move to Australia to start a new life, and tried to fund it by selling the alien eye on eBay. It reached a peak of £15,005.50. The story is interrupted by Eugene’s mother who wants Gwen to come by.

Gwen and Eugene’s mother watch the video of the mathematics competition. Gwen learns of how Eugene received the eye from his former science teacher, and together everyone learns that Eugene’s father is now working in a garage across town instead of living the fantasy life in America. Eugene remembers why he sold the eye: After discovering the lie, he realized that he’d been chasing fantasies his whole life, so he chose to get rid of them.

Gwen decides to go interview Eugene’s father but changes her mind when Eugene pleads with her not to. She returns to the Hub and learns from Jack about the Dogon sixth eye, an item that allows its user to see his past and put it in perspective. She convinces Jack to let her track this down and he gives her the weekend to do so.

Her first stop is the black hole conference at Aberystwyth University. She finds Gary and learns that he had artificially inflated the eBay bids to cheer his friend up. The £15,005.50 bid was real, however, and Gary admits that he met with Eugene before he went to make the exchange. Gary doesn’t know who the shoes belong to, but he is sorry for his part in all of this.

Later that night, Gwen sorts through the belongings back while Eugene muses about his fragmented memories. He also admits to loving Gwen, and although he can minimally affect the environment around him, Gwen goes to bed ignorant of his presence. The next morning, Gwen continues to follow the clues. She ends up at a diner called Happy Cook which sparks another memory in Eugene. His friends were the buyers: The £15,005.50 bid was theirs, but the one before theirs was real. In his frustration, Eugene took photographs of their shoes before a fight ensued. During the scuffle, Eugene swallowed the eye to protect it before they all ran out.

As Gwen interviews the server, Gary and Josh come in and eventually tell Gwen their side of things because Gary misses his friend. Eugene had just kept running, high on the effect of the eye, but didn’t look before crossing a road and getting struck by a car. Gwen finally calls Eugene’s father and tells him the bad news.

Gwen, Gary, and Eugene’s family attend Eugene’s funeral. Eugene’s father makes amends and Eugene sees him as a normal man. He also wishes that he had been able to spend more time with him. After the funeral, Gwen receives a paper bag containing the eye. Back at Eugene’s home, Eugene wonders why he’s still around. The Torchwood SUV pulls up and Gwen passes off the eye before watching Eugene’s family reunited. She’s nearly run down by a speeding car, but Eugene is able to push her out of the way.

He’s fully visible to everyone around for this final moment. He says his farewells and vanishes in a bright ascending light.

 

The most obvious connection here is Love & Monsters. The big difference despite the very deep similarities is that Love & Monsters was a fun romp where this one dragged. On the upside, however, this Gwen-centric episode highlighted her skills in a part police procedural, part ghost story adventure. It also continues to highlight Gwen’s quest for personal connections in a life that demands secrecy, but the pounding of that particular drum is getting tiresome.

This episode is pretty much a Doctor Who story that fell through the cracks and landed in a different series without the TARDIS or the Doctor.

 


Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Out of Time

 

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 #TW8: They Keep Killing Suzie

Torchwood: They Keep Killing Suzie
(1 episode, s01e08, 2006)

 

Suzie Costello: Master of Long-Range Planning.

Torchwood Three arrives on the scene of a grisly murder and meets Detective Kathy Swanson. The double homicide is framed by one word on the wall, written in blood: TORCHWOOD. Jack is immediately intrigued, and although there appears to be no link between the killer and the victims, the killer has Compound B67 in his blood.

What is that, you say?

Compound B67 is retcon, the amnesia pill that Torchwood uses to clear memories. The killer is one of the people that had their minds wiped. While the team investigates, Gwen recommends using the resurrection gauntlet to interrogate the victims. After all, if Torchwood caused the deaths, they should clean up the mess.

The first victim, Alex Arwyn, wastes his time screaming for his mother. The second victim, Mark Brisco, tells them that the killer – a man named Max – belonged to the Pilgrim organization. Mark also identifies a woman who was close to Max. Her name was Suzie Costello.

Yeah. That Suzie Costello.

Tosh researches Pilgrim, a religious support and debate group run by Sarah Brisco, and all of the victims so far are linked as members. The team digs into Suzie’s belongings – Torchwood retains possession after a team member dies – and finds evidence linking her to Pilgrim. They then use the gauntlet to resurrect her. Gwen has trouble bringing her back because she lacks empathy for the woman who tried to kill her. They deduce that she’s too far gone, but Owen suggests the Life Knife, a blade made of the same material as the gauntlet. Jack plunges it into Suzie’s chest and the woman bursts back into the world of the living.

Suzie’s shock prevents her from giving any information, but by some strange events, she’s still alive beyond the normal time limit for the gauntlet. In fact, she remains alive for more than three months. When the team tries to interrogate her about Max, she’s less than cooperative. She eventually reveals that she gradually overdosed Max, giving him one pill a week for two years while talking to him about Torchwood.

There’s that common theme of this season again.

Jack refuses to let Suzie see her family again. Resigned to her fate, she identifies a survivor: Lucy McKenzie. The team tracks Lucy to the Wolf Bar while Suzie watches from Tosh’s station in the Hub. The team misidentifies a man as Max, but the real killer shows himself and ends up on the business end of Jack’s stun gun. Max is confined in the Torchwood cells, but he only responds to the name of the organization. Quite violently, in fact, but for only ten seconds at a time.

Meanwhile, Gwen discovers that Suzie’s father has cancer. Gwen blames Jack for letting Suzie use the gauntlet, a device that could have reversed her father’s condition. Jack refutes her, and the argument is interrupted by Owen with news that Suzie is draining Gwen’s lifeforce. While the team learns this and Jack resolves to kill Suzie, Gwen springs Suzie for a little road trip. When they attempt to pursue, the base goes into lockdown.

Gwen takes Suzie to Greenleaves Hospital, during which time they discuss Jack’s immortality. Meanwhile, the team links the lockdown to Max, who is currently reciting Emily Dickinson’s The Chariot. The poem is an implanted Trojan horse, set up long ago by Suzie to force Torchwood to resurrect her. Ianto connects his mobile phone to the Roald Dahl Plass water tower and Jack calls Detective Swanson for help. He asks her to read a book of poetry by Dickinson. When the poetry fails, Tosh suggests using the ISBN instead, and that is the magic key. The base restarts and the team mobilizes.

As Gwen and Suzie arrive at the hospital, Gwen collapses as she slowly develops a self-inflicted gunshot wound to her head. Suzie kills her father and then takes Gwen to Hedley Point, intent on escaping via ferry. Jack and Owen catch up in the Torchwood SUV and Jack shoots Suzie, but Suzie won’t die. Jack empties his gun into Suzie to no avail, then realizes that the gauntlet is the link. He orders Tosh and Ianto to destroy it, but before they do Suzie reveals that there is something in the darkness beyond death. It is moving and it is coming for him.

The gauntlet is destroyed, Suzie finally dies, and Gwen lunges back into life.

Back at the Hub, Jack and Ianto put Suzie back into cold storage. They flirt back and forth before locking Suzie away, but Ianto reminds Jack that gloves often come in pairs.

 

The themes keep running through this season. Suzie has the same desire to connect with someone about Torchwood, but the twist is that she’s also a bit of a sociopath. This addition seems like an unnecessary one, but it also closes the loop surrounding Suzie’s mysterious actions in the pilot episode. She also sheds a bit more light on Jack’s history and his ruthlessness when it comes to his employees.

Finally, it paves the way forward toward a “Big Bad” for the season. Something’s coming from the realm of death, and Jack’s inability to die seems to be tied to it.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Random Shoes

 

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 #TW7: Greeks Bearing Gifts

Torchwood: Greeks Bearing Gifts
(1 episode, s01e07, 2006)

 

Torchwood Three continues to fracture.

In Cardiff 1812, a prostitute named Mary leads a young soldier into the forest, but their lustful encounter turns sour when he gets abusive. Mary runs into the woods and finds a bright, pulsing light. The soldier catches up to the woman and shoots her.

Fast forward to the modern day where Torchwood Three has arrived at a construction site. As they analyze a mysterious skeleton, a woman who looks just like Mary smiles from the sidelines. The team takes the skeleton back to the Hub for further analysis, but some horseplay between Owen and Gwen results in Tosh’s computer losing power during a critical translation program.

Tosh ends up at the local pub where Mary approaches, reveals that she knows everything about Tosh, and offers to buy her a drink. Mary says that she’s a scavenger and collector of alien artifacts, and Tosh seems to bond with the woman. In fact, she seems to find comfort with Mary in nearly the same way that Owen and Gwen do with each other.

Mary offers Tosh a pendant. Overwhelmed, Tosh realizes that it enables her to read minds, but in time she is able to tune the ability. Tosh tries to give it back, but Mary insists that Tosh keep it. Tosh says that she’ll have to report it to her comrades, but Mary bets that she won’t. Tosh reports for work the next day and wears the pendant. She considers showing it to Owen and Gwen, but she discovers that they are sleeping together. She later focuses on Ianto and hears the darkness and despair that is consuming him in the aftermath of Lisa Hallett’s death. She takes the pendant off and heads home, only to find Mary waiting outside.

She confronts Mary over the pendant and its power, and Mary tells her that friendship is complicated. She offers the pendant to Tosh once again, and this time they share thoughts without agenda and resentment, including a proposal for sex. They sleep together, but Tosh regrets it. They eventually discuss how Tosh is attracted to Owen, and how she’s upset about Gwen’s affair with him. Mary offers the pendant as a solution, telling her to wear it in public so she can realize the good potential it bears.

She also calls herself Philoctetes.

Tosh listens to the thoughts on a busy Cardiff street. She finds a man who is planning to murder his ex-wife and son, follows him, and saves their lives. She returns to the Hub to find the team teasing Owen over the skeleton. It turns out that Owen made a few mistakes, including gender and cause of death. While Gwen and Owen continue their back and forth, Tosh asks Jack about Philoctetes. He tells her that the man was a Greek archer who was exiled to Lemnos for ten years.

He also name-drops UNIT. We haven’t seen them since last Christmas.

Later, over coffee, Mary tells Tosh that she should try reading Jack’s mind about the mystery item found with the skeleton. Tosh tries and fails, but Jack notices the effort. He also is very skeptical about Tosh’s rescue of the family from earlier. When Tosh reports back to Mary, she decides to tell her team about the pendant. Mary tries to convince her otherwise by revealing her true form: She is an alien exiled from her homeworld, and revealing herself to Torchwood could mean certain death or incarceration. After all, the human way is invasion, not help.

While Owen follows the clues in the skeleton, Mary asks Tosh to sneak her in and retrieve the device found with it. It is a transporter that can finally send her home. When she arrives, Tosh and Mary find Jack holding the transporter. He noticed Tosh’s distracted state and deliberately withheld the information from her. Jack also deduced Mary’s secret: The transporter is a two-being device, and the alien called Mary killed her guard before possessing Mary’s body. When the soldier tried to shoot her, she removed his heart and fed on it. She’s been feeding in the same way throughout history.

Mary takes Tosh hostage by knifepoint, demanding that Jack return the transporter. Jack negotiates, projecting a plan into Tosh’s mind, and enables the transporter once Mary takes it. He reprogrammed the device and set the coordinates to the center of the sun. The threat is over, and Tosh is understandably angry.

Later, Gwen and Owen confront Tosh over what she heard in their minds, but she says it was none of her business. Owen storms off, but Gwen admits that the affair is wrong. It’s also too attractive to her. She can’t stop.

Tosh later discusses the device with Jack. Jack leaves its fate to her, and Tosh crushes it beneath her boot. She asks why she couldn’t read Jack’s mind, but Jack is elusive. Tosh remarks that it was almost as if he were a dead man, but he comforts her instead of addressing the assertion, wiping away her tears and walking away.

 

This story ties in well with the Torchwood pilot. Recall that each of the team members were lonely, pursuing interests with alien tech but not with each other or anyone else. By the nature of their work, they can’t talk to anyone else about what they do, which led Gwen to Owen for solace and meaningful companionship. We’ve been building from there with this – apologies to FarscapeJerry Springer family and their troubled relationships with one another.

Now we’ve seen how their isolation plays with this family, it’s time to see them come together and unite over their common wounds. That may prove difficult with Jack’s hubris, which will likely drive Torchwood Three further apart before they can heal their rifts.

It was nice to have a Tosh-centric episode since most of her time in this series has been spent in a support role. Even though Mary’s deceit was telegraphed – she was such an enabler for Tosh’s uncharacteristic behavior, so she obviously needed something – Tosh’s isolation within the team is highlighted through her use of the pendant.

And it is heartbreaking.

Balancing the basic plot with beautiful character development for Tosh made for an entertaining adventure.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: They Keep Killing Suzie

 

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 #TW6: Countrycide

Torchwood: Countrycide
(1 episode, s01e06, 2006)

 

It’s time for the Harvest.

On an overcast night, a woman tries to drive and talk on the phone at the same time. She happens across a body in the road and stops to offer help, armed with a baseball bat just in case. The body is a ruse with a soccer ball for a head, giving someone enough time to slash her tires, steal her keys, and attack her.

Torchwood Three drives to the country to investigate seventeen disappearances in a twenty-mile radius with no distinct connection. It might be the Rift spreading out beyond Cardiff, so that’s where the team starts as they set up camp. After a little friendly banter, Owen reveals his last kiss was with Gwen, and of course the team wants more details. After the discussion turns sour, Owen and Gwen go hunting for firewood, and Gwen chastises him for the revelation. After a brief altercation, they spot two hooded figures in the trees. When they give chase, they find a bloody, skinless corpse.

As the team investigates, someone steals the SUV and destroys the campsite. Ianto tracks the vehicle to a nearby village, which leads Jack and Tosh to believe that they’re being lured into a trap. The team splits up with a warning to be cautious. Tosh and Ianto go for the SUV while Jack, Gwen, and Owen check the nearby pub.

The pub and nearby houses are dark and deserted. The only occupants are two corpses, stripped similar to the first, and a young man named Kieran who shoots Gwen with a shotgun. He believes that “they” had come back for her, but the gunshot was an accident. After Owen tends to Gwen’s wounds, Jack tries to calm Kieran, but the man is hysterical and insists that they barricade the door. Jack decides to regroup at the pub and set a defensive position while they sort out the situation. The lights go out and the team hears movement outside and in the cellar. Kieran is dragged away, and despite Jack’s misgivings, Owen and Gwen pursue while Captain Harkness searches the cellar.

Tosh and Ianto find similar spooky circumstances. They also find themselves captured in quick fashion. They wake up in a cellar, completely disarmed, surrounded by old clothes, shoes, and a refrigerator full of human body parts. Tosh makes the connection that they are on the menu for their captors. The duo are soon joined by a shotgun-wielding woman named Helen, but she’s been sent to collect Tosh and Ianto for the Harvest, an event that happens every ten years. They are taken to the kitchen, which is full of body parts, and their captors reveal themselves. Torchwood is dealing with cannibals.

Jack finds one of their assailants. The hooded man was wounded in the pub fight easily spills the beans about the predicament. Owen and Gwen find a police officer and the village hall. Ianto headbutts the head cannibal, allowing Tosh to escape. The two teams finally converge as the lead cannibal tries to strangle Tosh but is stopped by Owen, Gwen, and their new policeman sidekick. Unfortunately, the police officer is a cannibal, and the team is taken back to the kitchen.

Ianto is first on the chopping block, but before he can be cut and bled out, Jack arrives via tractor through the wall and dispatches the whole lot with bullets to the kneecaps. It seems that the entire village has a tradition of targeting travelers every ten years and butchering them. When Gwen asks why, the lead cannibal makes it simple for her: “’cause it made me happy.”

The police arrive and taken the cannibals into custody. The team returns home and Gwen questions her life choices. She can’t share any of these life-changing events with anyone outside of Torchwood, and she takes solace with Owen because he understands.

 

There are a lot of fascinating elements in this episode. Owen and Gwen pursue a fling – Gwen is cheating on her boyfriend Rhys, with whom she intended to start a family – while threads of Tosh’s unrequited attraction to Owen are started. As far as the franchise goes, this is a story that abandons nearly every part of the Doctor Who universe: No science fiction, no superhuman abilities, no aliens, and no technology except the basics of the year 2006. The last time we saw that kind of story was Black Orchid.

While it wasn’t the first televised Doctor Who universe tale to utter the f-bomb – it was used once in Everything Changes and once in Cyberwoman – it was peppered throughout the slaughterhouse sequence. Given the post-watershed role of Torchwood in this universe, I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The atmosphere in this episode is downright creepy, echoing films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (you choose the version), The Hills Have Eyes (again, you choose the version), Friday the 13th (preferably a version with Camp Crystal Lake instead of, say, Manhattan or a space station), and similar movies with omnipresent wraith-like evils.

Overall, I thought it was a wonderful (if not completely disturbing) ride.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Greeks Bearing Gifts

 

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 #TW5: Small Worlds

Torchwood: Small Worlds
(1 episode, s01e05, 2006)

 

How do you stop a threat unbound from time?

A mysterious figure wanders through the midnight wood, sneaking up on a group of fairies playing in a stone circle. The mystic moment turns sour as she snaps a few photos and the fairies morph into something more sinister. Meanwhile, deep in the Hub, Jack wakes up from a nightmare in which a train car is filled with dead soldiers, their mouths filled with rose petals. He finds Ianto working late into the night, tracking strange weather patterns.

The next day, a creepy man watches children leaving school. One girl, Jasmine, catches his eye since her parents are late picking her up. She decides to walk home and he makes his move, but the fairies come to her rescue. Elsewhere, Jack and Gwen attend a small talk on fairies as presented by Estelle Cole, an old friend of Jack’s and the woman from the episode intro. After her presentation, Jack discusses Estelle’s findings and claims that she’s wrong about fairies being good creatures.

At Cardiff Market, the creeper tries to escape from the voices that drove him away before. He stumbles through the market, coughs up mouthfuls of rose petals, and gets arrested. Meanwhile, Jasmine arrives home safely. She goes outside to play and is tempted by the fairies.

Jack and Gwen accompany Estelle home to look at more of her fairy photos. Gwen finds a photo that is the spitting image of Jack, but Captain Harkness tells her that it is his father, and Gwen asks Estelle about Jack’s family. Jack asks Estelle to tell him if she finds more fairies before heading back to the Hub with Gwen. On the way there, he tells Gwen that fairies are creatures from the dawn of time that are not constrained by linear time. Once they return to headquarters, Jack instructs Tosh to monitor weather patterns for clues to find the fairies.

The creeper, Mark Goodson, confesses to being a pedophile, later to be attacked by a fairy. In the woods, Torchwood Three tracks the fairies to the stone circle and then responds to the jail to investigate Goodsen’s death. He was asphyxiated and his airway is filled with rose petals. They return to the Hub and receive a call from Estelle after she was confronted by the fairies. Before they can arrive, she is lured outside and attacked in a severe rainstorm. The team arrives to find her drowned corpse, and Jack reveals to Gwen that he was the man in the photo and the man who loved Estelle.

They met in the Astoria Ballroom when she was seventeen, and Jack tells her about his first encounter with the rose petals on a troop train in Lahore, 1909. Some of his men had mistakenly run over a little girl, and a week later they were killed by the fairies in the train car. The child was a chosen one, destined to live with the fairies – each of them children pulled from different periods in time – just like Jasmine is now.

Speaking of, Jasmine is bullied at school the next day, and the fairies sweep the area with a gale. No one was harmed, but the only person not affected was Jasmine. The fairies also set their sights on Roy, Jasmine’s mother’s boyfriend of five years, who was downright rude to Jasmine earlier. As the family celebrates the five-year anniversary with a party, Jasmine discovers that Roy has fenced off the entrance to the forest. Roy and Jasmine have an altercation, and as the weather picks up, the fairies attack Roy in retribution.

Torchwood arrives to prevent harm to the guests, Roy is killed in the fight and Jasmine follows the fairies into the woods. Jack and Gwen give chase, demanding that Jasmine not be taken away. The fairies warn that if Jasmine does not go with them, they will kill many more. Admitting he has no other choice, Jack requests one promise: Jasmine will not be harmed. The fairies agree, pledging that Jasmine will live forever. Jasmine skips away as her mother arrives, and as the girl disappears, her mother collapses in angry grief, hitting Jack over and over again as he apologizes.

The team is angry with Jack, giving him the silent treatment. As Gwen buttons up the loose threads in the Hub, she examines the photograph from 1917 as it flashes on the screen. One of the fairies is Jasmine, a smile upon her face. As Gwen looks on, a fairy voice whispers The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats: “Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

 

This was a run of the mill story with a creepy atmosphere and an unstoppable enemy. We get another glimpse into Jack’s mysterious past, which seems to be a common thread in this introductory season. There’s also a great amount of character development as Jack makes the hard choice: Sacrifice one child or countless innocents in an attempt to save her. There was no right answer, and I appreciate Torchwood for going there.

But otherwise, it was a mostly average adventure.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Countrycide

 

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.