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 #TW22: Something Borrowed

Torchwood: Something Borrowed
(1 episode, s02e09, 2008)

 

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… goo?

Gwen is running late for her bachelorette (hen) party. She was in pursuit of a carnivorous shape-shifter when she was bitten on the arm. Jack shot the creature and Owen tended to her wounds before she went to celebrate.

When she wakes up the next morning, she’s suddenly pregnant. Almost full-term.

Surprise!

Jack and Owen assume that the shape-shifter passed its eggs along in the bite. They have a solution but it requires her to be down for several days. Unfortunately, today is her wedding day. She calls Rhys and tries to explain, putting Rhys into a tailspin.

As Rhys and Gwen try to come to a compromise, the team scrambles to keep the wedding on track while Owen performs a shape-shifter autopsy. Gwen tells Rhys that the wedding is all that matters today, but the question remains as to what to tell the families. They play like it was a planned surprise, but Gwen knows that, with their parents now planning for a grandchild, the news that she lost the child would be devastating.

Tosh arrives with Gwen’s new dress and gets hit on by the best man, but she handles herself like a pro. The women briefly discuss Tosh and Owen’s relationship before Tosh heads back downstairs. Meanwhile, Owen discovers a small problem: The shape-shifter is a Nostrovite, a species that mates for life and hunts in pairs. After fertilization, the female passes the eggs to the male for safekeeping and eventual impregnation. The dead alien’s mate is now hunting Gwen and is working her way through the wedding party.

The Nostrovite has also captured Tosh and best man “Banana Boat” in a black web. The rest of Torchwood Three dispatch to the wedding to tackle the problem.

Gwen continues to get ready for the wedding. To explain the pregnancy, she tells her father about Torchwood, but he doesn’t believe her. Gwen and Rhys get to the altar but Jack bursts in to stop the ceremony.

Owen and Ianto free Tosh and Banana, as well as finding the corpse the Nostrovite mangled earlier. One of the bridesmaids enters the room and, at the site of the corpse, runs away screaming. The bridesmaid tells everyone about the corpse so Jack orders Ianto to jam all of the phone lines.

Jack tells the assembled guests that he’s from Torchwood, surprising Gwen’s father and spooking the alien. Jack and Tosh give chase but lose her. The alien assumes Rhys’s mother’s form and takes Gwen’s mother hostage. Gwen distracts the alien long enough to ambush her, and after the Nostrovite flees, Gwen is rushed back to her room.

Owen, handicapped by his injured hand, briefs Rhys on how to use the singularity scalpel. Meanwhile, Gwen is ambushed by the Nostrovite in Jack’s form. Owen and Gwen empty their magazines into the creature, but it is seemingly unstoppable. Gwen and Rhys run for the stables while Owen faces the shape-shifter. He’s not very palatable in his undead state.

Rhys uses the singularity scalpel to extract the alien fetus. The Nostrovite bursts in and Rhys has a heroic moment, but he falls short as his chainsaw runs out of fuel. After a not-so-subtle curse word, Rhys gets covered in goo as Jack uses a BFG to end the threat.

Gwen and Rhys finally get married, alien goo and all. Owen and Tosh share the dance that she wanted as Jack wishes Gwen all the best on her honeymoon. As the guests fall asleep around them thanks to the wedding gift of Retcon, Jack offers the same to the newlyweds. Gwen states that there will be no secrets in their marriage.

The happy couple departs as Torchwood Three begins to clean up the mess. Later on, Jack returns to the Hub alone with a handful of confetti. He opens a box of photographs and reminisces over one in particular.

Jack was married once. The photo is from his wedding.

 

An enjoyable romp from start to finish, it only gets better by playing on character elements that have been building over this season, from Owen and Tosh’s relationship to Rhys and his distrust of Jack. Jack’s maudlin moment as he reflects on his interminable life is the icing on this (wedding) cake.

I also really love how Gwen acknowledges how the lies and omissions hurt her relationships, from the news of the spontaneous pregnancy to how she and Rhys plan to approach the next chapter in their lives together.

Stories that try to extract humor from unplanned pregnancies can often go wrong. This one struck me as well-crafted and engaging.

 

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

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: From Out of the Rain

 

 

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 #TW17: Meat

Torchwood: Meat
(1 episode, s02e04, 2008)

 

Relationships are tough, but in Torchwood they are tougher.

Rhys is driving down the road, singing along to an advertising jingle, when his phone rings. Responding to news of a car accident, he finds that one of his company lorries has overturned and the driver has died. As he talks with the police officer, he watches as the Torchwood SUV pulls up and Gwen gets out.

He had no idea who she actually worked for.

The delivery truck was carrying meat, all of which Torchwood Three confiscates and takes back to the Hub for analysis. Gwen recognizes the lorry as one from Rhys’s company, and as they depart, Rhys tries to follow the SUV but is blocked by the police.

Owen analyzes the meat and discovers that the stamp that marks the product as fit for human consumption is a fake. Tosh calls Rhys’s company, posing as the police, and finds that the meat comes from Harries & Harries. Owen figures that the meat is alien and has been on the market for some time, and the team discusses the case over pizza (from which they remove the meat toppings).

Owen asks to see Gwen and she heads home. He tries to get the truth out of her, but she doesn’t break. When she returns to work, Rhys follows and watches her meet with Jack near the Roald Dahl Plass entrance to the Hub. When Gwen and Jack head to the meat factory, Rhys follows and is subsequently discovered. Jack and Gwen notice Rhys being taken and assume that he’s involved.

Rhys is taken inside the factory and questioned. He poses as a friendly face, suggesting that he could pick up where the former driver left off. While he’s inside, he discovers the source of the meat: An alien being that regenerates whenever someone slices a piece off of it.

It’s endless torture for the creature.

Rhys leaves the factory and returns home. Gwen’s not far behind him and they have a falling out over the whole affair. Gwen finally admits that she works for Torchwood, but Rhys doesn’t believe the scope of her career. So she shows him.

She takes him to the Hub and he sees everything from the invisible lift to Myfanwy the pterodactyl. He meets Jack, Owen, Tosh, and Ianto and learns what Torchwood does. He tells them what he saw in the warehouse, and after some conflict with Jack, reveals that he has applied to be the new delivery boy.

Jack calls for a team meeting, including Rhys.

Rhys provides the lay of the land, but Gwen is adamant that he doesn’t get involved. The plan ends involving stun guns, saving the alien, and sending it home through the Rift. Owen works on a model of what the creature looks like while Tosh brings him a sandwich. She hints at possibly starting a relationship with someone, but Owen is oblivious to her advances.

Rhys and Jack pick up the truck for the infiltration. While they drive, Jack explains why he picked Gwen for Torchwood. The team loads up in the back of the van and Rhys takes them to the warehouse. When Rhys tries to stage a distraction so the team can exit the van, he finds out that they’ve already gone.

Inside the warehouse, Jack, Gwen, and Tosh find the “cash cow” and discover that it is sentient, but their cover is soon blown and Ianto and Rhys are captured. They are taken by gunpoint to the creature, forcing Gwen to reveal herself. Tosh and Jack are also discovered, and Jack explains what the workers have on their hands. Ianto unties himself as Rhys is shot, and the ensuing fight prompts the creature to strain at its bindings.

Owen develops a sedative while the team dodges the out of control beast. Ianto apprehends the remaining workers as Owen realizes that sedatives won’t work, so he euthanizes the creature instead. Jack mourns for the loss as Owen tends to Rhys’s wounds.

Back at the Hub, Owen patches Rhys as Jack informs him that the workers have been given Retcon. The creature has been incinerated. Jack privately tells Gwen that Rhys will need to forget his adventure, and she requests to be the one to give him the Retcon.

She decides that she can’t do it. She gives Jack an impassioned speech and he relents, unwilling to fire her and lose her from the team.

He gives her the rest of the day off. Torchwood Three has a new team member.

 

Starting with the unnamed creature, the torture is heartbreaking. The howls and screams built instant sympathy, and the need to euthanize it was tragic. The actors completely sold all of it.

Noting, of course, that the creature wasn’t the point of the episode, it was great to see the team dealing with the repercussions of exposing their secret identity and not pushing the reset button less than an hour later. The Retconning of Rhys in Combat was troubling since it betrayed everything about a trusting relationship. This story builds an authentic yet complicated relationship for Rhys and Gwen, which makes them better characters overall.

On a final note, Jack’s flirtation has certainly amplified this season. This is the Jack that we all know and love.

 

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

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Adam

 

 

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.