I often say the Brits are geniuses. I mean it, too. But every so often a compliment can be used as a doubled-edged sword. For instance, the creators of Torchwood must have thought: “hey, if we aim for the most offensive first-ever episode of a series, someone will come along and try to usurp us. But no one is going to come along and aim for the most offensive SECOND episode!” That’s some genius thinking there! Yes, I know I referenced it last week, but I’m referring to Black Mirror again. Sex with a pig on live television is going to beat sex with a cloud being, any day. But the point still stands: if you want to attract an audience, it would be ill advised to write an episode to offend people. So the obvious thing to ask next is: who wrote this one? Surely Russell T. Davies wouldn’t. Oh. It was Chris Chibnall, writer of the lowest rated Doctor Who finale of the 21st Century. Can’t say I didn’t see that coming.
So what’s wrong with Day One? It’s Gwen’s first real experience with the team and she unleashes a monster. There’s a euphemism waiting to be noticed. The monster is a sex cloud and we’re going for some truly awkward scenes that makes Torchwood difficult to show to that teenage fan who wants to see more of the overall world of Doctor Who. It’s not just the images, either. It’s the often extremely crude language. Not to say it wasn’t funny. There are a number of comical lines, but I can’t help but feel like the Doctor’s universe didn’t need them.
So let’s just rewind: Gwen freakin’ harpoons a tool at Owen clearly mistaking him for a target in a javelin throwing contest. It pierces the outer shell of an asteroid from which a sex cloud emerges. It finds and inhabits a young woman name Carys who then goes about having sex with guys until they explode in a cloud of glowing particles and leave behind a very neat pile of dust. Torchwood has to stop her.
Some of the places it goes wrong:
- Jack walks in on some military monkeys randomly calling Gwen “little girl” to which Jack replies “Little girl? From where I’m standing she has all the right curves in all the right places!” Thankfully this series is not Star Trek! No one will ever say this series was ahead of its time; in fact, they might talk about how sexist a line like that is.
- After watching the camera footage of a young man who was Carys’ first victim, Jack jokes that “he came and went!” (In fairness, I did laugh but…) Do we want a hero to be so cavalier about the death of a young man? Perhaps sex with a pig has new meaning here. (This may get a saving pass as Gwen is going to help be the humanizing agent later.)
- After Carys has killed her ex-boyfriend, Jack again makes a (funny but) trite comment: “That god she’s young. Work your way through my back catalog, you’ll be here until the sun explodes.”
- Gwen and Carys together in the cell is just a cheap thrill to attract an audience for two woman frantically “making out” or “snogging”. Need we refer back to the first comment? And watching Carys rip Gwen’s top open to reveal… well, nothing… was just screaming “we want viewers, please watch this show”. (And hey, at least three viewers turn up as Jack, Owen and Tosh!)
In complete fairness to Chibnall, I’m guessing the idea behind this episode must have come from all the ads that he saw while in Cardiff. There is a sequence where the camera pans over tons of sex ads and, let’s be honest, sex sells! But I can’t help but feel like some of these moments are missing the mark. Or perhaps overstating the point is more accurate.
Some areas where it goes right:
- “We all make mistakes; get over it.” This is Jack trying to make Gwen feel better about the mistake she made that cost lives. It’s not something to be taken lightly, but it was a mistake. Sometimes, we need that reminder. We need a friend who understands and will support us even in tough times.
- “Tell me: what does it mean to be human in the 21st Century?” Jack asks Gwen and she shows him that getting to know someone isn’t a cold analysis, but a personal dialogue with the person. Its about connecting. It’s not the technology, but the people that make the difference. It’s an important and timely reminder and applies even more today than when the series came out.
- “You’re the best hit there is!” While the full merits of this won’t become apparent for 2 more seasons, it does hint at humans being a drug to other races and by the time Children of Earth comes out, this will take on a whole new, and terrifying, meaning.
- “You have a stash of bodies?!” asks an incredulous Gwen when Jack suggests substituting a corpse to fake a death. It’s not that this is a good thing on its own, but it’s the precursor to what’s coming later in the episode. Gwen (and the audience) will get a chance to know the crew more and what their agency is all about. And she will find out they have no “normal” lives outside of what they do.
There are also notable moments that are neither right nor wrong, but I loved them. Cinematically, the camera following Carys is visually amazing. It’s a trick I’ve seen before where a camera is attached to the front of the actor and it stares at them as they move around normally. I also love the build up to the mystery of Jack; no one knows who he is or where he comes from. Will we? And I applaud the hand in the jar again. “That’s worthless to anyone but me!” Will it pay off one day, or is it just a neat background prop? And speaking of background props… what the hell was up with this!?
The episode ends with Jack gaining a bit of perspective, brought about by the humanizing influence of Gwen. It’s the only aspect that allows Jack a pass with some of his comments; he’s forgotten what it means to be human. So he wraps the episode by asking her to be normal, for him. But after the things that have happened on day one, is there any chance she will ever be normal again? In the world of Torchwood, what exactly is normal anyway? ML