The Ghost Machine does a number of things, but the most notable is that it breaks the tie between the first and second episodes. I mean, based on the evidence, the show could have gone either way: strong first, awful second… we needed a third episode to give us a hint as to what the future held and The Ghost Machine does a good job of restoring some faith. Helen Raynor writes what is surely a close-up look at why looking back isn’t necessarily a good thing, but knowing the future could be a horrible thing too! Plus this episode is a reminder of the parent series: there’s a whole lot of running!
The story opens with Gwen chasing a perp and boy can these guys run! She catches what she needs to: his jacket. Inside is one of those ergonomic mice. This one is masquerading as a ghost machine. Once activated she sees the first ghost. (If you’re already thinking Scrooge, it just proves you’re thinking!) Like ghost one, it’s in the past and the event is harmless, but it provides a stunning opener. I don’t know if the kid who played the little boy lost is a good actor in general, but he was astoundingly creepy while still dragging out the sorrow in his 30 seconds on screen. His little voice, “no one knows who I am here!” is so sweet, you just want to help him, but the eeriness of the situation is totally captivating. It seems we may be in for a horror episode.
The second ghost isn’t in the present, but it’s much closer in time. This time Edward Morgan is seen being rather brutal with a young lady, and is found later to have raped and killed her. This sends Owen on a path. It also helps Jack and the Torchwood crew realize that emotions are energy. By this point, the episode has shifted from horror to cold case file. The question is, how can team Torchwood solve it. Jack accurately points out that they can’t very well use the proof they have in any court of law. So the shift to murder mystery was handled well.
Then we get to the interlude which I felt was horrendously out of place. Horror story and murder mystery go together. Sudden unexpected romance does not. Jack lures Gwen to a gun range to teach her how to shoot. I have a friend who shoots and wants to take me shooting. If he got that close to me… we’d be having a different conversation. But Jack gropes Gwen and presses uncomfortably close to her basically luring her away from Rhys. To compound where it went wrong, as Gwen picks up the gun, she briefly points it at Jack who responds with shock and leaps backward. Why? We’ve seen him shot before! Sure, I’d accept that it’s a natural reaction if not for the fact that the last episode went out of its way to show that he’s forgotten what it is to be human. The only reason this doesn’t send the episode down into the negative is what happens next.
Gwen is clearly thinking of what just transpired with Jack so she uses the Ergo-mouse in her home to remind her of what she loves about Rhys. This is a marvelous scene. It’s down to earth, it’s real, it’s heartfelt. It’s wonderfully acted! And in that moment, we’ve met the Ghost of Days Present. Obviously we have one more ghost to get to….
The Ghost of Days Future comes about when Jack and company find the Ergo-mouse has another half that, when connected, becomes a new-age XBox Controller. It also shows the future. Gwen sees the future – someone is dead and she’s holding a knife. Jack had told her that what she saw was only “one of many possible futures” but he doesn’t know everything.
The finale brings it home; the future Gwen saw did happen. It doesn’t happen as expected, but it does happen. Her reaction just makes me love Gwen more and respect Myles as an actress; she sells her pain, horror and sorrow perfectly. I also think Helen Raynor wrote a heck of an episode. The entire story around Ed Morgan is that he may have escaped the law but he didn’t escape justice. I don’t mean the way he dies (which I actually thought was ridiculous – the knife Gwen was holding would have cut him, but not stabbed the way they depicted it – they needed a different sort of knife for that). I mean, the fact that he spent the rest of his days in terror, looking over his shoulder, becoming a fat, stinky, old man, unable to live or even go outside. He ended up being punished for his actions. Death was, for him, his only release. And I credit the writing.
If I have any complaints, it’s that Owen is ultimately a bully, and I don’t like that in one of the series “heroes”. He’s all quick to intimidate Morgan, but when Morgan flies off the handle, Owen becomes a wimp and runs off. He’s clearly not the tough guy he thinks he is. And for that matter, maybe not that smart – all his fake IDs? They all have his real name!
I think it’s a great episode with some important lessons not too far off from the Dickens’ classic. I was glad we had this one as the third story; it grabbed my attention for yet another episode. And hey, sometimes you have to throw everything into the writing… including the kitchen sink! ML