Torchwood continues its game of tennis or ping pong with episodes going back and forth over the net from good to bad. After last week’s Cyberwoman, I was not sure what to expect with Small Worlds. I was seriously let down by the blunders of last week. So here we are in week 5 and Peter Hammond gives us a story about Fairies, to which I thought: really?! Yeah, it has a solid opener, but… fairies?! For real? We are going to take a distinctly “fantasy” creature and make it “science fiction”? 46 minutes later if I had to admit one episode had locked me into the series… well, it’s a Small World after all!
We are given a story about a little girl who is protected by Fairies because they want something from her. “Come away human child!” The episode also offers us some small hints into Jack’s past. I’ll talk about the latter first. I’m not sure why Jack tries to keep certain secrets from Gwen because she saw him get shot in the head and then get up moments later, completely healed. (Maybe it’s because she also saw him get punched in the face and have a split lip for hours…?) But the idea that Jack doesn’t tell Gwen that he and Estelle were an item is just silly. Yeah, he’s entitled to his privacy, so it’s not completely unbelievable, but he waits for her to figure it out on her own. Once she does, he can share his story from 1909 which is relevant to the case. Now, this does beg the question of the audience: how old is Jack? And how long has he been on Earth? We’ve been taking it at face value that he’s here and his inability to die is the result of the gift Rose gave him at the end of The Parting of the Ways in Doctor Who. But when that ended, he was on a space station in the far future. How did he get back to the past, and just how far did he go? Well, that’s a question for another day but what we do learn is that Jack is a lot older than he looks.
Onto the subject of the kid, I was delighted by these creatures the moment they target and kill a pedophile. They went from scary looking monsters, to highly respected beings in the blink of an eye. Then they kill Estelle and I was back to thinking of these creatures as monsters again. Then as they torment some bullies, I was back to seeing them as the good guys. (Plus they helped themselves out by having Lord of the Dance being sung in the background, which is a favorite of mine. Yeah, it’s a roller coaster with me, I know!) Jack calls these creatures something from the dawn of time but it’s got to be more than that because they take human children to increase their ranks. Far as I can tell, human children have not been around from the dawn of time. I’ll still give it to Jack because, ultimately, he’s just trying to instill in Gwen that these are beings beyond comprehension. Everything else is speculation. And Jack realizes just how dangerous these beings are because they can control the weather and the elements easier than we control our TV remotes. They also exists back and forth in time. This latter realization may have saved humanity when Jack tries to explain to Jasmine that the forest she believes in does not exist. She happily tells him it does, and he realizes: time is not a boundary for them. Just because the forest doesn’t exist now doesn’t mean anything to beings that can be in any time they want. So Jack lets Jasmine become one of them and his team is disgusted with him for it, but it forces us to acknowledge that sometimes the only choice is a bad one. That moral ambiguity is an intensely interesting part of the episode; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the most fascinating part of the episode because it makes us think. At what point is the creature too big for the hero to fight? The Doctor might have found a third option, but Jack is not magical like the Doctor. When I think of the Doctor saying “Life isn’t a fairy tale”, I have a radically different idea in my mind than what Jack has to live with.
In the end, Jasmine’s mom is left with nothing which may be the most tragic part of all. Her boyfriend of the last 5 years lies dead on the ground in her backyard, a mouth full of rose petals. He may have been a little over enthusiastic about putting a fence up to block Jasmine from having fun, and his loss may not be that great in the grand scheme, but to Jasmine’s mom, he mattered. Now he’s gone and her daughter has run off and vanished into her fairy tale, not in the good way with a handsome prince either. And the final scene is of Gwen looking at a 100-year-old photo that she had looked at dozens of times only to realize the little girl that was taken in this episode was always in that photo. Time truly did not matter for these creatures and there was never any way to stop them. And that’s both terrifying and amazing. And kudos to the writer for a really solid episode.
If the next episode can keep the ball on this side of the fence, Torchwood is going to become legendary! ML