Torchwood has had some highs and lows this season but most of the time, it pulls off entertaining fairly well. Even where there are gaps in logic, I usually find the episodes enjoyable. Then along comes this episode, Random Shoes, which seems to be the Torchwood version of Doctor Who’s Love and Monsters. It’s told from the point of view of another person, Eugene Jones. Jones is a loser and no one takes him seriously. And then he dies. Well, he dies at the very start of the episode, and yet it’s told from his point of view. How will that work? Considering it suffers from a hugely colossal lapse in logic, you can predict what I’m going to say, right? Maybe not!
Many series have series-defining episodes; they are the ones that encapsulate what the series really is all about. This is not that episode. Rarely, but upon fine occasion, a series will produce an episode that branches out beyond the confines of that series and defines something that matters. In the case of Random Shoes, it defines what it is to be alive and full of life and wonder and love. It’s about a simple guy who was never really a loser and was actually just a kind soul who was so full of excitement for the universe, that he chose not to see the bad in others; he chooses to be better and to see the beauty. Random Shoes is not must-watch Torchwood, it’s must-watch TV even if it’s the only episode of Torchwood you ever sit down to watch, because it is wonderful.
Eugene is a dreamer, and I’ll be damned if any of us watching science fiction isn’t a dreamer too. We tune into these shows because we dream. Eugene was “a failure” because he was kind. But was he a failure? I’d say no! He didn’t let his dad leaving when he was a child bring him down, nor did he give up when people laughed at him. He was always full of hope, and his friend Gary realizes it in the simple line, “I miss him!” There are a number of moments where the audience gets chills, not from some big monster reveal, but from the capacity for being human. Eugene says of the “eye” that he found, “if you leave something really important behind, you come back and get it”, yet when his dad left, his dad never came back for him. There’s such sorrow in that realization for the audience but not for Eugene. And when Gwen introduces herself to Eugene’s mom, she says “I’m a friend of your son”, which drives home the realization that she recognizes the goodness in a person who didn’t have many friends. And while Eugene is traveling with Torchwood as a The Sixth Sense-like spirit, he realizes “I don’t want this to end”, because even as a ghost, unseen and unacknowledged by the team, he’s doing what he always wanted to do: he’s with people he looked up to.
Where did logic depart from the episode? First off, Torchwood probably would not have been called for a traffic accident. At that point, there was no indication of alien involvement and the writer seems to have forgotten that this isn’t CSI: Cardiff. Second, how does Eugene even know about Torchwood as it’s a secret agency? But most glaringly, Eugene is dead, but even after being buried, he appears in the flesh to save Gwen from a near-miss road accident (because UK drivers just keep driving even when people stand in the middle of the road – see Doctor Who, Father’s Day for added proof) then he bodily gets carried up to the heavens in front of a crowd. That’s a big ask for the audience to buy into, but it doesn’t matter because ever moment of this episode is so hyper-charged with a love for life, that we can look past it. This is one of those episodes that doesn’t need to hold too strongly to the laws of logic because it has excitement about being alive that’s so palpable that you ignore those lapses in logic.
When you’re writing an episode like this, you need to grab the audience and the music in this one is spot-on fantastic; whether instrumental or vocal. And here’s another important thing: redemption. It’s what made Star Wars so meaningful when Darth Vader saved his son (sorry, spoiler?) but redemption should matter and what’s more amazing than a father and son realizing they missed each other, completely, even after a lifetime of mistakes? The episode ends with a gloriously wonderful quote and I’m sharing it here because it’s important, like the episode itself. As the camera pulls away, going ever higher, into the stratosphere and then even beyond earth, Eugene’s voice tells us…
The average life is full of near misses and absolute hits. Of great love and small disasters. It’s made up of banana milkshakes, loft insulation and random shoes. It’s dead ordinary and truly, truly amazing. What you’ve got to realize is, it’s all here, now. So breathe deep and swallow it whole. Because take it from me: life just whizzes by, and then, all of a sudden, it’s…
Remember last episode, which showed a very bleak outlook about death? Well, this one counters that, and raises it! And I’m of the mindset that this is what it’s really all about; not the darkness of nothingness after death, but another chapter in the wonders of this mad universe. This episode is an absolute hit, full of great love and random shoes and it’s truly, truly amazing. So breathe deep and sit on your sofa and enjoy this celebration of life. ML
I think if you’re willing to accept holograms in Star Trek being able to touch people then you can’t really have a problem with this. I don’t think Torchwood going to Eugene’s accident is too much of a stretch, considering he has been hassling them and they are presumably open-minded enough to want to check that there wasn’t actually something unusual about him. As for him knowing about them, there is a long tradition of Doctor Who secret organisations not being very good at actually being secret!
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I accept that is a possibility but I’d have accepted it more if his name was Harvey Finjingtonsonfen. JONES is a remarkably common name and even though Eugene is not as common as say John, I still think even Cardiff would have more than one. To mobilize the team at the mention of a hit and run, I think, requires a bit more than just recognition of a name! ML
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Thank you, ML, for a most thoughtful review that reminds us that looking beyond the needs for logic in TV shows and movies can have its humanizing benefits. As old Spock said to young Spock: Put aside logic and do what FEELS right. Looking back now, it’s why I enjoyed so many TV shows and movies from my earliest recollections from points of view that defy logic. Even if it’s different for me now on certain levels, I’m still easily reminded of how wondrous a Torchwood episode like Random Shoes might have felt to me had I seen it in childhood.
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