Season 1 of Torchwood is the very definition of an identity crisis. It was never really sure what it wanted to be. Part Doctor Who, part X-Files, sometimes horror, sometimes sci-fi, sometimes inspired… it was all over the map. And in reality, that’s not a bad thing if you have the characters to keep the story interesting. Good characters can make a big difference when you decide to tell different types of stories. If you have good characters, the audience will go along for the ride wherever it leads because you want to know more about the characters. Luckily, Torchwood has a solid cast and this episode takes us into a deeply dramatic character piece for our regulars and our guest stars. And as much as I wanted a hearty dose of sci-fi, what I got was a far more insightful look at the human condition.
Out of Time is different from most of the series. Team Torchwood arrive as a small biplane lands and three people get out. They are perfectly ordinary people who went for a flight half an hour earlier… and ended up over 50 years in their future. 1953 has never seemed so far gone as it does for these 3! “There’s no puzzle to solve; no enemy to fight,” says Jack, and he’s right. So what do we do for 50 minutes of this story? We look at what it’s like to fit in when you don’t belong. We look at the feelings of alienation and loss that occurs to these people given their very bizarre circumstances. And we even get a glimpse that Owen has a heart… though that might make him harder to stomach in the future!
The episode gets a lot right. Diane, Owen’s latest bed-mate (for he seems to have so many) holds up a pack of cigarettes with the notice “smoking kills” and she asks what that means. She’s also amazed by automatic doors; a scene that could have gone by unspoken but instead gets treated like what it is: an amazing invention to someone from 1953. John, who bonds with Jack, is stunned by the sheer amount of food available in a supermarket having just gotten off rationing after the war and is a bit horrified by the pornographic covers on magazines he sees in the shops. Emma, who bonds with Gwen, has to come to terms with being a 20-something and in need of a job in a world where she knows so little. All three have stories: Diane is an adventurer; staying in one place too long is just not in the cards for her. John wants to see his son but finds an old, senile man who doesn’t even have the slightest glimmer of who he is. And Emma wants to get a job in London, but Gwen is feeling a bit overprotective. (This leads to a hilarious conversation about sex, Rhys, and dating. Eve Myles delivers her lines with perfection!) There’s also the beginnings of a subplot around Rhys realizing that Gwen is very comfortable lying to him… let’s hope this develops; it’s an interesting plot thread!
There’s a commentary for each character. Diane’s feeling of always being at loves mercy is a bit sad for me; how can anyone want to run from that human connection? Emma’s is all excitement for her own future; she’s young enough to enjoy this new world, even if she has a lot to learn! And John’s story is heartbreaking, finding everyone and everything he ever knew gone. His is the most painful by far. Jack helps him find the only peace he can find. Although I was disappointed with Jack’s attitude. It takes two episodic steps back, giving us the bleak outlook on death (“it all goes black”). Where’s Eugene Jones and the attitude of joy when we need it?
If I have complaints they are these: why must we continue the trend from Greeks Bearing Gifts of making the most attractive women smokers? One minute beautiful, the next sucking a role of burning paper hoping they won’t get cancer! I’d have given up the “smoking kills” scene if we cut out watching her smoke altogether. Even Owen comments on it. Speaking of Owen, his flat has not curtains because he has no shame: walking around buck naked is his right, damn it, and he’ll subject any peeping toms to whatever they deserve, so there! Come on dude… you get paid enough! Curtain the place up a bit! When Diane leaves in search of another adventure, I suspect he will be far grumpier and more unpleasant than ever. I can’t wait to see what this does for his personality! He was never that pleasant at the best of times.
Yes, this is a very different kind of Torchwood to those we’ve been seeing and yet, these last two episodes have been excellent character pieces with a strong mix of the philosophical. Maybe the series has found itself and we’ll get more dramatic, deep-thinking pieces in the coming weeks. Either way, this is another standout episode, even if it’s not sure what it wanted to be when it grew up. ML
The thought of an SF show being enjoyable for its ‘identity crisis’ is an intriguing one. It could have been so occasionally for Dr. Who (both classic and modern) and I’m on record for how this benefits the go-with-the-flow SF adventurism that works so naturally throughout the Whoniverse. Given the Whoniversal journeys of self-discovery that the main characters are continually thrust into, coupled with how the main characters via their spinoffs can always build on that, even the monsters too like the Sontarans in Shakedown and Mindgame and assorted monsters in the comic book spinoffs, I’ll give any episode in the Whoniverse a thumbs-up for daring to make itself questionable enough for our freedoms to take from it whatever feels right for us.
Thank you, ML, for this very thoughtful review.
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Like everyone else during the pandemic, I’ve found myself at home more with way too much time on my hands…I have also watched beloved shows like Doctor Who, Torchwood and Whitechapel again so I was thrilled when I found your blog posting your thoughts on Torchwood from a recent viewing perspective.
This episode always gnawed at me, but not for reasons you think. I liked it, but what got under my skin was the character of Diane. Did she pass through the rift and make it back to Bristol 1953? Did sh find the rift at all? The reason this always gets me if the reference in “Captain Jack Harkness” a few episodes later where Owen is looking at Tosh’s computer and the formulas she notes when there’s rift activity. It shows a note on rift activity related to Cardiff and then Bristol on the day Diane left. So did she make it back to Bristol?!?!
The question haunts me. Lol.
And if she did, couldn’t Owen see it in historical records and know that she did and what became of her? Hahaha…my life has shrank so much that this is one of the BIG QUESTIONS for me.
Love your blog!!!
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Nothing wrong with this being a big question for you. It’s why I loved Babylon 5 – little things would come back in ways you didn’t expect. Torchwood was such a little series, I feel equally let down by those gaps in the story: it would have been no effort to go back to that. In fairness, Doctor Who is a multi-platform experience with books and audio adventures, so it is possible Torchwood does address this somewhere. (I just popped over to the Tardis Fandom wiki in the hopes of seeing some reference, but there is nothing in the continuity section which is a let down!)
Delighted you are enjoying our blog. It is a labor of love, 100%. Roger and I have most of next year already planned out too. We will be tackling a lot of old classics. Hope to have you along for the ride. Please keep sharing your thoughts!! ML
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