The penultimate episode of Torchwood is another character piece, this time focusing on Captain Jack Harkness, in case the title wasn’t helping… We get an interesting story: ghostly music is heard from an old building. Jack and Tosh go to investigate and find themselves back in the 1940’s right before the Cardiff Blitz. This element offers the chance to take a hard look at prejudice (“Why is George dancing with a Jap?”), but misses the mark at making any substantial impact here. To get Jack and Tosh back, Owen wants to open the rift but Ianto has another thing to say about that. Throughout it all, a Mr. Bilis Manger exists in both times and has a file on Torchwood that leaves us wondering: just who is this guy anyway?!
The tension of the episode is whether Owen will open the rift of not. Ianto is hell bent on stopping him and even resorts to shooting Owen. (Dude, you should have aimed a little better; we could have been done with this guy once and for all!) But the tension is well crafted: leave Jack and Tosh in the past and Tosh would probably have been treated as an enemy of the nation because she is Japanese during a time where they were not well received. Jack might be alright, just living life a second time around avoiding his younger self, but Owen doesn’t know that. This element I really enjoyed.
On the other hand, all the scenes of Jack and Tosh lose any menace because we barely scratch the surface of the prejudices that could have been explored. Instead, it’s all about Jack meeting the real Captain Jack Harkness and the relationship the two of them develop. Now, for the most part, I’m not a big fan of on screen “PDAs” (that’s public displays of affection) but this entire sequence is a build up to the kiss between Jack and Jack and that was tedious to watch because it was so clumsy. Nancy is introduced and there’s so little reason for her if the whole point was write her out anyway. But what annoyed me about it most is that we went for a racial slur with the “Jap” comment, but somehow everyone stood around watching two military men dancing intimately together and kissing; all just watch like a happy little love story? It’s supposed to be 1941! Sorry, but I don’t think people were accepting of homosexuality back then. Maybe I’m wrong but I think if you plan to make a racial slur, you can’t chicken out because it’s not in vogue to make homosexual comments. (For the record, I don’t think either is right, but don’t do one, if you lack the courage to go for both!) So for me, this is where the episode could have been so much more important. Have the courage to tell the story fully or don’t bother poking the hive. There was a lot of potential here, but we give it up to give the Two Jacks a chance to hug and kiss.
There are genuinely great elements though. Bilis appears to be helping Gwen and you’ve got to wonder why: is he a good guy? Does he have ulterior motives? The episode seems to end well enough with everyone saved thanks to the clues he lays. I’m also cheating a bit but I did find it a nice touch that on the wall of Bilis’s office, there are horns everywhere. Not of the musical variety either, but the type that go on the heads of animals. There’s a great moment where Jack mentions what happened to him and we hear Rose’s Theme from Doctor Who and when he comes out of the building at the end, there’s a torn “Vote Saxon” sign on the building. (This is just before Series 3 of Doctor Who, remember! He’s about to meet up with the 10th Doctor and Martha Jones!)
In the end, it’s a good prelude to the finale, but it was a bridge too far for me to really love. I was fine with the direction the story went if it was really willing to commit to it, or they could have done a better episode and built up more of Jack’s backstory. Still, Bilis remains at large, so I wouldn’t have quit now. I just hope the next episode really takes my breath away. (But I’m not holding my breath to find out…) ML
This was probably my favorite Torchwood episode at the time. Given how far RTD was willing to go for the sake of homosexuality having its beautiful place now in the Whoniverse, this one remains an important chapter. Thank you, ML, for your review.
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