I’m tired of the up and down quality of Torchwood. We had a really action-packed episode just one story back, packed with silly mistakes, but then episode two comes in with a slower character piece that is intensely good. It’s a roller coaster with this show; for all the good things, there’s a ton of bad. The truth is, this is a strong episode and gives us a really scary enemy… that sadly never resurfaces. (And knowing what’s coming in season three, it would have been great to see this tie in with Children of Earth, but we were not to be so lucky!) But even with it being a really good dramatic piece with an enemy that should have been amazing, a lot goes wrong here, once again demonstrating that continuity of character was not a consideration when writing these stories, and I largely blame the vast array of writers who had a go at the show to get their names on it, but didn’t understand the bigger world in which it inhabited.
Torchwood is called because a burglary ends up with one dead guy and one guy hospitalized, which at face value makes you wonder if the Cardiff police do anything at all. Is everything a “spooky-do” that Torchwood is on speed-dial? Nice job keeping the top secret organization on every fridge magnet out there. Then there’s Jack. “He is dashing; you have to give him that!” Yes, Ianto, I agree, but the characterization is weak. He’s just returned from a year with the Doctor (even if he is returned nearly to the day) but from his chronology, he’s been with the Doctor for a long time. He’s seen the brutality of the Master and saw evil first hand and had a good guide to help him through it. (Rewatch The Last of the Time Lords if you’ve forgotten. He should be a changed-for-the-better man!) Why then is he so willing to push Beth, convinced she’s an alien, even to the point of causing her to pass out? She’s in agony and terrified, and he sits back and watches. He puts her in with a Weevil (not in the cage, but in the room) just to terrify her to get a reaction to something she clearly does not know about. And as Gwen tries to comfort her, over and over again, he looks at Gwen like she’s betraying him! Isn’t he the hero?? The mind probe has even caused heads to explode, Ianto says, but he uses it on the terrified woman anyway. Later, he runs a man over and shoots a woman who was just too terrified to go on. James Moran, the writer, needed to review the definition of hero! Or pay attention to where Jack has been recently…
By contrast, Owen has been far more approachable this season. He actually seems like a person and I have to say, he’s well written. Ianto is getting some really great lines too. Between the two of them, as they think a nuke might wipe them out, Owen’s suggestion that they all have sex, is met with a hilariously monotone “just when I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse…” from Ianto. Gwen’s humanity does her credit and she is still the heart of the team but her attempt at humor with Jack’s “bedside manner/manners in bed” was a very weak attempt at being funny and ended up making her sound more like a floozy than anything else. I mean, she’d already told Beth she has a fiance. Beth, however, is a great character; she’s perfectly cast too. Played by Nikki Amuka-Bird, she is frequently terrified, sometimes frightening but always sympathetic… until she “Soldier”‘s out as the titular sleeper agent. (Soldier is an episode of Outer Limits and it’ll be a while before we get there, but suffice to say I knew she was spouting her name, rank and serial number thanks to that 1964 classic!)
The sleeper aspect of the episode is by far the best part of it but what it provides us is a terrifying view of invasion, where even the people we love could be agents of an evil power. Cell 114 is the shadowy name of the group and while they give us a truly surprising episode, it suffers the fate of so many series written by too many writers: it’s a subject matter never to be heard from again. (I often site The Sopranos with the Russians in the woods as a perfect example of this! Truth is, this series offers me a better opportunity with the Weevils grovelling and moaning around Owen. In this episode they do that to Beth and Jack says “they’ve never done that before” – they have but since he may not know it, at least they could do it again… alas, Owen’s ability faded pretty quickly!)
Sleeper is a surprisingly strong episode and the gripes I have with it are those of gaps in logic, not failures to give us a good story. Like the roller coaster analogy, we have moments with super exciting storytelling, but when you get off the ride and look back, you realize how short lived it was when compared against the flaws. I fully expected to write something full of praise, but the more I thought about it, the easier it was to sink my teeth into its throat. And that’s unfortunate because Torchwood has a lot of potential. Someone just needs to be able to look things over and say “that shouldn’t happen” now and then. If only we had someone looking at continuity, this show could have reached the stars! ML