If Torchwood has a failing as a show, it was that it never settled on a specific genre to work with, dabbling instead with every genre under the sun. In To the Last Man, we have another time travel/ghost story. But when Torchwood commits to the story, it doesn’t matter that is jumps genres week after week. And this week certainly had my attention.
The episode opens at the beginning, which should make sense, but the beginning is also the ending, so we know from the start how the episode will end which is sort of liberating; we can take the journey with Tommy and Tosh as they find out what Tommy’s future holds that will fix the past and guarantee a future for all mankind. Yeah, that is a tough sentence, but it makes sense. It’s basically a love story for Tommy and Tosh and a ghost story for everyone else and it keeps you hooked to the screen the whole time.
First of all, this is a character piece, but it has an opportunity that it does not miss in exploring each character. Owen impresses me the most because his story arc from last season to the present has mellowed him and made him a real person. He’s frequently concerned about Tosh, noticing her dress, advising her not to get hurt, and even checking on her in the end. Ianto, who comically still rolls his eyes when asked to make tea, is more than just the tea-boy. He is thoughtful, considering if Jack would go back to his own time if he could. The kiss between them is meaningful, not lascivious and as such, I felt it was appropriate for the story; it is a love story after all. Ianto loves Jack and Jack feels the same. Jack does leave me wondering though: the 1918 Torchwood is run by someone else, but Jack was alive in 1918 (“Believe me, I was there!”), so I wondered why he was not with Torchwood then. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but it was a question hanging over me. Alas Gwen draws short straw and doesn’t get the most flattering portrayal during this story. As a ghost walks towards her she just backs up until she’s pinned to a wall, rather than walking sideways to get out of the ghost’s way. Worse, when she sees Tosh with Tommy, she asks Jack if he has any more “pretty boys in the freezer”. (I feel bad for Rhys; she’s definitely marrying him out of some obligation. She clearly has her eye on any man she can be with.)
The main story focuses on Tommy and Tosh though, so I’d be remiss in ignoring that. I think it was down to the awkward kiss on the pier that really sold me. There is something very gentle between the two of them and I wanted them to have just one night together. Thankfully, they get that night and it is handled softly, capturing the nature of their relationship perfectly. Tommy is ready to go “saving the world in [his] pajamas”. (I wanted Ianto to make an Arthur Dent comment, but even without it, I knew!)
A few thoughts: Ianto considering how all those who work at Torchwood die so young felt very ominous. He says “nothing ever changes” as if everyone who works there is destined to die young. Foreshadowing, or just being brooding? On the other hand, I thought the humor was very subdued, but the best line comes from Tommy explaining why he can’t invite Tosh back to his place (which is a cryogenic freezer): there’s only room for one and it’s bloody freezing! My one real issue with the episode is the locked box from 1918 that was locked using rift energy: how exactly?? How did they have that technology to do that? From a storytelling angle, it was a mechanism to give the major reveal at the last minute. It works, but makes little sense. Thankfully, with a story this good, you are willing to turn a blind eye.
There are some genuine jump-scares, some really eerie music, and the sound design on the episode is spot on. Take that and mix it with a great story, and it’s one that ranks very highly in the top 10 list so far. In fairness, with only 26 episode to the first two seasons, maybe that’s not a stretch, but take it in the way it’s meant: it’s a compliment to writer Helen Raynor and the cast for making a damned fine episode. We need more like this! ML