Once again, I am amazed at how solid Chris Chibnall’s writing can be when he does human drama. It seems when he tries to add science fiction to the mix, he gets it a bit wrong but when left to stories about people, he does a good job. Such is the case with Fragments. Fragments is exactly what you’d think: pieces of the lives of Team Torchwood. And why not? We’ve only had 24 episodes to get to know the team. Wait, isn’t that enough? This can only mean one thing… death is looming for one of them!
The idea hit me right away. Why give us backstory to the level of detail we’re about to see if the idea is to keep everyone alive. And within the first few minutes, the bombs go off. No way the whole team survives.
The episode is following the same format Doctor Who seems to have mastered over its first few years of regenerated life: 2-part finales. The goal: get us close to the characters so we can lose one. And maybe, in the process, give us some backstory. Thankfully, Gwen overslept and since we already know her story, it just creates a chance to get to know the rest of them (and give Rhys some idea of what dangers his wife faces daily). So to learn about…
Jack – we go back 1392 deaths earlier to see his beginnings with Torchwood. We see him working with some of the earliest Torchwood employees. They hear him talking about the Doctor; they want to know where he is (giving us a tantalizing shadow of the parent series). To add to the continuity, they say the rift in Cardiff is one-way only (which was disproved the previous episode, but that takes place far in the future, so actually helps continuity, unlike the typical hinderance we’ve come to expect.) We get the season opening fish man back which just annoyed me because it made it look like these fish faced people could have been walking around Victorian London like nobody cared! And the tarot card reading girl of mid-season also returns briefly. But the coolest part, as time goes forward, is seeing Jack working with his last crew and his former boss telling him the 21st century is when “everything’s gonna change, and we’re not ready”. Well, at least we know where his opening monologue came from.
Tosh – we go back 5 years to watch her steal blueprints to build a device for a rogue organization just to free her mother from captivity. In the process, she’s captured by UNIT and imprisoned until Jack comes along to rescue her for her technical genius. But the good Jack won’t let her speak to her mother, only send postcards… That was odd and a tiny bit out of character for a good guy!
Ianto – possibly the most fun story, 21 months earlier, he was hunting Weevils because he had worked for Torchwood London and knows all about them. Ianto wants a job with Jack and you can see the wheels turning. A little continuity goes a long way as we realize Ianto is complimenting Jack’s coat largely to get in so he can save Lisa, his Cyber-girlfriend. Ianto helps Jack catch a Pterodactyl, gets the job, and the rest is history. Oh, and we finally understand why a pterodactyl flies around the Torchwood hub! Simple, but effective continuity!
Owen – offers the bleakest of the stories as he lays under an unlikely piece of glass, waiting to be cut to death. 4 years ago, his wife to be developed a tumor on her brain but it ends up being a brain parasite that kills her. She dies a horrible death. One minute she can’t remember her fiance’s name, and the next, she’s lying dead in a hospital room. Owen punches the rapidly healing Jack who stays unhealed for the rest of the episode but eventually decides to join Jack. And in one fell swoop, we realize why he’s such a sardonic jerk sometimes.
And then it all comes together, this has been a plan by Sergeant Pepper’s biggest fan, John Hart, solely so he can have some time with Jack. And lo and behold, no one dies. I was amazed. I was amazed because the formula was broken and the idea behind the explosions was idiotic. I’m teetering on being really impressed and really annoyed! There had better be a good explanation because for an episode full of fun, the villain’s motivation was lacking. Seems that the idea was too sci-fi for Chibnall and that’s always where he fails. Maybe he can still pull a victory out of this one, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Well, I’ll give him a 50/50 chance on this one! ML