With a single episode Torchwood has sparked a resurgence, albeit one that may well have come too late for the casual viewer. After five weeks of lethargically plotted, unyieldingly slow story, we’re finally rewarded with three ongoing plot threads that are equally relevant and interesting. It’s hard to believe that this is the same series.
Whilst Rhys and Gwen try to break her father out of the Welsh concentration camp, Jack does some investigative work into PhiCorp and Rex and Esther set out to reveal the truth about the death of Dr Juarez.
Rex and Esther are both given a chance to shine here and, after five weeks in which neither have shown much in the way of engaging characterisation (Esther in particular having suffered from a bad case of the ‘Nobody Cares-ies’) it’s certainly refreshing to see them both engaging in some plot advancing escapades. Their story also benefits from a series of scenes which successfully build the tension as Rex digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble.
Maloney’s slow meltdown is subtly done, but by the time he pulled the pen from his pocket I doubt anyone was surprised that he would choose to stab a main character through the heart with it. Compared to the casual evil of Danes, his bureaucratic shambles seems very human. Torchwood is just beginning to make some of these reactions convincing, and it’s in the scenes where he begins to recongise how out of control the situation is, along with Gwen’s conversation with the unsympathetic Doctor Patel, that we see how badly things have gone wrong.
Whilst Children of Earth was happy to make the Government unwilling participants in the sale of children to space junkies, it stopped far short of making the whole of society culpable. Miracle Day seems to be descending further and further into the ‘Everyone’s a Bastard’ philosophy it pushes.* From doctors to corporate executives to the White House, everyone is happy to jump on board the consensus that dead people gotta go.
Even the absence of Poison Ivy and Evil Bill Pullman went unnoticed, something which could never have held true for earlier episodes.
Whilst Gwen, Rex and Esther all have a chance to investigate within the concentration camps, Jack uses magic to break into PhiCorp’s internal emails, identify Ernie Hudson and blackmail him and his assistant. What’s great here is that Jack actually advances the plot in a sensible and intelligent way, rather than by, say, breaking into a hotel to shout at a bad guy, get beaten up and thrown out with no evidence at all.
Hudson’s status as an amiable enemy also gives us some more information about the real Big Bad, and the fact that there is something more horrible than the concentration camps out there. The suicide of Agent Shanghai is great, more for what it leaves us wondering than what it tells us, but it raises hopes that we may still see a more diabolical plan than just re-enacting the Final Solution.
Finally, we get multiple bits of action as Esther goes toe to toe with Maloney twice, Rhys drives a truck and Gwen blows up a furnace. It’s great that we’re finally seeing, if not answers, then some movement towards them.
Of course, that twist suggests that we may have another episode in which some more off-plot stuff happens, which suggests that next week will be disappointing. I’m hoping that I’m mistaken but nothing screams irrelevant and over-in-one-episode like infighting.
Still, at least for one episode, Torchwood was worth watching.
*Arguably the true delineating point between Doctor Who and Torchwood is that humans are generally good with some bad apples in the former, and always likely to turn evil and start killing people in the latter. This would apparently be one of those moments when the Doctor turns his face away in shame, as the outcry you would expect at the realisation that millions of people are being murdered by the government is apparently limited to a tiny minority. In a world where a child-killing paedophile can become a near universally loved motivational speaker overnight, everything really is possible.