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Originally posted October 31 2006 at 14:10 (which was Halloween) under General. 0 Comments. 1 Trackback (now closed).

Ghosts In The Machine?

Random play

After last weeks double episode opener Torchwood continued Sunday with episode three (logically enough). Once again spoilers are ahead, so if you haven’t seen it (or the previous episodes) stop reading…now!


After the excitement and introductions of last week this might be taken as the episode which settles down into Torchwood’s general modus operandi—and indeed it did have a feel of “here’s a Torchwood episode”, which might be half it’s problem. It is possibly telling that a quick glance at the script writers for each episode shows that for the first half of the series every other episode is the work of Chris Chibnall, lead writer and co-producer. The cynical might suggest that this means that the episodes in between won’t particularly be related to the story arc, or greatly telling in the overall Torchwood ethos and universe. That’s pretty much how episode 3 felt—something that had been commissioned without much reference to the overall idea, which could have been dropped in anywhere in the episode sequence. As such it almost lacks the coherency and glue to make it part of the series—it could be a short which just happens to share characters because there’s no feeling of link to what followed, or what’s coming. Arguably the only series significant point in the episode was the (somewhat silly) gun play sequence involving Gwen and Jack. If I were a betting man I’d place money that sequence wasn’t in the original script but was added at an editing review stage (“hmmm, Gwen will need to know how to shoot in episode four, this is episode three, better add the gun training in there”). I got the same feeling from the rather forced Gwen’s happy moments sequence. There was no explanation why Gwen might feel the need to take home the alien device, given that it’s effects so far hadn’t exactly been pleasant, more scaring or shocking. Nor was there any further mention of it, strange given Jack’s strong injunction against the alien artefacts leaving Torchwood in the previous two episodes. What it did do was offer the chance for the obligatory boyfriend bit and a awkward attempt to show their previous happiness (at least he’s finally started to notice and care about Gwen’s lack of attention and erratic behaviour I suppose). Again it’s a sequence which looked like it could have been added later on in the editing process.

This lack of coherency in the story arc is one of the dangers of the Torchwood style writing process. There is nothing wrong with the idea of handing out a call for scripts to writers but it must be carefully handled. It is a difficult task to mesh everything together coherently when the individual writers have no clear idea of the over all story of the series, or even where in the sequence their story will be placed. This problem is not one which Doctor Who itself was free (some of the second series episodes failed to mention Torchwood not because it was thought to be overkill but because the script writers simply hadn’t been told about it), with more than one episode feeling very self contained. This doesn’t necessarily mean the episode is poor but perhaps it requires a slightly higher standard of writing to make it work as well as the direct story arc episodes (ahh for a Steve Moffat Torchwood episode…)

Which brings me eventually to the actual Torchwood episode under discussion. Yes, I feel it suffered from the problems mentioned above and a few of its own making. Firstly the plot seemed unable to decide if it was a ghost story, time travel story or something between. It seems to take as a premise the reality of ghosts, but not ghosts per se, rather the “energy imprint” of the emotional event (this is a concept actually espoused by some in real life). Which does little to explain why the events are viewed as if the viewer were there. Have they really travelled to that point in time (which may be suggested by the surrounding environment changing, and the lack of indication of anything from CCTV footage)—in which case why do they appear to be incorporeal to those observed—or is this an illusion brought on by the amplification of the “energy”—in which case is subjective time different form real time, and what of the future half? It’s a point never explored, but then again, nothing really is. That entire energy explanation is a throw away, one episode make up an explanation, line. If energy and human (and presumably alien) emotion were in some way an energy form (even ignoring how this could then become “imprinted” at a particular location) then that has consequences. There was no hope of those consequences ever being considered though, and there seems little chance of it ever being mentioned again. It is here that the real purpose of the Torchwood vault becomes clear. It’s not just a place to put things away and keep them safe, it’s a useful black hole into which to deposit anything difficult so that we don’t have to think about it in future episodes (it could become something of a ritual; let’s put this weeks miscellaneous alien artefact away now so that it doesn’t interfere with the disconnected stories to come).

Perhaps I’m being a little hard on this episode. Pseudo-explanation babble and shoe-horned in scenes aside it had it’s moments. I thought Owen’s confrontation with Lizzy’s murder was well done (and yes, Owen is becoming a favourite character). The aged Ed Morgan was well realised if a little obvious and clichéd. Yet that tendency to the obvious began to creep in more and more towards the conclusion. Half the visions come true in a neat little reminder that you can change the future visions, but not necessarily. There’s Owen being a good guy and overcoming his desire to kill Ed, only for Gwen to be a victim of sorts again, this time of her envisioned destiny. It was all a bit over played and a bit by numbers, which is a shame because getting there really wasn’t that bad. The final scene between Jack and Gwen really was too much though; the sort of homely and take home message tacked on by a Hollywood studio rather than the gritty adult drama we were promised

In all then an episode that while enjoyable to watch isn’t going to go down as a classic, and won’t be making the best episodes lists—the forgettable fluff of series padding. Had it come later in the series it might have been more acceptable actually, but as a third episode, the first to stand alone, they probably should and could have found something better. Next week will be interesting to see still—back on to a more connected island it would seem.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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