TORCHWOOD SERIES 2 - 'DEAD MAN WALKING'


BBC3/BBCHD - 20th February 2008 - 10.00pm

'I've searched "I shall roam the Earth and my hunger shall know no bounds" but I keep getting redirected to Weight Watchers'.

I didn't quite know what to make of this one. It certainly isn't a particularly bad episode but it doesn't reach the heights of 'Reset' or 'To The Last Man'. I'm not a great fan of the Owen character either and so when it appeared that this would form the centre of a trilogy of sorts about him I was a bit underwhelmed.

There were a couple of annoying things about this episode. Why bring Martha back so triumphantly in 'Reset' just to under-use her in this and turn her into an old age pensioner? It just seems a criminal waste of a good character and performance to have her sidelined through this and then miraculously recover at the end. And considering that much of the episode makes pointed observations about there being 'nothing' once you've expired and that Heaven, Hell and Death are merely constructs that we have faith in, we then get a very literal representation of Death that seems to have jumped off a Tarot card. The two concepts just don't seem to work and it felt very cliched in the end. Literal representations of devils, Death and demons only work if they subvert the kitsch imagery and become something new in the process.

This also extends to the fact that 'Torchwood' is now so well known, in Cardiff hospitals it seems, that it has become the least secret organisation in the world. As a nurse or a doctor I would certainly have been asking who the hell these odd people were chasing round a hospital, then getting it evacuated and having a wrestling match with a big cloud of smoke and a skeleton in the foyer.

The first half of this episode is unsettling and strange and I like the idea of a character being brought back from the dead as a 'changed' man. When it avoided the obvious images of the Grim Reaper it came across as an interesting debate about what exactly constitutes the 'afterlife' and the scenes in the black void, with Owen possessed, were creepy, even though writer Matt Jones did pretty much the same thing in 'The Satan Pit' for 'Doctor Who'. Burn Gorman did impress me with his performance, even though I'm no fan of his character Owen, and his very human response to his apparent 'death' makes this work. My problem lies in part of Team Torchwood's raison d'etre. Aren't they dealing with aliens and alien technology? Why then start shifting the series into the realms of magic, occult and superstition? I'd have been fine if the entity that possesses Owen had turned out to be just that, an alien entity. The fact that it actually turns out to be Death and the Mill run up a CGI Grim Reaper a la 'The Frighteners' to underline it as a mythical symbol just reduced this, in the second half, to a rather daft bit of nonsense. The wrestling between Owen and the Grim Reaper was the nadir of the story and I was tempted to shout 'Easy, Easy, Easy' as Owen went for two falls and a submission. It didn't at all support the coda of 'facing death' as symbolised by the child with leukemia.

And could someone explain just why the Weevils were behaving the way they were? I know it might have something to do with the Weevil bite that Owen received in Series 1 but the writer never really explains this. And good as it was to see the episode forge a connection with last year's series by bringing back the magic glove, it did strike me that anyone who hadn't seen those episodes would have been very confused at what was going on.

The personal journey that Owen takes is interesting and the concept of making him, in effect, a zombie adds an bold dynamic to the series but Matt Jones' script doesn't quite explain what is going on. Despite this, the character moments for Owen and Jack are the highlight here, particularly with them in the police cell in which the discussion about mortality and death is appropriate to the characters and the episode.

That said, the lighting and direction were moody and effective and there was further evidence that Ben Foster is fast becoming an extraordinary composer with his great score for this. The hospital scenes with their prowling cameras and subdued lighting worked very well, as did the distorted views of Owen and the void. An episode with a strange, unfocused plot, some interesting themes about death and mortality which are then squandered by reverting to the Dennis Wheatley bumper book of fun occult cliches and some dodgy CGI but still with good character development for Owen.

Now anyone want to take bets that Owen will stop being a zombie and become a flesh and blood mortal again and have a wubbly love life with Tosh? My thinking is - either kill the annoying sod off for good or leave him as a zombie and continue the arc beyond next week's episode.

Previous episode reviews:

Reset
Adam
Meat
To The Last Man
Sleeper
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

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