BBC3/BBCHD - 13th February 2008 - 10.00pm
And riding over the hill, like the much needed cavalry, is Martha Jones! Freema Agyeman, bless you.
She walks in and dominates the episode, practically stealing it from the rest of the cast. And she's given very good, logical character progression for Martha. We get a super-confident, intelligent woman at the top of her game and if the idea was to show up how the rest of Team Torchwood spend an awful amount of time staring at their navels and wringing their hands then this paid off very well indeed. Martha simply raised the game.
I was probably expecting a lot more from J.C Wilsher's script, as Wilsher's 'Between The Lines' is so well written, but this was solid story telling, tightly plotted, with a fun riff on things Bondian (the contact lens cameras), an homage to 'Alien' (the bursting stomach) and by extension to 'The Ark In Space' and full of witty and natural dialogue and characterisation. You see, this is how it should work, and this felt like the same show but raised to a level it should be attaining each week. Blimey, Team Torchwood even looked like they knew what they were doing here and they were actually enjoying themselves for once!
Some lovely, witty scenes are littered throughout a fairly average story. Martha's interaction with each of the team, the mentions of Christopher Isherwood, the red UNIT cap gags ("So, Jack asked me if I could get you a UNIT cap to wear..." - "Did he? Well, red is my color"), subtle mentions of the parent series ("Lets say we were under the same doctor" and a dig at Saxon "I had a bad experience with a politician recently, I tend not to listen to them") and Ianto's sex life with Jack ("Innovative. Bordering on the avant-garde") are all flowing from that appearance of a familar face and its connection to 'Doctor Who'. There seemed to be a real sense of joy.
That said, a couple of niggles to observe. The rather obvious 'show a gun in the first act and you'll end up using it in the final act' cliche was really unnecessary. You knew as soon as Martha picked up the alien device and Owen told her he hadn't worked out how it worked that it would eventually get them out of a predicament. And later, in the hospital where the female victim dies and releases the parasites, the lack of intervention by two fully qualified doctors, in the same room, to save a woman going into arrest was just very poor. The denoument was also too similar to 'Meat' and it seems 'Torchwood' has now cornered the market in mercy killing of exploited aliens. Oh, and director Ashley Way should ditch those awful animated dissolves he's used here to bridge scenes. His direction is good enough not to require these comic book flourishes.
And the other guest star, Alan Dale, acquitted himself well as the nasty Professor Copley and his exploitation of not only the alien creatures but also of the human test subjects and the morality of clinical trials is a subject straight out of the headlines. Copley got his deserved comeuppance unlike many of the money grabbing pharmaceutical companies you could point to.
The conclusion, and look away now if you haven't seen this one....where Owen is shot dead, apparently, was certainly a twist I wasn't expecting. But, there's a big clue with next week's episode title - 'Dead Man Walking' and I have a feeling he'll be resurrected in some fashion. I wonder if he'll remember that he did in fact promise Tosh a date. Poor old Tosh. Fancy having your date get shot and then resurrected! But the interplay between both characters was worth it.
So, Martha's three episode run with 'Torchwood' begins by lifting the series out of an uneven run and I would certainly suggest that Wilsher be allowed further involvement in the series as the characterisation in this script alone shows an immediate understanding of the strengths of the format. I'm actually looking forward to the next episode...
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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- Thierry Attard's Double Feature
- from the north...
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