Seven episodes in Torchwood has suddenly gone “classic”, with a flashback episode reminiscent of Small Worlds or Fragments from Jane Epsenson, but it is (at least for the first 40 minutes) very, very good. It’s another crazy tonal shift, too, for a series which began with a global epic conspiracy saga with myriad new plot strands to focus down on what is essential a Harkness solo set in an almost comic book evocation of the prohibition era.
While “classic” Torchwood (the first two series) was never really to my taste, there were a few good stories told (in the second series especially) and plenty of potential that was never quite realised in the flashbacks to Jack’s life from 1879 through to the present day. Although what we are seeing in this episode is clearly designed to lay the foundations for the endgame, it’s a stand-alone story in its own right; there’s even a Torchwood mission which is, for once, conducted successfully. (Quite who would want to manipulate Earth’s history in this way is frustrating unlikely to be revealed, but we’ll overlook that since we actually get our first sight of something alien…) It consolidates this series’ position as being not so much pure Children of Earth as a hybrid with its predecessor series, and if I’m not entirely enthusiastic about that in general, this episode shows that where it’s veering closer to the earlier versions in style it is still thankfully heading in the opposite direction in terms of quality.
The other major strand in this episode is the Jack/Gwen two-hander scenes in the car, which crackle with tension. At the end of last week I was fearful there would be a meal made of Gwen’s dilemma: but Espenson has her zap Jack unconscious within the first five minutes; instead we get a powerfully honest interchange that has all the more resonance when you think how far Gwen has come since those early days of trying to shoot straight in The Hub range with Jack’s hand on her arse.
It was certainly fortunate that I was watching this one alone and that no-one witnessed my “Jack mentioned The Doctor” dance. It’s also a pleasure to see Jack operating alone. There’s even a hint of the lone chancer we were first introduced to in The Empty Child, albeit with a greater sense of responsibility now. For me, the only real weak point in the episode was the cop-out ending. Rex and Esther were credited with more gumption than they had hitherto indicated they possessed, and the cliff-hanger reveal (like the PhiCorp origins moment) was predictable from early in the episode. Plus any resolution that puts a firearm in the hands of PC Andy counts as pushing it, in my book. Despite that, this is the kind of new direction the series has been needed to sustain its 10 episode arc, and it’s a delight that Torchwood has not lost the power to surprise.
NB. I couldn’t work out which 10 seconds would get cut in last week’s episode. It would have surprised me less had this one been edited!