‘Woman possessed by gas knobbing fellas to death.’ This doesn’t feel like the same programme as the first episode; of the uncanny intruding into real life, and it’s disheartening that we’re already into the kind of “monster of the week” procedural that took Doctor Who a series and a half to get to. Gwen’s clearly still meant to be our Rose character, but this manifests through her being outraged or disbelieving about pretty much everything she sees (CRIMINT, photo IDs, dead bodies), and being a bit useless even at standard police work (letting a suspect run past her). No wonder most of the team seem to view her as a bit of a liability.
It’s not a washout. There’s something compelling in Gwen’s attempts to live a normal life with Rhys and keep Torchwood as ‘work’, in a way Mulder and Scully never really did. She pulls on her police skills once, to try to narrow down number of potential suspects. But this is mostly about showing her being out of her depth, which means the ending – which is her bravely volunteering to be possessed by the sex gas until Jack saves her from possession (I do wonder whether it’s meant to be an in-joke about Gwyneth volunteering to be possessed by gas in The Unquiet Dead) – doesn’t really come across as her finally establishing her place in the team, rather it makes her look like the damsel in distress who’ll need saving, ironically more like an old-school Doctor Who companion than anyone in the RTD series.
Generally, beauty shots of the team striding about looking cool aside, this is sleazy rather than sexy. Jack comes across as a sex pest, admiring Gwen’s curves in front of the troops while Gwen just rolls her eyes. Jack, Owen and Tosh perving over Gwen kissing Carys in the cells is particularly nasty, because all three of them are more titillated than concerned. Spearhead from Space with sex gas instead of Nestenes, with a woman basically turned into an alien rapist’s strap-on to extract orgasm energy, is meant to boldly put distance between this and the parent show but is just very grim. And sadly, as this aired immediately after Everything Changes, viewers were left with this as their impression of the show.
As Chris Chibnall’s Day One in the worlds of Doctor Who, this is not promising. We could look for links to his later work, like the mysterious past lives of Captain Jack, and the strange bubbling hand he seems to value more than human lives, or Gwen being secretly attracted to the man of mystery, but that’s probably reaching for connections that aren’t really there. Everyone has an off day.
Next Time: Ghost Machine