‘That Rift took my lover and my captain. So, if I die trying to beat it, then it will all be in the line of duty.’ The best episode to date focuses on the ideas of duty trumping desire, wrapping it in a love story that’s more romantic than the last several because it doesn’t revolve around sex. It’s also a sequel to what was – at the time – the most beloved episode of new Doctor Who, and finally begins to work out a way to make Jack work outside the parent show.
I imagine there must have been people who came to Torchwood having not really paid much attention to the parent series, and perhaps for them the mystery of Jack Harkness has been a tantalising one all year. For the majority who’d seen his extermination by the Daleks and resurrection by the Bad Wolf, it’s been odd watching the rest of the Torchwood team talking in hushed tones about a mystery most viewers already knew the answer to. And even that’s rendered more interesting by showing us what Jack feels about it: ‘Someone saved my life. Brought me back from death. And ever since then, it’s been like they’re keeping me for something, and I don’t know what it is.’ Captain Jack Harkness refocuses slightly, beyond Jack’s role as an ex-Doctor Who companion to his past in the Time Agency.
References to signing up, and his best friend’s death by torture, reopen the mystery of his first appearance in The Empty Child, and the episode reaffirms that his con in that episode was the origin of the Captain Jack persona. The real man is reimagined as a blank slate: a time traveller with an alias, just like the Doctor. It’s interesting that his apology to Tosh for involving her in the horrors of history, ‘I’m sorry for dragging you into this’, almost echoes the Doctor’s apology to Barbara in the Cave of Skulls, ‘It’s all my fault. I’m desperately sorry.’
It’s largely a great episode. Tosh is useful and brave in the face of (understandable) 1940s anti-Japanese prejudice; Owen might be a desperate man with a death wish, but he’s still revealed as the most stubbornly principled member of the team, even if he’s had enough of Jack’s precious secrets: ‘It’s our duty to get [Jack and Tosh] out’. Bilis Manger is a memorably sinister adversary, flitting through time like a malevolent ghost. References to Doctor Who are neatly seeded through, both in the visual and thematic nods to The Empty Child (including a comeback for the “dancing” euphemism), and Vote Saxon posters plastered on the derelict dance hall. Only the Rift manipulator is disappointing, and it’s hardly the focus of this story.
Next Time: End of Days