‘There’s something you can do, otherwise what’s the fucking point of you!’ Chibnall’s first series finale gives a few hints of his approach to Doctor Who: a mysterious and knowing villain from earlier in the season pops up to dispense revelations while chaos unfolds around the still point of the lead, plus cameo returns of incidental characters drop cryptic hints – here, a de-CyberWomanned Lisa, Owen’s Out of Time lover Diane, and PC Andy. Then there’s a big, impressive monster, an important death and a heroic sacrifice. The whole thing looks like a series finale is meant to look, without necessarily understanding how one works.
The core concept is good: Bilis manipulating the Torchwood team into opening the Rift by playing on their doubts about Jack (even greater after last episode’s reveal that even his name is stolen) and the chance to reset time. Jack’s antagonistic attitude to his team does smell slightly of making him act more unlikeable and high-handed than usual to justify their group betrayal. But then it turns out this was all part of Bilis’ master plan to unleash Abbadon, the the ‘Son of the great Beast’ (presumably the creature from The Satan Pit), to feed on the life of all humankind. It’s a bit of a surprise. But then, Jack instantly knows how to defeat it, and within a couple of minutes has destroyed it by overloading it with life power in much the same way as Tooth and Claw’s werewolf was drowned in moonlight. Then Jack dies, but he comes back in a very Jesus-like manner to kiss his disciples then ascend to heaven (via an offscreen TARDIS).
It feels more like a finale of Buffy even than Doomsday, with the Rift standing in for the Hellmouth, disgorging exactly the kind of CGI demon Buffy might do, and then relying on Buffy sacrificing herself to save her friends and the world, even when they’ve turned against her. The main issue is that the plot is “and then this happens, and then this happens” rather than flowing naturally. There’s no real foreshadowing of how or why Bilis got his power to walk through time (presumably from Abbadon), and no real build up to Abbadon’s big entrance. Buffy would have made this final sequence seem more desperate and dynamic than Gwen giving Jack a lift to some waste ground. The shape is right but look for nuance or compelling detail and it’s oddly featureless. Similarly, Rhys’s death should have been a terrible, horrifying moment, but despite Eve Myles acting her heart out it comes across as what it is: the kind of thing that is expected to happen in a series finale.
And that’s my overall sense of this episode: it’s what a bot tasked with writing a sci-fi finale might come up with, rather than anything that really lands the emotion and character. For all its flaws, the first series of Torchwood hasn’t been short of vivid, occasionally brilliant, sometimes silly, but typically brassy moments, so it’s weird to end it with something so bland.
Torchwood will return in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Next Time: Smith and Jones