‘What is this, Scooby Doo?’ I haven’t watched this since broadcast and remembered it as being fairly risible. I was wrong: it’s very funny, angry and real. The scenes of Rhys in the Hub are particularly effective, as he braves Gwen’s wrath to offer Torchwood a route into busting open the illegal meat factory. But there are loads of great moments: Rhys observing Torchwood arriving on the scene of his lorry crash; Rhys confronting Gwen, which is written and played as a real couple’s row; Tosh’s increasingly unsubtle attempts to seduce Owen.
At the heart of it all is Gwen and Rhys’ relationship, which so far this series has largely been noises off. I particularly like that this advances the ongoing story: rather than ret-conning Rhys again and reverting to the status quo the episode ends with him, memories intact, contemplating a different future than the one he envisaged at the start. The casualty is Jack, who’s – without coming out and saying it – accepts that he’s not the most important man in Gwen’s life. This does mean a few moments of firing range style “sexual tension”, which essentially involves Jack looking intently at Gwen, and a very contrived sequence of them walking arm in arm through Cardiff, but it’s all in the service of putting this particularly unlikely coupling to bed.
Memories of risibility are probably due to the space manatee, which isn’t the greatest special effect, but isn’t as daft as I remembered. My main gripe is that Owen mercy kills it, which turns this into another defeat when the team is in desperate need of a win. Too many downbeat endings risks diminishing returns, and after the climactic deaths of Nikki and Tommy it wouldn’t have hurt to see a recovered manatee plunging into Cardiff Bay. Instead, we’re left with another bitter aftertaste and a sense that Torchwood Three, like a Saward Doctor Who, can only ever achieve Pyrrhic victories.
Next Time: Adam