Torchwood episode 21: A Day in the Death (27/2/2008)
‘You’re a very violent doctor, I’ve been watching you.’ What Torchwood can do, more so than either Doctor Who or The Sarah Jane Adventures, is small, personal stories. It usually prefers to file off the serial numbers of US TV shows, but when it’s on form, as it is here, it can forge a distinct identity, not focused on world-ending threats or monsters out of myth, but something darker and richer.
In one respect this forms the end of a loose Owen death-and-resurrection trilogy. In reality, the story is pretty much all here, as Owen goes from mad to not too bad as he learns to cope with his new condition. His dissociation from the rest of the team and his inability to feel anything are essentially the hallmarks of his character since Day One. It’s not like he has to be undead to cruelly reject Tosh, or to put himself in danger just for the kick of it. And, for all the bravado, he’s always been the most fragile member of the team. The difference now is that the coldness and fragility are literal as well as metaphorical.
Beautifully, Owen’s transformation in the episode isn’t thanks to some act of heroism, like defeating Death, but facing the end with an old man (a beautiful cameo from Richard Briers) who’s clung to life for too long and being reminded that, for all the crap they must deal with, there is still love and hope in the universe. The alien artefact Henry Parker clings to isn’t a weapon or a dangerous life-extending device like the resurrection gloves, it’s a message from another civilisation.
If this all sounds mawkishly Star Trek, it’s less so when wrapped in another story – of Owen joining a suicidal young woman, widowed on her wedding day, planning to leap from one of Cardiff’s irresponsibly accessible roofs. So, Owen pays it forward, giving Maggie the same hope Parker’s artefact gave him. The result is one of the strongest Torchwood episodes.
In between all this great character work, Martha Jones draws the short straw again. At least Joseph Lidster gives Agyeman a good scene as she checks over Owen’s non-vital signs, but she doesn’t really have any part to play in the story and toddles off back to UNIT having mostly drifted about in the background for two out of three episodes. It’s not the fault of this script, but they really ought to have given her something more.
Next Time: Something Borrowed