‘Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.’ Victory at a terrible cost, so business as usual for Torchwood. It works better than some Doctor Who finales by virtue of being quite so bleak, even if there are strong Turn Left overtones to it (the UK collapsing into martial law as people are rounded up and bussed away). Clearly the murder of Jack’s grandson for the sake of all the millions of children being harvested by the 456 is more extreme than Donna choosing to sacrifice her own life to save the “proper” timeline, but in the end it all boils down to the same thing.
Which sounds dismissive: I think the ending works and has a real dramatic irony to it as Jack is punished for the choices he made 45 years earlier. It’s brilliantly acted by everyone concerned, and aside from a very slight bit of handwaving about ‘establishing the resonance’ stacks up with how the 456 have operated all along. But the real pleasure in this episode are some of the incidental moments, like Bridget eulogising Frobisher and turning the tables on the Prime Minister – a neat pay-off to the hints in earlier episodes, or Agent Johnson realising that “just following orders” is no longer an option.
Andy, similarly, gets his moment of impotent revolution as he throws off his uniform and joins rioting parents against the army. Frobisher’s fate, forced to do a John Gummer with his own daughters, is particularly cruel but perhaps a fair comeuppance for his failure to engage Torchwood sooner. Had he not killed them (and himself), his family might have lived, but then Bridget wouldn’t have had a motive for her later actions. Everything is connected.
This is easily the strongest series of Torchwood, fully leaning into being an adult spin off of Doctor Who, riffing on ideas the parent show had to handle very differently. Finally, Jack’s mysterious past plays an essential role in the plot, the deaths have weight, the domestic elements Torchwood has always included become the whole thrust of the story. There’s a whole other series to come, but with Ianto, Owen and Tosh dead, Jack gone and Gwen about to become a mother this could easily have stood as the end of the show, the story of an organisation that failed, but went out fighting.
Captain Jack will return in The New World
Next Time: Prisoner of the Judoon