Torchwood episode 40: The Gathering (8/9/2011)
‘Well, we can’t be too careful, Mam. It was only yesterday there was a raid on Oystermouth Road. They took two people away for the ovens.’ RTD is obsessed by the possibility of the West sliding into fascism. It crops up in Doctor Who: Turn Left, it’s in Children of Earth and Years and Years, and here it is again. Thanks to the economic challenges of the Miracle, people in Britain now live in a police state, and Gwen’s own dad is hidden in a secret annex like a geriatric Anne Frank until the day his luck runs out and he’s carted off for cremation. And through all of this, Amy, Rory and Mels are mucking about in cornfields like Teresa May, suggesting that Torchwood now exists in some dystopian parallel universe from its parent series.
The Gathering has some immensely powerful moments. The scene of Gwen begging the British Gestapo not to take away her father is almost unwatchably upsetting, and Eve Myles is heartbreaking as she plays Gwen’s hopeless breakdown – all the defiance gone from her. It’s supposed to be the moment when she accepts there is no choice but to fight; her Donna seeing the stars going out in Turn Left. Except I don’t think it works as well because the globetrotting conspiracy plot, which is the increasing focus of the finale, intrudes on this moment of grief. I think the episode needed either more time for this moment, or – preferably – to crack on with the race to the climax, as it’s not as if we haven’t already seen a lot of similar beats played out in the earlier episodes with Vera and Gwen’s infiltration of the camps, and Vera’s death. Something about returning to this plot smacks a little bit of grief porn: we already know the world is broken.
Instead, the rest of the episode plays out through Rex in the USA, trying to track down the location of the Blessing while Charlotte transparently tries to foil these attempts, and through Jilly earning her place in the families’ inner circle. It amuses me that even with an America style budget, Shanghai looks just like Shan Shen (an alleyway with some Chinese neon signs). Ironically, it’s these scenes that are moving the story forwards, but which play like a distraction from events in Wales. Perhaps that’s because secretly Torchwood belongs in the wet decay of the Valleys, not the broad, sunlit uplands of L.A. Whatever, Torchwood’s heart is in Swansea even while its focus shifts to the giant bum-cracks in China and Argentina.
Captain Jack will return in The Blood Line
Next Time: The Girl Who Waited