‘This is just an average day at the office for me.’ At the time, I thought this was something and nothing. Watching again, it’s like Mark Gatiss is clinging to the soul of Doctor Who at the moment when the show was at risk losing itself. For starters, what a joy for the Doctor to respond immediately to a child’s distress call – in stark contrast to recent examples of him ignoring frightened children in favour of mucking about with pirates.
‘We’ve heard about The Blessing. They found it. Whatever The Blessing is, the three families found it.’ Almost a bottle episode, enlivened by the brief presence of John de Lancie (predictably great) and the rapid exit of Nana Visitor. It’s very slow and talky, making explicit what was implied in the previous episode – that the miracle has something to do with Jack’s blood, coveted by the three families who originally obtained it in the 1920s.
‘Who’s River Song?’ On the one hand, this is more enjoyable than A Good Man Goes to War by dint of not including an immensely vexatious characterisation of the Doctor. On the other hand… With 11 years’ hindsight we can safely say the Silence story arc doesn’t make sense and didn’t go anywhere interesting, and its failure is a blot on Moffat’s copybook. Even at the time, there was an increasing sense of unease about it, that – contrary to the carefully curated Party Line that Moffat was the authorial equivalent of Virgin’s seventh Doctor, playing a long game of chess on a thousand boards – it was all being made up on the hoof.
‘They said you were the devil, but other people said you were a blessing.’ Jane Espenson’s third script this series is the first to focus on Jack’s immortality, taking the plot back to 1927 and his encounter with an illegal Italian immigrant, Angelo Colasanto. It’s a smart move, as by the end of the episode it’s not hard to guess the root cause of the Blessing – leaving the final third of the season free to tie together the various strands threaded through earlier episodes. It also gives this a hint of previous Torchwood-in-history episodes, like Captain Jack Harkness, which is generally a good thing.
‘Someone is playing the system right across planet Earth with infinite grace, beyond any one person’s sight.’ This one is about the infrastructure of evil. It isn’t just one villainous mastermind but a whole network of people “just following orders” as terrible decisions become homeopathic, diluted in bureaucracy and transport networks and requisition paperwork. This is the reality that faces Jack when he confronts PhiCorp COO Stuart Owens (it’s Winston from GhostBusters!), and Gwen, as she tries to save her father. These sequences are chillingly powerful: which of us would risk losing our jobs saying no when it makes no difference to the machinery of extermination.
‘Instead of dead or alive, there are now three categories.’ The analogies – of categorising human beings, confining the “wrong” categories to camps with massive crematoria – are pretty blatant. So too is the idea that the face of evil is banal. Maloney, camp commandant in L.A., is a pathetic, budget-conscious middle manager, over-promoted and fully aware of what he’s doing, but too dully compliant to question it.
‘I don’t want to live forever, especially like this.’ Exchanging the dark, rainswept streets of D.C. for the broad, sunlit vistas of California, and having the team bedding down in a cosy beach house rather than a grim apartment gives this episode a fresh feel heading into the middle of the series. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that it has a fresh impetus and sense of purpose as the new Torchwood team effectively works together to infiltrate a PhiCorp facility, following a smart operation to get the biometrics of the one man able to break through PhiCorp security.
‘Rex doesn’t like men in their forties acting like they’re twenty.’ The first proper indication that this was going to be a slow burn compared to Children of Earth. Luckily, it’s by Jane Espenson, who’s good enough to make something of an episode which, in itself, is a shapeless connector between the first two episodes and the rest of the series. It suffers in the same way as many later Buffy episodes: you can’t simply Friends-title it “The One With…”. After “The One With Torchwood Reuniting” and “The One With the Plane” this is… the one where everyone wanders about chatting, or hides in a derelict building and uses the video contact lenses like in Children of Earth.
‘I’m Welsh.’ Less consciously epic than the first episode, but still a step up from much earlier Torchwood. This focuses on Jack and Gwen’s eventful extradition to the USA, where released child-killer Danes is now becoming a media darling following a dramatic TV apology. Like a lot of Torchwood, there’s a studied edginess to some of this – can a paedophile be rehabilitated and transcend his crimes? But so far it’s interesting.
‘He’s the second one tonight. DOAs who just won’t die.’ Torchwood’s transfer to the US Starz network comes with a visibly increased budget (and Bill Pullman) which not only leads to better effects (the grisly aftermath of the suicide assassin) and action sequences (the helicopter battle on a Welsh beach), but an international flavour and a greatly increased sense of scale. Amusingly, given Doctor Who’s own experience of becoming a US co-production, it also begins with a character being rushed into ER and miraculously surviving death.