‘Your life will be like a thread stitching time back together.’ A year after Doctor Who did its own First World War sacrifice story, Torchwood presents its own version, with Tommy Brockless plucked from 1918 by Torchwood, defrosted once a year for a check-up until the time comes when he’ll need to be sent back to meet his destiny, saving the future, and his reward, death in front of a firing squad. The complication: Tommy has found a reason to live in Tosh, and so heroic sacrifice holds very little appeal.
‘I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse.’ A routine episode that’s sharper than the first series, largely built around Nikki Amuka-Bird’s sympathetic central performance as the sleeper agent. Thematically, it begins where Doctor Who: Utopia ended: with a human revealed to be an alien monster in hiding (perhaps his experiences at the end of the universe have given Jack an extra-ruthless intensity when it comes to exposing the sleeper). From there, it goes down a different route, with Beth’s humanity not erased by the alien inside, but constantly struggling to reassert itself until the predictably tragic conclusion.
‘Bloody Torchwood.’ The pre-titles sequence signals a shift from Series One, with the team (sans Jack) functioning as a unit to hunt town an alien Blowfish, only to predictably mess it up until Jack arrives – freshly back from the Year That Never Was – to save their skins. It’s funny, fast and fresh, with a sort of swagger that wasn’t entirely earned during the previous series. Then, post titles, Jack has to deal with the fall-out of abandoning his dysfunctional kids – which turns out, they’ve grown closer in his absence and now treat him like an absentee dad trying to worm his way back into their lives.
‘It’s as if he’s mesmerized the entire world.’ The challenge for RTD after Series One was to up the ante every year, making each finale even more elaborate and expansive. After you’ve had millions of Daleks and Cybermen battling each other across the world, how do you top it? RTD’s answer is to have the Doctor arrive back in 21st Century Britain at the precise moment when the Master has already won, and then to play out the idea of the Doctor having to defeat a global threat with no support structure. Which sounds like it should be par for the course – but normally wherever the Doctor arrives he’s able to find allies, and particularly in the new series’ present day episodes where he’s got psychic paper, his UNIT pass and friends, like Harriet Jones, in high places.
‘‘Not even the Time Lords came this far.’ The first new series three-parter (the proof of the pudding is the placement of the Next Time trailer at the end of the credits, per other multi-part story cliffhangers, rather than at the top) begins with an opening that, like The Seeds of Doom’s, tells an effectively terse and self-contained story that gains greater weight and horror as subsequent events unfold. Like director Graeme Harper’s masterpiece The Caves of Androzani, this is a “spiralling descent” which begins relatively innocuously with the standard Cardiff joke (Martha is horrified to have landed there), and then builds inexorably towards an astonishing, relentless final act which stands even above Earthshock or Army of Ghosts as the greatest returning baddie moment ever. In the process, RTD looks at Moffat’s hidden-in-plain-sight solutions and laughs at them, as he wraps Gridlock and Human Nature into a pay-off that, at the time, was jaw-dropping.
‘There’s something you can do, otherwise what’s the fucking point of you!’ Chibnall’s first series finale gives a few hints of his approach to Doctor Who: a mysterious and knowing villain from earlier in the season pops up to dispense revelations while chaos unfolds around the still point of the lead, plus cameo returns of incidental characters drop cryptic hints – here, a de-CyberWomanned Lisa, Owen’s Out of Time lover Diane, and PC Andy. Then there’s a big, impressive monster, an important death and a heroic sacrifice. The whole thing looks like a series finale is meant to look, without necessarily understanding how one works.
‘That Rift took my lover and my captain. So, if I die trying to beat it, then it will all be in the line of duty.’ The best episode to date focuses on the ideas of duty trumping desire, wrapping it in a love story that’s more romantic than the last several because it doesn’t revolve around sex. It’s also a sequel to what was – at the time – the most beloved episode of new Doctor Who, and finally begins to work out a way to make Jack work outside the parent show.
‘I was getting bored of your fuck-tricks anyway.’ The show woozily refocuses its attention on some of the relationships it’s left simmering in the background (or, less charitably, forgotten about) for the past few episodes, as Gwen’s relationships with both Owen and Rhys suddenly come under pressure. Rhys feels unloved, Owen is smarting from his fling with Diane – which clearly meant more to him than his affair with Gwen. By the end of the episode both have reached a turning point: Gwen’s confessed her sins to Rhys only to retcon his memory of the conversation, and she’s broken up with Owen, who’s personifying the idea articulated by slimy estate agent Mark Lynch (The Boys’ Alex Hassell): ‘what we become when all we have left is our rage.’
‘There’s no puzzle to solve, no enemy to fight. Just three lost people who have somehow become our responsibility.’ Essentially the Star Trek TNG episode The Neutral Zone reimagined with three people brought from the past to their future and trying to make sense of their place in this strange new world. The implications are sensible, the story has some touching moments, but it has the slight whiff of American syndication television.
‘I don’t think I can bend the rules, just cos he’s dead.’ Narrated by a geeky young man, this plays in the same space as Doctor Who: Love & Monsters, to which it inevitably looks like the poor relation. However, the intent is slightly different. While Love & Monsters was about Doctor Who fandom and not losing sight of your childhood dreams in the grind of adult life, Random Shoes is about not wasting your life waiting for something to happen. It occasionally drifts into mawkishness, but not egregiously so. The result is the most touching episode of the show to date.