I’ve been debating whether to commit to writing about Torchwood, the series. It’s too bloody brilliant not to, and I love writing about it. So this is my first proper post. I’ll recap a bit on what I wrote here and roll it all into one post. I hereby recant my previous reservations about the damn Yankees messing with one of my favourite science fiction shows.
The simple idea driving the story arc has huge implications. If nobody dies then world population will increase to unsustainable numbers, with many people unable to look after themselves (because they should be dead). Four months, according to one of the characters, and it’s the end of the world. But still nobody will die. As apocalyptic scenarios go, it’s a doozy.
The opening scene in part 1, with pedophile rapist murderer Oswald Danes on the execution gurney, catapaults you right into the action, and it doesn’t let up. Gwen, whose indomitable Welshness is going to be the standard bearer for everything I loved about the previous series, is living with her husband, Rhys, and baby, in a rural idyll on the Welsh coast. But it doesn’t last, as the CIA are first alerted by the appearance of the word “Torchwood,” on their information systems, then by its abrupt disappearance from all electronic records.
The principal agent of their discovery, in both senses of the word, is the thoroughly irritating CIA operative, Rex Matheson. His suspicion about a link between Miracle Day and Torchwood, sharpened by the fact that he also should be dead, drives him to engineer Gwen’s extraordinary rendition to the US. He’s helped by Esther Drummond, a CIA colleague at Langley, Virginia.
Meanwhile, Cap’n Jack shows up at the cottage to rescue them all from a black ops helicopter that’s trying to kill everyone associated with Torchwood. If there was any doubt that Gwen has been secretly yearning for her old life, it’s blown away in the scene where she brings down the chopper with a rocket. “Who the hell are you people?” asks Rex. “Torchwood,” replies Gwen, and there’s a look in her eyes that says she really enjoyed that.
You know Russell T. Davies is great scriptwriter from the way he gets all right thinking British people really pissed off at the rendition, with Gwen the main channel for their ire. At one point on the flight to America, she calls Rex “a stupid, tiny, bloody little man.” Mind you, this is after he has compounded the grievance by leaving Rhys and the baby in the UK. Not good for Rhys, either, because she and Cap’n Jack are now in it together, and even Rex thinks they argue like a married couple.
There have been other changes. Another CIA agent, the steely-eyed Lynn, is assigned to the flight, thus annoying Rex who wants all the glory himself. But he needn’t worry. Lynn has been planted by her boss to keep an eye on things. And, joy of joys, it’s none other than Newman, the nemesis of Jerry in Seinfeld. He does have a name, but I can’t think of him as anybody other than Newman.
And when Cap’n Jack starts telling Rex about the theory of morphic resonance as it applies to Miracle Day, Lynn pricks up her ears and texts Newman. Who consults his unseen superiors, and texts back “Remove.” So Lynn poisons Cap’n Jack with arsenic, which is unfortunate because he’s the only person in the world who can die. She’s found out, and the antidote involves ransacking the plane for industrial cleaning agents and ripping up the cabin floor to find the orange tube that carries degreaser.
It’s a terrific scene that puts Gwen in charge, barking orders like a regimental sergeant-major, and bringing everybody in to help, including the cabin crew (with obligatory gay steward) and Rex’s doctor friend, Vera, in Washington. All the wit, repartee, self-reference, and quirkiness I’ve come to expect from the series. “Be careful with his coat,” she says, preparing to inject the vile concoction. This coat being the iconic WWII Air Force greatcoat he’s never seen without. You have to wonder what will happen when it wears out, unless the coat is as immortal as the man.
In another lovely moment, Lynn manages to free herself from the handcuffs, but makes the mistake of sneering at Gwen’s supposed Englishness. “I’m Welsh,” she says, and decks the woman with one punch.
The agents at the airport secretly slip Lynn the key to her cuffs, and the prisoners are escorted through the terminal. Until Rex gets a call from Esther, who has escaped from CIA headquarters after realizing that the CIA is out to get her and Rex. In the ensuing fight, Rex breaks Lynn’s neck, but of course nobody dies so there is a farcical element as she tries to block their getaway car with her head on backwards. Think Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her.
The getaway is as brilliant as the scene in the plane. Esther has stolen her friend’s blue Mini in order to make her escape. When she meets them outside the terminal, Gwen is incredulous: “What sort of a getaway car is this? I thought you Americans drove these big SUVs. This is rubbish!” I’m coming to think of these lovely bits of dialogue as Gwenisms, much as I treasured Sipowiczisms when I watched NYPD Blue.
Nor is she the only Torchwood ingrate. Jack also is not impressed with the ad hoc nature of their getaway. “Rex,” he says, “You’ve got to work on these escape plans.”
All round this central plot strand, there are subplots. Vera Juarez, Rex’s doctor friend, who shows up at the airport to bring him painkillers, is shaping up as the one who will lead the medical fight against the consequences of Miracle Day. Which have become more dire if that were possible. The should-be-dead are still aging, leading to the prospect of a life of eternal pain and misery. Another intriguing character is Jilly Kitzinger, an amoral PR agent, who is trying to get Oswald Danes and Vera Juarez as clients.
Oswald Danes is fast becoming one of the most interesting characters. Freed by a legal ruling – after all, sentence was carried out – he breaks down in tears in a television interview and says, “I’m sorry,” when confronted by a picture of his 12 year old victim. Is he sincere? Could it be that immortality brings greater horror at the thought of mortality? Danes is the moral darkness at the heart of the plot.
Must-see television at its best.