Torchwood Series 2 (Mar 1 - Mar 13)

March 1: "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang"
March 2: "Sleeper"
March 3: "To the Last Man"
March 4: "Meat"
March 5: "Adam"
March 6: "Reset"
March 7: "Dead Man Walking"
March 8: "A Day in the Death"
March 9: "Something Borrowed"
March 10: "From Out of the Rain"
March 11: "Adrift"
March 12: "Fragments"
March 13: "Exit Wounds"

March 1: "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" tempting to say that Torchwood series 2 starts with a bang...

But it does, both literally (Jack announces his return from Doctor Who by shooting an alien in the head) and figuratively, as this is an episode that's surprisingly energetic and fun, without all the baggage that series 1 had accumulated.  It's as if Chris Chibnall and the other showrunners looked at all the feedback and made changes accordingly.  It's a welcome move.

One does wonder a bit what people who watched Torchwood and not Doctor Who made of the Captain Jack stuff (admittedly likely to be a very small percentage of the viewing public; that said, I know at least two people who have done just that), as "End of Days" left on something of a cliffhanger, and then this picks up after Jack returns, and the episode refuses to do more than just hint at where he's been (references about how Jack "found my Doctor", and that he'd seen the end of the world, and that's about it -- so hope you saw "Utopia" / "The Sound of Drums" / "Last of the Time Lords").

But what's great about "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is that, by moving events along in Jack's absence, they've been able to get rid of some of the unwanted problems they had.  So Gwen is engaged to Rhys, Owen doesn't seem like a tosser anymore, and Tosh seems more like a proper member of the team than she had been.  Even Ianto gets some personality, avoiding Jack's advances (sort of) and rescuing the rest of the team.  This means that when Jack's old partner Captain John Hart192 shows up, the Torchwood Three team seems to be a much more coherent unit than they had been.

Captain John Hart returns Jack's Vortex Manipulator. ("Kiss
Kiss, Bang Bang") ©BBC
Let's be honest, though; this episode is successful in large part because James Marsters (as John Hart) is so watchable.  He's unpredictable and funny, with a devil-may-care attitude that makes him more like the rogue that Jack was in series 1 of Doctor Who -- albeit a psychopathic rogue (lest you be in any doubt after he throws a man off a building, he mentions to Jack that he was in "murder rehab").  He seems like he might be a good guy and he might not, but the best part is that he keeps you guessing -- and even when he's working against the team it's still fascinating to watch him in action.  Hart also works because of all the hints he drops about Jack's past.  It's neat to finally see another Time Agent -- even if this one is also a rogue -- and the stuff he mentions about Jack's past is intriguing.  Much of it is stuff Doctor Who viewers would know (like Jack being a Time Agent in the first place), and some of it isn't -- such as Hart's parting shot to Jack that he "found Gray", which clearly means something to Jack even if he tries to hide it.  Really, the only real problem with Hart is that, as someone who's meant to be like Jack but completely amoral, it's hard not to think of John Simm's Master -- but that's because both characters are fulfilling the same basic plot function: apparently the Doctor and Captain Jack are more alike than you might initially think.

It's energetic, it's fun, and it's even got sex and violence that doesn't feel tawdry.  It also manages not to be breathtakingly stupid; the worst offender in this category is probably the "mixed blood injected into Hart will confuse the DNA bomb", which is all right in theory but not with the small dose Hart gets -- and that's nowhere near "Evolution of the Daleks" levels of DNA stupidity.  And, happily, Hart is still alive at the end and able to return for a sequel; he's easily the best character Torchwood has come up with yet, and he deserves a repeat engagement or two.  If the rest of series 2 is like this episode, Torchwood is in surprisingly good shape.

March 2: "Sleeper"

This episode is an odd beast.  At the basic level, it's about the discovery of an alien sleeper cell, and what happens when the cell activates.  This is the level that the direction is operating on -- Colin Teague chooses to shoot a lot of this in a faux-documentary style, with lots of handheld shots and close zooms for reaction shots from our main cast.

The mind probe reveals Beth's true identity. ("Sleeper") ©BBC
But what James Moran wants to do with his script is focus on the human cost.  To that end, "Sleeper" spends a lot of its story concentrating on Beth Halloran, one of the sleeper agents whose cover is so good that she's not remotely aware she's not human, until her alien part defends itself by killing two burglars.  This leads to the revelation of Beth's real nature and the discovery of the existence of the sleeper cell.  We also get discussions on what it means to be human -- is it enough that Beth feels human and thinks she's human, if her biology makes her alien?  Can she live a normal life now, knowing that she might be activated at any time, erasing her personality as Beth?  It's something of an intriguing discussion, and the episode doesn't provide any strong answers, which is on the whole a good thing.

Incidentally, this episode is where the Ianto Jones we all know and love really starts to snap into focus: he's full of dark humor (the part where he describes what happened to the last person they used the mind probe on), he's wonderfully sarcastic ("And I thought the end of the world couldn't get any worse," he says after Owen suggests they all have sex while the world goes up in a nuclear holocaust), and he's just generally entertaining:
GWEN: Why would anyone want to kill him?
IANTO: He's also the city coordinator.  Takes charge of the city during major emergencies.  Has all the security protocols.
OWEN: How do you know that?
IANTO: I know everything.  And it says so on the screen.
But because "Sleeper" tries to have it both ways, to be both an examination of the human condition and how these events affect Beth, and a taut suspense-filled episode about an alien terrorist attack as the prelude to an invasion (well, sort of; the implication is that the aliens will let the humans destroy themselves and then come in and take over what's left), we get wide variations in tone.  While they're partially successful -- certainly enough that we can easily see what they're getting at -- it is sometimes jarring to have both approaches in the same episode.  This is perhaps most apparent when the action/suspense portion first starts; up to this point it's been a character drama about Beth, but then the cell activates (presumably because Beth went offline) and suddenly we have murders and terrorist attacks in Cardiff.  This is fine, except when that part's over they try to go back to the character drama, where Beth decides she doesn't want to live as a sleeper and commits suicide by threatening Gwen and forcing the rest of the team to shoot her.  "She wanted you to shoot her," Gwen says.  "She used her last shred of humanity to do this."  "We couldn't take that chance," Owen replies.  "She must have known that."  "She did," Jack says.  "She just wanted to make it easier for us."

So as I said, it's an odd episode -- it tries to be both a character drama and an action story, and while it does a decent job at both, the juxtaposition of the two (matched with Teague's direction, which occasionally feels inappropriate for the quiet moments) makes "Sleeper" a difficult episode to really like.  But you can't blame them for trying, and we're still far ahead of where we were for much of series 1.

March 3: "To the Last Man"

Like "Sleeper", this is an episode that attempts to put a human face on the more abstract, SF-ish issues Torchwood wants to deal with.  But because there's not an action break in the middle, "To the Last Man" is more successful in its aims than the previous episode was.

And so while the SF part deals with two time zones colliding and intermingling (er, just like "End of Days", albeit without the giant demon), "To the Last Man" chooses to focus on the human element, in the form of Private Tommy Brockless, a shellshocked soldier taken away by Torchwood and frozen, to be awoken once a year, until the hour that he's needed to go back to 1918 through the Rift and seal it up behind him.  We get some interesting exploration of the nature of warfare -- such as Tommy seeing tanks driving through Iraq and commenting, "First year they woke me up, 1919, they told me it was all over.  We won.  The war to end all wars, they said.  And then three weeks later, you had the Second World War.  After all that.  Do you never wonder if we're worth saving?" -- and some bitter recriminations of the way soldiers used to be treated.  Tommy's outburst when he learns he has to go back is rather pointed -- "I know what'll happen.  They'll send me back to the Front.  I'll be back in the trenches. ... You're no better than the generals.  Sitting safely behind the lines, sending us over the top.  Any one of you lot could go, but you're not, are you?  You're sending me. ... I've been shoved from pillar to post all my life by the Army, by Torchwood.  All this time I've had, it means nothing" -- and the discovery that he's going to be executed for "cowardice" (aka PTSD, essentially) three weeks after he returns is distressing.  (Incidentally, this is where the episode title comes from: Field Marshal Haig announced in response to the German Spring Offensive of 1918 that "Every position must be held to the last man", which meant that shell shocked soldiers would be sent back to the front.)

Toshiko convinces Tommy to use the Rift key. ("To the Last Man")
The problem, though, is that a lot of this is territory that Torchwood has already explored (most notably in "Captain Jack Harkness", although it's not the only episode), and it's not clear what "To the Last Man" can contribute to the argument.  This means that much of the burden of the episode lies squarely on Tommy's shoulders, and while Anthony Lewis does a commendable job with the material, and the relationship between Tommy and Tosh is interesting, not enough time is given to examining this element, to discuss what it's like to have a relationship that has essentially only lasted four days.  It seems like a missed opportunity; there's a lot they could have done with that scenario, but they elected not to, in favor of more familiar grounds.

And so maybe that's why "To the Last Man" ultimately feels somewhat underwhelming.  There's a really lovely human element at the heart of it, and some intriguing anti-war commentary, but the best ideas are relegated to the background, while the episode moves on to its safer (albeit depressing) conclusion.  There's a lot that you can admire about "To the Last Man", but there's not quite enough there to make it truly compelling.

March 4: "Meat"

Look how responsible a driver Rhys is, pulling over to the side of the road before answering his phone...

So, like the last two episodes, "Meat" is interested in examining the human cost of these strange alien occurrences.  It just happens to be the case that the person affected this time around is Rhys, who stumbles across Torchwood's activities when one of his lorries overturns and he spies Gwen at the scene investigating.  And frankly, it's about time that Rhys found something out about Torchwood's activities -- he's been kept in the dark so long that it's nice to finally see him learn something.  It also gives Kai Owen a chance to shine -- he's been one of the best things about Torchwood, and it's nice to finally see him take center stage in an episode.  He's particularly good in this, tailing Gwen and then getting involved in the alien goings-on, which leads to him acting undercover and even taking a bullet for Gwen.  It's also wonderful to see him so enthused about the thought of alien life out there in the universe.  It's little wonder Gwen refuses to retcon him.

The alien creature, tied down in a warehouse. ("Meat") ©BBC
But the ostensible main plotline is about an alien beast that's fallen through the Rift which is composed almost entirely of flesh -- hardly any bones in its body -- and which some unscrupulous people have decided to start harvesting while it's still alive, as the creature keeps growing.  Oh, and look, it's Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and Constantine's Matt Ryan as the leader of the criminal operation.

What's nice about this plotline is that, for once, Torchwood wants to help the alien lifeform rather than kill it or lock it up.  "We see enough death," Jack comments.  Of course it doesn't work out, and Owen is forced to euthanize the creature instead of being able to save it, but it's nice that they tried.  It's also worrying that the creature was seemingly sentient, which makes the criminals' actions even more heinous, despite their protestations that the creature is just "meat".  Jack and Owen both seem particularly affected by this.

If there's a downside to "Meat", it's that the main storyline doesn't have a larger point behind it, other than the now-standard one of "people are the real monsters".  But that doesn't really matter -- by focusing sufficiently on Rhys (but not to the point of exclusion), this is the best character-driven episode series 2 has provided yet.

March 5: "Adam"

Oh, come on!  It's not bad enough you have to name your failed companion Adam, now we're naming alien monsters Adam too?

Of course, if you're going to share a first name with a parasite, you could do worse than the one we get in this episode.  "Adam" the episode is an entertaining, intriguing tale.  I like the way shots of Adam are inserted into the opening "this is Torchwood" montage (although they missed a trick by not putting him into the closing slow-motion walking shot -- but maybe it was too difficult to do for such a quick moment).  And it's clear that there's something vaguely creepy about Adam, even before it's clear he's manipulating people's memories -- so kudos to Bryan Dick for an engaging performance.

It's a really well-constructed episode -- Catherine Tregenna does a great job of inserting Adam into Torchwood's day-to-day operations and only making it apparent that something's wrong later, as Gwen fails to remember Rhys and Ianto can't find any trace of Adam in his diary, even though he's supposedly been around for three years.  The scenes between Gwen and Rhys are surprisingly powerful -- Eve Myles does a great job of acting frightened by this stranger in her apartment, who's gone around putting up pictures of himself, while Kai Owen is lovely as the confused and hurt Rhys.  The scenes where Jack tapes Rhys remembering some of their experiences together is sweet and moving.

Adam implants unpleasant false memories in Ianto's mind.
("Adam") ©BBC
And in fact, Adam's true nature is rather clever, of a type we haven't really seen in Doctor Who or any of its spinoffs before: he's a being that exists purely based on memory, by implanting false memories that enable him to survive and thrive.  He also has the power to change people's personalities by suppressing some memories and implanting others -- so Tosh is confident and self-assured, and Owen is nerdy and meek (and we see how much of Burn Gorman's performance as Owen is just that, a performance).  It's an interesting change that adds some new dynamics to what we've been getting.  And Adam has additional powers -- not only can he implant unhappy memories (such as making Ianto believe he's a murderer), but he can insert himself in existing memories -- in particular, Jack's childhood memories, where we learn more about the "Gray" that John Hart mentioned in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang".  Adam possesses an impressive power, and it's only when things keep failing to add up that Jack becomes suspicious and works it out.

This is a clever, solid episode, with some nice elements that keep it from being similar to a lot we've gotten before.  The relationships are well-balanced, and the drama is definitely present.  It's a way to get "alternate universe" performances without having to construct an alternate universe, and the episode is stronger for that.  So I guess if you're going to share a name with an amoral alien, you certainly could do far worse than "Adam".

March 6: "Reset"

The successes keep on coming for Torchwood, as "Reset" provides another strong episode for series 2.  It's got a strong plot and strong characterizations, which make for a great combination.

Martha is readied to become the next subject in the Mayfly
clinical trial. ("Reset") ©BBC
One of the key components this time around is the introduction of Martha Jones.  It's a pleasure to see her back, even if it's without the Doctor.  This is clearly a Martha that has moved on since "Last of the Time Lords" -- she's now working for UNIT and is called in to assist Torchwood with some unusual deaths.  It's also great to see her and Jack interacting -- they're two people with a shared experience that the others can't even imagine, and the bond that therefore exists is easy to see.  This also means that she fits in with the group rather effortlessly, and we don't have to worry about a lot of tedious "but can she be trusted?" nonsense.  And Freema Agyeman continues to be great, which means any scene she's in is that much better -- particularly when she is sent undercover to infiltrate the Pharm.  (The fact that her cover name is Samantha Jones -- the same name as the eighth Doctor's first companion in the BBC books -- is probably a coincidence rather than some sort of deliberate in-joke.)

But as I said, it helps that they've provided her with a strong plot to work with.  I really like how the plot develops, from a deadly conspiracy to a pharmaceutical company that's using alien things to try and cure diseases, only the alien stuff is going wrong.  So not only does their conspiracy plotline logically expand out to cover alien issues, but it also provides a convenient way to get Martha in on the main action, as well as flirting with the issue of medical ethics.  If you could cure any disease and "reset" someone back to their "factory settings", so to speak, but you ended up killing patients because your "cure" is actually an alien parasite that will kill its host, would it be worth continuing the trials in the hope of isolating the "reset" part?  The people at the Pharm think so -- in fact, they have a number of aliens chained up and isolated so that useful chemicals can be extracted, regardless of how the aliens feel about it.  It's nice to see Jack on the side of the aliens ("Combating hostile aliens is one thing," Jack tells Dr Copley, "but this is slavery, exploitation, a war crime") -- series 2 seems to be making an effort to pull Torchwood back from the rabid xenophobic position it held in series 1 -- and it makes it a lot easier to root for them when they shut the Pharm down and essentially euthanize all the aliens inside.

This is a smart, fast-paced, strong episode -- Martha fits in well from the very start, and the assassination of clinical trial subjects leading Torchwood to enslaved aliens is very well handled.  And then, just when you think it's all done, Copley shoots Owen dead.  Not just wounded, or on the verge of dying, but actually dead.  That's a hell of a lead-in to the next episode (and the trailer is all about his autopsy and things like that, so it doesn't seem like there's any sort of fast one being pulled here).  The quality of series 2 just keeps going up.

March 7: "Dead Man Walking"

Ah well.  I guess the good fortune had to end sometime.

But the thing of it is, "Dead Man Walking" isn't even that bad.  It's just a sign of how good series 2 has been that this feels like a come down.  There's nothing terribly wrong with this episode; it just has an unfocused feel.  The best bits involve Owen and his return from the dead, sort of.  Jack retrieves the other Resurrection Glove, the mate of the one that caused so much trouble with Suzie Costello (in "Everything Changes" and "They Keep Killing Suzie", if you've forgotten), in order to bring Owen back -- except instead of for two minutes it brings him back indefinitely, albeit in more of a half state.  He can think and move and talk (and breathe, it seems, although that one probably can't be helped), but he can't eat, sleep, or use the bathroom.  (One of the more memorable moments involves Owen standing on his head to drain the beer he's drunk out of his body, while Jack looks on in horror.)

Owen fights Death. ("Dead Man Walking") ©BBC
Where the story is less interesting is when it tries to shoehorn a standard Torchwood plot into the proceedings.  So Owen ends up being possessed by the Grim Reaper, complete with black eyes and some demonic language193, and we get some stuff about Death wanting to claim 13 victims so that it can walk the Earth forever.  (This, it seems, is what Suzie was worried about, and not Abbadon as it seemed at the time.)  This part of the episode is less successful because it pulls us away from the drama with Owen and into a frankly uninteresting storyline.  They try desperately hard to make us care about this part, with a number of hospital patients dying, a withered Martha Jones, and a young boy with leukemia, but they never really get the audience to connect emotionally with this part.  Maybe if they'd followed through and had Owen sacrifice himself to stop the Reaper, to be actually gone at the end, this might have worked, but they pull that punch and so Owen merely drains Death's energy away.  Full marks for making the Grim Reaper's cloak actually a billowing cloud of smoke though.

So when "Dead Man Walking" is trying to present us with another potential "end of everything" scenario, it's a rather pedestrian affair.  Where this episode succeeds is when it deals with the effects of Owen's death and his sort-of resurrection: things there are a lot more interesting.

Huh.  Owen is one of the best things about this episode.  We really have come a long way since the beginning.

March 8: "A Day in the Death"

It's funny; when this episode began I was not at all on board with it.  It seemed like a rather generic script -- admittedly about an unusual subject, but still.  But by the end I was completely engrossed by Joseph Lidster's script, and the ending was quite lovely and charming.

The framing story -- Owen talking to a girl who's preparing to commit suicide by jumping off a building -- is done reasonably well, and Lidster does a good job of changing the audience's perceptions of why Owen is up there as the story progresses.  It's the internal storyline -- the part that Owen is ostensibly narrating -- that starts off problematically.  Jack seems to be treating Owen a lot more harshly than he was at the end of the last episode, and it's understandable that Owen ends up feeling like a useless spare part.  (And we should probably assume that there's some narrative bias at play, as this is intended to be Owen's version of events.)  The problem is that it's hard to sympathize with Owen.  Yes, he's suffered a bizarre tragedy, and he has to deal with the consequences of that, but he still acts like a brat -- being a real dick to Ianto and Tosh, and generally morose around everyone else.

Owen finds the dying Henry Parker. ("A Day in the Death")
But one suspects that's the point -- to bring Owen to his lowest point, so that during the climactic break-in sequence we see him have a bleak purpose (he seems to enjoy taunting the security guards with his state of being dead), but still a committed one.  This leads to his conversation with Henry Parker (as played by Richard Briers), where Parker reflects on his life and wonders if it was all for nothing.  And then Parker dies and Owen can't perform CPR because he can't provide any breath (er, except he can talk just fine, which also involves exhaling air...), and Owen is ready to sacrifice himself by absorbing the energy from the alien artifact that it was his goal to retrieve in the first place.  And when he realizes what the artifact is -- a reply to one of the "hello" signals mankind has sent into deep space -- he suddenly finds that there's still wonder in the world he can experience.

It sounds somewhat clichéd, but it works for two reasons -- the first is that framing sequence, where Owen uses his experiences to help convince Maggie that things do in fact get better, even if it might not seem like it.  The second is Andy Goddard's direction, which really pulls you into the story, and the performance of Burn Gorman, who knows exactly what Goddard is going for and is able to match it in every scene.  It's really a fabulous job.

It's not the most flashy of episodes, but that's a strength for "A Day in the Death".  Rather than try to shoehorn an "end of the world" plot into a character-driven episode (like, say, "Sleeper"), they've provided an organic story that ties in nicely with the themes being grappled with.  In its own quiet way, "A Day in the Death" may be one of the best episodes Torchwood has turned out.

March 9: "Something Borrowed"

The main issue with this episode is that it seems to be trying to be two things at once: it wants to be a funny, rather lightweight story, but it also wants to be a standard Torchwood story, with horrific aliens and macabre events.  (It also wants to be the "event" episode, showing the marriage (finally) of Gwen and Rhys.)  The end result falls between the two camps, not really succeeding at either.

Gwen is escorted up the aisle by her father. ("Something
Borrowed") ©BBC
It is rather funny at times, but it really needs to go the whole way to be successful.  Instead we get some jokes that are decent -- along with a few that fall flat -- but ultimately it doesn't go all the way.  It doesn't do enough with the situation of Gwen suddenly pregnant and trying to handle the reactions of everyone there -- a few quiet jokes ("Oh, we must have had way too much to drink," one of the bridesmaids says, wondering why they hadn't noticed that Gwen was pregnant at her bachelorette party) but that's about it, and they really needed a lot more to make this part work.  You can tell they tried a bit (as opposed to just slipping some jokes in) because there are just enough moments that seem almost funny (Tosh's reaction to "Banana Boat", the way every guest is dosed with Retcon at the end) that you wonder what the committed version would have been like.

This is also a problem because the other storyline (shapeshifting alien implants an alien baby in Gwen, then the mom comes to collect the offspring) just isn't distinct enough to maintain interest.  There are some interesting moments (the way the mother kills the DJ and wraps up Tosh and "Banana Boat", the general shapeshifting idea), but there's no real impetus behind them, no way to distinguish this from any other monster episode.  There's not even much danger involved -- once the female shapeshifter is discovered, there's little in the way of complications until Jack shoots it dead.

And that's really the problem with "Something Borrowed" -- it clearly wants to be the "fun" episode of the series, but it pulls most of its punches, as if it's never quite sure if the comedic moments are acceptable.  This means that the whole thing falls flat.  It's not actually a bad episode, but it could have been so much better; instead, we get a rather unmemorable "event" episode.

March 10: "From Out of the Rain"

This must have looked good on paper; a somewhat mysterious circus that steals people's "last breaths", which drains them of all the moisture in their bodies.  Throw in some inexplicable stuff about surviving on old nitrate film stock and it seems like this should have come out OK.

But somewhere along the line something went askew, and the final result is missing something.  To their credit, the main cast try to make this as believable as possible -- Ianto in particular seems extremely affected by all the events -- but it's just not enough.  Not even Jack showing up in the old films really makes it work.

The Ghostmaker and Pearl regard their silver flask. ("From Out
of the Rain") ©BBC
Far and away the biggest problem is that no explanation whatsoever is given for these events.  There's not even a semblance of a rationale provided.  Okay fine, these Night Travelers can essentially steal people's souls (that's not how it's pitched, but that's basically what's happening) -- maybe that's what that silver flask does.  But nothing remotely accounts for why these Travelers were able to escape from the film in the first place, and that's something of a problem.  No rules are established; so when Jack decides that the way to stop them is to film them and overexpose the film, while there's a sort of logic at work it feels like they could have made just about anything up.  The way the other Travelers emerge from the screen, meanwhile, feels totally random, as if it's time to introduce a new threat without really coming up with a reason why.  (It also doesn't help that Julian Bleach, as the ringleader of the Night Travelers, seems to be trying to do his best Vincent Price imitation, which is a bit distracting.)

I don't know; this could have worked if they'd played up the mysterious angle more and given the Travelers some sort of fig leaf explanation as to why they were around.  But as is, where we just learn bits and pieces from Jack with little context, it's hard to be invested in it.  "From Out of the Rain" is thus unfortunately something of a disappointment.

March 11: "Adrift"

Boy, talk about a tearjerker of an episode, huh?

In some ways this is portrayed as something of a conspiracy thriller -- Gwen and Tosh discover that not only are things deposited in Cardiff from the Rift (as we've already known), but sometimes people are taken from Cardiff by the Rift and sent somewhere else.  Except Jack seems oddly reluctant to do anything about it.  Thus "Adrift" spends its time from Gwen's point of view, as her investigation into a missing boy leads her to this discovery.

This storyline is presented in a really nice way, as Gwen (after being confronted by her old police partner Andy about becoming too hard and uncaring) starts investigating what seems to be a slightly odd disappearance that snowballs to become bigger and bigger.  This part is handled very well, as Gwen delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, only to find it gets larger and larger -- the scene where more and more people come to Nikki's "missing persons" support group being a particularly effective moment.  Chris Chibnall also does a good job of casting doubt and suspicion on Jack; Gwen is repeatedly told by him to drop this investigation, which makes us wonder about his motives.  After all, there's still an awful lot we don't know about Jack, and frequently we're not sure why he does things.  Did he therefore know about the Rift taking people and is choosing to cover it up?  It's really well handled, and we can't help but be drawn in.  And balanced against this is Gwen's relationship with Rhys, where he lays into her about forgetting why she's in Torchwood in the first place -- to fight so people can have a normal life.  This is also a highlight of the episode, and Eve Myles and Kai Owen both do a great job in this scene.

The adult Jonah. ("Adrift") ©BBC
But it's when Gwen finally discovers the truth of everything that's going on that things get really good.  We learn why Jack has been so secretive, and what's really been happening to many of those missing people: they have indeed been disappearing into the Rift -- but some of them come back.  Except those that return seem significantly worse than when they left; they're being cared for in a secret facility, and they all seem damaged in some way, both physically and mentally.  They're also displaced in time -- for instance, the fifteen-year-old boy that Gwen is searching for, Jonah Bevan, is now in his fifties and very badly scarred from events he witnessed while on another planet.  These are people that can't be integrated back into society, and so Jack has been keeping them comfortable away from everyone.  But Gwen still wants to try, so she brings Jonah's mother to see him -- and while she eventually is willing to handle his being forty years older and scarred, she can't cope with his constant primal screaming, the result of being driven insane while out in space.  And worse, Gwen has taken Nikki's hope away -- now she knows what happened to Jonah, and that for all intents and purposes she'll never see her son again.  That, for Nikki, is the worst thing.  "Promise me you won't do this to anyone else," she tells Gwen.  "Before, I had the memory.  Whenever I thought of him, I'd see him laughing with his mates, playing football, scoffing his breakfast.  And now I just hear that that terrible noise."  "I thought you wanted to know what happened to him," Gwen replies.  "I did," says Nikki.  "I was wrong.  It was better when I didn't know.  Before you, I had hope."  For all Gwen's efforts, we see that Jack was right after all.

This is an adept, well-constructed episode.  Once again, by focusing on the characters and the people affected by the weird events, Torchwood comes out ahead.  Clearly they've figured out what works best on this show, and "Adrift" is a prime example of this.

March 12: "Fragments"

This is something of a hard episode to get a grip on.  At its heart, it's simply recounting how each member of Torchwood bar Gwen (who we already know about) joined Torchwood Three in Cardiff.  As such there's not really any sort of storyline or a thread to follow all the way through the episode -- instead, "Fragments" relies on the audience being interested in the main characters and wanting to learn more about their back stories.

Jack is interrogated by Torchwood Cardiff. ("Fragments") ©BBC
Fortunately, each of the four storylines are relatively interesting; Jack's is probably the best, simply because he's the most intriguing character on the show, and there's still a lot we don't know about him.  It's also neat to see a younger Jack, one who's ended up in post-1879 Cardiff and is waiting for the Doctor to show up.  This is what brings him to Torchwood's attention -- remember, they've been told that the Doctor is Public Enemy No. 1, and Jack's apparently been going around saying things like, "The Doctor, he'll be able to fix me."  Torchwood at this point is a distinctly nasty bunch (well, pair) -- they seem to be taking genuine pleasure in torturing (and repeatedly killing) Jack, and when Jack helps them bring in an alien, they shoot that alien (a "kid", according to Jack) in the head in front of Jack.  The only reason he stays with them, it seems, is because he won't see the Doctor for over a hundred years, and he needs something to do.  (And he hopes to change Torchwood Three for the better from the inside, it seems -- this isn't explicit, but it seems like a reasonable bet.)  It seems he's considered something of a troublemaker for most of this time (judging from the various files we see bits of), and it isn't until New Year's Eve 1999 that he gains control -- after the leader kills everyone else to save them from the coming "storm".

The other stories aren't quite as intriguing, just because they don't tie into the history of Torchwood (and Doctor Who) quite as much, but they're still neat to see.  Tosh was stuck in a UNIT prison without hope of appeal or release because she built a sonic modulator for some villains so that they would release her mother when Jack got her out in exchange for working for him (and boy, UNIT sure became a lot more intimidating and brutal since Jon Pertwee's time -- it's clearly meant to parallel the War on Terror and prisons like Guantanamo Bay, but still); Ianto begged his way into the organization after the Battle of Canary Wharf and the destruction of Torchwood London; and Owen was a doctor whose fiancée had a brain tumor that turned out to be an alien lifeform -- his efforts to find out what happened, and what happened afterwards despite the Torchwood cover-up, sufficiently impressed Jack to recruit him as Torchwood's medic.  They're all decent stories, and they work better because we've come to care for these characters -- but one does wonder what someone whose first episode was "Fragments" would make of this.

Still, it's nice to get some of the team's past details filled in before the series 2 finale, and even if there isn't a thread linking all these together (beyond "everyone's (Torchwood) life flashes before their eyes"), what we get gives us some nice insights into the characters.  That's enough to sustain the episode, and it seems we actually get a cliffhanger -- Captain John Hart is back to cause trouble for Jack, and he's brought Jack's brother Gray along with him...

March 13: "Exit Wounds"

Well.  That was quite the finale.  It's hard not to be entertained by an episode with as many big moments, and fortunately "Exit Wounds" delivers.

The basic idea (Captain John Hart comes back to Cardiff to wreak some vengeance against Captain Jack and the rest of Torchwood) has enough mileage to sustain the episode, and the way the other members of Torchwood handle things after a major terrorist attack that I'm willing to bet never gets mentioned in either Doctor Who or The Sarah Jane Adventures goes down in Cardiff is very engaging.  Gwen shines as she gives the police force a motivational speech, and the part where Tosh and Ianto investigate "ghosts" at the Central IT Server Station and deal with them by shooting them dead when they advance menacingly on Ianto and Tosh ("There we are then," Ianto says.  "Sorted," Tosh agrees) is really nice as well.

Captain John Hart handcuffs Jack while Gray prepares to make him
suffer. ("Exit Wounds") ©BBC
But what makes "Exit Wounds" even better is the twist regarding Hart: he's actually being coerced by Jack's brother Gray into destroying Jack's life, as punishment for Jack letting go of Gray's hand and allowing him to be captured by aliens when they were children.  Hart rescued him, but it was too late; Gray had been driven mad by hatred, and he's now using Hart to get his revenge on Jack.  Hart is as much a victim as Jack is, but he's willing to help Torchwood try and right Gray's wrongs.  But it's really interesting to see how Jack reacts to Gray, how he's willing to endure his "penance" because of the guilt he feels at losing Gray.  Of course, that doesn't excuse Gray's activities, and so Jack has to stop Gray after enduring the punishment.  Still, it's really well done.

But before that, the rest of the team has to deal with Gray's attack -- primarily the one that's causing the nearby nuclear power station to go into meltdown.  This leads to the saddest part of the episode, as Tosh (after having been shot by Gray) realizes that they can't stop the meltdown unless they flood the place with the river -- except Owen is trapped inside the control room, and thus is going to (very slowly) die, in a really rather horrible death when you think about it.  So we lose both Owen and Tosh, who dies from her gunshot wound.  It's a shocking ending, and it's very effective as a result.  It demonstrates that there actually are consequences of what we see, that the team members aren't invulnerable.

It's definitely a "big" episode, but "Exit Wounds" delivers.  They've managed to create an action-packed finale that is primarily about character relationships, and it's this anchoring of the episode that really makes it work.  "Exit Wounds" is a story about change and about loss, about the consequences of the past catching up to you.  It does its job, and it does it well.

And that's frequently been the case for this series of Torchwood.  It's impressive just how much this show has turned around.  Series 1 was, to be frank, something of a disaster, and while things started to get better by the end, all too often it felt like a waste of time.  Series 2, on the other hand, looks like it's been making a conscious effort to see what went wrong with series 1 and fix those problems.  At times it's difficult to imagine this is the same show -- that's how much things have improved.  It's genuinely a pleasure to see Torchwood turn itself around the way it did, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the show goes next.


192 Remember that "Captain Jack Harkness" is the name of someone who died and then had their identity taken by "our" Captain Jack.  Then note the name of the officer in charge of the HMS Seaspite naval base in The Sea Devils, and start to worry about his fate...
193 This isn't an invented speech, but actually comes from Stephen R Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant -- although in that it's a good thing.