Torchwood: Immortal Sins

Posted on August 20, 2011

Dammit.

We hoped we could get through these reviews without getting too far into the weeds of Doctor Who continuity because we assumed the show, in search of a larger American audience, would have offered just enough backstory on Jack and Torchwood without going too far into the whys and wherefores of it all. But not only did they wallow around in some obscure Who-viana (The Trickster’s Brigade and its seemingly endless supply of history-altering bugs and slugs), they seem to have contradicted a huge chunk of Jack’s backstory.

The short version: Jack was a time-traveling con man from the 51st Century who hooked up with the Doctor when they met up during WWII, traveled through time to the far flung future, died, and was resurrected by a companion of the Doctor’s who briefly gained the power of a god to alter reality. He was left in the future by the Doctor but managed to travel backwards in time in the hopes of meeting up with the Doctor and getting some answers as to why he was suddenly immortal. He overshot his mark and wound up in 1869 in Cardiff and no way to time travel. Immortal, he spent the major portion of the next 135+ years working for Torchwood and waiting for the Doctor to return. Eventually he did and in 2007 he finally got an answer from the Doctor as to why he’s immortal and why the Doctor can’t cure him of that.

And yet in last night’s episode, we saw a Jack in 1927 who seemed pretty aware of why and how he’s immortal. That doesn’t quite scan (Edit: See the comments section for a pretty good explanation). The other thing that doesn’t quite scan is the inference that Jack’s immortality is somehow biological. That’s not how it was explained before nor is it how his immortality has been shown to work. According to the Doctor, he’s immortal because he’s a “fixed point in time” and cannot be altered. In other words, it is a “fixed point” that Jack Harkness is always alive and well. During those times when he’s not alive or well, reality fixes itself to make it so. That’s how we’ve always understood it and a lot of his resurrections (like coming back from being blown to bits) supported this. We’ve always assumed that Jack’s body is perfectly normal. It’s reality that keeps him immortal.

But with the gruesome scenes of his evisceration at the hands of bloodthirsty Catholics (WTF?), there’s a heavy inference that there’s something in his blood worth looking into. And when three strange men show up and give a secret 3-part handshake that forms a triangle (dun dun DUN!!!!!), it’s implied not only that his blood is worthy, but that it has something to do with Miracle Day.

Hunh. We don’t know how to deal with that. If there’s some slight retconning of Jack’s background, we don’t particularly mind. If his immortal state is explained as purely biological in nature, that’s going to be harder to accept. Still, the fact that Jack was earlier going on about “morphic fields” tells us the answer to Miracle Day is a little more complicated than whatever may be found in Jack’s blood. We’re just disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be any aliens involved. This entire story comes down to Jack sleeping with the wrong guy.

Don’t get us wrong, they hooked us at the end with the reveal of who seems to be behind everything. We can’t even try and formulate a theory about where this is going and that’s a damn good thing in a serialized story. But there’s going to have to be a near-perfect dismount on this story in order for everything to work and make sense. Given how rocky the episodes have been so far, we’re not entirely confident that we’re going to love all the explanations.

What we DID love was that this felt exactly like a very good early episode of Torchwood. Despite all the backstory and time-jumping going on, at its heart, this was a story about Torchwood; specifically Jack and Gwen’s Torchwood (with a fantastic last-minute save by Rex and Esther). Jack had some great moments in this story, but Eve Myles tore up the screen as Gwen.

We discovered Gwen free of online fandom and opinions when we started watching the original show on Netflix. We were surprised to find out later that a vocal portion of the show’s fans detested the character. We always loved her for being passionate and fun, but also occasionally morally questionable and even unlikeable. We like characters that aren’t always easy to pin down and Gwen definitely fits that bill. Watching her tearfully tell Jack she’d kill him in a second to get her baby back in her arms was both heartbreaking and thrilling. Watching her stoically accept his response that he’d rip her face from her skull before he’d let that happen, you see she’s a warrior who understands and respects another warrior’s threat but doesn’t flinch from it. And having her admit that despite all the pain in her life that its caused, she loves her time with Torchwood and loves that it makes her feel special because she knows secrets and she’s survived past almost all of her original teammates was a bold move on the part of the writer. It’s a revelation that makes her sound selfish if you’re only looking at the surface, but to us, it made her all the more human. Of course the hero loves being the hero because it confirms to them that they’re special. It’s just that you rarely ever hear a hero admit that. We thought that was a fantastic revelation and one that informs all of Gwen’s actions, both backwards and forwards.

And yes, we did a little cheer at the end when Rex and Esther showed up. This team is finally feeling like a team. Even though the jaw-dropping threat delivered at the end of last week’s episode was nullified so quickly we think we got whiplash,  Andy got to shoot a bad guy and that’s always worth watching. By the way, with the ovens temporarily shut down, what’s going on with Gwen’s father?

A mostly fun episode, even if it did drag quite a bit in the flashbacks. We think you could have told the story of Jack and Angelo without so much screentime. Despite the gay sex on display, it mostly bored and us and we only really sat up straight when we flashed back to Jack and Gwen in the car. But if you’re going to hinge this story on a heretofore-unheard-of relationship of Jack’s, we suppose you have to spend the time setting up in order to pay it off down the road.

So where is this going? Honestly, we have no clue. And like we said, that speaks well of the story in a lot of ways. Although the sense that the ending is going to disappoint keeps growing. Russell T Davies is always good about the buildup, but not always so good about the payoff. We’ll see.

Oh, and one more thing: two episodes in a row without Oswald Danes or endless discussions about a healthcare crisis is making this story far more palatable and fun. More and more, the earlier episodes are looking like a lot of filler. We’re sure Danes and Phicorp and all of that will pay off, but we’re not so sure we needed to spend that much time on them.

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