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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Ghost Machine”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 2: “Day One”)

Torchwood: outside the government, beyond the police. Tracking down alien life on Earth and arming the human race against the future. The 21st century is when everything changes, and you’ve gotta be ready.

I’m ready! I’m ready!

I’m nearly done watching all of the first season of Torchwood — just one more episode to go — and when I look back at this episode, it feels to me like the show is still treading water here while it tries to figure out what it’s got on its hands. First time I watched this, I thought it was pretty darn good, even if it’s covering ground plenty of SF has covered before — the whole don’t-mess-with-the-timeline thing — but compared to what’s to come later in the season, this is nothin’.
The interesting stuff here is the character stuff, not the plot about the alien doohickey — in fact, the alien doohickey is at its most fascinating when Gwen is using it to look back on good memories of her life with Rhys. The gender role reversal with these two continues to be sweetly compelling, Rhys playing the dutiful mate to Gwen’s workaholic, but you don’t need to have had a peek into the future (like I’ve had) to know that this cannot last. Women may be expected to put up with being left behind and left out when their significant others have demanding jobs, but men aren’t, and won’t. Even a seemingly decent guy like Rhys…

Poor old Jack — and he’s literally old, isn’t he? — living at the base, no life of his own apart from the work. Is he serious when he says he doesn’t sleep? Like it’s an immortal thing, he simply doesn’t need to sleep anymore? Or is it just an insomnia thing, like his head is so full of centuries worth of stuff that he can’t shut down even to rest? And for all his boasting, he’s just grabbing — actually and metaphorically — a bit of human contact where he can, like when he’s showing Gwen how to shoot. Now, surely, he must realize that laying his hand on her hip and pressing his body against hers are exactly the wrong things to be doing if she’s supposed to be focusing and relaxing, right? And yet he can’t not reach out for a little contact…

And poor Gwen, so suddenly confused in all sorts of new ways she’d probably never expected before. Everyone tries to tell her that the rapist/murderer wanted to die, but I’m not so sure about that. Does he throw himself on the knife, or was it an accident? Is his “I knew you’d come for me” something he thinks he’s saying to law enforcement types there to finally make him account for his crime? Or does he mean something else?

And poor Owen. His impetuousness and inability to understand his own emotions is going to get him into bigger trouble later on…

Random thoughts on “Ghost Machine”:

• The phone book! Still, sometimes, the most useful investigative tool there is.

• How many alien artifacts do you think have actually ended up on The Antiques Roadshow? More than a couple, I imagine…

(next: Episode 4: “Cyberwoman”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • I don’t know why they had to put the whole “ghost machine” into the sealed archives; just detach the bit that lets you see the future and seal that away. The past-viewing bit could be very useful (as we saw) for closing unsolved murder cases, and no one would have to risk knowing the future and inadvertantly causing bad things to occur while trying to avoid said bad things.

  • Katie

    Yeah, this episode really did feel like they were playing around with characters to see where it would lead them for the future. Which is fine because I really like where it leads Owen and it sets up Gwen really well.

    One of the scenes that I saw on YouTube that introduced me to ‘Torchwood’ was Jack and Gwen in the shooting range and after watching it and being seduced by Jack I was sold on this show. Standing alone it’s an incredibly sexy scene and totally typical of Jack’s intergalactic pansexual flirtiness. But put in the larger context of Jack’s storyline it is a bit sad because all the little hints of how alone he is and how while he’s desperate for a human connection but at the same time pushing it away…poor Jack.

    “The past-viewing bit could be very useful (as we saw) for closing unsolved murder cases, and no one would have to risk knowing the future and inadvertantly causing bad things to occur while trying to avoid said bad things.”

    Except without physical evidence how do you prove it? And if you can’t prove it in the current time there isn’t anything you can do about it so now you just know the truth but are impotent to bring anyone to justice. And how do you inform the family of the victims without telling them how you solved an unsolved murder without new evidence? And we saw how the memories of the good times with Rhys only helped Gwen for a few seconds before she was even more upset about the situation so maybe even the one part isn’t a good idea to have around.

    Next week is ‘Cyberwoman’…oh oh oh.

  • “Except without physical evidence how do you prove it? And if you can’t prove it in the current time there isn’t anything you can do about it so now you just know the truth but are impotent to bring anyone to justice.”

    Physical evidence isn’t necessarily required in order to solve a murder. In the case of this episode, just getting a name was enough to lead them to the murderer and to analyze his life to see if he was the one… and then he pretty much confessed all by himself once confronted.

    So the past-viewing part of the machine, if used by the right people and under controlled circumstances (say “controlled” around Torchwood and they go “what’s that mean?”, unfortunately… see Owen’s misuse of alien sex pheromones, for example), could certainly be valuable.

  • jakob1978

    I thought this was the first time that I felt Torchwood was starting to find it’s feet, albeit there were still a few more stumbles ahead (and they’re called Cyberwoman and Countrycide)). This was the point that they had me hooked though.

    Oh and I don’t know if you know this but the first series of the second Doctor Who spinoff started tonight. After a pilot on New Years Day, “The Sarah Jane Adventures” started it’s run of 10 episodes (5 two part stories, each part 25 minutes long like the old series). It’s made for Children’s BBC, and is skewed at a younger audience than Doctor Who, but there’s a lot of good stuff for adults in there as well.

  • Rhys playing the dutiful mate to Gwen’s workaholic, but you don’t need to have had a peek into the future (like I’ve had) to know that this cannot last. Women may be expected to put up with being left behind and left out when their significant others have demanding jobs, but men aren’t, and won’t. Even a seemingly decent guy like Rhys…

    Which, I might add, is as it should be. Even growing up as a guy, I never understood the virtually abandoned women in TV, movies and books who didn’t just dump their workaholic husbands already. I’ve only seen through this episode of Torchwood, but I’m not surprised if Rhys dumps Gwen. She treats him like dirt and doesn’t respect him at all. I think that the gender role reversal here is a good storytelling device, because it illuminates the way men have been treating women for decades (and still do, to a large extent).

    That said, three episodes into Torchwood and I’m definitely hooked. But I also find myself in the weird position of not really liking any of the characters except for Captain Jack.

  • MaryAnn

    Surely you’re not suggesting, Alex, that it’s okay for men to treat women the way Gwen treat Rhys?

    I’m not sure I really *like* any of the characters other than Jack, either. But I find them fascinating.

  • Surely you’re not suggesting, Alex, that it’s okay for men to treat women the way Gwen treat Rhys?

    Good lord, no! Sorry if there was confusion on that part. What I meant to say is that I agree with you that I like the gender reversal of workaholic/stay-at-home relationships, because it illuminates what utter bastards men frequently are to women in similar relationships. Relationships should be equal partnerships, and I don’t think Gwen is doing her part in the relationship. If the gender roles were reversed, I would feel the same way.

    I’m not sure I really *like* any of the characters other than Jack, either. But I find them fascinating.

    I agree, which is what makes Torchwood so interesting. I mean, I love the Doctor, love Rose, love Martha, love Sarah Jane, love K-9, etc., etc., etc. But it’s interesting to be rooting for people I’m not sure I would want to have anything to do with in real life.

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