‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Small Worlds”
(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 4: “Cyberwoman”)
It’s funny, but as much as I really like Torchwood, rewatching it is not quite as much fun as rewatching Doctor Who. I never get tired of Doctor Who, and I constantly find new stuff to hash over in those episodes — these, not so much. They’re fun, and I’m certainly not saying that I dislike the show, but it’s not as rich in material as Who is.
Like this episode, which totally blew me away the first time I watched it, but on subsequent viewings, I spent more time thinking, Hey, this one is like Law and Order meets Doctor Who — no, wait, it’s Silence of the Lambs meets American Beauty — no no no, it’s just about Jack. It’s Jack we love. And that’d fine. But could be even he’s more interesting on Doctor Who.
In fact, this feels like it could easily have been an episode of Doctor Who, perhaps more so than many of the others. The stone circle and the fairies are reminiscent of the Tom Baker episode “The Stones of Blood” — Estelle here is like Professor Amelia Rumford in that story; the scary little girl with her supernatural powers is like Chloe Webber in last season’s “Fear Her.” And Jack’s tragedy here, of his lost romance with Estelle, is the Doctor’s tragedy, too, which fans have always known about and the new series is finally acknowledging, as with the Sarah Jane episode, “School Reunion.” I love that we’re finally seeing the show deal with these kinds of realities of this universe — how do you deal with relationships when you live forever (or relatively so) but your lovers don’t? — but I guess I’d like to see Torchwood, which is supposed to be even more adult than Doctor Who, push the boundaries even further. The Jack/Estelle thing is a good start, but I’d love to see the harder aspect: an attempt to make a relationship work. At least one episode later in this batch does create a genuinely science fictional approach to love and sex, so the show is getting there.
The more I think about the monster aspect of this story, though, the more I recognize how subversive and daring it is. The attempts by the parents of the little girl to stifle her and force her to conform are so casually horrific that many people might not even deem it so. To their eyes, surely she must seem like a normally dreamy child, right at the age where imaginary friends are ordinary and nothing to be worried about — the parents don’t know about the fairy-alien-creature things. She’s hardly at an age where they need to be worried that she’s not reading or — god forbid — not watching television. How awful of the stepdad to fence off the yard where she plays. How awful of him to say to her, “No wonder your dad left when you were a baby.” The mother is nearly as cruel, and seems far more interested in her new husband to be than in her daughter. It’s almost as if the child molester is more appreciative of her little-girlness than her parents are — how horrible is that?
They’re trying to force normalcy on her, which is of course impossible. And then, for the episode to end with the kid going off into the fairy world — where she will be accepted and loved for what she is, not for what others expect her to be — is really kind of shocking. Maybe there are some folks who will never fit in, seems to be the suggestion, or perhaps it’s this: Attempting to compel conformity merely drives away the one you’re trying to compel. The threat of the fairies gives Jack a convenient explanation for his letting them take the girl (“What chance to do we have against them? For the sake of the world, this is our only chance”) and he’s clearly torn about the immortality the girl is in — he knows the horrors of that curse too well. But in the meta sense, the inevitability of that stunning ending — the monsters win! — is, I think, meant in a very pointed way. The pressures of conformity are not a force for good.
Random thoughts on “Small Worlds”:
• “Torchwood” is emblazoned right there on the SUV? They’re not so secret for a secret organization, are they?
• Rhys’s story about someone thinking he’d stolen her “special stapler” — is than an Office Space reference?
• Jack is sleeping and dreaming (nice, naked Jack) — so he does sleep, at least a bit, unlike what he suggested a few episodes back…
• We’ve seen that Jack won’t drink alcohol when he’s out in public at a bar, but he will drink back at “home” in the Torchwood Hub. I find the implications of that highly intriguing, as if, perhaps, he’s afraid of having him inhibitions lowered out in public. What is he worried about doing or saying?
• How come Jack was unaffected on the train by the fairies doing their suffocation thing? Is it because he’s, as the Doctor says, “wrong”?
• Owen’s T-shirt reads “Fallen Angels” then “Shall…” Anyone know what this is a reference to, if anything?
(next: Episode 6: “Countrycide”)
[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]