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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “End of Days”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 12: “Captain Jack Harkness”)

You know what I thought about creepy Bilis the first time I saw this episode? I thought, Is he the Doctor? Is he some deranged future incarnation of the Doctor?

Cuz he says things like “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” which the Doctor says all the time. And things like “It’s a curse… I can see the whole of history but I don’t belong anywhere within it,” which sure sounds like something a bitter old Doctor who’s been grieving too long for Gallifrey would say.

And when Gwen asks Jack what vision would have tempted him to open the Rift, like the rest of them have been tempted, he replies: “The right kind of doctor,” and we know he means the Doctor, capital-D. So wouldn’t it be ironically perfect — in a storytelling-dramatic sense, if not in the sense of our desire not to see characters we love so hurting — if Bilis actually were the Doctor?
I’m still reserving judgment on whether Bilis is a far-future Doctor or not. Just because he engineered the unleashing of a thousand-foot tall life-eating demon doesn’t mean he can’t be the Doctor. That would just make this hypothetical future Doctor’s downfall all the more tragic… and dramatically interesting. What could possibly bring him to such an end?

I don’t think we realized before quite how much Jack is yearning for the Doctor’s return. The Doctor’s hand there, right out in the open in the Hub… didn’t Gwen or Owen or Ianto or Tosh or anyone wonder just what the hell was up with this freaky bit of business? Cuz it ain’t normal, keeping a severed hand in a jar. It’s weird.

Or maybe they’re barely paying attention, because — man! — the angst and upset and bitterness and resentment that comes pouring out here. Jack tells Owen all this time-splintering stuff is his fault, Owen think Jack is being ungrateful for being rescued from WWII, Gwen is raging at Jack, Jack is raging at them, full of contempt for their weaknesses… It’s exhausting, listening to them and watching them do what they do, yet it’s completely plausible too… which makes it even more exhausting, because you get so caught up in their upset.

Gwen tases Rhys? Sure, it’s easy to explain that she does it out of love — and certainly her grief when he dies is spectacular and not at all faked — but still: she could try explaining stuff to him, couldn’t she, instead of treating him like a child and “protecting” him from the truth? (I mentioned early on that their relationship has flipped the usual gender norms, and here it is again: usually it’s the guy doing the “protecting” and the gal who’s kept ignorant for her own supposed good. Not that that’s ever a good idea, and here it comes back to haunt Gwen, and taunt her, and hopefully teach her to be nicer to Rhys in the future. But probably not.)

Owen shoots Jack? Fuuuck. It’s harder to argue that he does this out of love, as much as we know Owen loves Jack, too, in his own way. Though I think Owen is maybe a little jealous of the special attention Ianto is getting from Jack. Who wouldn’t be?

Random thoughts on “End of Days”:

• The crawls along the bottom of the screen in the news reports on both Doctor Who and Torchwood always demand to be watched in slo-mo and freeze-frame:

If you can tear your eyes away from the UFOs over the Taj Mahal, you’ll learn frorm the crawl that the “Beatles [are] on the roof of Abbey Road studios” and that a “Samurai warrior [is] on the rampage in Tokyo subway system.” How awesome is that? Perhaps Redcoats and George Washington’s rebel soldiers are materializing on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx (which is so named because colonial troops hauled canon up that hill in a 1777 battle)?

• The religious types are calling it “judgment day,” but honestly, is there anything that doesn’t make them think the Rapture is upon us?

• Andy the cop asks, What rights does a Roman soldier have? How sweet of him! And, you know, that’s an excellent question.

• So, Jack has direct lines to UNIT and the CIA, huh? Interesting…

• Is it merely a coincidence, or a result of the broken-glass metaphor, that the fracturing of reality on the Torchwood computer screen looks like thye Doctor’s explanation of multiple universes when he fractures the glass at Torchwood-Canary Wharf?

• Re the 14th-century plague patient in the hospital: wouldn’t most of us be immune to the Black Death? I mean, we all came through that genetic bottleneck, which means we’re all survivors of people who were immune. Although maybe that only applies to people with European heritage…

• Damn, I’m feeling sorry for a weevil again. It sounds so sad, crying in its cell in the bowels of the Hub. Poor thing…

• All the car alarms going off as Abaddon stomps through Cardiff: That’s what the end of the world is gonna sound like, every damn car alarm screaming at once.

• Jack and Abaddon are the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, aren’t they? Somehow, I’m suddenly wondering what would happen if Jack met Duncan “Highlander” MacLeod…

• Ianto smelling Jack’s jacket… and I told myself I wasn’t gonna cry…

• There Jack goes, running off into the Doctor Who episode “Utopia.” What draws the TARDIS to Earth? Is it all the Rift activity?

• The Rift “is gonna be more volatile than ever,” says Jack? Oh man…

• Great quotes:

“You people love any story that denies the randomness of existence.”–Jack

“Under any other circumstances, an exuberant Roman soldier would be my idea of a perfect morning.”–Jack

(next: Season 2: Episode 1: “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
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  • Ryan

    Thanks MaryAnn for continuing this series. I’m hardcore missing my Torchwood/Doctor Who fix. Just recently I heard the BBC radio show of Torchwood. It only made me miss the whole Whoverse more.

    In any case, I’m looking forward to you blogging Season 2. I was pretty much lukewarm to this show most of Season 1 and it wasn’t until the last 2-3 episodes of the first season did I really start to care. Season 2 was all kinds of fantastic.

  • JSW

    My first thought on seeing Billis was to wonder how Caravaggio got himself a physical body and left the Tulip. Maybe this is the guy that modeled for that hologram.

  • Mimi

    Bilis as the Doctor!! Bite your tongue!! I definitely noticed the “I’m so sorry” and seeing the whole of time and space things, and thought maybe he was a lost Time Lord. Or maybe another time agent of some kind, like Jack. But the Doctor himself! Horrors. (My eventual conclusion, which may be proved wrong in the future: it’s an RTD red herring. That rascal RTD.)

    I *want* to love Ianto/Jack (and I think I’ll get more opportunity to in TW2?) but at the end of TW1, it just felt so rushed–like I was told they’re an item, rather than getting to observe it in any substantive way. I just couldn’t get invested in that one.

    And we’re not immune to the plague. The current strains of it are less virulent than they once were, and we have drugs to treat it now, so it gets cured before it spreads like wildfire. But the plague could still kick your butt. And mine.

  • Karen R

    I will never forget how blown away I was with the ending of this episode. The metaphors for ultimate sacrifice and good vs. evil and all that stuff were just so powerful. And the music and the monster and Jack (John Barrowman) *screaming* in agony — I mean, geez Louise!

    Uh, thanks for bringing all that back to me!

    No, I mean it. Seriously. Thanks.

  • Katie

    This was a great episode even if it was a bit hard to watch. You can’t really blame Jack for losing it with his crew but still, it’s painful.

    Billis freaked me out too. And I also caught the “I’m sorry. So sorry” bit.

    And Mimi…if you haven’t fully embraced the Jack/Ianto S2 will get you there. Don’t worry. :-)

    Can’t wait for you to start S2 MaryAnn.

  • You know what I thought about creepy Bilis the first time I saw this episode? I thought, Is he the Doctor? Is he some deranged future incarnation of the Doctor?

    That’s an interesting idea about Bilis being a future version of the Doctor…my first reaction was that he must be a Time Lord, too, but I was thinking of the Master.

    Is it merely a coincidence, or a result of the broken-glass metaphor, that the fracturing of reality on the Torchwood computer screen looks like thye Doctor’s explanation of multiple universes when he fractures the glass at Torchwood-Canary Wharf?

    I think it’s the same principle at work that caused the Rift to “fracture” out in the same way that the surface between this world and the Void was “fractured”. I think the Cardiff Rift is essentially the same phenomenon as the “hole” in the universe from the Torchwood tower, the difference being that the former is confined to this universe.

    Re the 14th-century plague patient in the hospital: wouldn’t most of us be immune to the Black Death?

    The plague is caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis, which is usually easily treatable with antibiotics, such as tetracycline, although resistant strains have been reported (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/337/10/677). People are not ordinarily immunized against bacteria and would not have a natural immunity simply because ancestors had survived it. It would not act as quickly as was portrayed in this episode of Torchwood, nor spread as quickly in the improved conditions of a modern city/hospital; however, it could get be a problem again, if there was an outbreak and the antibiotics used to treat it were in short supply. (Sorry for the long winded, boring answer, but I can’t help myself…)

    There Jack goes, running off into the Doctor Who episode “Utopia.” What draws the TARDIS to Earth? Is it all the Rift activity?

    In “Utopia”, the Doctor explained to Martha that he’s gone to the Rift to refuel the TARDIS, but since the Rift has been so active lately, it will take the TARDIS less than 1 minute to finish (unlike the 24 hours it was to take in “Boomtown”). Jack really had to hurry, but I expect he’d know that the TARDIS would be able to refuel a lot faster with the increase in Rift activity…

  • MaryAnn

    That’s an interesting idea about Bilis being a future version of the Doctor…my first reaction was that he must be a Time Lord, too, but I was thinking of the Master.

    The Master is never sorry about anything. :->

  • Couple of little things:

    – In such an anagram-happy series, Bilis Manger seems to be another such example: His name rearranges to spell “MR. BIG ALIENS.” Or, you know, “MRS. BIG ALIEN.”

    – Abbadon is specifically mentioned as the son of the chained Satan-in-the-pit that the Doctor fights in S2 of his own series. I thought that was a clever touch.

  • Magess

    Mimi, I find that most of the relationships in Torchwood are just kind of… suddenly in existence.

    Jack makes Ianto kill is girlfriend… and starts sleeping with him next episode.

    I don’t think the writers really get developing romantic relationships. They seem to assume, for instance, that there’s this thing between Jack and Gwen. Like this total deeply in love thing. What they forgot is that you actually have to develop things like that with dialog and moments and sharing. A few screens of grab-ass and “wow, he’s hot” does not make a relationship.

    The same kind of shorthand seems to have been used with Jack and Ianto. Yeah, yeah, friendly moments, blah blah, let’s screw!

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