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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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

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