Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x01: "Everything Changes"

Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Brian Kelly

Gwen: “For who?”
Forensic: “Torchwood.”

I don’t think that I’m alone when I say that for a spin off that I have been looking forward to for the last year that the pressure was certainly on. The relentless promotion the series has been given for the last two weeks after months of virtually nothing only raised further expectations.

From casting certain people to spoilers that had recently surfaced and various internet sites as well as envying the lucky sods that got to see this episode in the cinema four days beforehand, it was all leading up to one verdict. Some people online are quickly dismissing it, others are divided, however I myself have one feeling – I totally loved it!

The episode starts off with the Doctor Who method of letting the outsider take centre stage as our civilian’s perspective of all things aliens and how the world chooses to ignore or is totally oblivious to it that drives the narrative of the episode as well as the majority of the action. It’s not original but it’s effective in the success of this hour, so it’s more than fine by me.

Instead of a plucky shop girl from London, we’re in the middle of the night in Cardiff where a WPC named Gwen Cooper is at the scene of a murder in which police are told to step aside for Torchwood. Gwen is baffled by the mysterious dismissal and proceeds to spy on the mystery group, lead by Captain Jack Harkness as the group of misfits are spotted temporarily resurrecting the murder victim who only lasts two minutes and fails to answer anything about his killer.

It’s enough time for Gwen however to witness the entire event and although she’s horrified, she can’t quite pull herself away and a pretty perceptive Jack manages to spot her spying from the rooftops. How do you react being caught to seeing something you shouldn’t? Well if you’re Gwen, you just bolt the hell out of there quick speed. You’d think with how hasty she was to leave after being caught that Jack was going to bite her head off. Then again the episode does give a justification for Gwen’s knee jerk reaction but despite the exit, at least she’s curious enough to do something sooner about what she has seen rather than later.

As casting goes former Doctor Who guest star and Welsh actress Eve Myles is perfect for the role of Gwen. Mainly stuck in an unattractive police uniform that makes her double her actual size, you get to see her actual hotness when she’s in civilian clothing as she spends her time at home with nice but not totally exciting boyfriend Rhys, though to his credit he is made more likeable and sympathetic in this episode compared to Mickey’s debut on Doctor Who. Gwen’s outside of work life seems to be fairly more together but I’ll talk about more later.

As a police officer, Gwen usually deals with the humdrum of her job, which means occasionally getting bashed on the head when trying to sort out a scuffle in the pub but she does get her co-worker Fawn to do some digging on Captain Jack Harkness. Sadly for Gwen, the only link Fawn happens to find is one who went missing in 1941 after failing to report for duty. Gwen dismisses it but we know it has to be our Jack.

It’s also good for Gwen that while she dismisses one lead another comes her way as a vampire/alien hybrid has managed to get into her place of work and slaughters the porter right before her very eyes. Then, which you could almost telegraph, Captain Jack and his team arrive and ensnare the creature and dodge a hot in pursuit Gwen

However they’re not entirely clever themselves as Gwen still finds the Torchwood office and given the fact that it’s been established that Gwen isn’t the type to give up so easily she quizzes a pizzeria and poses as a pizza girl to get inside Torchwood, in which a young man named Ianto presses a button to reveal a secret tunnel to go inside. There are times when Gwen can be a little short sighted and this is one of them as she proceeds to go down the creepy corridor and into the Hub which looks like a darker version of The Initiative from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The creepy factor though gets killed instantly once Gwen enters the Hub and Owen and Toshiko can’t contain their amusement of Gwen’s detective work and even Jack and Suzie have to join in the laugh. Gwen my dear, the joke is well and truly on you! Within the space of five minute we learn that Captain Jack Harkness is the leader of Torchwood, Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) is his second in command, Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) is their computer girl while cocky Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) is their medical expert and doctor. That leaves Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) as the secretary with hidden depths. Jack has a soft spot for them and proudly introduces all of his crew to a bewildered Gwen with a sparkle in his eye.

Tour wise, we get very little in much of the Hub (though we learn the creature Jack snared is a Weevil which Gwen got to look at more closely) and it does look a little more smaller than we’ve seen on the BBC site but it’s Bat Cave feel to it is appealing enough to let it slide and the plus, we do get to see both Jack and Gwen leave Torchwood through more unconventional means which is combated by a perception filter outside the building (mostly great for subterfuge, not entirely great for Jack’s ego) but hey, I think I’d even rather a nice but classy Welsh bar instead of a creepy Hub.

Jack and Gwen’s talk in the classy Welsh bar is very cat and mouse because not only is there an element of playfulness but there’s also some darker stuff discussed and hinted at between both parties. We learn that there’s more than one Torchwood, which means this one isn’t a repair from the Canary Wharf one (well that does make sense), events from Doctor Who are raised which more than raise questions about what happened to Jack in between “The Parting Of The Ways” and “Everything Changes” and Jack also shows an incredibly ruthless side when he openly admits to Gwen that he spiked her beer with a drug that will make her forget everything he told her by morning.

Some people say that Jack was taunting Gwen with this outburst and I can see why you would think that way but then again, Jack is a pretty matter of fact kind of guy. In his own way he thought he was doing her a favour as well as himself one too.

So who the heck is Torchwood? Well to be honest they’re no different to what we’ve seen on “Army Of Ghosts” and “Doomsday”. Torchwood basically collects aliens and their technology and uses the latter to advance their own research. According to Jack, they’re not claiming to be heroes and don’t have an utmost desire to initially be either (hence Jack’s refusal of Gwen’s offer to be their liaison to the police).

It seems strange that Jack would want to be involved with an organisation like Torchwood (who are also above police, government and the UN no less) but you have to bear in mind that this Jack is fairly more darker and world weary compared to the loveable rogue we saw on Doctor Who. Given what happened to him with the Daleks, I can find the tone consistent and John Barrowman is every bit as brilliant as ever. I love Jack but I definitely didn’t blame Gwen for being pissed off that he would dare tamper with her memories like that.

Gwen doesn’t take the idea of her memories being eradicated lying down and decides to write what she know about Torchwood on her computer. Instead of sending operatives to stop, all Torchwood do is simply having Ianto to hack into her files and erase them so by the next morning Gwen has forgotten everything about the night before.

Meanwhile we get a brief time to know the other members of the Torchwood team as they decide to take some of their work into their outside lives. Toshiko uses a device to scan (I assume) her favourite book into her home computer while Owen uses an alien pheromone to get a girl to leave a bar with him after she expressed no previous desire to cop off with him.

However Owen doesn’t bank on the girl’s jealous boyfriend and uses the pheromone to put him under the same because it seems that even a full heterosexual Owen can deal with having a bloke passionately snog him rather than having the crap beaten out of him. Well Russell did tell us that all the Torchwood team were open to bisexual experiences so here was the first of many to come I suppose.

However despite the fact that each of the previous two took home artefacts that reflects their interests/personalities/insecurities, it’s Suzie who comes off as the most interesting when she uses her glove to bring a fly back to life. It’s not the only Suzie does as the flaw to Jack Tabula Rasa drug is that memories can be retriggered by a certain image and getting back to the mysterious murders from earlier on in the episode, the real shock of the episode is that Suzie was the killer all along.

Showing us the flipside of working for Torchwood, Indira Varma gives a wonderful performance as a desperate Suzie wants to kill Gwen mainly because she can identify her as a traitor to Torchwood but also because she’s desperate to be able to give life with her cool silver glove for more than two minutes.

Although Suzie is dark, I don’t necessarily think she is evil, despite her shocking murders. Both Varma and Myles are brilliant as the threat of Gwen actually being killed feels very real, which is amazing as Suzie seems to derive no pleasure in having to actually shoot the policewoman. Pity she didn’t feel the same way when she shot Captain Jack without blinking. However a major case of double WTF is when a bullet through the head doesn’t make Captain Jack dead and a distraught Suzie kills herself.

That scene had me literally jumping out of my skin. Deep down I always had the impression that Suzie wasn’t going to be a character that would be around for the long haul but I didn’t expect her to betray the group, try to kill Jack but fail and actually kill herself in one episode. Nice going there Russell. Now six are five in the Torchwood pay roll or is that just one out, one in when it comes to Suzie and Gwen.

As for Jack not being killed, well the shock comes when he tells Gwen that he’s actually unable to die. This revelation while a stunning consequence of Rose’s brief abilities to raise the hunky man from the dead is strange – how can he not die? The Doctor who was stronger than him had to regenerate and Rose nearly died with the power of the TARDIS in her. I hope there’s a decent pay off because the intrigue of this premise extends to Jack questioning Suzie’s murder at the start of the episode about what he saw when he died (PTSD much?) and he seems pretty irked by the idea of immortality.

Having Jack open up to Gwen in the last minute is pretty nice to see but expected and it also leads to him offering her a position in Torchwood. A bit like when being offered to ride with The Doctor in his TARDIS, Gwen was exposed to the negative and small positive sides of Torchwood and alien life, so naturally she says “yes”. Whether or not she adapts easily or has trouble is the other thing though.

Also in “Everything Changes”

The opening credit sequence is cool with the black background, fiery “Torchwood” written logo and the writing for the cast. The theme itself is a bit hokum for now though.

Toshiko: “Who attacked you?”
John Tucker: “I don’t want to be dead.”

Suzie’s victims were women who were both 71 and 42. John Tucker was 19. Suzie stabbed them all behind the back so they couldn’t recognise her.

Porter (to the Weevil): “You should get plastic surgery. Not on the NHS mind.”

How much did you love the front desk of Torchwood looking like a tourist’s office? Also the Pizzeria was called “Jubilee”.

Gwen: “I think I better go.”
Captain Jack: “I think we’ve gone past that stage.”

Inside the Hub of Torchwood we got a Pterodactyl flying around as well as The Doctor’s severed hand from “The Christmas Invasion”.

Captain Jack: “He also looks good in a suit.”
Ianto: “Careful, that’s harassment sir.”

Gwen: “I’m getting tired of following you around.”
Captain Jack: “No you’re not and you never will.”

There are four Torchwood’s in existence. Number 1: London, Canary Wharf, Number 2: Run by a funny old man in Glasgow, Number 3: Run by Captain Jack in Cardiff and Number 4: Missing.

Gwen: “You bastard.”
Captain Jack: “Language! Nice knowing you, Gwen Cooper.”

Toshiko uploading the book “A Tale Of Two Cities” may be ironic in the sense that Cardiff is doubling as a normal city and one that has aliens and their technology making their way through thanks to the rift in space and time.

Colin: “I’m so having him.”
Linda: “I’m having him first.”
Owen: “Taxi!”

The Pterodactyl flying at the end made me suspicious but I assume it’s flying within parameters of the perception filter.

Gwen: “Please don’t kill me.”
Suzie: “I can’t let you go.”

Chronology: 2007 sometime? It’s not made very clear.

Captain Jack: “I can’t die.”
Gwen: “Okay.”

Standout music: Snow Patrol’s “Spitting Games”. Not big on The Kooks to be honest.

For a debut episode, “Everything Changes” cements Torchwood’s promise of an adult nature but if you’re thinking that this might be too gritty, then don’t worry there’s plenty of good humour. I can also assure you with confidence that this was a wonderful way of opening up the series, with intriguing characterisation and an overall fantastic mystery, despite the heavy Buffy/Angel influences and one too many sky shots of Cardiff. All I can say is welcome back Captain Jack and hello Gwen, Owen, Toshiko and Ianto and RIP Suzie. Sunday night are back to quality goodness.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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