Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x03: "Ghost Machine"

Written by Helen Raynor
Directed by Colin Teague

Well if last week’s opening two episodes of Torchwood were there to introduce us to the team and played around with a sex addicted alien, then this week the sex is traded in for something more a bit more spooky. To be honest with Halloween here by the time you read this, this couldn’t be a more appropriate episode if it tried any harder.

We open up on a fairly standard beginning with Captain Jack, Gwen and Owen giving chase to an escaping young lad in a hoodie in one of those mildly entertaining scenes as Gwen is the only one remotely close to catching the lad, which she very much nearly does. Okay, what I really mean is that she gets her and while is Gwen is pissed off at herself, Toshiko tells her that they have the target – a nifty, untitled piece of alien technology.

I hate it when things Torchwood catch are untitled but seeing as this episode is called “Ghost Machine”, let’s run with that as a title because as soon as Gwen places her hands on it and presses a few buttons, she’s transported back to 60 years beforehand to the same train station she’s standing outside of right and meets a young boy named Tom who wants to go home.

It’s a nice chilly way of opening the episode and eerily reminiscent of “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” as even the distressed little boy looks a lot like Jamie from the brilliant Season One two parter of Doctor Who, which all gave us Captain Jack but, nope it isn’t a rethread.

Fortunately Gwen is able to snap of her little trip to the past and decides to put her humanitarian and police skills to work by finding out what happened to Tom, even after her team mates seem unconcerned about it. Her and Owen (because they make such a good team with their quarrelling and stuff) manage to track down Tom, now a 70 something old man living with his daughter/granddaughter who then explains that during World War 2 he was sent to Wales for his own protection but that his parents never came back for him and then a nice couple took him in as their own. It’s a pretty simple way of ending what initially appeared to be such a major plot point but thankfully this episode doesn’t abandon all of its origins.

Getting back to the little thief who the gang were chasing at the start of this episode, we find out that our ghost machine had been in the possession of a young lad named Bernie Harris, who at 19 years of age seems to have more runs in with the law than EastEnders gets bad reviews nowadays. It’s pretty funny also to watch as Bernie’s neighbours give a less than flattering review of him to an investigating Gwen, Owen and Toshiko. I take Bernie won’t be getting many Christmas cards this year then.

The hunt for Bernie has another noteworthy moment too as midway Gwen receives a phone call from Rhys and an innocent comment flares into a bit of row between them. Granted, I can see that when catching a criminal in order to learn more about alien technology, the last thing you might want to think about is your boyfriend doing your laundry, but Gwen is lucky you’ve got a boyfriend who would do those things for you. I think more of us would like to be with someone as sweet as Rhys.

He’s a pretty easy to like character is Gwen’s boyfriend as the first three episodes have pointed out. Okay picking films that can send Gwen to sleep may be an oversight but overall you can’t fault the man and I felt more sympathetic towards him than Gwen with the phone conversation. In some ways he’s fulfilling both Mickey and Jackie’s roles but he’s doing it on an easier to feel level than these two got to first.

It seems that the ghost machine only shows you what has happened in the past in the location you happen to use it in. When Gwen plays around with for a second time, we see happy moments between her and Rhys, which provides enough incentive for her to apologise to him later that night.

Back to the main action as Captain Jack chastises a desensitised group for not actually finding Bernie, Owen decides to play around with the ghost machine and takes a trip to 1963, where under the bridge he’s standing right now, Owen witnesses a girl named Lizzie Lewis being raped and murdered by her neighbour, Edwin Morgan. It seems to be only negative things that are seen by this machine. No wonder people are overcome with emotion afterwards.

After behaving like such a condescending tosser in the first two episodes, this is a great instalment for Owen as not only does witnessing the Lizzie/Edwin debacle disgust him but it’s also great that not only did someone outside of Gwen see into the past with the machine but that Owen actually tells the Torchwood team about it and more importantly, how it made him feel. Also, it doesn’t stop there as Owen is now determined to track Edwin Morgan and bring him to justice. Gee, I hope he hasn’t been watching Dexter for ideas.

It’s a good thing and this storyline that Edwin Morgan is alive and breathing and every bit as unsympathetic as Owen tracks down the guilt inflicted man and does a pretty good job in scaring the shit out of him without resorting to any real violence. If I needed proof that Burn Gorman was a good actor, this episode gave it to me as Gorman nicely showed us how the use of the ghost machine was effecting Owen as his attempts of getting justice for Lizzie were far stronger than Gwen’s desire to learn more about Tom in the beginning.

This bring us back to Bernie, who Owen manages to catch, scare and buy a pint as Torchwood went to the lad’s house when we learn that there’s a second part to the ghost machine. It seems Bernie has also used the machine and seen the Edwin/Lizzie thing to as well as two other pivotal events. It also turns out that when both pieces are assembled, you can see into the future as well and when it comes to Gwen, it’s every bit as unpleasant as the past. Bernie saw himself about die when he looked into the future and Gwen saw Owen as being responsible for it. Low and behold, this episode gets more interesting with a series of nice twists.

While Toshiko is mostly relegated to research girl in this episode, which is still more than Ianto gets, the pros of this mostly action-less is that we learn more about Edwin’s mental state and Captain Jack quickly deduces that Edwin was being blackmailed by Bernie, which give what we learn about Bernie isn’t much of a shock but it doesn’t do him much favours while Gwen pops over to his house to sympathise and keep him out of harm’s way. The thing about trouble is, even when you’re not looking for it, it still has a habit of rearing its ugly head and for a guy like Bernie that probably goes double.

While Captain Jack was able to figure out that Owen was doing on the side research and reined him in before he could take the Edwin situation into his own hands, it seems Owen wasn’t the only thing he’d have to worry about.

Edwin, both suicidal and determined stops by Bernie’s house with the intent to kill him and while it was nice on a karmic level to see a guy like Bernie shown consequences for his actions; I kind of guessed that Edwin wouldn’t get the chance to kill him. I also guessed that while still under the influence of his trip via the ghost machine that Owen would try to kill Edwin, so no surprise with the big murder attempt then.

The real surprise of the episode was Gwen inadvertently turning out to be Edwin’s killer. Her flash forward really proved to misleading but it’s a delicious twist that the newest Torchwood member already has blood on her hands, although to Gwen’s defence, she had taken the knife off Owen and Edwin lunged himself at her too fast for her to move the knife out of the way. The question now becomes was Gwen a murderer or did she commit manslaughter. I’d go for the latter, even though it doesn’t really make Gwen feel much better.

This episode has a lot of interesting things to say in the nature of ghosts. With so many of them walking around, some noticed, many of them not really, it can be danger and an error in your own judgement if you listen to every single voice in your head. I like the bonding moments between Gwen and Captain Jack and I’ll love them even more if their relationship is strictly platonic.

I can’t really decide if their gun training session or the talk they had at sunrise (which is always nice to see but very hard to film or photograph at times) amazed me more but so far, their conversations and Captain Jack showing Gwen bits of him that he hasn’t anyone else are very sweet and effective.

Also in “Ghost Machine”

Does anyone notice that the “Previously On” bits have showed one or two things that haven’t actually aired yet?

Gwen: “Who are you?”
Tom: “I want to go home.”

The boy’s full name was Tom Erasmus Flanagan. Gwen met him at 8 years old outside Paddington Station.

Tom: “She’ll talk him to death.”
Gwen (re Owen): “He’ll give as good as he gets.”

Rhys: “If you can’t even tell me if you’re coming or going.”
Gwen: “Well, nagging isn’t going to help.”

In Gwen’s other flashbacks we saw them celebrating her promotion (Torchwood?) and her and Rhys getting ready for Gwen’s mother’s 60th birthday.

Edwin: “You’re a big girl now Lizzie. You can make your own decisions.”

In Owen’s flashback Lizzie was killed on March 29th 1963 aged 17. Her mother Mabel died over the heartache of losing her. You’d never get a murder as vicious as this on Doctor Who. Or rape come to think of it.

Captain Jack (to Owen): “You saw the echo of a moment, amplified by alien technology.”

Gwen: “I don’t even kill spiders in the bath.”
Captain Jack: “Nor do I, not with a gun.”

Captain Jack doesn’t sleep – another side effect of his resurrection? Also he lives in Torchwood HQ. How very Angel Season One of him!

Rhys: “I don’t mind you working all these hours; I really don’t, just as long as you still wanna come home.”
Gwen: “I do, you’re gorgeous.”

Bernie: “You’re gonna rob it off me?”
Captain Jack: “Call the cops then.”

I had to admit to laughing out when the little boy told Owen to beat up Bernie and the little girl started screaming at both of them jumping in her pool. Silly but funny and this episode wasn’t big on humour.

Captain Jack (re Bernie): “He might not be.”
Gwen: “Possible futures, he might like to know that.”

Bernie’s convictions ranged from arson, theft, burglary and blackmail. He found the ghost machine in a pensioner’s house in a biscuit tin which Toshiko took back to Torchwood. We also learned that Edwin had claustrophobia, paranoia, depression and suicidal tendencies.

Bernie: “You’ll never see me again, I promise.”
Edwin: “I know. That’s why I came here.”

Chronology – I’m not actually too sure how much time has passed between “Day One” and this episode, it would also be kind of nice if they could specifically state what month we’re in too.

Owen (re Edwin): “I could’ve killed him but I didn’t.”
Gwen: “No, I did.”

Captain Jack (to everyone): “It’s not meant for us, all these ghosts. We’d be lost.”
Standout music: “Sing” by Travis.

Spooky, chilling, morbid and creepy, “Ghost Machine” serves up the kind of chills most movies nowadays would be envious. With another soon to be scripting for Doctor Who scribe here, Helen Raynor has a flair for writing for uncomfortable chills and wonderful character moments. This episode may not contain a lot of humour or satisfyingly service both Toshiko and Ianto but it’s sheer excellence nonetheless is to be commended.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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