Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x07: "Greeks Bearing Gifts"

Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Colin Teague

Getting to the halfway point of Torchwood’s mostly excellent first season, it’s been pointed out that nearly ever episode has so far ripped something off or simply played homage from various TV series and movies. Even I can’t deny that but I don’t certainly begrudge the show from sampling as many others in recent times are also responsible of this.

One thing I love about Torchwood is that unlike recent Sky One acquisition and rival since “Countrycide”, Lost is that not only does Torchwood refrain from the at times tiresome bait and switch method of plotting but even when the characters behave in a pretty vile manner, Torchwood still has a beating heart where the characters come across as real people and not just plot points.

Listening to the commentary for “Doomsday” (I bought Season Two of Doctor Who on DVD on Friday), both David Tennant and Billie Piper had some thoughts on the use of flashbacks, that I found interesting as this is exactly how this episode begins – flashback style. Personally I like them, provided they offer substance to the story of the week and here they more or less do as we take a trip to Cardiff in 1812, in a forest where a prostitute named Mary is fleeing from a soldier who wants to kill her.

Mary is quit witted and lively and has no trouble goading her over righteous conquest as he sees fit to dispatch of her as quickly as possible. Maybe Mary stole from him, slept with another comrade or he has a wife and doesn’t want his tryst with Mary to be public knowledge but either way, Mary is on the ouch end of a bullet when angered suitor shoots her with glee. Cautionary tale for 19th Century hookers – know your clientele’s behavioural habits before taking them on.

Of course for some who has been shot, Mary is more than alive and kicking in modern day Cardiff where she spies on the exact forest in which she was supposedly killed is now a construction site and is also a visiting spot for Torchwood who have been alerted to more trouble I presume. Nice way of opening up the episode though!

The Torchwood gang find a 19th Century corpse which Owen assumes is a woman as Gwen somewhat teases him. So far it’s a pretty regular scene of the crime scenario though Captain Jack makes it interesting by revealing he wished that this site had a party rather than a corpse. I think I’m with him on that one as my own social calendar hasn’t been brim with excitement of late. To further warn readers, there’ll be a lot of praise for good old Captain Jack in this episode.

Anyways, less Jack fawning and more to the point as the real focus in this episode is the much loved but very little revealed on Toshiko, who like Ianto in “Cyberwoman” is finally given some much warranted emphasis. Basically this episode sees Tosh having a pretty awful day at the office as not only is she relegated to less exciting work but the immature tag team of Owen and Gwen wreck her computer, which understandably is something to be pissed off about.

Owen however lacks enough self-awareness to see Toshiko’s annoyance of having her work compromised and doesn’t bother with an apology but insults her uptight nature some more. Amazingly enough, the usually conscientious Gwen also doesn’t bother with saying sorry. I know neither of them exactly killed Toshiko’s family pet but a simple sorry wouldn’t have killed either Owen or Gwen.

Also if the roles had been reversed and Toshiko had destroyed a sample of Owen’s, you could bet anything if Gwen’s recklessness in “Day One” is to go by, Owen wouldn’t shut up about it. He’s also a lot pettier about things than Toshiko appears to be as well.

Toshiko then does what the rest of us mere mortals during a crap day at the office and goes to a classy bar to drink and mope all by herself. However the brooding part to that daily mission is squandered when a sexed up 21st Century version of Mary pops over to Toshiko in an attempt to get away from a would be suitor. Well, given the last suitor we saw you with, I think I would find Toshiko something of a tonic instead.

Mary certainly knows how to break the ice as not only is her suitor storyline a pack of lies but she tells Toshiko she knows exactly who she is in a pretty stalker like manner and more importantly, Mary is more than aware of Torchwood and perhaps Toshiko’s role. This girl certainly packs a punch as even Tosh is impressed with Mary’s knowledge but who or what exactly is Mary and why the interest in Toshiko?

Mary threw a claim about being part of a disparate bunch of geeks who research alien technology and Torchwood but you’re left with the feeling that Mary’s flying a solo mission here and while enjoying drinks with her new best friend, Toshiko is then given a pendant by Mary. Slow down Mary, I’m pretty sure Toshiko isn’t easy.

Luckily for everyone else, that pendant isn’t of the Vengeance Demon variety and instead Toshiko can hear everyone’s thoughts and becomes somewhat overwhelmed by it until Mary gets her to focus on one voice only, because it isn’t going to be easy to use Toshiko if she collapses, now is it?

Being quite the moralist herself, Toshiko’s first impulse is to give the pendant to Jack and the gang and honestly given the debacle in “Ghost Machine”, that would be a sensible enough idea but it’s established very quickly that Mary is always one step ahead of Toshiko and plays on her vulnerabilities enough times to keep her in line.

Well the lure of the pendant also does that too, but Mary actually seducing and having sex with Toshiko are other great ways of being kept in line. Despite Toshiko’s first bit of action being of the same sex variety, this episode doesn’t really indicate that she’s gay (she seems to harbour a crush for Owen) but it certainly brings up the bisexuality debate that I would’ve loved to have seen addressed with Ianto. That being said, can the next piece of same sex action on this series be something more genuine? No more pseudo CPR or alien pheromones, because it’s time to think outside the box here.

Toshiko certainly has an interesting time reading random strangers mind and although it is an invasion of privacy and to an extent this episode sampling the Buffy episode “Earshot”, I would be just as curious to wonder what people really think. Not just of me but in general. The pendant’s lure is very strong, so you can understand why Toshiko does give in.

In the office, Toshiko does get the land of her life when not only do Owen and Gwen reveal their feelings for each other and their thoughts on Toshiko but Toshiko is more gutted about both Owen and Gwen’s lack of respect towards and less about their affair. In other words that’s a good thing because Owen’s somewhat horrible thoughts should be enough to break whatever crush Toshiko had on him.

Toshiko initially viewed both Owen and Gwen as being two faced and generally having two work colleagues who actually dislike for no real good reason as such. Mary did rightly point out that people are complicated in that way. No matter how much you get on with someone, there are things about them that will annoy you to no end either.

Reading Ianto would prove less traumatic for Toshiko because the only thing that is plaguing Ianto’s mind is the loss of Lisa and his struggle to cope with things. Ianto’s state of mind is pretty deep and depressing coming to think about it but it’s very consistent too and like a few other viewers, you do want to give him a hug.

However trying to read Captain Jack proved the most tricky of them all because guess what? He can’t be read which if isn’t further indication that there’s something not right with Jack, then what will be? It gets Toshiko’s suspicions aroused as Jack confronts her over saving a woman and son from being killed by a jealous ex-husband and I did enjoy the cat and mouse antics between both Jack and Tosh.

Learning that the pendant is more trouble than good, Toshiko is hit with another revelation – Mary is an alien and needs to get into Torchwood and after a pretty melodramatic crying scene and a conveniently quick scene where Owen is scanning for bodies with missing hearts and finds a link, Toshiko has no other option but to let Mary into an organisation that a slip of a girl like Gwen had no problem getting into.

As guest villains go this week, former My Family actress Danielle Denby Ashe is a great choice for the sexy femme fatale Mary who manages to remain a complex enough villain. Mary doesn’t want world destruction; she simply wants to go home and just basically used Toshiko to get her transporter back from Jack.

However desperation kicks in enough for Mary to turn on Toshiko and put a knife to her throat while convincing Toshiko that none of her co-workers give a damn. The mind reading pendant is a communications device for Mary’s people but luckily Toshiko realises that her co-workers actually do care about her and Jack manages to telepathically communicate with Toshiko as a method of duping Mary and sending her to a more fiery place than ever.

The final act of this episode is one of the strongest ways to end an episode and offered a refreshing change of pace. First of all, we get a great scene between Gwen and Toshiko where the former apologises and chooses not to judge Toshiko’s action regarding the pendant. Too bad Owen couldn’t have shown similar compassion.

The best bit though is with Captain Jack and Toshiko outside the Torchwood building discussing the nature of the pendant in a scene similar to the ending of “Ghost Machine” but what really sparkles about this is Jack’s compassion for Toshiko, alongside him admitting to being an inept boss and not knowing all that much about himself. It’s certainly a very telling moment between the two of them.

Also in “Greeks Bearing Gifts”

Did anyone catch the spoiler flavoured trailer for upcoming episodes an hour after BBC3 aired this episode? We’re in for some brilliant stuff.

Mary (to the soldier): “Religious man, are you? I’m not your bloody hound.”

Owen (to Toshiko): “Sometimes I think that stick up your arse has a stick up it’s arse.”

In this episode we’ve learned that Toshiko was born in July 1972 and has lived in Osaka and Wales and has been working for Torchwood for three years. Was she working for them during the Doctor Who episode “Aliens Of London”?

Toshiko (re pendant): “You’re wrong cos I will.”
Mary: “You won’t.”

Mary has claimed to being banned from 20 different bars and Toshiko has made a thing about keeping a birthday card Owen gave her.

Toshiko: “I wouldn’t say your thoughts are exactly pure.”
Mary: “At least they’re consistent.”

Various thoughts Toshiko heard included quoting James Bond, lesbian discussion, Sudoku, emailing, sagging breasts and a husband wearing his wife’s knickers.

Captain Jack: “So you secretly fight crime, is that it?”
Toshiko: “I didn’t want to sound like I was showing off.”

We got a UNIT/Harriet Jones mention in this episode. How cool was that? Plus that transporter Mary wanted back so badly looked like the cock statue on Nip/Tuck.

Mary: “You’re not interested in understanding alien culture. It’s a good job you don’t have the technology too.”

No Rhys this week. His time on this series is coming closer to an end.

Captain Jack (to Mary): “My guess is you’re not from around these parts.”

We finally saw the Weevils once again who got pretty freaked out at one point. Is the pterodactyl still alive?

Captain Jack: “Do I get to beat people?”
Toshiko: “We’ve got rules for that.”
Standout music: Travis’ “Sing” and Snow Patrol’s “Spitting Games”.

“Greeks Bearing Gifts” spun a new twist on the Trojan Horse story and was a pretty good opportunity for Naoko Mori to shine. This episode will definitely make you sympathise with Toshiko (not that I didn’t beforehand) and with more questions raised about Jack, things are becoming very interesting in Cardiff.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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