Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x09: "Random Shoes"

Written by Jaquetta May
Directed by James Erskine

We live, we die and in the latest episode of Torchwood, while there may not be an afterlife as such, there’s certainly more than nothing which the nihilistic Suzie advocated last week. Its seven days and I still miss that glove wielding psycho chick. That’s probably another reason why this episode isn’t a big favourite of mine then.

Since its arrival, Torchwood hasn’t exactly been shy of pulling ideas from other TV series but now, it’s even taking ideas from Doctor Who as the much maligned “Love And Monsters” is the influence this week. In fact it’s like part two of said episode and I defy anyone to say otherwise as for one week only our anti-heroes are peripheral to the ongoing plot.

With no sign of Peter Kay or any other comedian in an alien fat suit, the episode opens up on a narration from 28 year old man called Eugene Jones, who starts the hour with the horrible realisation that he’s been killed in a random hit and run but somehow his spirit/essence isn’t passing on. The big question is why but obviously you have to wait a while before that answer is finally, so until then there are more pressing matters at hand.

While Eugene was alive he spent a great deal of the time actively stalking Torchwood in order to get them to look at his alien artefact and now that he’s dead, it’s only Gwen who gives something vaguely resembling a toss about finding out what actually happened to the poor lad.

In a major case of pissing people off, the rest of Torchwood don’t seem particularly interested. Captain Jack and Ianto are virtually non-vocal about the circumstances surrounding Eugene’s demise, Toshiko for some uncharacteristic reason refuses to see as little more than a hit and run and Owen really wins the award for Insensitive Prick with the total callousness of not caring. No-one is expecting Owen to break out in tears over the death of some guy who died that may have annoyed him but a fragment of compassion wouldn’t exactly have killed him either.

For a group of people who are constantly seeing impossible things (cannibals, sex aliens, machines linking to the past and dead colleagues being resurrected), not only does their dismissal of Eugene reek of annoyance and hypocrisy but it also shows that emotionally, these people are dangerously too detached from reality.

Normally the shameless plugging of Gwen’s humanity can be insulting to an audiences intelligence but for once, it seems downright essential as she is the only who actually does something about Eugene and when Owen baits her on her compassion, you can’t help but wish he would take more consideration in his choice of words. You don’t have to be touchy feely to give a fuck, mate.

Granted Gwen’s reasons for investigating Eugene’s final steps before he died aren’t totally selfless either. Owen was right about her feeling guilty for all the time she dismissed Eugene’s ham fisted efforts to get Torchwood interested in a particular but even you can’t hold that against the girl.

So who exactly is Eugene Jones and instead of wondering why as viewers we should wonder why Russell and company felt the need to dedicate an episode to him when they pulled a similar stunt on Doctor Who six months ago, the real question is why should we care about him, aside from feeling bad that he had his life cut short?

As a child, Eugene was a swot at Maths but when he blanked during a tournament and lost a trophy for his school, his emotionally detached father used Eugene’s failure as an excuse to abandon Eugene, his mum and young brother Terry. Okay that may be a bit too mawkish but as a 14 year old child; would you like to grow thinking you were in some way responsible for your parents splitting up?

During that time and as a consolation prize, a compassionate teacher called Mr Garrett gave Eugene an alien eye which he claimed fell from space and from there, Eugene’s in everything extraterrestrial was brought to the fore.

If Elton was obsessed with The Doctor and finding out how he remembered him from a previous encounter, then Eugene is mostly curious and wishful that the alien who left it’s eye behind would someday come back to reclaim it or failing that, Eugene spent his time following Torchwood around in the hopes that they would get interested. Only when you’re dead, pal!

Former As If actor Paul Chequer plays the role of Eugene and while he excels in a lot of later scenes, he isn’t quite as charismatic as Marc Warren who played a similar role in “Love And Monsters”. There’s nothing actually terribly horrible or even dislikeable about Eugene but aside from his mum and at least one work colleague, his death hasn’t massively impacted outsiders.

His mother is naturally upset and numb with disbelief as she watches a video of Eugene’s 1992 tournament but his brother Terry is more angry and lays into a foul mouthed eulogy that proves more poignant and interesting than anything that will be later said at Eugene’s funeral and his co-workers, including a girl called Linga, although she provides Gwen with some helpful information, she doesn’t exactly make much of a screen presence either.

The second half of this episode follows an ongoing plot when Gwen learns that Eugene was intent on selling his alien eye so he could take himself and Linga to Australia. The eye we learn from Jack is called a Dogan Sith and it’s the only time our gorgeous but somewhat inept boss gives Gwen anything to, when he doesn’t berate her about not answering her phone. Geez Jack, don’t crack the whip too hard then!

While in a hotel, Gwen starts piecing things together, which is after trips to a local cafĂ©, video store, and getting a hint about a place with happiness while she looks through his phone and sees photos of random shoes (they had to reference the title somehow) but at this point, Eugene is enjoying following Gwen as she investigates his death and doesn’t want this to end. That girl must give off a hell of a pheromone because if it isn’t Rhys or Owen, it’s now dead Eugene who wants a piece of Gwen. Only kidding, even I can see Gwen isn’t a minger.

When Gwen cottons that “happiness” means a place called Happy Cook, she’s in there like a shot to quiz the waitress as surprisingly Eugene’s alien eye generated a huge sum of money but in flashback, we’re quick to realise that Eugene wouldn’t exactly be rolling in the money with the nasty reality check in store.

It seems with friends as idiotic and nasty as Gary and Josh, the need for enemies is futile as the terrible twosome reveal to their crestfallen friend that they are the mysterious bidders and to add insult to injury, sleazy Josh is only willing to give Eugene £34 for the Dogan Sith. Eugene retaliated weirdly by swallowing the bloody thing and after a failed attempt from his friends to retrieve it from his stomach, Eugene ran out to ongoing traffic.

Okay so Toshiko and Owen were right in the sense that nothing totally sinister actually happened to Eugene but as deaths go, this was still a pretty shitty one and when Gwen gets his loser mates to admit their guilt, Eugene begins to places all the pieces together and realises that the alien eye gives you the chance to reflect on your own life as a whole.

Which is great because at his own funeral (horrible versions of “Danny Boy” aside), Eugene is able to forgive his father and even manages to save Gwen from being killed in the process. Can’t that girl look where she’s going?

For a guy who Torchwood never gave a chance to explain himself, Eugene got to fulfil a few dreams before passing on , which he later did in a pretty naff sequence. He got to see and explore the Hub in all it’s glory, voiced his thoughts all to clearly as Gwen investigated his death, save the former policewoman’s life and get a snog from her in the process when for a brief moment he was able to see and felt by Gwen.

Gwen being grateful and relieved to see Eugene is relatively sweet, especially as even then the others are pretty non-vocal about his sudden appearance but the way he left and her calling out for him at the end was just so badly done. Did she really think he was going to come back to her?

Also in “Random Shoes”

The original title of this episode was supposed to be “Invisible Eugene” until the change a few days prior to airing on BBC3. Although “Random Shoes” is much better, why the change in title at the last minute?

Toshiko (re Eugene): “Couldn’t even cross the road without messing it up.”

Eugene (re alien eye): “If you leave something really important behind, you’d come back and get it, don’t you?”

Eugene’s killer was never properly identified. Ianto just said it was some random drunk who abandoned Eugene because he assumed someone would find him. Stupid moron!

Owen (re Eugene): “He had a bit of a thing for you and now you’re feeling guilty.”
Gwen: “Sod off!”
Owen (to Eugene): “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the rest of us are human and amazingly enough, we still get on with our jobs.”

Eugene was the first person in a while to actually comment on The Doctor’s hand in a jar. Shame no-one else has commented on that and MIA pterodactyl and Rhys.

Josh: “Bit of a dreamer.”
Eugene: “Irresistible.”

Terry (re Eugene): “He may be able to square root the frigging root but he still couldn’t cross the road.”

The more you actually Dogan, the more it sounds similar to Dagon as in the sphere that repelled Glory on Buffy. Okay, it doesn’t but it did remind me of that, so I had to throw it in.

Eugene (to Gwen): “I don’t want you to find out what happened. I don’t want this to end, I love you.”

Eugene: “I’m meeting the alien.”
Josh: “We are the alien.”

What was the point of all those snapshots of shoes? Did Eugene think his mates were going to abduct him and he wanted evidence? No proper explanation was offered for that.

Gary: “Shut up.”
Josh: “This woman is complying, man.”

Congratulation is in order: Two days after this episode aired, BBC revealed that the series has been renewed for a second run with the chance of terrestrial viewers seeing it first as well. Flaws or not, this show deserved it and hey, Robin Hood got it too.

Gary (to Gwen): “Josh had new shoes. He was making a fuss.”
Josh: “You were overweight.”

Eugene (re his father): “And that’s a shame because we missed each other completely.”

Chronology: If Eugene was 14 in 1992 and 28 now, then it has to be 2006 which contradicts the Doctor Who timeline in a big way.

Eugene: “Are you okay?”
Gwen: “It’s so good to see you.”

Eugene: “So breathe deep and swallow it while you can because take it from me, life whizzes by.”

Standout music: David Bowie’s “Star Man” and Anthony And The Johnson’s “Hope There’s Someone”.

Obviously this episode isn’t anywhere near as good as last week’s stunner and while it’s completely devoid of advancing any real plots as such, “Random Shoes” makes for an interesting character study on a complete outsider but the ending is nowhere as compelling as the similarly themed “Love And Monsters” from Doctor Who (isn’t it funny this aired the same week US viewers got the much compared Doctor Who episode?). Another disadvantages this episode was way too much narration and fact pulling, neither of which totally added to the ongoing plot.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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