5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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DEAD MAN WALKING
Any episode that starts with Martha Jones, plus Owen on a slab, has got to be off to a good start. In fact, we gave Owen's corpse a round of applause, which is the most heartfelt display of emotion Torchwood's ever been able to get out of us.
We were worried that this episode would be like so many this season - really promising at the beginning, then sliding inexorably down into craptasticness. It doesn't, though. One difference is the beginning stays good for longer: Owen being dead and all, and Jack's scene with the creepy little girl, and the hunt for the glove in the scary church, are all brilliant.
The other difference is that immediately after all that good stuff, instead of a gradual decline the episode instantly plunges to zero and remains there.
As with Adam, we were constantly reminded when watching Dead Man Walking of other takes on the same material who'd done it so much better. Rimmer coping with being dead in early Red Dwarf, for example, blows Owen completely out of the water. And all the black eyes and growly voice stuff was infinitely better - and actually frightening, instead of hilarious - in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. As for Death, we prefer Terry Pratchett's version to a bony cloud of smoke that bears an unfortunate resemblance to a cuddly gorilla. (Look again. You'll see what we mean.)
Then there's the glove. Dear God, the glove. What were they thinking? Have they never seen The Addams Family, or did they just think we were too stupid to remember it? When the glove leapt up onto its fingers and started to scuttle we all groaned in unison. Then as it clutched Martha's face, we were laughing so much we couldn't breathe. That wasn't the best bit, though: that honour goes to the bit where Jack's wrestling with the glove while Ianto's nervously brandishing his, er, pole in the background. Pure hysteria.
In fact, if it weren't for all that deadly serious heart-tugging stuff about Owen, we could have sworn they were taking the piss. Did they really mean us to take Owen grappling with some smoke seriously? (And who knew you could take Death out with a half-Nelson?)
The problem is that having set up an interesting scenario, they yet again haven't got a clue how to get something interesting out of it. After the setup, it's all unintentional (?) hilarity, clichés and awkward scenes that don't quite know what they're doing. Like the Weevil chase, f'rinstance: before that, the plot's all about Owen, but they obviously thought some more action was needed, so out of nowhere they start running round a carpark while we look at our watches and wonder when they're getting back to the actual story.
As for the death bit, as Rimmer shows you can get a lot out of this concept, but they fall a long way short: they've thought about it, but not enough. For example, after the generic Possessed While Clubbing, there's the ever-so-Torchwood scene with some slapper shoving her hand down Owen's trousers and a careful explanation that he hasn't got any blood flow. Fine as far as it goes (and you should feel grateful you're not a witness to our frequent conversations about how sexy vampires deal with this very problem), but what about the fact that he's also room temperature? How come she didn't notice that? How come he can't digest the beer but can swallow it, peristalsis obviously working just fine? And why isn't he decomposing?
The emotional consequences, too, are pretty dull. Owen's annoyed at being brought back for an alarm code, and he's a bit depressed. And (in part zillion of the effort to redeem him) he's utterly noble and heroic when it comes to laying down his, um, life for the greater good, spouting horrific lines like "I'm still a doctor. Put me to work. See if we can't even that score." Yawn. Hopefully they'll take this storyline in a more interesting direction in future episodes.
Martha is utterly wasted. She's unnecessary to all the Hub stuff, is wrinkly then isn't. It's as if the script had already been written and she was forcibly wedged into it at a later date. (And gah, what a terrible makeup job. We were amazed when they said she was old: we assumed she'd been turned into an alien.)
And, uh, that's it. To be honest, we found this so boring we had real trouble concentrating. So that's all we've got.
THERE ARE EIGHT MILLION STORIES IN THE NAKED CITY
So Owen's Torchwood officer 565, is he? Wow, 564 more of them. We can't help feeling wistful at this thought: surely some of them - any of them - were more interesting than this lot?
Can't say we were surprised to discover Owen was still with us, because his left shoulder moves after he's "dead" immediately post-glove.
I'LL GO THROUGH IT AGAIN
"We fight monsters - what happens when it turns out we're the monster?" Um, yeah. That's what the episode's about. Did they really have to spell it out?
"The ones with the best chance of making it are the ones who believe they can beat death." Owen's obviously been too busy shagging to keep up with his research. Recent studies show that whether you're determined to beat cancer or you're fatalistically apathetic makes zero difference to your chance of survival.
PRESENT COMPANY EXCEPTED
"You can never really beat death…it's always in the shadows waiting." Jack says this?