5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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There's a lot wrong with this. But there's some really worthwhile stuff too.
The worthwhile stuff? All Rhys-based. The good characters in Torchwood are never the look-at-us super-secret alien hunters, they're the ordinary people like PC Andy and Beth. And Rhys. Dropping Rhys into the Torchwood setup achieves a level of realism never, ever attained by the usual team. For once, it's actually believable.
And Cath Tregenna does good things with Gwen and Rhys's relationship, too. We particularly love the more subtle stuff, like the way Gwen instantly sticks up for Rhys when it turns out he's involved ("Well, if there was, you weren't to know, were you").
We also love the fact that they've corrected the howling stupidity of Rhys being the last person in Cardiff to know what Gwen does for a crust. It's long overdue, and had Gwen retconned him at the end we would have formed a posse, hunted the writer down and dropped some overripe blueberries down her favourite dress. It could be, and hopefully will be, an interesting new direction for the two of them instead of the Rhys miffed/Gwen apologising and lying rut we've been stuck in since episode one.
It's really, really nice. Shame all that's a bit undermined by the ongoing dumb character notes that are forced in. Gwen's demonstrably close relationship with Rhys just doesn't fit with those godawful scenes with Jack supposedly dripping with sexual tension. Yes, you can love someone and fancy someone else, and even love two people at once, but when you're frantic with worry that someone you love's in danger you're unlikely to be distracted by someone grabbing your wrist and breathing heavily into your face, even if that someone is John Barrowman. (It's not surprising that Rhys picks up on that, since it's so flamin' obvious, but we also like that he doesn't think of suspecting Owen for a second. Well, you wouldn't, would you?)
And the rest of it's just pants. How are we expected to invest in these characters when they morph from week to week?
Remember Jack being all steely-eyed with poor old Beth? When it comes to aliens, it seems that Jack's policy is to freeze first and ask questions later. But here, there's no question of that whatsoever: misty-eyed, all he wants is to release the captive back into the wild. We can't say John Barrowman covers himself in glory in this episode: granted, lines like "What have they done to you, my poor friend?" are utterly unplayable, but what with his stagy anguish over the alien and his meaningfully intense gooey-eyed scenes with Gwen, it's all just a bit overwrought. He's much better as a bastard.
And the rest of them? Ianto's gone from cracking jokes to grim to cracking jokes again in the space of three episodes, and in this one he also produces a James Bond turn that's utterly unlike his usual self. (Whatever that is.) What's more, we never see any reaction from him to the UST scenes between Jack and Gwen: his feelings about Jack are switched on and off at the production team's convenience, making him even more unreal. After trying to sell us the doomed romance of the century last week, Tosh is instantly back to mooning after Owen. (Incredible!) And yet again, they keep Owen in the background, dutifully serving his sentence until we're forgotten what he was like last season. (As if.)
As animal lovers, we hated having to watch this: seeing a creature suffer and die - yes, even one made of pixels - is not our definition of entertainment. But beyond the repulsiveness factor, the plot's all just a little bit silly. Exploiting public paranoia about the food supply is meant to make the plot more plausible, but really. We don't think food regulation is that lax. Nobody was suspicious of giant boneless cubes of meat? And the social comment about the meat industry is noble, but the teensiest bit heavy-handed.
Then there's the whole using Rhys to get into the factory thing. All very tense and stuff, but why? They're happy enough to fling their Torchwood credentials around the rest of the time: why not just walk in? With guns, instead of the oh-so-carefully specified stun guns to make sure that they're outgunned? (And are they outgunned. In the first episode of this season, it took a single Time Agent to bamboozle the whole bunch of them; here, there are more men and they're armed, but the Torchwoodies had the advantage of surprise and still do a lousy job.)
For the third episode in four, Owen does his mad scientist bit (we were just disappointed blood didn't come into it somewhere), and injects the beast in a scene splendidly reminiscent of the darker days of classic Who. Then they incinerate it. Incinerate it? On what? The world's biggest barbecue? Followed by a coda about retconning Rhys, who in a world where the entire population of London scarpers on Christmas Eve to avoid the annual influx of aliens seems to be the only one who hasn't got the memo. And even if that weren't the case, the whole retconning discussing is moot, because you can't retcon away a bullet hole. Also, why does Gwen make the big dramatic stand about not retconning Rhys, thus opening the door to Jack retconning him all sneaky-like? As with Jack re Tommy's fate in the previous episode, why doesn't she just keep her mouth shut?
It's Torchwood, so it's going to be full of unlikely plot turns and strange character reversals. But in amongst that is some stuff with real humanity. Cherish it.
SHUT THAT DOOR
We do like the way that sometimes even they seem to realise how pompous they are and take the piss out of themselves. The bit where Owen and Ianto open the door all action heroish, then slam it again, is a gigglesome case in point.
HOW VERY DARE YOU
"All I ever asked was you trust me." She's kidding, right? Gwen getting on her high horse when for half of last season she was shagging Owen is pretty rich.
IT'S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD
Euthanasia: hard-hitting ending? Or deft way to avoid expensive CGI?