19 June 2017: The Eaters of Light review added.
11 June 2017: Empress Of Mars review added.
6 June 2017: Extremis/Pyramid At The End Of The World/Lie Of The Land review added.
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TO THE LAST MAN
Bummer. This actually looked quite promising at the beginning.
Not that it had a sterling pedigree or anything. Helen Raynor wrote the godawful Ghost Machine in last year's Torchwood and the equally woeful Daleks In Manhattan double. Nevertheless, with the intriguing beginning in 1918 and the focus on Tosh (yes, Tosh!), they definitely managed to get our attention.
And for a while, it lived up to the promise. There are a lot of careful details, like the ringed day on Tosh's Japanese-art calendar and the scoreboard in the pub labelled "Home: Tosh/Away: Tommy", that give the thing some dramatic heft. There are some nice ideas, too, like the temporal lock and the guy they wake up once a year. And after the botched lesbo-alien fiasco last year, it's nice to see Tosh get - at last! - some character development that actually feels real. Her excitement at the arrival of Tommy Day, and their tentative but real pleasure in each other's company, is exactly right.
But it's Torchwood, so the next step is screwing it all up.
First of all, it's the relationship. Like we said, it's absolutely right at the beginning: Tosh and Tommy have the awkwardness you'd expect of a couple who've only known each other for four days. But somehow, over the course of the episode this magically transmogrifies into the lost love of the century. Can we say again: four days? And for Tosh those days were a year apart. What's more, we know she wasn't kissing Tommy's picture every night and slipping it under her pillow, either, because she was too busy yearning after Owen. (Ew!)
Sure, Tosh is upset that she's sending Tommy to his death. Who wouldn't be? But the terrible, terrible tragedy of her losing her lover is just silly. As with Owen last year, who seriously spat the dummy when his girlfriend left him after a week, it's totally unbelievable. And when it's unbelievable, we stop caring about the story.
Then there's the time paradox plot. There's all kind of dumbness stuffed in here, and we can't unpick all of it, but in general: wha? Are we missing something here?
Let's start in 1918. Tommy appears, declaims "You have to take me so I can be here, now!" and the Torchwood Two beetle back into the ward, grab the other Tommy and hustle him away. That Tommy knows nothing, yes? And the other Tommy loses his memory and has no further contact with Torchwood before he does. So ye olde Torchwood impressively extrapolates from the somewhat incoherent "You have to take me so I can be here, now!" to "Shove me in the freezer until further notice!" Is it just us, or is that a pretty big leap?
So anyway. Old-style Tommy is duly shelved with the oven chips, and old-style Torchwood sits down to write their letter and put it in a time-activated canister. Which doesn't open until Tommy is needed. So how do old-style Torchwood figure out which day that is, again? Remember, they've got the Tommy who knows nothing about anything, and neither the other Tommy nor Tosh told them anything about the date in question.
Meanwhile, here in the present day, Torchwood wake up Tommy every year to make sure he hasn't gone off. They have no idea when he's going to be needed, right? Lucky for them, it happens to conveniently be the day they've thawed him out, but leaving aside that one in 365 possibility, what's with all the hospital visiting and stuff? Let's just repeat it: modern-day Torchwood are completely in the dark about where and when. So why does Gwen happen to go to the hospital on that very day? What for? And what's more, why do they all trundle over there at the end when only Tosh and Tommy can do anything?
And while we're on about the hospital, they do a nice job with the ghost scenes, with the creepy music and the flickering lights and all, but look at it a bit closer and you find it's all totally spurious. They're not menacing or bent on evil, and they're not even proper ghosts: just patients and hospital staff, going about their hospitally business in the wrong timezone.
Then there's the ending, and it's here where things really rot down. First of all, the last 40% of the programme is entirely dependent on one thing. One stupid thing. Right - it's Jack telling Tosh that when he gets back Tommy's going to die.
Why would Jack do this? He knows Tommy has to go through with it, because if he doesn't the whole world will get squished into a time sandwich. It's not even a question of Tommy nobly giving up the chance of life to save everybody else - if he doesn't do it, he'll die along with everybody else anyway. By telling Tosh, Jack makes her burden a hundred times harder to bear, and Tommy finding out, which is a predictable consequence, is just cruel. What's more, Jack's risking the fate of the entire world. What should actually happen is for Jack to keep the consequences of Tommy's return to himself and live with them. That's why he's in charge. And the only reason he doesn't do that is that if he did, Tommy would go home straight away, pausing only for a little hug and a couple of tears with Tosh, and the programme would run fifteen minutes under.
But it gets worse. Oh, much worse. Just when you think it's all over, they get the silly hat out. We thought Owen's blood Margarita in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was moronic, but combining blood and a mind probe is a positive symphony of stupidity. Not to mention - hey, look at the ceiling! What's that cardboard chariot doing up there? And why's the guy in it wearing wings? Yep, it's yer basic deus ex machina.
About the only interesting thing in here is another look, after the chilling glimpse in Sleeper, at Torchwood's methods. Tosh says Tommy isn't their prisoner, but we beg to differ. Jack knows Tommy's essential, so how far would Tommy have got had he decided not to go back to the freezer? Ironically, however, the script itself glosses over that point entirely, instead choosing to highlight a comparison between Jack and the generals which falls down the instant Jack points out that Tommy's the only one who can do it (and given that Tommy will die either way is moot anyway). Sigh.
And the other characters? Pretty much business as usual, except for Ianto, who's lost last episode's joke book, and Owen, who with his "I don't want you to get hurt" speech is practically teeth-achingly nice. Any further down this road and he'll be spending entire episodes helping old ladies down from trees. Has there ever been another show where they've got a character so spectacularly wrong that they later have to backpedal at full tilt? We can't think of one.
Good start. Bad finish.
WRITE THIS DOWN
Could that line about Tosh only having to call Tommy her brave handsome hero and he'd do anything for her have been any clunkier a plant?
KHAKI? WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Why does Tommy look wonderingly at his clothes? Yes, they're nearly a century old, but for him it was only three months ago.
Tosh was worried Tommy would see her getting old. That's the worst of her problems? She isn't even that much older than him, is she? And isn't she presuming a bit on four days' acquaintance?
Why bother going to the trouble of having time crashing dramatically into other time when all you see of it is some blobs on a screen?