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Torchwood: A Day In The Death

Joseph Lidster occupies an unusual place in the array of professional fans working for the Upper Boat. While the likes of Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Rob Sherman have enjoyed extensive careers outside Who fiction, it is primarily Lidster’s high quality writing for Big Finish which has given him the basis for his Cardiff employment. It quickly becomes obvious, however, that the conclusion of the programme’s "Post Mortem" arc has been placed in a very skilled pair of hands.

The primary task facing the author is that of consolidating the changes in Owen, while restoring him as a useful member of the team. Lidster grasps this challenge, fading the series’ leads into the background and making the plot a secondary element of the episode. Gwen hardly features in A Day In The Death, and Jack only appears to establish the rules under which the story is played out. The resultant space allows Lidster to not only properly convey the horror of Owen’s situation (his discarding of food and toiletries is a superb touch), but also properly address his relationship with Toshiko. Since Chibnall brought this element to the fore in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the treatment of this dynamic has ranged from being largely ignored in To The Last Man to a near-comic approach as Owen firstly failed to spot Sato’s invitation to a date and then dismissed her feelings as a manifestation of grief. Lidster casually overwrites much of this material, but the result is a vast improvement. It’s to be expected that Owen would have noticed Toshiko’s interest in him, and just as true to the character that he’d feel no obligation whatsoever to reciprocate. His explosion of anger on realising that she now regards him as her pet is a wonderful piece of writing, and the subsequent reconciliation matures both characters. The Owen/Tosh paring is now arguably the most three dimensional of the relationships contained in the programme, and it’ll be very interesting to see the direction it takes in the final episodes of the series. After the repair work carried out by Cath Treganna on Gwen and Rhys, all we need now is for someone to fully address the issue of Jack and Ianto…

The structuring of the episode around Owen’s conversation with a potential suicide initially appears a little clichéd, but is actually a good method of maintaining the narrative drive while dealing with some very dark material. Every time Owen’s depression threatens to overwhelm him, Lidster is able to have his audience identification character press Harper to drive events forward. Also commendable is the way the author avoids any feeling of gratuitousness when he exercises his option of including post-watershed content. The figure of a bride in her blood-soaked wedding dress is central to the viewer’s sympathy with the character, and Owen’s impulsive destruction of his finger prevents the outburst in his flat seeming childish. Where Owen’s exploitation of his unnatural abilities felt forced in Dead Man Walking, his assault on the country house has a sheen of style that distracts the viewer from its contrived nature. Of equal importance is the way the evasion of the infrared sensors gives a slight sense of cheating. This feeling that Owen has managed to turn his unfair situation to his advantage prepares the ground for the story’s unexpectedly positive ending, without giving its content away. The execution of this sequence is impressive, although Harper’s use of a flashlight appears little more than a genre convention, given how well lit the interior of the mansion is. While the previous episode suffered serious difficulty with the mechanics of the Hub’s zombie resident, Lidster largely manages to avoid such problems, with the only issue arising in the climax, where Owen can speak but not exhale.

While the previous instalment of the show tied its plot directly to Owen’s plight, Lidster instead establishes only thematic links, and the end result is much more successful. The dark tone of the story, with its fractious character interactions, is perfectly balanced by the inclusion of a very Avenger-ish concept: the eccentric millionaire collector. This thread is initially allowed to simmer in the background, primarily serving as a specimen of Torchwood’s normal work for Owen to be shut out from. As the story progresses, Parker becomes an annoyance to the viewer, a diversion from the far more interesting scenes involving Owen. Lidster cunningly flips this scenario on its head halfway through, raising the millionaire to the status of “A Story” and providing an excuse for Harper to be reinstated as a field agent. That’s not to say, however, that this strand is an unqualified success, with the limiting of Parker to just one scene resulting in the character wearing his purpose in the narrative on his sleeve. During the course of his appearance, he moves from lusting after Toshiko (Translation: “Parker is a womaniser, like Owen”), to opening up about his fear of what awaits him (“Everyone must face death”), before seizing on the hope that he will vicariously join in Torchwood’s adventures (“Dr Harper, you can still make a contribution to humanity”). An earlier encounter with another member of the team would have served to round the character out, and give his eventual contribution greater meaning. Presumably Parker’s truncated appearance was due to the limited availability of Richard Briers, but the compression of this element weakens the story. Despite this, the plot becomes sufficiently engrossing that it comes as something of a surprise when the viewer is reminded that this is Martha Jones’ last episode. Superficially it appears that all the character has brought to this arc is publicity, but the relationships between the regular characters are now so tightly structured that the inclusion of a figure to which they can speak freely has greatly aided the storytelling.

A Day In The Death is a first-rate episode, spoilt only by the clumsy nature of its pivotal scene.

4 Stars

About this entry


"Adam" aside, I thought this was the best ep so far. Shame that lass from Early Doors still can't act. Shame also that the best actor in the show will probably now be quite a bit more background (and, if rumours are to be believed, leaving after this series) after being given what I thought was, all in all, a pretty strong arc in which to shine.

It's also a shame that, after the wedding episode (also quite enjoyable) and a PJ Hammonder, all we've got to look forward to now is Chibnall...

By Seb
March 11, 2008 @ 10:42 pm

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> all we've got to look forward to now is Chibnall...

Yeah, but don't forget Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang! Who knows what he might be capable of if he's being told to do the right things...

By Jonathan Capps
March 12, 2008 @ 3:15 am

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>don't forget Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang!

An episode that, yes, was stronger than most of series one; but which has also looked worse and worse as some episodes of genuine quality have followed it!

By Seb
March 12, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

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> It's also a shame that, after the wedding episode (also quite enjoyable) and a PJ Hammonder, all we've got to look forward to now is Chibnall...

Similar situation in Who series 4 where the RTD haters are gonna be out in force for episodes 10, 11, 12 & 13! Personally I'm glad they're all RTD-penned. I'd rather have one of his episodes than most of the other writers' efforts on the show. I think episodes 1 & 8-13 are pretty surefire bets. You would think the Pompeii episode would be nothing short of unbelievable but...let's just wait and see. The Sontaran 2-parter could also be a complete disaster.

By performingmonkey
March 12, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

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>the RTD haters are gonna be out in force for episodes 10, 11, 12 & 13!

Yeah, this is true. I'm not expecting much of 10, as it's the quick-fix replacement ep, but going by series three, I'm relishing another three-part finale...

By Seb
March 12, 2008 @ 10:14 pm

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Having the showrunner doing 1 &11-13 makes less sense for Torchwood than it does for Who, as what Chibnall's said about episode 11 makes it sound unlikely that it's going to turn out to be a three-partner. The only reason I've been able to think of is simply that he wanted to take his time over them.

As for Who, like Seb, I'm not looking forward to 4.10- the last time RTD had to fill a hole, we got Tooth & Claw, which I really didn't like. What did surpise me is that he's been plugging Tate's performance in the Rose bottle episode.

By Julian Hazeldine
March 13, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

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>An episode that, yes, was stronger than most of series one; but which has also looked worse and worse as some episodes of genuine quality have followed it!

I have to agree. It looked great when all we had to compare it with was S1 and the lamentable "Sleeper" but since then we've had "Adam" and the rather-good scary circus people one; it's looking decidedly average compared to much of this superior second series.

By Zagrebo
March 17, 2008 @ 5:56 pm

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