Writing a story set in partly in the heads of your protagonists is a high-risk strategy. It can excuse almost any flaw of logic and allows you to actively contradict what has gone before, but only as long as the events that unfold manage to hold your audience’s attention. By taking Torchwood to breaking point, Adam overcomes this pitfall with ease.
Cath Treganna’s second contribution to this series is an adaptation of the spin-off novel Boarder Princes, which was published in December 2006. Dan Abnett’s book saw the Torchwood team investigating a number of incidents in Cardiff, their number apparently including “James”, a twenty-something cartoon enthusiast and Gwen’s lover. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that the reader’s confusion abated as the editing of the team’s memories to introduce their new member became apparent. In telling the same story to a more mainstream audience, Treganna is forced to make some compromises. Despite the clever insertion of Adam into the Jack voice-over at the start of the episode, the writer chooses to introduce Adam’s mental manipulation immediately. Where the novel had the reader constantly trying to catch up with the story, this script places the audience considerably ahead of the characters. Although this constitutes a watering down of the original tale, Treganna still manages to add her own spin on the story. While James was a revealed to be a benevolent investigator from another dimension, Adam is easily the most vicious and sadistic adversary the team has yet faced.
Treganna’s affinity for these characters is obvious, as she pinpoints ways in which they could be radically altered. Blocking Gwen’s memories of Rhys is a brilliant about-face from the events of the previous episode, allowing her boyfriend to side with Jack, after the confrontational scenes in Meat. By taking the opportunity to show their relationship starting over afresh, Treganna makes Rhys and Gwen a more convincing couple than before. The changes in Tosh are arguably the most minor of any character- after Greeks Bearing Gifts and To The Last Man, we’re used to the sight of her in love. However, the script at least gives the character some time away from her PC. Owen is essentially discarded for this story, replaced by a different character of the same name. However, this allows Burn Gorman, arguably the best actor of the regular cast, a chance to show us some more of his range. At first it looks as if Ianto is simply staying in the background for this story, but the mid-point of the episode reveals this to be actually a very astute piece of plotting by Treganna. The lack of attention paid to Ianto by Adam, aside from the initial altering of his memories, backfires on the intruder, as the butler is able to piece the lies he has been fed and see Adam for who he is. What follows is easily the most shocking and disturbing moment that Torchwood has yet provided, and is brilliantly played by both David-Lloyd and Bryan Dick. The nightmarish visions are superbly realised, and leave the viewer in no doubt of Adam’s absolute power.
During the first series of the programme, none of its creators had any set plan for Jack, instead allowing writers to take the former Time Agent in whatever direction they chose. Here an agenda is more apparent, as Treganna combines the hints in Captain Jack Harkness than he grew up in the shadow of Dalek attacks upon the human race with the ongoing mystery of Grey, introduced in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Adam’s bringing these events to the surface in a more visible manner allows the viewer to see what went through Jack’s mind in the first episode of this series, without any gratuitous exposition. Treganna is careful not to examine too deeply the concept of manipulating memories; although this creates some niggles with the script, such as Owen’s glasses. (Has Adam altered Owen’s perception of his sight, or simply changed a preference for contacts?) The writer instead trusts the main changes in the characters to hold the audience’s attention. There are even some moments of self-parody, as Adam cements his hold on Jack’s mind with the words “I’m the one you confide in.”. Given Torchwood’s initial habit of pigeonholing its regular characters into stock roles, this comment noticeably leans against the forth wall, as the psychic writes himself into the show. Also bold Jack’s dismissal of Ianto’s dark side, once the latter has confided his belief that he is a serial killer. “That’s not you” appears a rather wry comment on the largely unsuccessful attempts to make Ianto a tragic and twisted figure during the first half of Series One.
Once the crisis is exposed, Jack is firmly placed in the driving seat, allowing his team to restore themselves and confronting the villain. The use of Retcon tablets to defeat Adam is a good exploitation of a piece of the series’ furniture, although denying most of the cast the chance to confront Adam with what he has done to them. The face off in the cells builds on the earlier flashbacks, with the audience just as anxious as Jack to see more of his childhood. The use of such a strong lure is well advised, as Adam’s pleas for mercy are distinctly weak. His claim that the team is happier for his interference is rather dubious in the face of the change in Owen, and absurd in the case of Ianto. While the negating of the events of the episode could be considered an anti-climax, Treganna’s insertion of Adam into Jack’s memories underlines that the only way to stop him is to cut out the rot altogether, and allows the team’s triumph to be made clear. What this story contributes to the ongoing development of these characters is the information about Jack’s past, and reminding him of it through the contents of Adam’s “memory box”.
Adam takes a challenging concept and uses it to shine light on almost every aspect of the show. The result is Torchwood’s finest episode to date.