Torchwood’s a much happier family these days, with the feuding of Series One largely forgotten, but having a relative visiting can be a stressful time for any household. Martha Jones’ arrival is a lower profile affair than many had expected, with an apparently arbitrary premiere on BBC3, but it looks set to launch a high-octane arc for the show.
Freema Agyeman’s performance is noticeably different from that which we saw for most of last year- stronger and more willing to take risks. The characterisation builds on her final scene in Doctor Who Series Three, although Agyeman sometimes allows the façade to crack, showing glimpses of the Martha we met at Royal Hope hospital. The incorporation of the several continuity references to The Last of the Time Lords is welcome, particularly given Russell T Davies’ policy of only carrying over character links from a Doctor Who series finale to the following Christmas special, rather than plot-based ones. There’s an innocent joy for a fan in seeing Martha and Jack comparing notes on the consequences of Series Three, and Barrowman and Agyeman give just the right element of glee to the proceedings. This is well integrated with establishing Martha as being able to stand on her own feet, although her mentor’s role in bringing this about strikes a slightly sour note. I’m not a great enthusiast for this fairy godmother conception of the Doctor, flitting through time, making things fall into place for the people he’s met. However, Wilsher manages to salvage the situation somewhat by pitching the Doctor’s act as paying off a debt he owed for her aid in defeating the Master. What’s particularly striking is just how suited her new job is to moving between the various sectors of the Upper Boatverse. RTD has gone on record over his desire to start to integrate the Doctor Who spin-offs into a more coherent whole, and Martha appears to be central to the realisation of this plan- assuming she survives her five episodes of Doctor Who Series Four, it’s hard not to imagine her UNIT connections propelling her into a Sarah Jane Adventure or two. The producers claimed that Martha would be a presence in three episodes, evaluating Torchwood Three for UNIT- an understandable deception to keep the end of the episode under wraps. The fallout from the climax obliges Martha to stay on hand for the foreseeable future, especially as the team is now a medic down…
Ashley Way’s direction is excellent, adding little twists to many scenes to retain the audience’s attention- the sudden addition of the regular cast to a Boardroom scene is particularly memorable, and he capitalises on the wisecracks from Jack which Wilsher often uses to end exchanges. Also effective is Martha’s first person infiltration of the Pharm’s records room, with the video game-like section giving a sudden shift in tone from the more investigative opening. There’s been a reasonable amount of money expended on this episode- the Pharm’s Restricted Area set is a superb creation for just one scene, and it’s little wonder that the Mayfly has been appropriated for use in BBC2’s Torchwood idents. Whoever picked the location for the Pharm’s exterior deserves commendation too- the trees disguise the sparseness of the guards, and give a claustrophobic feel to the establishment. It’s fortunate that all these elements are in place, seen as much of the viewer’s enjoyment of the show depends upon them. The episode is firmly in the Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang style, with the guest characters running riot over the top of a rather straightforward plot. The idea of a medical advances coming from torturing aliens is not exactly dripping with innovation, and the fact that we are introduced to Copley’s victims before we meet the man himself ensures that his claims of acting for the greater good are not given a particularly serious hearing by the audience. Despite attempts to latch onto the recent controversy over clinical trials, the Pharm is a stereotypical sinister research facility, complete with overbearing director and armed militia. Alan Dale gives a first-rate performance as Professor Copley, carrying off both his initial complacency and his despair in the final scene, but the character is plainly hewn from the same material as his desk. There’s no subtly here, and few hints that Copley has ever had a life outside of this episode. He highlights a problem with Torchwood, in the lack of a recurring villain/overlord, who could tie together all the advanced facilities the team keep stumbling across. Just as Mr Saxon’s sponsorship made Lazarus Industries more plausible, so the Pharm would have benefited from being tied to a bigger picture. Such a character wouldn’t even have to be an out & out bad guy, just an ambitious figure, with plans to exploit what the rift brings to Cardiff.
In an interview, Wilsher expressed hopes that the climax of Reset would take viewers by surprise, but it’s a bit too early to come to an opinion on Owen’s death. The “Next Time” preview at the end of the episode confirms that the impact of Copley’s bullet is the main thrust of at least next week’s episode, and Series One’s They Keep Killing Suzie leaves doubts as to whether Dr Harper’s story is truly over. There’s certainly plenty of momentum here for the next writer to utilise, and the approach is reminiscent of the discussions amongst the executive production team whilst the format of the series was being devised. There was significant debate as to whether an adult Doctor Who-style show should consist of one thirteen-part serial, with each episode closing on a cliffhanger. Hinting at this idea now is an excellent way of keeping hold of viewers who just dropped in to see Martha.
The obvious result of introducing such a popular character to the series would be to draw attention away from the regulars, but instead, Wilsher’s script throws them into even sharper relief, while steadily building on events earlier in the series. It’s hard not to applaud such a confident drive forward.