Torchwood: To The Last Man
Torchwood is a show built around bold choices. However, allowing seven and a half percent of your annual running time to be labelled “The Tosh Episode” is a brave stroke, even by Davies & Chibnall’s standards. Thankfully, rather than a straight repeat of last year’s Greeks Bearing Gifts, this episode is a little more rooted in the character.
Helen Raynor appears to have established her own territory, of taking a team member’s character flaws, and building an episode around them. Last year, Ghost Machine was centred on Owen, and his attitude to women. A misjudged sequence in Everything Changes saw the character use an alien aerosol to make himself sexually irresistible, establishing that rarest of fictional creations: a comedy rapist. Raynor proceeded to send Owen on a vigilante mission over a 1960s murder, by giving him a psychic impression of the victim’s mind. Here, she repeats this approach, although with another member of the team. Naoki Mori has described Toshiko as a child, and it’s easy to see where the comparison comes from. She spends most of her time on-screen playing with toys, while her job isn’t the reason for not having a life of her own- it’s an excuse.
In Greeks Bearing Gifts, she was the story’s victim, with the solution to the problem delivered single-handedly by Jack. Here, Raynor instead forces the character to grow up, placing her in a position of responsibility and not giving her a way out. Instead of giving into her feelings, she has to master them. This progression is shown slowly. Tosh’s reaction to being kissed by Tommy is a brilliant piece of characterisation- despite the anxiety we saw earlier over what to wear, and the gentle mocking from the rest of the team over her pet solider, she’s shocked to find that her annual playdate is starting to turn into a proper relationship. Raynor deserves praise for continually ignoring the potential clichés in her storyline. Gwen’s wry commentary on the scenario at the start of the episode overcomes the issue of this annual event not having been mentioned before. Instead of allowing the team to fumble around in the dark, she delivers Torchwood 1918’s letter to Jack just as its absence begins to irritate. While a more obvious approach would see Tommy reluctant to return to 1918 due to his attachment to Toshiko, the writer gives a much more believable and pressing reason; by bringing about a relapse in his shellshock when he learns of his death. Unfortunately, it’s this part of the episode which fails to convince. Torchwood’s limited budget works against it here, as the story is unable to show us the horrors that Tommy is recoiling from. Anthony Lewis gives a reasonable performance as Tommy, but not one good enough to make his condition convincing without a visual crutch.
Unlike last week’s bodged storytelling, here most events proceed clearly, with no potential for misunderstanding. As in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, the ground rules for the creakier elements of the episode (in the form of a sealed box containing the plot), are fully spelt out in advance. Through this signposting, it’s possible for the viewers’ suspension of disbelief to be maintained-
-until the last five minutes. Toshiko’s telepathic conversation with Tommy is a wince-inducing contrivance, made even worse by the nonsensical explanation. Admittedly, it might be hard for Raynor to devise another way to let Tosh speak to someone in 1918. It’s not as if there’s a MASSIVE HOLE IN TIME AND SPACE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HUB. Presumably the writer was anxious not to use a plot device that would allow Tommy to return to 2008, but other scripts have had no hesitation in making the rift’s properties bend to the needs of their storyline. The plot means that there is little potential for the episode to function as a conventional ghost story- the viewer knows that the apparitions from the past are only threatening as signs of a broader problem. Despite this, the initial encounter between Gwen and an amputee manages to be surprisingly menacing, even if later rifts on this theme don’t meet the same standard. The array of characters encountered from the past is sadly limited, with most only defined by their uniform (nurse or solider). Thankfully the earlier Torchwood operatives, although not fully rounded characters, provide a more identifiable presence.
However, the episode has one serious weakness: cannibalisation. At times, I was expecting to hear the words “Previously, On Torchwood” read over the action. The supernatural appearances from wartime Britain were taken straight from Ghost Machine. The description of the rift meltdown tallied perfectly with what we saw in End of Days. We had a temporal refugee roaming around Cardiff and falling for one of the team, a concept previously explored in Out of Time. The episode’s climax borrowed from even more recent events, in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: presumably Owen has ordered business cards bearing the words “Techno-babble Blood Manipulation a Speciality”. Even the first time around, none of these concepts were original, but its main plot being attached to such familiar events weakened the episode.
To The Last Man’s character-driven nature make it possible for the viewer to overlook the story’s occasional lapses in realisation, but the derivative nature of so many elements is harder for it to shrug off. It’s a smooth ride with to a real character progression, but the journey itself is a little too familiar.