Torchwood: Something Borrowed
Gwen Cooper’s engagement is a perfect case study for the changes made to Torchwood since its first series. What would have undoubtedly been a fraught element, with the big day drawing closer as her job ate away at Gwen’s once-normal life, has instead been left in the background, quietly getting ready for its moment in the sun. Unfortunately, while Phil Ford’s script makes no real mistakes, it doesn’t allow the story to fulfil its full potential.
Although this instalment is clearly regarded as a holiday after the darkness of recent weeks, the writer keeps the series’ ongoing threads ticking over, with just enough references to Owen’s condition to remind viewers of the change in him. Also welcome is the return of the singularity scalpel- exactly the sort of continuity across the series that eluded the programme’s original run. (Character Options will probably have them in the shops shortly.) Unfortunately, the wedding guests are mostly one-dimensional, with only Gwen’s father showing any real depth of character. Banana Boat and Mervyn might as well have had the words “cannon fodder” inscribed on their foreheads. On Gwen’s side, the problem with the Hen Night is that we’ve never seen these friends even hinted at before, and the emphasis the show has placed on Cooper having “a life of her own” means that the viewer is reluctant to accept such a sudden addition. Production values are good, with a large cast and some simple but effective make-up for the Nostrovites. Ford’s dialogue includes some lovely one-liners, with entries for that forthcoming Christmas bestseller, Ianto Jones’ Little Book of Deadpan, coming thick and fast.
The episode’s real success lies with the happy couple themselves. The decisions taken in the first third of the programme show both characters at their absolute best, with Gwen determined that Rhys should have some compensation for everything he’s put up with since she left the police force, and her fiancé just as resolute that the wedding be cancelled on learning that not doing so would put her life in jeopardy. Placing these decisions so early on the in the episode is excellent structuring, ensuring that the viewer is favourably disposed to the pair through the events that follow. The writer also displays a welcome level of tact when dealing with the programme’s elephant in the corner, allowing an undercurrent of competition between Rhys and Jack, but nothing stronger. The tension between Jack and Gwen, originally assumed to be the linchpin of the show, has gradually evaporated over time, as writers realised that they couldn’t exploit this dynamic without rewriting Cooper’s character. Instead of attempting to emphasise this aspect of the scenario, Ford wisely chooses to be consistent with what has gone before. Jack shows nothing more than gentle regrets at the road not taken, only dwelling on events once the party is over. Ford has clearly articulated his approach to the tale in interviews, acknowledging that it was essential that the episode be “a full-on, tongue-in-cheek romp”. It’s hard to disagree with this view of what this story should be- the only way Torchwood could approach such a emotionally charged event is by making it an over-the top comedy. There’s just one problem.
Something Borrowed would qualify for Ford’s description, but only if it was part of any other genre. The approach the author seems to be striving for is that of an absurd situation played with a straight face, regarding an overnight pregnancy and an evil doppelganger as enough to give rise to his intended tone. The trouble is, this approach is the show’s stock in trade. Even the most serious episode of this series offered projectile vomit gags and used a fortune teller to advance the plot. For a Torchwood episode to be considered a light-hearted run-around, it really has to go the extra mile, and Something Borrowed keeps failing to take these detours. Very few of the situations presented are fully taken to their logical conclusions, with many opportunities for comedy ignored. A typical example is the sequence when Jack announces (with a commendably straight face) that he needs a bigger gun. He and Ianto promptly rush to the SUV and begin pulling components out of cases. However, the result is a disappointingly sensible hand cannon, in place of the golden scenario of their tricking out the Mystery Machine into a tank. Ford was commissioned to script this episode because of his success on Coronation Street, but re-adopting that mindset may have limited his appreciation of the opportunities available here. The only occasion where Ford’s script fully exploits the potential for fun is the sequence where the team suspect Mrs Williams of being their shape-shifting foe, with Rhys’s priceless subsequent reaction. However, the Nostrovites’ abilities are generally underplayed. A shape-shifter amongst two warring families could have had hilarious repercussions, had the alien been given a mischievous streak. Instead, the female Nostrovite curiously retains her initial disguise for much of the episode. Presumably this was intended to keep the plot on ice while the audience familiarised themselves with the array of characters being introduced, but the figures in question are stereotypical enough to be taken in at a glance.
It’s important not to under-estimate Ford’s work here. The scenario presented in Something Borrowed feels so natural that it’s easy to forget how little lead-in there’s been to such a big event for the show. However, what could have been an unforgettable celebration often feels overly restrained