Captain Jack Harkness
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Owen: I’m sorry, but who exactly put you in charge?
With this episode Jack and Toshiko are trapped in the past, where they meet someone strangely familiar. Can they get back from a 1940s dancehall to the present?
The early episodes of Torchwood tended to sideline Toshiko and Ianto and focus on the main three characters of Jack, Gwen and Owen. This episode is notable as all five get significant screen time for once, but as the title suggests, the focus is really on one character.
As Jack and Toshiko slip through a “temporal shift” in a Cardiff dancehall, the formal elegance of the setting contrasts with the garish lighting and thumping music of the bars and clubs Torchwood are usually to be found in. The maguffin (plot device) of this episode (with its various sub-maguffins of equations and cogs) is the “rift manipulator”. The look of this object is a nod to the central column of the TARDIS. Surprisingly for such a significant element of the Hub, it has not been mentioned before (as far as I can recall.)
Owen opens up the safe to get the rift manipulator blueprints. As Cardiff Torchwood are an organisation whose mission (defined by Jack in his voiceover intro each week) is “arming the human race for the future” by collecting alien technology, I hope they have other storage areas for the piles of alien tech they have been finding as there is not much there. Though if the thirteen episodes are anything to go by, they don’t manage to keep, let alone find, much.
The season’s meager haul of new stuff is paraded as Owen searches through the safe: the life knife; the ghost machine; a box (I’m guessing containing the Dogon Sixth Eye) all are shown. (The resurrection glove and pendant having been destroyed by these so-called collectors. Doh!) The blueprints for the rift manipulator are finally found.
Owen finding the missing cog at the dancehall is slightly odd, but my filling in of the plot gaps supposes that Bilis Manger a) scratching off just the right part of the equation and b) leaving a subtly altered cog for Owen to find, these both create contribute to Manger’s desired effect when they use the machine. (Manger seems to be willing them on to use the machine… but why? We can guess he will be back as his plotline seems unresolved.)
With a “haunted” dancehall featuring, Manger referring to himself as “the caretaker” is a sly reference to the the film The Shining. Manger is certainly an effectively creepy character.
The Owen and Ianto scenes in this episode are full of tension and sparks, with Owen’s character and actions naturally flowing on from the last two episodes. The ten previous episodes which have made Owen such an (at times, and intentionally) annoying and unsympathetic character, that long build-up of obnoxiousness, the more low-key sympathetic moments built up for Ianto, these plot-lines are added to by the cracking dialogue of these scenes here, and they dovetail into a single moment of dramatic release… BLAM.
Back at the main plotline, the slow bringing together of Jack and Jack is, like the Owen and Ianto scenes, marvelously done. Playing with the audience’s expectations – of how they will portray what is happening – the writers ratchet up the dramatic tension. I kept thinking they would poignantly part Jack and Jack at various moments; at the “lover’s corner”; at the interrupted clinch; so that the actual denouement was a real surprise with real drama. Dancing as part of a Torchwood plot done really well this episode.
The season so far had been rather coy about this side of Jack’s life, restricting itself to obscure references, sometimes involving stopwatches, so expectations were lowered which made the moment even more dramatic.
In summary, the run of excellent episodes continues, adding to the mystery of Jack.
(Note, as the Torchwood radio plays and Season 3 have BBC-confirmed airdates now – the radio plays begin this week – this review appears after yesterday’s weekly Saturday review, and tommorow there will be a review of the final episode of Season 1.)