Torchwood 1×11-1×13 – Combat, Captain Jack Harkness and The End of Days


So Torchwood lurches to an end. I was going to say “finally found its feet, more or less”, but then I saw End of Days and I changed my mind. More on that later.

Before that was Combat, penned by that Mickey from Doctor Who. Let’s not beat around the bush: it was Fight Club with Weevils. No one was pretending otherwise. Since most of the Torchwood episodes were ‘inspired’ by something else, we shouldn’t be too surprised by this. All the same, while the plot was a bit rubbish, the characterisation was pretty good and you didn’t feel violated by the dialogue – always welcome, I think. At the end, the trailer for the next episode left me wanting to watch it. Amazing.

So then we got Captain Jack Harness. I enjoyed it. I really did. I sat there thinking that if the producers ever needed a template for future episodes, they could do a whole lot worse than this one. Tosh proved to be interesting, once she had something to do. There was some real spookiness. Ianto proved to have a few guts. Owen got what he deserved. Jack had some reasonable backstory filled in and John Barrowman proved that while he may lack sparks when he kisses women, he’s got what it takes with the guys.

I do worry though that the Torchwood team need to get out less, since they all seem to fall in love at the drop of a hat.

So there I was, about to say that Torchwood had finally worked out a decent formula, when End of Days popped up. Oh my. It’s like the entire team caught 24-hour Tourette’s. Now compared with Chris Chibnall’s previous efforts (Day One, Cyberwoman, and Countrycide), it was noticeably better. But all the usual failures were there: completely nonsensical plots, cringe-worthy dialogue, bizarre characterisation, and non-stop swearing for no real reason. The acting also became a thousand times worse.

We finally learned what the season’s big bad was, too: appropriately enough, a spin-off from a much better Doctor Who monster. Time taken to defeat the season’s doom-laden arc-creature: two minutes. Not that threatening then. Which was a shame, since the build up in Captain Jack Harness had been quite impressive. Surely if you’re going to spend every episode having someone say “Something is stirring in the darkness” (or similar), you better make sure it can’t be killed by a Care Bear Blast at the last moment?

I also have to wonder what The Mill’s been up to, since I saw better critters while playing a rubbish port of Quake for the Mac from about 10 years ago. Seriously, they got paid for that?

Nice ending though.

So now it’s over and another series has been commissioned. Since the writer of Captain Jack Harness, Catherine Tregenna, also wrote Out of Time, I think those happy few of you who are Torchwood fans should petition the Beeb to let her write most of next series’ scripts, since she’s clearly the best writer they’ve got (at least, until they learn how not to mangle PJ Hammond’s work).

At the very least, Russell T Davies needs to get himself an electric cattle prod and take it to work on the script editor and Chibnall until they get their respective acts into gear. I’m hoping that the lessons learned in the second half of the series get passed on and thought about, because I get the impression Torchwood is finally on the way to being a halfway decent series. But the deadwood in Torchwood still needs a whole load of chopping.

  • Craig

    I started to get really sick of the obvious nods to other stuff by the end. Half of the finale was essentially Conversations with Dead People from Buffy, only done really badly. And why is Captain Jack now gay?

  • The message I’ve been getting from Torchwood over the series is that the world is divided into two groups of people: those who are gay and those who don’t realise they’re gay yet. I think Captain Jack has finally switched camps (no pun intended, honestly).

  • Craig

    Mm. However, it goes against the Captain Jack of Doctor Who, who stated that, in the future, such distinctions (gay, straight, bi-) were simply irrelevant. He’s gone from a charismatic and fun character who’d shag anything that took his fancy, to a grumpy, boring, wooden bloke who only lusts after the odd bloke. By comparison to the Who version of the character, that just seems so limited, dull and?��Ǩ���dare I say it??��Ǩ���obvious.

  • It’s funny that the ‘family’ version of the character is a much more adult and challenging concept. But that’s true of Torchwood as a whole.

  • Captain Jack is an S Moffat character and he’s a far better writer than most of those writing for Torchwood.
    Since series two is going to be set after the third series of Doctor Who, we’ll have to see if a stint in the TARDIS will let Jack get his groove back – assuming the dark and wooden version of Jack is supposed to be the result of being stranded in time, not being able to die, etc, all of which should be cured by the Doctor.
    Or maybe Martha’ll do him just to make the Doc jealous and he’ll remember what he once liked about the ladies.

  • If I’m reading the schedule right, the first episode of NuWho S3 to feature the returning Jack is (a) written by Stephen Moffat, and (b) this season’s Doctor-lite episode.

  • Urgh, no, reading it wrong. Moffatt’s writing the Doc-lite episode, but the Jack’s Back episode is by Davies.

  • Well, the big bad was more the Mill’s latest Stay-Puff Dough Boy from Ghostbusters but apart from that I actually really enjoyed those two finale eps. obviously the Jack one was FAR better (perhsps the best of the series?) but I went with the flow of the second perhaps better than you guys. And yes, THAT ending. Beautiful.

  • I’d go along with “best of the series” for Captain Jack Harness. I think they blew their budget early on, so figured they used the CGI models from The Satan Pit, change their colour and then use that as the big bad to save some cash. Looked awful though.
    Ghostbusters? Tell me you weren’t think Godzilla when the denizens of Cardiff were running away from The Beast? I was hoping they’d do a proper homage and make the extras Japanese.

  • Not so much Ghostbusters or Godzilla, more the Chewits monster for me. Only a fleeting appearance from Barrow in Furness bus depot could have salvaged the final episode. However, the ill-judged public kiss aside (in a show that needs to have some basis in reality to make the chills work, the public kiss just didn’t work for me) Captain JAck Harkness was , like Out of Time, a beautifully characterised gem – where adult drama means dealing with more complex emotional responses rather than added blood, sex, and swearing. I for one would be far happier with Catherine Tregenna as show runner than Chris Chibnall, who seemed to be responsible for every weak script in the series.

  • Now you mention it, I can see the resemblance.

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