Season finale: Torchwood 2×13 – Exit Wounds

What a waste


So we had a choice: a repeat of America’s Next Top Model or the finale of Torchwood. "Go on, you choose," says my wife. So I picked Torchwood.

That was a waste of a choice, wasn’t it?

Captain John returns to have his revenge on Torchwood. Taking Captain Jack prisoner he sends him back in time for a long overdue reunion. Without their leader Torchwood are faced with a city flooded with Weevils, on the brink of destruction. But who is Captain John really working for? Can anyone trust him? And how great a price must Torchwood pay to save the city?

Was it any good?
Sometimes, I hate being right. It’s rare enough as it is, but I’d rather that the series finale of Torchwood
 had been halfway decent rather than deeply turgid, predictable, illogical and uninteresting as I suspected it was going to be.

Who do we blame? Chris Chibnall, of course, since he wrote it. I laid out the Chibnall script formula last episode and he stuck to it perfectly. 

We have the return of Captain John this episode and rather than make him fun and evil, Chibnall can’t even maintain consistent characterisation for his own character, making him all helpful and loving once the pressure’s off. But then if John is Spike from Buffy then we have to stick with the source material we’re being derivative of and have him turn kind of good, too, I suppose.

John is really working under duress for Captain Jack’s brother, Grey (or is that Gray?), played by someone cast for looking a bit like John Barrowman, rather than because he can act. Was it my imagination or did they get Barrowman to overdub some of his lines then ramp the pitch up a bit to disguise it?

Gray apparently has had a grudge against Captain Jack for not holding his hand at the right time, so he wants to punish Jack. This, of course, is utterly, utterly stupid. It’s the kind of thing that sounds good at a writer’s meeting ("What if one tiny little action had such a huge effect on the whole universe?") but falls apart in the cold light of day. 

So he gets John, by bonding (how, if he’d only just been rescued?) explosives (where’d he get them from?) and a time-aware detonator (where’d he get that from?) to Captain John and forced him to bring Jack to him in the past so he can bury him alive. Jack doesn’t fight back for no really well explained reason, other than he thinks failing to a hold a hand is a crime worthy of punishment by 2,000 years being buried in peat. Gray then sets John free to go wherever he likes. Apparently, John doesn’t fancy two days later when he could dig up Jack, so he goes back to the future to help dig him up after 2,000 years. Probably some Blinovitch cobblers to explain that, but it’s all a bit inexplicable all the same.

In the future, thanks to John and a few bombs, everything’s falling apart. Words fail me as to how contrived this all is. If I were to have a litany of nitpicks, it would include at least these

  • the idea of a central server building for nuclear power stations, the military and everyone else is nonsense (post-9/11, everyone and their auntie now has their own multiple redundant distributed data centres with back-ups at least 50km away, outside the local flood plain)
  • the idea of any of a nuclear power station’s control systems not being on-site is even greater nonsense 
  • the idea of the police’s disaster planning falling apart and needing Gwen to wade in just because four senior officers are dead is daft (collapse of chain of command is always included in disaster plans, since there’s a good chance far more than four are going to be killed off), even if the idea of weevil training weren’t daft enough in itself
  • the idea of a nuclear station having an emergency venting procedure that vents into a control room is insane, even if simply lowering control rods into the pile weren’t an option

But Gwen and co go around through all these contrivances, trying to fix the city while naughty old Grey does his best to ruin things. Naturally, they all simultaneously go into the Torchwood cells to dump off some weevils so that Gray can trap them at the same time. Idiots.

Then, of course, we have some fatalities. Owen is trapped in the completely artificial and implausible parallel universe power station; meanwhile, Gray the arch-villain who can take on the might of Captains Jack and John has shot Tosh in the stomach rather than the head or the stomach then the head, leaving her to crawl off somewhere to help Owen over the radio. Rather than have Owen help Tosh fix up her wound over the radio or have Tosh use some first aid skills to deal with her wound, Chibbers decides for no real reason other than that Tosh needs to die to keep this somewhat important fact from him so that she can help him shut down the implausible power station.

Thing is, if you already kill off Owen once in a series, killing him again isn’t going to raise quite the same level of emotion, particularly if he could quite easily have got out of the problem, which shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place. And killing off Tosh at the same time – but not in the same place where she and Owen could have some decent screen time together – is going to be even less upsetting. What a waste.

So basically I was bored and annoyed for most of the episode. It was a typical Chibnall job in which everyone’s pushed around the board to fit into whatever high concept idea he’s had: "Captain John’s back, but can we trust him? But it’s Jack’s brother who’s behind it all. Then Tosh and Owen must die". Nothing made sense, everything was very predictable (anyone think Gray wasn’t going to stab Jack when they embraced?) except when it didn’t make any sense. Because it’s what happens in movies, no one listens to anyone until it’s too late. Dialogue was crud, acting was pretty crud, too. Still, at least there were a few fun moments, mostly involving Captain John. 

As a series though, Torchwood series two was a definite improvement over series one. Bar anything by Chris Chibnall or Helen Raynor, it was really pretty good most of the time. The characters started to seem like proper people, there was continuity and development, some fun ideas. It started to be a show worth watching rather than enduring.

Where then for series three, which hasn’t officially been commissioned yet? Or has it? That rumour from a while back that said Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori were leaving, John Barrowman was going to be downgraded to guest star, Freema Agymen was becoming a permanent character and the whole show was going to move to Saturday night to fill the gap left by Doctor Who during its year of specials is starting to look a whole lot more plausible.

With Barrowman’s dissatisfaction with the Torchwood filming schedule no secret, his own schedule filling up, the seemingly pointless three-episode cameo by Agyeman this series, the moving up of PC Andy and Rhys to comedy sidekicks who know the Torchwood secret, the downgrading of the ‘adult’ content this series and the departure of the most ‘adult’ writer Chris Chibnall, it’s starting to look like series three might well fit the rumoured pattern.

At the very least, there’s going to need to be at least one new regular character in Torchwood to make up the numbers and Martha Jones looks like the best fit. That’s all assuming that the show comes back, which given its good ratings, it should. Anyone reckon that they’ve been grooming script editor Gary Russell to be the new show runner next series?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.