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?

  • Jonathan Reed

    It’s awful.
    Please make it stop.

  • Rob, you should post hilarity warnings on your blog. You’ve made me laugh out loud. In a nutshell you have described everything that was direly wrong with last night’s programme. I was wondering how Gray/Grey managed to leap about in time too. And it just doesn’t make any SENSE AT ALL that he would carry that hatred for Jack for eons. Psychologically he would be at Jack’s disadvantage – he is the younger bro, and may have hated him, but once they met and Jack said sorry it would have all vanished. And anyway. Surely it’s their parents (who didn’t appear much cop) who should be blamed? Or wouldn’t you just say it’s these evil bastard creatures who keep taking over our planet and turn you aggression on them?
    Hmm. I haven’t been keeping up so hadn’t twigged that Tosh and Owen were leaving, so Tosh’s death was a bit unexpected (Owen I thought had to go really. What was he going to turn into- one of Terry Pratchett’s Igors?)
    I did find it quite touching, but not moving, if you know what I mean. And my emotional barometer has been set at weepy this week – a scene in Desperate Housewives really got to me, whereas this – didn’t. And I have cared far more about Tosh and Owen then I did last series, so I SHOULD have had a tear in my eye (just as I did in the Doctor/Rose last scene). Ergo, writing and acting just not good enough.
    But… you’re right. It was much much better then last time. I gave up pretty much by the end of series one. The kids would probably be pleased to see it come into the Dr Who slot next year, as they will be severely pissed off when they realise it’s not airing!
    Talking of which… Must go and get tea ready so we can have Chinese in front of it.

  • Well, you’re very kind, but writing, “Okay, sit down, guys, because I promise you this is going to be absolutely hilarious” might be setting myself up for a fall on my own trumpet once I’ve blown it.
    And I do know what you mean about touching but not moving, since I was in more or less the same place as you on that, it seems.

  • Craig

    The main problem I had with this one was that it was dull. Perhaps it would have worked best as a two-parter, with the explosions being a cliff-hanger. As it was, the ‘action’ bits felt rushed, as though they’d run out of cash, and the other stuff was just mind-numbingly tedious. “Look! We’re killing off two of the lead characters! Look! Look! We’re still kiliing them off, you know?” Yes. We get it. Just hurry it up already. *strings* *sobbing* ARGH!

  • Oh I definitely agree with that. Even said it to my wife as we were watching, by way of acknowledgement of the pain I was putting her through. She agreed, both that it was boring and that I needed to apologise to her.

  • Phoenix

    I’m trying really hard not to nitpick this episode. Why show us their faces instead of the explosions? It looks cheap. Why is Grey still younger than Jack? After how many centuries have passed in Jack’s life? I’m assuming that Grey ages normally, yeah? Nonsense.
    I agree with pretty much everything said so far, although I did like the bit when Tosh (via postmortem video) told Owen she loved him. A bit of “Thomas Jefferson still lives”, that.
    Remember kids, keep those secret videos you have rigged to play after your death up to date!

  • And why is Grey calling his brother Jack, when that isn’t his name?
    And (and I know this is a forlorn hope, but)… seeing as this whole series was spun off an episode when an escaped Slitheen was going to build a nuclear power station in the middle of Cardiff… why bother doing that, when there was one just down the road? Even if it was designed by a maniac?
    Not only can Chibbers not design a powerstation or do urban planning, he’d make a crap terrorist. If your city has all its servers in one really obvious building, and you want to cripple the city – why not blow up the servers?
    It was dull and bollocks.

  • MediumRob

    I wondered about that, too, but maybe he’s really Jack Grumbleweed or something and picked an alias with the same first name. Good spot on the Slitheens, too.
    “If your city has all its servers in one really obvious building, and you want to cripple the city – why not blow up the servers?”
    I’m guessing that was the job of the useless scythe people, who were one of the episode’s few fun moments. Although, being a Chibbers script, of course, that was a rip off of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  • Templarj

    I never picked up on the name of Jack business. Ha.
    Torchwood just doesn’t seem to be able to do finales. Ah well, it was a good run this year with a handful of really fine episodes. Shame to see Burn Gorman go as he was easily the best actor on board. And Tosh had a purpose as well, unlike last year, which means she might be a painful loss. I hope they add James Marsters to the regular cast and John Barrowman drops down to occassional cameo status as his heart clearly isn’t in it.
    Five episodes for series three goes the current rumour, airing across one week as ‘event telly’.

  • Who wrote series one’s finale? Chris Chibnall. ‘Nuff said.
    Yeah, I thought Burn Gorman was a good actor – shame about the character really. Doubt James Marsters will want to come on board though – if it does go family, his character’s not really right for the show (despite recent changes) and he seemed pretty bored in Torchwood Confidential at essentially having to play Spike again.
    Five eps isn’t much is it? Wasn’t old Mark Thompson on record as saying the Beeb was going to aim for longer running shows if possible (eg Ashes to Ashes at eight, DW at 13, Torchwood at 13), rather than the standard six, because it saves costs and (not stated but another bonus) easier to sell to international markets?

  • Just saw the episode finally last night, although it won’t be hitting these shores for two weeks…..
    A lot of the niggle-bits brought up by you and the other commenters slipped my notice as I was watching, but yeah… they sure don’t hold up once you examin them and the story just keeps losing its power.
    We also thought Grey was dubbed in by John Barrowman – any way to confirm this?
    “Touching but not moving” works for me as well. I was sorry to see both Toshiko and Owen leave, especially after all the work put in this season to revamp their characters and their backgrounds. (Cleaning up that discrepancy about “Aliens Of London” was a nice touch.)
    The show needed some kind of alien presence on a regular basis and Owen came closest to fitting the role this year. (I know it’s a cliche – Spock, Whorf, Data, G’Kar, and technically Crichton of ‘Farscape’ – but cliches can work. That’s why they’re used so much.) It just needed to find away around the logistical problems about his situation. I guess they couldn’t, so out he goes.
    So bringing in some new blood… yeah, Martha Jones seems most likely. But where do I go with my picket sign to bring in Richard Coyle as John ‘Strange’ as well?
    Still and all, the finale was better than last year’s, and overall the second season was a big improvement over the first. I just think they need someone with better storytelling skills to act as the overall script supervision… if there is a third season, that is.

  • Oh! One other point – highlight for me was the flashback to the 1901 Torchwood. I hope we get more of that incarnation in any future episodes.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • theriverlady

    Question: If Jack joined Torchwood in 1899, then why was he unaware of the purpose of Tommy in ‘To the Last Man’? He should have been a Torchwood member in 1918 when Tommy was frozen, and therefore would have known all about him and the reason he was being preserved- thus eliminating the need for Harry-Potter-esque effects (not that those are so bad) in ‘To the Last Man’, and enhancing the fact that Jack is keeping stuff from the other team members. Or am I remembering wrong? I are confuse.

  • theriverlady

    I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That last comment was supposed to be on the review of ‘Fragments.’ I think. Now I’m even more effing confused.

  • MediumRob

    “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That last comment was supposed to be on the review of ‘Fragments.’ I think. Now I’m even more effing confused.”
    That’s because you’ve been watching Torchwood. It leaves people confused like that.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()