Keep Killing TV

There's been no word back on the review I wrote for Torchwood episode 8 "They Keep Killing Suzie", so presumably they won't be using it - probably because it's too negative. Well, if they don't want it, here it is. This is the full length version of around 1500 words - the version I submitted was cut down to 1200.

I really don't know what to make of Torchwood. After an incredibly shakey first three episodes, it's blossomed into some of the most watchable and engaging television around. On the other hand, the plots don't make sense, the humour is juvenile, the sexual themes serve no purpose, and the science is junk. But I'm still tuning in each week, watching repeats and lovingly dissecting it on the Outpost Gallifrey website.

Episode 8, "They Keep Killing Suzie", opens with a racap from episode one. In it, Torchwood team member Suzie Costello became addicted to an alien gauntlet with the power to bring people back from the dead - but once only, and for a few minutes. She'd murdered three innocent strangers, just to bring them back in the name of "research".

Policewoman Gwen Cooper and the team discover what Suzie's doing and, rather than be sacked and memory wiped, she shoots herself through the head - this is her first death. Gwen joins the team.

Now, three months later, Suzie's corpse is in the Torchwood mortuary freezer and all her belongings are in storage - the fate of all the implied hundreds who died working for the organisation. And someone has killed three innocent strangers, writing the word "Torchwood" on the walls with their blood.

Gwen persuades Captain Jack to use the gauntlet to resurrect the victims and question them about their murders. Gwen is the only one who can make the gauntlet (or "Risen Mitten") work. The victims provide is two names - Max, who killed them, and Suzie. The victims were members of a philosophical debating society called "Pilgrim", and as the team discover, so was their former college Suzie.

So, Gwen resurrects Suzie for questioning. But it only works when Jack "kills" the corpse with the knife (the "Life Knife") that is somehow partnered with the glove - this is her second death.

Then there's a surprise, and a problem - Suzie stays resurrected, and as she lives, Gwen's health slowly starts to deteriorate. Creeped out but helped by Suzie, the team locate Max, bringing him to the Torchwood cells. He is blankly unresponsive, except for exactly ten seconds of violent rage every time he hears the word "Torchwood".

Suzie, forbidden to talk to anyone about her work with Torchwood, but desperately needing to, had used Max as her confidant for two years. After each weekly conversation, she fed him the memory-wipe drug "Retcon", maintaining security and keeping him available. So, excessive retcon exposure presumably drove Max insane. Given that retcon is fan slang for “retroactive continuity” - fixing plot holes of earlier episodes in later ones, familiar to fans of Dr Who and sci-fi in general - this is presumably a joke.

But it's not over. Suzie befriends Gwen, persuading her to break security and take her to see her dying father in hospital. Gwen suspects Suzie's fascination with the metal glove began with the desire to save her father. She takes Suzie out of the bunker, and drives her to the hospital. The team are about to follow, but the entire base shuts down, locking them in.

Suzie had planned the whole thing while still alive - programming Max to kill Pilgrim members if he didn't see her for three months, leading them to bring in Max and resurrect her, and installing a shutdown mechanism activated by Max automatically intoning a particular poem by Emily Dickenson. Now she's alive and free.

In the car, Suzie tells Gwen there is no life after death, but there is a "darkness". At the hospital, Gwen collapses and starts to die, Suzie's headwound and death migrating into her, leaving Suzie with Gwen's health and vigour. Suzie's father is terrified at seeing her, and instead of helping or comforting him, she pulls the plug on his life support machine. It seems it was hate that brought her, not love.

Meanwhile, Max's trancelike poem recitation gives the team the clue that another poem from the same collection might deactivate the shutdown. Managing to contact the Cardiff police station by phone, they persuade the inspector to relay Dickenson's poems to them, line by line - but with no effect. Then Tosh has a brainwave - maybe typing the ISBN number of the collected works into her keypad would work. The computers have no power, but the keyboard membrane just might. Presto! The lockdown is reversed.

With Gwen almost dead, the team catch up with her and Suzie on a marina. Jack kills Suzie - her third death - but she does not die. He shoots her several more times, but though bloodied and presumably in pain, she just laughs. On a desperate hunch, Jack instructs Tosh back at base to destroy the gauntlet. When it is vapourised, Suzie spasms and dies - and Gwen's life energy rushes back where it belongs.

Just before she dies, Suzie tells Jack that there's "something moving in the dark" and it's coming for him. The team are left to their tangled emotions about Suzie, their job, and each other.

You see what I mean about Torchwood? It's a rollicking ride that makes no sense at all.

The glove responds only to Gwen and Suzie - why? Is it because it only works for women? When the second victim mentioned Suzie, the team leapt to the conclusion - only later verified - that it was their Suzie. In Suzie's belongings, Jack immidiately and very conveniently found just one book - the collected poems of Emily Dickenson - and no others. The relationship between the knife and the glove is entirely mysterious. Suzie "programmed" Max - how? Suzie keeps Gwen close till the end - is this because the transfer of energy is weakened by distance? There isn't even a hint of an explanation.

Suzie's whole plan hinged on several big gambles. That she could persuade someone to let her out. That the team would bring Max back to the base at the right time. That he would activate the shutdown at the right time. If she expected to be resurrected, why couldn't she activate the shutdown herself, with a delay to give her time to get away? If that's what she actually did, why was Max reciting the poem? And why did he continue to recite it long enough for the team to hear it? This is just lazy plotting.

Suzie's biggest gamble of all was that the one who used the glove on her would have enough life energy for her to recover, and would "want it enough" to bring her back "all the way". There's no way she could have known that glove user would feel that guilty about Suzie's first death. Indeed, we didn't Gwen felt such guilt and the need for recompense that until the plot suddenly demanded it. Did Suzie plan all this just so she could kill her father? If so, it's absurdly overelaborate. If not, what relevance does the father have at all?

Where did Tosh get the frankly bizarre idea that, if the sound of a Dickenson poem triggered the shutdown, the typed ISBN of Dickenson's collected works would reverse it? What if the team only had access to a different edition?

If the keyboard had no power, that meant the membrane didn't either, and even if it somehow did, the computer it's connected to has no power either, as shown by the blank screens. This scene is absolute blithering nonsense. It seems technology only makes sense in Torchwood when it's magic, like the glove and knife.

The final scene shows Ianto and Jack pondering on the idea that "gloves come in pairs", so there may be another one around. This is an effective coda, marred by some pointless and unprefigured apparant flirting between Ianto and Jack. There is also the suggestion that Jack and Gwen are slowly falling in love - while Gwen is two-timing her boyfriend with Owen.

Torchwood is no longer the little child spinoff from Dr Who - it's a cousin. Torchwood is it's own show, with it's own flavour, plots, world and probably fanbase. Both shows have given us some of the best, and worst, television of recent years. . Torchwood is largely independent of Dr Who, but they share a definite family resemblence. There's the mixture of soapy romance with dark science fiction, the fake science, the crude humour shoehorned in where it doesn't fit, and the ethos of joie de vivre in a world where life and happiness are delicate and fleeting.

I will continue to be perplexed, irritated, and greatly entertained by Torchwood for as long as it runs.

The two part finale to season 1 is coming up on New Year's Eve. I expect it to follow the formula, i.e to make no sense at all and keep me glued to the screen.

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