Joe Lidster! What a guy! After a shaky start with The Rapture, he established his own palimpest with Terror Firma and The Crystal of Cantus - dark horror comedies involving a non-linear narrative being retold as a story, with lots of surreal sidesteps. He got a bit bogged down in the surrealism in Terror Firma, with the idea of the "anti-Dalek movement" being some fancy dinner party of upper class twits being left rather long and the story ultimately makes no sense unless we assume The Dalek Invasion of Earth is no longer canon - mind you, the Fifth Doctor Dalek stories pretty much fit with that...
There'll be less detailed a review this week since my sound is bust and cannot watch the episode directly. So, our framing narrative begins with Owen confronting a suicidal blonde smoker on top of a very tall building, and after he confronts her with his zombie status, they start talking. Turns out the smoker, Maggie, lost her husband in a car crash. On their wedding day. And if that doesn't shut you up, the shots of the shellshocked Maggie staggering down the motorway in her wedding dress dripping with her newlywed's blood will.
Owen admits that his "life" is pretty shit too, but can he beat that?
We thus cut back to see the main story. This is Martha's last episode in Torchwood and yet again she is sidelined, getting a handful of scenes which give Freema the ability to tell Owen that, since he's dead, his body cannot repair any injuries and thus any damage he gets is permanent. And that she would not become Torchwood's job Doctor simply to replace him. In fact, she palpably wants to get out of this madhouse ASAP - in Reset, she explained she didn't plan to choose a job in UNIT over Torchwood, but now I doubt she'll ever return of her own free will. Just to remind everyone, these self-appointed guardians of mankind are reckless unprofessionals with more civilian casualties than an angry Dalek trying to impress people with its killing power.
Jack, clearly picking up a little disapproval from Martha (and, unless he's very stupid, starting to suspect the Doctor wouldn't be pleased with his conduct either), Jack fires Owen until they check his zombie status isn't like, you know, going to summon the embodiment of Death to destroy the world. Again. See? Torchwood is responsible! They can be trusted! This also means that Martha has to do all of Owen's job, and Owen now takes up Ianto's position making coffee while everyone ignores him.
Lidster, clearly wanting to write for characters who are vaguely sympathetic, decides to give Owen a really GOOD reason to be such a miserable and cruel bastard. Exactly why everyone bar Tosh is shunning Zombie Boy is not clear. True, confining him to the Hub is a smart move, but blanking him? Not letting him in to the team discussions? If I were in a harsher mood I'd say it's because Owen's an idiot and not worth talking too, but surely such a thing should have applied when he was alive.
It's not like Owen has anything else to do, as the painful scenes of him returning to his flat with bin bags show - he removes everything he no longer needs, what with being a zombie. Like the contents of his fridge. And his bathroom. And his internet porn collection (OK, that last one is kind of an assumption on my part, but the bastard can't even fiddle with himself any more). And so, he is left to sit on the couch and watch TV, unable even to sleep. It's a pity the Doctor wasn't here; seeing the Ninth one faced with a man CONDEMNED to the couch potato existence would lead to some interesting fireworks.
And Owen, being Owen, decides to let rip and snarl deep, Lidster-patented-hurtful abuse at his nearest and dearest. Ianto gets a good tongue lashing over the fact the teaboy and butler, all joking aside, has slept his way to the top, and that Tosh is kind of enjoying an Owen that has nothing left in his life apart from her. Gwen, Martha and Jack are hardly in it, with Jack getting about one decent scene where he reveals he often spends his free time by the bay perving on passers-by. Thus, when Owen is a severe downer, and runs off a peir in an attempt to drown himself, the lust-bitten Jack films it for posterity... and other people who enjoy young men in tight jeans running into water.
"Stop it, Jack," would would be a good thing to say about now.
Lidster also struggles visibly to try and retcon - so to speak - the series by having Owen suggest that the team are "so professional" they overlook stuff that upsets them. This is supposed to justify the awful character continuity in the season, since episode one established Gwen, not Jack was rightful leader. But no, Gwen is SUCH a professional, she acts like nothing happens.
Lidster gets his revenge though, when Owen confronts the guest star: not only does he know that Torchwood exists, he knows Owen works for it, and then tells him to pass on a message to Tosh to wear shorter skirts. The scene where Jack and the others at the hub squirm in front of Martha as their 'top secret' atmos is silently exterminated should be the DVD menu backdrop from now on.
But who is this guest star?
Why good sir, it is Richard Briers. AKA Tom Good. AKA Douglas McDonald. AKA Kroagnon. Yeah, HIM.
Well, now that's over, Briers is VERY good in his one scene as an alien collector on his death bed (seemingly the same one mentioned by Nigel Verkoff 2 in Random Shoes... mind you, that means he likes Nazi memorabilia as well...). As my good friend Jared suggests, Briers was clearly ordered to go over the top to the point the TV screen bulged outwards, hence his decision to give a subtle and nuanced performance. When the little old man miserably notes that, like Owen, he's lost all the things that make life worth living, I defy you not to feel a touch sad.
Unlike Owen's incredibly disturbing opinion of Tintin, which I defy you not to get nauseated by.
And, with the Angel plagarisms reduced to two moments - where Owen discovers he clocks in at room temperature and thus cannot be detected by heat sensors (like that beer add), and later learns he cannot give mouth to mouth as he has no breath - Martha takes her leave of Torchwood to return to her boyfriend, and Doctor Who. And despite her gentle farewell to Jack, you know she's unlikely to come back. Ever.
See ya in The Sontaran Stratagem, Miss Jones.
What a waste. It's like Martha was brought in to make it absolutely clear what insane losers the gang were, and justify ABSOLUTELY the Doctor's absolute fury in Sound of the Drums that his friend is working with such an organization. Jack's rebuilt it allright, but the corruption's still there.
Once again, it's made absolutely clear that the writers despise the line up, even if its got lots of raving fans.
Oh, Christ, what is wrong with this show? When Gerry Davis took over Doctor Who, he had one wall turned into a program guide to ensure new stories wouldn't contradict or copy that which went before. It seems in Camelot they have a Buffy/Angel/Doctor Who program guide which they use to STEAL ideas! And it's Angel: Expecting and Buffy: Hell's Bells as, on the day of her wedding, an alien leaves Gwen eight months pregnant. Jesus. At least Rhys is on hand to pick up the moral highground from Martha...