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Torchwood 1.9: Random Shoes

December 10th, 2006 (11:38 pm)

current music: Nevile Marriner etc: Handel's Water Music

Until a few days ago, I thought that tonight's episode was going to be billed as 'Invisible Eugene', which somehow seemed a bit jeering; 'Random Shoes' was much more fitting to an episode which restated the house theme of RTD's Doctor Who - that life should be lived in the present rather than in a much-postponed future. Trite, perhaps, but presumably a theme which has served those who preside over the warehouse of dreams at Upper Boat, and one capably dramatised here. The parallels with Doctor Who's 'Love and Monsters' were obvious, and the 'normality' of the lives of Eugene, his family, friends and colleagues a little more underplayed than were the activities of Elton, Ursula and their friends at LINDA, and rightly so. Both, however, enjoyed a fascination with the mundane and everyday, because that is what the staff of Torchwood and inhabitants of the TARDIS have to escape to.

A particular concern of 'Random Shoes' was a failure of individuals to appreciate each other's inner lives. Eugene undervalued his own empathy, which was greater than his father's, his mother's and his brother's, but was shadowed by his absorbtion in his own sense of failure. His friends are too busy competing with each other, in order really to prove their streetwiseness to themselves, to realise that Eugene might understand what his 'plastic eye' actually is. The Torchwood team, flawed as ever, dismiss their stalker without questioning him.

We gained more valuable insights into Torchwood Three's relaxed working practices. Owen lets Gwen undertake the autopsy on Eugene despite a lack of specialist medical training. Presumably the justification for this is that everyone has to learn everyone else's skills in what is a perpetual crisis situation, and it also lets Owen take something out on Gwen. Ianto seems to have more responsibility now, and a more cynical turn of phrase somehow. Still, as long as they have their big black car to zip around Wales in, they obviously feel secure and confident. I have the feeling that the Gwen/Owen relationship might be fading away or over, after the revelations about Suzie last week; and I did wonder whether some mention of Rhys was coming in this episode, but it looks as if that has been left to 'Out of Time' next week.


Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 12:09 am (UTC)

I enjoyed this episode. Love & Monsters, as you say, but with a very dark Torchwood spin, I thought - that humans should live their lives as if there's nothing else, but that their tragedy is that they never do. It seemed pessimistic but, somehow, beautifully so...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)

There is a lot missing from this review where I couldn't see the joins. Many of the characters are grappling towards realising that they should live as if there is nothing else, as you say, at various speeds; but they can only come within reach of insight, symbolised by Eugene being snatched away from Gwen, and Eugene's father reaching out to his remaining son. I wouldn't say it's entirely pessimistic because in that search for a handshake there is still hope.

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC)

I see what you mean. But I think that, while Doctor Who would claim take that hope and run with it, Torchwood's outlook seems to be that 'within reach of it' is about as far as we can ever get - there are limits to human perception, because there are limits to human perception. Even the Torchwood team are affected by the limited outlook of the world at large, which they constantly have to return to. I'm not saying either show is right, but the way each show favours one point of view over the other is very much indactive of its overall tone. If you think about its plot, Love and Monsters is potentially far more devastating, but somehow ends up being the more positive of the two!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)

I was watching 'The Impossible Planet'/'The Satan Pit' earlier, and was struck by how the Doctor's blithe faith in humanity seems at odds with all the jealousies and insecurities displayed by the sanctuary base crew. The difference between the two series is that there is no Doctor; the nearest we have to him is Captain Jack, who fears and suspects the abilities that place him near to godhood. The Doctor reaches out to humanity, which he has never known, but Jack mourns what he has lost, being caught in a sort of eternal death.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 09:45 am (UTC)

A fatalistic visual gag, of course, is Gary's orange anorak, done up like South Park Kenny's parka, in the return visit to the Happy Cook.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 12:12 am (UTC)

I've enjoyed most of Torchwood so far, but thought this episode was the weakest of those i've seen--especially after watching the start of season 2 of Battlestar Galactica! It was a tolerably good piece of television, and even moving in parts (chiefly when Eugene's crying mother looks out the window and doesn't see him). But as usual the Moral Message was carved with a heavy hand, and we've definitely been here before. For all rhe celebration of the mundane, by the third iteration of banana milkshakes the viewer might note that the people preaching this wondrous message are media celebrity types whose life offers escapes from mundanity that are closed to the likes of Eugene's family, so that it verges on Let Them Eat Cake. Whatever that elusive element is that keeps me interested in Torchwood (and it's not just John Barrowman, honest guv), it was entirely missing from this episode.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)

I think that the media celebrity types are painfully aware of their limitations, hence episodes like this; and I thought the moral message was carved rather lightly this week.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: December 11th, 2006 04:09 pm (UTC)

We watched the Eccelston Dr Who on DVD, and are also watching BG. I must say I think BG is far superior - a much more substantial piece of drama! I'm really enjoying it, whereas Dr Who just bored me really. (Sorry if that is heresy on these pages!!) - Neuromancer

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)

I've only seen one episode of Battlestar Galactica and couldn't really tell what was going on. Perhaps watching one episode about two-thirds of the way into the first series wasn't a good idea.

We are not comaring like with like, of course; the makers of the series expect them to be watched by different demographic mixes. That's a distinct issue from whether they are substantial pieces of drama, I agree: but I'd argue that both can be.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: December 13th, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC)

I've only seen the pilot of BG, and that is pretty awesome.
No idea if the series keeps it up, and currently no time to find out.

But I agree it is a completely different animal from Dr Who (old or new), which will have to be judged on its own terms.