Retro Recap: Torchwood, Episode 1.01, “Everything Changes”

Hello, friends. Welcome to the inaugural post of the retro recap of Torchwood. I will be one of your guides as we explore a world with some of our favorite things: aliens, bad ass ladies,  flirty 51st century men, immortality, a healthy exploration of sexuality and gender fluidity, with a lot of cheek  and a good dose of angst, dark humor and some darker themes thrown in for good measure. This is not your momma’s sci-fi series (even if it is a spin-off of the quintessential sci-fi series, Doctor Who).

[dropcap1 variation=”red”]W[/dropcap1]e, the viewers are thrust right into the life of Constable Gwen Cooper, who is called to the scene of a murder on a rainy night in Cardiff, Wales (we don’t even get the usual requisite opening sequence of the crime taking place). A young man has been stabbed; the latest in an apparent series of murders. Everything looks to be going as normal for these types of things until all the police are called away from the murder scene because some organization called Torchwood is coming to investigate; an organization Gwen has never heard of. A black SUV roles up and out come four slickly dressed people led by Captain Jack Harkness, the character that connects the Torchwood-verse with the Who-verse. Not content to just watch from the sidelines, Gwen heads to the multi-story garage next to the crime scene to observe the goings on. Gwen already shows prominent characteristics of many heroines, both of the sci-fi genre and otherwise: an innate curiosity, quick thinking and not being content to stand by the sidelines. However, in every other way, Gwen Cooper is just perfectly ordinary and not the stylized ordinary person we are hand fed by most TV shows; she is genuinely ordinary. She is not a glamorous woman; she wears the standard police uniform with sensible shoes, and her off-duty clothes are simple: jeans, T-shirt and jacket. Her boyfriend is a teddy bear of a man named Rhys and they seemingly share an ordinary life that would continue being ordinary if Gwen had simply stayed behind the police tape.

Gwen Cooper: Police officer, Welsh, bad ass

Gwen witnesses the Torchwood team trying to manipulate a metal glove as Captain Jack comments on contraceptives in the rain and how at least he won’t get pregnant because he’s never doing that again (he’s “different”). As Gwen watches, the pouring rain stops as the metal glove is used to resurrect the murder victim for all of two minutes to try to ascertain who killed him. After informing Mr. Temporary Zombie that he’s dead and quickly working through the inevitable freak out, they realize the man was stabbed from behind and therefore did not see who murdered him. With 30 seconds left and the team at wit’s end of what to do, Captain Jack, in an effort to comfort the young man asks the question all of us probably ask at one time or another, “What’s was it like when you died? What did you see?” In a grim moment of realization the man realizes he saw nothing; there is nothing after this life, and then he is gone again. As the team argues about what went wrong, Harkness looks up, acknowledging that he’s known Gwen was there the whole time and asks her opinion. Duly freaked out, she flees, returns to her flat and spends the night wide awake, no doubt turning what she saw around in her head, looking for some plausible explanation.

The next day, after asking a fellow officer to run a check on Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen goes about her normal duties, including breaking up a pub brawl with her partner and summarily getting her head whacked, requiring her to go to the hospital for stitches. As she’s leaving, she spots a familiar blue military jacket as the owner races up the stairs. Following, she hits an area sealed off with a porter telling her they blocked it off this morning. Gwen goes to investigate and once past the barricade, she spies someone at the end of a corridor who had apparently been given the star treatment by George Lucas for movie makeup magic because he looks like a monster. As the creature stands and snarls at Gwen, the porter reveals himself to be a true red shirt and approaches said beast very casually. This results in the man getting his throat ripped out, blood spurting in a somewhat hilarious fashion. The Torchwood team swoops in as Harkness tells Gwen to run. Once out of the building, she sees the Torchwood vehicle peeling out of the parking lot and decides to chase after them, leaving her partner behind. As she’s tailing the car, Gwen gets a phone call from her friend at the police station. The only reported Captain Jack Harkness on record disappeared and was presumed dead in 1941 during the Blitz.

Cardiff Millennium Centre

Gwen follows Torchwood to the Cardiff Millennium Centre where they promptly vanish into thin air. Still trying to get a handle on what is happening, her partner informs her that all hospital staff are present and accounted for and that the bump on her head must have caused the delusion of the porter getting his throat ripped out.

Later that night, Gwen returns to the Millennium Centre to investigate. She notices a delivery driver returning to the area and must figure out that all super secret organizations have to order pizza sometimes so she is able to get the address of Torchwood from the local  pizza joint without the pesky issue of warrants and such. She walks into a dodgy looking travel office or information desk or sex shop and is greeted by a very sharply dressed man who opens a secret passageway with a button. Down some shady looking hallways and through a vault door, Gwen finds herself in a high tech underground cavern with a disembodied hand in a glass case greeting her (bonus points if anyone can tell me the inside joke). As she stands there, the Torchwood team goes about their business, seemingly oblivious to her. Finally, someone cracks and Gwen realizes they’ve been taking the piss at her and have been expecting her, introducing us to the odd humor of the team and its leader. As Gwen tries to extract herself from the scene and people capable of covering up a dead porter, Jack confronts her with what she saw last night at the murder. After all the scientific explanations she has to say the impossible: the man was brought back to life. As a pterodactyl flies overhead, Captain Jack then proceeds to take Gwen further down the rabbit hole, leading her to a holding area where she is confronted with the creature that killed the porter at the hospital. It’s what Torchwood has named a weevil and it’s an alien, living in the sewers like a rat. Gwen sits and looks at the creature, trying to find any spark of humanity and finds none and must confront the reality of life beyond planet Earth.

We then meet the team: Owen Harper (doctor), Toshiko Sato (computer genius), Suzie Costello (second in command) and Ianto Jones (office manager). As everyone leaves, Jack escorts Gwen up a lift that opens up onto the middle of the Millenium Centre as people walk by seemingly oblivious to the fact that a secret organization uses the centre as their back door. Jack explains that they are standing on a perception filter, where a person’s presence is not registered by others if they stand on the right spot. Gwen questions the mechanics of such a thing and how it doesn’t end in disaster, and Jack accuses her of being thoroughly Welsh for finding fault with a magic lift.

At the local pub, where it is always appropriate to discuss top secret stuff, Jack breaks down what exactly Torchwood does; they catch aliens and more importantly, collect the stuff they leave behind. Cardiff sits on a temporal rift and is something of a dumping ground for the floating trash of the universe. The goal is to arm the human race for what’s coming next, even though humans have repeatedly denied the existence of aliens despite overwhelming proof. As Jack says, “The 21st century is when everything changes, and you gotta be ready.” Torchwood is above all governments since what they collect is too powerful for just one to have. As Jack assures Gwen that all technology stays on base, the Torchwood team is seen bringing home various bits of alien technology.

Jack Harkness: Former companion of the Doctor, polyamourous and polysexual.

As Gwen tries to discover more about Jack and tries to get him to work with the police, Jack reveals they only care about discovering how to use the technology; in this case, they need murder victims to figure out how the glove works. This pisses Gwen off royally and she threatens to take what she knows to the police. Jack assures her that she won’t remember as he slipped an amnesia pill in her drink. Shame that this is where it might all end because the two have great chemistry.

Gwen rushes home, trying to beat the effects of the pill before she falls asleep and types out all she knows onto her computer to help her remember. What the drugs made her forget is that secret organizations are good at covering their tracks where technology’s involved. Her files are deleted remotely by Ianto and she drops off to sleep and awakens with no memory of what took place the night before.

Gwen returns to her everyday routine, but she notices a mock up of the murder weapon used in all the murders, a nasty looking knife. Gwen is ordered to try and track down where one might be sold. Seeing the knife, triggers something in her head, almost a flash of memory. Once home and sketching the weapon, she notices she wrote, “Remember,” on a brochure for the Millennium Centre.

Later, Gwen returns to the Centre to investigate and is confronted by Suzie, whom she still does not remember. Suzie had liked the idea of working with the police so she was watching reports when she saw Gwen’s in regards to the murder weapon. She pulls the knife out of her purse. Gwen had spotted it the night before and seeing the sketch at the police station triggered her memory, a weakness of the amnesia drug if given to a clever person. As Gwen stands confused, Suzie pulls a gun on her, knowing Gwen is the only person linking her to the murders. Suzie is ready to run, but hates leaving the kind of job you can never truly walk away from; the kind that gets inside you. As Suzie laments to a still confused Gwen about how Earth gets all the universe’s shit and how she only murdered those people to learn how to use the glove, Jack comes up via the lift, which we should remember is shielded by the perception filter. Except that by using the knife and glove, the perception filter no longer works on Suzie and she shoots Jack in the head.  Jack’s body suddenly appears at Gwen’s feet, confusing her even more. Suzie steps forward, raising the gun to kill Gwen when Jack suddenly stands up behind Suzie, the gunshot wound to his forehead healing before their eyes. Realizing she has no way out, Suzie turns the gun on herself, which finally triggers Gwen’s memories of the past few days.

The Torchwood team as we know and love it.

Later, as she and Jack stand on the roof of a building, she questions him on how he survived the gunshot wound. He tells her something happened to him a long time ago and he cannot die. (See the series 1 finale of Doctor Who). He’s looking for the right kind of doctor to fix him. He asks Gwen to join the team seeing as they have a spot open and maybe working with the police is a good idea after all since it might be time for Torchwood to use the knowledge they have for the greater good. Gwen accepts without hesitation. I mean, who can really turn down a job like that?

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Stephens

Florida girl, would-be world traveler and semi-permanent expat. Her main strategy of life is to throw out the nets and hope something useful comes back, but many times it's just an old shoe. She also really, really hates winter and people who are consistently late.

17 thoughts on “Retro Recap: Torchwood, Episode 1.01, “Everything Changes””

  1. Just rewatched reboot Season 1 Ep 3 a couple nights ago, when Rose and the Doctor visit Cardiff in 1869. The servant girl looked SO familiar.  And her name was Gwyneth.

    Yup – it was Gwen.  First mention of The Rift in Cardiff that I know of – they sure did set that up over time…

  2. I’ve loved Torchwood and Captain Jack (Harkness – not Sparrow) since Day 1. Gwen sometimes got on my nerves due to some of her relationship choices (spoilers!), but she grew into super-awesomeness as the series progressed.

    I’ve watched every bit of every season – even the American…uh..excursion..Miracle Day. (Apparently, God wanted me to see it and gave me free Starz for the duration of the season.) The concept was really good.  And Gwen was good.  And…maybe they’ll come up with something a little better next time?

  3. I’ll admit, on my first viewing of Torchwood, I was little iffy on Gwen, but during subsequent re-watches, I’ve come to appreciate her for the bad ass she is. Same with Martha on Doctor Who. I now consider Martha my second favorite companion after Donna.

    It’s amazing the amount of vitriol that’s aimed at female characters in sci-fi series (Who, Torchwood, Supernatural, Lost) and there seems to be lesser criticism of the male characters.

  4. I love Torchwood, even with my inexplicable distaste for John Barrowman. Well, it’s inexplicable so much as it seems like he’d be exhausting to be around, and he treats life like a drama club production of South Pacific. I think I’ve seen every episode at least a half dozen times, not counting Children of Earth because that never happened.

    Also, Ianto. Yes please.

  5. I’m so excited about covering this series. I keep typing things that are probably spoilers and then backspacing them away.

    A topic I’d love to see us explore (and this is me the reader, not the editor, unless…) is the internet reaction to TW. Specifically, the reaction to Gwen. Women in the Whoniverse who aren’t Rose Tyler tend to get a lot of internet shit thrown at them, and as we’re a bunch of mouthy women, I think it’s right up our alley.

      1. No way José! Well, there is a very strong divide. One part thinks she was an annoying love-struck girl, while the others think it was the writers that destroyed her potential and redeemed her a bit with SPOILER SEASON uhh.. 3?

         

        saving the world and the Doctor.

        1. That’s funny that you say that, because I agree with bits from both sides! I know I always felt like Martha’s interest in the Doctor felt kinda…forced. She was my least favorite of 10’s companions. But when she WASN’T a companion anymore, she became totally kickass.

      2. Ha! I bet it depends on the communities we visited. I saw a ton of irrational hate towards Martha, but most of it was directed at Donna and Amy. Gwen was pretty universally despised from the first ep of TW in my circles. And I just don’t get it, Gwen is awesome. Rose, however, was the second coming of sliced bread.

        Don’t get me wrong, I love Rose nearly as much as I love Gwen, Martha, Donna and River. Nearly.

        1. It does indeed vary. Among Whovians of my acquaintance, those who came from Classic Who were doing a good deal of eye rolling at Rose/Doctor stuff because we are more used to the Doctor being more chummy/mentor like with his companions. The love angle seemed a little off. I always like companions best when they aren’t fawning over the Doctor, so Rose is not my cup of tea. She’s not the most annoying female to ever grace the TARDIS (I give that honor to Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter from the first Doctor, who’s solution to most problems seemed to be cry “Grandfather!” at it), but I am not a Rose fan.

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