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Retro Recap: Torchwood, 1.04, “Cyberwoman”

OK, confession time. This is one of my least favorite episodes of the series. It might be because it features my least favorite of  the Big Bads of the Who-verse: the Cybermen (or, in this case, Cyberwoman). However, I do like that Ianto, who may be my favorite character of the series, moved from background character to main player in this episode.

We start off with the usually calm and collected Ianto in the elevator looking frazzled. The rest of the team is playing what looks like modified basketball before heading out for a night out, leaving Ianto behind. Ianto is ordering pizza when a man, Dr. Tanesaki, steps through the blast door. The pair head to a room in an unused part of Torchwood.

Torchwood’s butler has a secret.

Inside, a young woman is hooked up to a machine. She appears to be part woman and part Cyberman (person?). The woman’s name is Lisa and she’s Ianto’s girlfriend. She worked for Torchwood London and was caught in the Battle of Canary Wharf (featured in the Doctor Who Series Two finale “Doomsday”). The Cybermen were upgrading whole bodies instead of just brains and Lisa was only halfway through the process when the machinery shut down and Ianto pulled her out. Dr. Tanesaki begins examining Lisa, estimating what percentage was still human and what percentage was cybernetic and feeling up Lisa in a manner that way oversteps the boundary between diagnosis and creepiness. Lisa wakes up, revealing she helped Ianto modify the conversion machine to keep her alive. Ianto has brought Tanesaki in to try and reverse the cybernetic process and make her human again.

Working in the lab upstairs, Tanesaki explains that the first phase should help Lisa to breathe on her own and then he can evaluate what needs to be done to reverse the process. Ianto asks what if Lisa’s body isn’t ready and Tanesaki replies, “You have to be prepared for her not to survive.” At that moment, Lisa’s breathing stops.

At a local pub, the team gets a text alert that there is a UFO over Cardigan Bay. It’s back to the office.

Ianto tries to stop the process, but Tanesaki insists he let him do his job. Suddenly, Lisa is breathing on her own and awake. Before they can celebrate, Ianto sees the rest of the team arriving back. They have to hustle Lisa downstairs and Ianto promises to return once everyone is gone. Ianto arrives back upstairs, straightening his tie and playing his role as Jack’s shooting off orders about dealing with the UFO.

Conversion Machine
This will only hurt for a minute.

As Tanesaki is helping Lisa back to her makeshift hospital room, her face goes blank and she grabs Tanesaki by the throat, lifting him off the ground. She places him on the machine that once held her and as he pleads for her to let him go, she says in a robotic voice, “The human race is weak. I can make you strong.” The machines turn on and energy surges through the device as various saws and other tools normally seen in horror movies descend from the ceiling. Lisa stands before the machine, arms extended in a kind of worship. (I feel I need to take a moment to lament Lisa’s costume here. It’s like a teenage boy gamer’s idea of a sexy Cyber costume.)

Upstairs, Ianto is going through the motions, making coffee when the lights flicker and Tosh reports that there is an internal power drain. Jack tells Tosh to run a systems diagnostic, but Ianto makes up a paper thin excuse about the generator acting up and loose wires. Jack, the man who’s lived a long time and runs a top secret organization, accepts this excuse and Ianto runs back downstairs to find Tanesaki dead with cybernetic parts molded to parts of his body. This was Lisa’s way of paying him back for his kindness, trying to remove what was weak and human and replacing it with machine. Ianto panics, realizing the others will come looking for him. He lashes out at Lisa, pushing her away asking her how she could do such a thing when they’ve come so far. He threatens her, implying he’ll hurt or kill her if she hurts anyone else, but she calls his bluff. He loves her (or the human side of her) too much to follow through with the threat. Ianto breaks down as he realizes he’s responsible for Tanesaki’s death, but he must deal with the body anyway.

The team is dealing with the UFO as the lights flicker again and Jack calls Ianto to find out what’s going on. There’s no answer since he’s dealing with Tanesaki’s body. Tosh traces the drain to the downstairs storage unit where Lisa is hooked up to the device and charging herself like a battery. Scans show two heat signatures, one presumably Ianto and the other unknown. Jack concludes they are under attack and the team scrambles to assume battle protocols. Gwen heads with Owen to find Ianto.

While Ianto hides Tanesaki’s body, still understandably torn up about the whole thing, Gwen and Owen find themselves in front of the door containing Lisa and the cyber machine, lights flashing inside. Jack calls for a report, but the power source is interfering with the coms and he can’t communicate with the pair. Tosh finds out that CCTV images from the last couple of hours have been removed, further fueling the belief that Torchwood is under attack, but apparently Ianto, in his rush, missed the footage of him greeting Tanesaki and leading him downstairs.

Owen and Gwen realize they are on their own with the coms malfunctioning. They break down the door, but they find it empty. Owen realizes instantly what he’s looking at and that they have a big problem. He, like everyone else, thought all the Cyberman conversion units were destroyed. After turning off the power, the coms come back online and Owen informs Jack about the machine. Jack orders the pair back upstairs, but before they can comply, Owen’s knocked out by Lisa. Gwen calls a “Code Zero Incursion.” Jack heads downstairs telling Tosh that if she doesn’t hear from him in fifteen minutes to activate total shut down and get to safety. When she protests, Jack tells her they need a last line of defense. One Cyberperson in the world is one too many.

Lisa disarms Gwen and straps her to the conversion machine. As the machine powers up, Jack reaches the room and is astonished that he’s facing a woman and not a standard issue Cyberman. He shoots, but before he can do anything else, he’s tackled by Ianto and Lisa gets away as the conversion tools descend on Gwen. Unable to turn off the machine, Jack calls for Tosh to shut down all power, even though with lockdown protocols, they’ll be trapped.

Ianto, Gwen and Jack (carrying Owen) make their way back upstairs after a brief encounter with Lisa and Jack pointing a gun at Ianto’s head. When they get back, Jack treats Ianto like a hostile prisoner. Jack’s angry about Ianto keeping such a huge thing like a Cyberman secret, and Ianto lashes out about how he’s ignored; he cleans up after them, but no one cares about his life. Of course he wouldn’t tell them about Lisa. Torchwood only seeks to destroy alien threats and his loyalty is to her, not Torchwood.

Ianto pleads for Jack to help find a cure and Jack in turn says that there is no cure. Lisa

Lisa as Cyberwoman
My next Halloween costume will NOT be sexy Cyberwoman.

is lost. Thinking Lisa is the exception is how the Cybermen can rebuild their race; they exploit human weakness and choices. The ultimate give an inch, take a universe. Ianto refuses to give up on Lisa. Can’t Jack understand that? Hasn’t he ever loved anyone that much?

Ianto is pleading with them to let him talk to Lisa when she appears, stating the Cyber race will be rebuilt from Torchwood. She is Human .2, though Jack points out she look like Human .1. Lisa then looks at her reflection and despairs that she is incomplete, wrong and disgusting. Ianto wants to cure her so they can be together. Lisa wants to be together, to fuse their brains into his body. Cyber logic. When Ianto rejects this she throws him across the room and he lands into a puddle of water. She disarms Jack as the team scrambles, ending up in Jack’s office.

Jack has a device that can supposedly open any lock in 45 seconds. He tells Tosh to get out, get the power back on and meet them by the water tower. Jack uses himself as a diversion since he can’t die. Lisa electrocutes him, but he keeps getting back up, until he gets one jolt that might just kill him. Owen can’t believe Jack survived the first jolt, but the second definitely killed him. He and Gwen run to the lab to get something to use as weapons and Tosh is able to escape.

Gwen and Owen hide in one of the cold chambers, lying on top of each other as Lisa searches for them. Jack pulls Ianto from the water. Gwen and Owen kiss in a sort of “We’re about to die, might as well,” kind of way and Jack gives Ianto mouth to mouth in a way not taught in first aid classes. With always perfect timing, Gwen receives a call from Rhys, alerting Lisa to their presence. Owen is able to stab Lisa and she appears dead. Gwen and Owen bicker about the make-out as Ianto runs into the infirmary. Lisa, however, isn’t dead. Cue much scrambling ending with Jack confronting Lisa with a blowtorch and some kind of liquid. Gwen and Owen hold Ianto back to keep him from interfering as Jack throws the liquid on Lisa.

The liquid is catnip for the pterodactyl, which swoops down and attacks. Tosh is able to get the power back on enough to activate the lift. The four escape as Lisa is getting eaten alive by a dinosaur. Once at the surface, Ianto promises that he’ll watch Jack suffer and die when he has the chance to save him. Tosh was able to set a timer to bring the power back on and they can get back in. Hearing that, Ianto makes a run for it.

The pizza Ianto ordered before all the mess started is here and the delivery girl wanders downstairs. Ianto holds off the team with a gun and saying he’ll shoot anyone who tries to stop him. Jack easily disarms him. Jack tells Ianto if he’s going back in, he’s going back to finish the job; Ianto kills Lisa or Jack will kill them both. Jack is angry that Ianto is choosing Lisa over the team, though they’ve never given Ianto a reason to trust them. He accuses Jack of being the biggest monster of all despite acting the hero. Jack gives Ianto ten minutes despite the team’s protests.

Torchwood’s butler at the end of his rope.

Ianto sees the pizza boxes downstairs and realizes Lisa has the girl, but when he gets downstairs, he finds Lisa’s body covered in blood. The delivery girl steps out of the shadows and it’s Lisa, whose transplanted her brain into a new body, a completely human one. To prove it’s her, Lisa recounts their happy memories and asks Ianto to hold her and tell her it’s all right. He holds her briefly and then steps back, cocking the gun. Lisa still believes he won’t shoot her. She’s right. He lowers his gun.

It’s then that the team steps in and finishes the job. You would think that would be the end for Ianto, but he’s back the next day. As Gwen and Jack talk, Gwen theorizes that Jack would never have shot Ianto. Jack disagrees. Gwen echoes Ianto’s earlier question, “Has Jack ever loved anyone that much?” When he doesn’t answer, she tells him she thought that Lisa could have really killed him. His secret? He had thought so, too, and in that moment, he had never felt so alive.



By 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.

7 replies on “Retro Recap: Torchwood, 1.04, “Cyberwoman””

This episode makes no damn sense to me. I can’t square it with episodes that come after, either in terms of narrative or in characterization. I feel like in the beginning, the writers didn’t really know who Ianto was going to be.

And yeah, Lisa’s costume. It’s the cheesiest.

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