I think it’s safe to say that Torchwood found its stride in the second season. After a kick-ass premiere and a decent second episode, the third signals a run of stories that are at times campy, profound and heartbreaking. I think the last adjective is a good description for the latest one. It centers on the character who has become one of my favorites and the isolating and dangerous nature of working for Torchwood.
The episode starts at St. Teilo’s Military Hospital in 1918, during the final year of World War 1. Members of Torchwood Beta Edition, Gerald Carter and Harriet Derbyshire are there to investigate ghostly sightings reported at the hospital. Harriet’s using an early version of an EMF reader (or a device using technology that fell through the rift). They startle a young nurse who reports she’s seen three ghosts that day already in the ward. The pair are lead into a room filled with shell shocked soldiers and to the bed of one in particular. The young soldier will be sent back to the front as soon as he recovers. Suddenly the lights flicker and Gerald and Harriet go to investigate. There’s a sudden burst of light and the pair turn to see Tosh and the young soldier from earlier on the ground. Tosh is urging the soldier, Tommy, to tell them something or it’s the end of everything. Tommy directs them to head back to the ward in 1918 and take him with them, so he can be there now, presumably in the future.
In present day, we see Tosh scrambling around her apartment getting ready as Moby plays in the background. From the looks of it, it’s almost like she’s getting ready for a date and she does look pretty damn good by the time she leaves. Turns out, she’s just heading to work, but today is a special day. Jack is telling Gwen about Tommy Reginald Brockless, a 24-year-old soldier who they’ve been keeping cryogenically frozen since 1918 (so kind of not 24). On the same day each year, they unfreeze Tommy to check and make sure all his parts are still functioning before freezing him for another year. According to Jack, one day they’ll need him.
Owen revives Tommy, who freaks out at first before Tosh steps in to calm him down and remind him of his circumstances. Later, as Tommy sits with the team, eating dinner like he hasn’t been frozen for the better part of 90 years, he compliments Tosh on her dress (her reasons for dressing up becoming clearer) and comments on how he wishes miniskirts would make a comeback. After dinner, Owen runs Tommy through a battery of medical tests.
Jack is debriefing Gwen on Tommy, telling her there was a time rift in 1918; a slice of that year merged with a piece of the future, they just don’t know when. When it does, parts of 1918 will start to appear until the merge is complete, which will set off a chain reaction. Time shifts will spread all over the world unless it’s stopped. Torchwood of 1918 left instructions sealed with a temporal lock. Gwen gamely tries to open the box, but temporal locks take more than upper body strength to unseal. It’ll only open when the rift nears completion. Tosh and Tommy are leaving in what is likely a yearly ritual; Tosh looking much more happy and relaxed in Tommy’s presence than she did during her last romantic interlude in Season 1. Seriously, Jack and Gwen are acting like parents sending their teenager off on her first date with a new boy.
Tommy, eager to catch up and live it up for 24 hours, asks Tosh about her life in the past year. Apparently, she never got around to picking up her piano playing or learning Spanish like she said last time. Work just gets in the way. Pretty much like the rest of us, just with more aliens. Tommy comments that she chooses to let work take over her life. Meanwhile, Gwen is looking at a picture of Harriet and Gerald, who probably also let Torchwood take over their lives. Ianto comments that Harriet died young, just like everyone whose ever worked in Torchwood; nothing changes.
As their “date” progresses, Tommy asks after Tosh’s love life (non-existent) while Tommy tells her of a girl he courted for two years, Ellie, before ending it after he felt the war had changed him. They are pair, it seems.
Gwen decides to check things out at St. Teilo’s. While wandering the empty corridors, she hears laughter, before being confronted by a wounded soldier. He passes by her, seemingly unaware of her presence and disappears as the lights flicker and present day workmen appear. Apparently, the hospital is set to be demolished and the activity could be triggering the time rift, along with all the psychic energy from the grief and pain of wounded soldiers in 1918. There was a spike in activity at the hospital, but nothing significant.
Back at the bar, the television is showing news of the Iraqi War. Tommy wonders if the world is really worth saving; he woke up to the news of the end of one war and shortly after (for him) woke to news of a new war, worse than the previous and on and on. Tosh believes humanity is worth it wars and all. Tommy looks at her as if she hung the moon and tells her he’d do anything for her; all she’d have to do is call Tommy her brave, handsome hero. Tosh practically melts at that and as sappy as it is, it’s nice to see her happy.
Of course, it’s the Torchwood universe, so nothing lasts and Tommy senses something is happening as workers continue to tear down St. Teilo’s. Gwen and Jack are still searching the hospital when they split up and Jack encounters a nurse pushing a soldier in a wheelchair, oblivious to him. Gwen encounters a man in a chair in another part of the hospital, but this time, the nurse who comes to fetch the man notices Gwen. She tells Gwen leave them alone. Turns out Torchwood are considered the ghosts as Owen reports spikes in the time energy signature.
Tommy is chasing Tosh on the boardwalk when he stops and gives her an almost innocent kiss on the lips. Tosh is a bit freaked out since she’s be labeled a cougar for hooking up with Tommy, but he rightly points out that 1) he was born in 1894, so he’s older and 2) if he can die for his country, he can kiss her. The pair share a more intimate kiss before Tosh agrees to take Tommy back to hers, but the ultimate killjoy that is Torchwood summons the pair back to the hub.
In a meeting, Jack informs Tommy that the demolition is triggering the time shift and uses a simplistic metaphor of crumpled paper to illustrate why two times existing simultaneously is a bad idea. He sends Tosh and Owen to the hospital to place sensors and there, Owen decides to treat Tosh like an actual person and tell her he doesn’t want her to get hurt. She informs Owen she feels like she can be herself around Tommy, which is refreshing to see in contrast to the woman who spent her time crushing after Owen. Gwen calls and sends Owen to the radiology department for a clue about the time shift. A field report from 1918 details how the team saw a woman in armor ripping a Union Jack. Owen realizes it an ad from the present day and the time shift is now.
The sealed box opens and it contains instructions for Tommy and for Tosh. In 12 hours, Tommy will exist in both times. He must step back into 1918 and close the rift using a manipulator left by the 1918 agents. Then he will be back in his time for good. It will stitch up time, but rip him and Tosh apart and that’s not the worst of it. In a private meeting, Jack tells Tosh that three weeks after he returns, Tommy is executed for cowardice due to shell-shock. Tosh refuses to send him back to that fate, but in order to save the world, personal happiness takes a backseat. Tosh has to do it as evidenced by a drawing of her from 1918 and the report that she was there, telling Tommy what to do. Jack whole-heartedly believes Tosh is strong enough to do this.
Tommy wonders what to do in his last few hours and while the others try to think of ideas, Tosh unabashedly tells everyone Tommy is coming home with her (I may have said, out loud, “Get it.”). They arrive at Tosh’s apartment and face the reality that this is the only night they’ll have together. The scene is heart-breakingly sweet. At the same time, Ianto and Jack share their own moment when Ianto asks if Jack ever wants to return to the past. He tells Ianto he’s found a new home here and they too kiss. The balance held by the actors in both these scenes are pitch perfect. It could so easily dive into the saccharine.
Later, in Tosh’s bed, Tommy wakes and asks Tosh if she knows what happens to him. The viewer can see she’s torn, but she ultimately lies and tells Tommy he’s sent back to France and they never find a body. The next day, everyone arrives at the hospital and as Jack is telling Tommy what he needs to do the sensors go off. Tommy begins hearing the voices and people from 1918. He runs down the corridor in a state of panic, realizing he’ll be sent back to the trenches. He pleads with Tosh not to make him go, but she says he must. He accuses her and Jack of being no worse than the generals who sent him back out and in some ways, he may have a point. As Jack tries to bully Tommy into cooperating, Tosh asks for a moment alone with him.
Tosh tells him that he’s a hero who saves them all, in direct contradiction to the fate Tosh knows he’ll face, but he insists that all he wants to do is stay with her. Before she can respond, a wind picks up and they’re faced with Gerald and Harriet in 1918 and it’s a replay of the scene at the beginning of the episode. Tommy makes his decision and relays the information to Harriet and Gerald. There’s a flash and they’re back in the present. Tosh kisses Tommy one last time, but he barely responds. It’s as if he’s returning to his shell-shocked state. She reminds him of what he needs to do; get back in his bed as if he’s never left and use the time key and with that, Tommy walks back into his own time. He finds himself in the supply room in 1918 as a nurse shoos him back towards his bed.
As Torchwood take 1918 Tommy away, modern Tommy slips into bed, but instantly returns to his shell-shocked state. The team realizes that the time shift hasn’t stopped and watch as it spreads out from the hospital. The solution: use some of Tommy’s blood to project one of them as a psychic projection to urge him to use the key. Tosh volunteers since Tommy trusts her. She appears at the foot of his bed and tells him he has to use they key. She tells Tommy the thing that will get him to do anything for her; that he’s her brave, handsome hero. Tommy uses the key and tells Tosh goodbye before the rift closes for good.
Back in the present, after packing up Tommy’s things, she and Owen have a heart-to-heart outside as Owen tells her how strong she is and gives her credit for saving all of them. As the song that started the episode starts playing, she walks away, hopefully as a woman who realizes her worth.