Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Torchwood - "Captain Jack Harkness" 10/10


Can Cath Treganna write the whole series please? Her second episode and my second given full marks. She handles the adult angle with just the right touch and, for me, gets the characters' subtleties best.

Though this is basically one part of a 2-parter (and not just in broadcast terms) this one held me a little more than the follow on story ... of which more above.

Here we delve a little more into Captain Jack's history, some of it sketched out in broad terms but enough to give us insights on his motivation. And, as signposted by being given title prominence, we meet the real Captain Jack Harkness (gorgeous Matt Rippy, looking very much like Will Young with added Brylcreem and eye-liner) whose identity 'our' Jack swiped following his death in battle in 1941. Being American and dashingly handsome were not the only things they had in common but I've spoilt that with my screencap haven't I?

Anyway the story opens with Jack and Tosh investigating reports of eerie 1940s music drifting out of a derelict dance hall. Tosh is conveniently dressed more glamourously than normal as she is intending to attend a family birthday and has the card with her. Jack is conveniently dressed in his usual 1940s military chic.

Less conveniently Tosh has her laptop with half the Rift activation codes she's been working on (the others are on the Hub computers). There's been more Rift activity lately, especially regarding timeslips (see "Out of Time").

Sure enough, soon they have fallen through time to January 1941 where the hall is in full activity with a 'sending our lads off' type ball. Uneasy Tosh is only too aware of being the only Asian in the room (luckily this is 11 months before Pearl Harbor) but Jack merrily bullshits his way around until they are introduced to the real Captain Jack Harkness. After swiftly renaming himself Captain James Harper, our Jack confides in Tosh that he never knew the real thing was 'so hot'. But he also knows that the real Captain Jack Harkness will be killed the next day.

Back at the Hub, Owen and Ianto soon discover their colleagues are missing and, going through the archive material on the dance hall they were investigating, see a photo featuring the pair - a photo we've just seen taken by the mysterious Bilis Manger (an anagram if ever I heard one) who is the manager of the venue. He's played here by veteran actor Murray Melvin, exuding quiet menace and looking really quite odd. The camera, it later transpires, is ahead of its time and takes 'Polaroid' shots and Bilis keeps a file named Torchwood in his desk drawer.

Around now plot B emerges - the struggle between Owen and Ianto over whether to open the rift to get Jack and Tosh back. Ianto is by-the-book and later notes the whole thing may be a trap (oh how spot on he is!) but reckless Owen believes it's the only way to return them. They only have half the codes though and a vital piece of the activation device has mysteriously vanished. It's this plot B that is expanded for the next episode.

Curiously, although she's been despatched to the dance hall to investigate (and has bumped into Bilis Manger looking exactly the same) Gwen is fairly marginal to this episode for once as the other four take centre stage.

In 1941 Tosh has thought of a way to communicate the remaining codes to the others in the future and has handwritten the equations from her laptop' just before the battery dies. If there's one big plothole in this (and I forgive it) it's Jack's complicitness in the others plans to get them back by manipulating the Rift via Tosh's equations. Here only Ianto, specifically following Jack's instruction, has any doubts. This contradicts the whole thrust of the next episode.

Jack has other things on his mind. Knowing the real Jack is in his last 24 hours he repeatedly urges him to live it to the full, even instructing him to kiss his 'girlfriend' goodbye. Our Jack hasn't noticed (as I did) quite how close attention the real Jack has been giving him all night.

Things turn a bit nasty at the Hub as Owen and Ianto are now literally fighting over whether to use the Rift. Owen decides they might be able to to so without the full codes but needs the missing piece of the device. Assuming it's at the dance hall, he goes there and retreives it from the pendulum of a grandfather clock in Bilis' office. Also there Gwen eventually finds Tosh's second attempt at communicating the codes. Poor Tosh had to write this one in her own blood (during an air raid) so as to make sure it would not fade, but sometime inbetween Bilis has scored out the last few symbols. Not quite sure why he did that.

After the air raid, the 2 Jacks meet on a balcony. Again, our Jack selflessly urges real Jack to grab life and 'go after' his girl i.e spend the night with her. Without enthusiasm, real Jack leaves. Our Jack has time for a wistful look but then real Jack returns to sit beside our Jack explaining he really is grabbing life and tentatively places his hand on the other's. The penny finally drops for our Jack, but alas this new coupling are interrupted by another courting couple - and real Jack looks ashamed and embarrased and flustered. Both make excuses and leave.

Hostilities escalate at the Hub and Ianto pulls a gun on Owen, who is frantically working on the device. Ianto ensures Owen he will shoot, but Owen responds by baiting Ianto further about his unhealthy relationships with Lisa and Jack (the first time the latter has been properly confirmed) as Ianto already accused him of being blinded by a desire to get Diane back from the Rift. Ianto shoots him in the back, but it appears that Owen has managed to activate the device.

In the 1941 dance hall, the 2 Jacks have kept an awkward distance and our Jack is back with Tosh while real Jack has rejoined 'his men'. The band strikes up "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and partners are being chosen. Suddenly real Jack approaches our Jack and Tosh's table and beckons an arm out. It's Jack he wants and the two wander together on to the dancefloor to the astonishment and bemusement of the collected soldiers, sailors, airmen and their girlfriends. They dance and eventually are the sole couple, completely entranced. Tosh smiles warmly from the sidelines.

With unromantic timing an explosion of light just outside the ballroom heralds the rift opening and the two Jacks must part and return to their duties. But our Jack delays his departure just long enough to plant a huge kiss on his dance partner.

As our Jack fades into the light, real Jack stands to attention (no, really) and salutes after him.

So Jack and Tosh are rescued and it looks like no harm's been done. Wrong.

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