Dr. Moo orders pizza…
Doctor Who was back and all was right with the world! Such was the attitude of fans in 2005. Cut ahead to 2006 and a new spin-off was on the cards, not that anyone was really surprised by this news. Torchwood had in fact started life as the code-name of series one (It’s an anagram, see?) to keep people off the scent, so when Russell T Davies decided to work a spin-off for the show it made perfect sense for him to use that name for it. What we got with Torchwood was an extremely mixed bag with episodes varying, seemingly from week-to-week, from televisual masterpieces to absolute trash, and never was this truer than in its first season. In fact, the entire concept was always doomed to fall into that trap from the start. Basically put (and this is an extremely basic overview) the premise takes Doctor Who, makes it entirely Earthbound, throws in lots of violence and sex references and then takes that idea and runs with it. Expect lots of overhead shots of various Cardiff landmarks and opportunities for RTD to show off Welsh culture. Expect also lots of people without a straight or otherwise well-defined sexuality.
Right from the word go you get the impression of what Torchwood will be like in what is, for all intents and purposes, the pilot episode. Everything Changes has a lot to pack into its 50 minutes running time. As with every pilot it has to set up the characters and the setting, but as a spin-off it also needs to establish how well it fits into the established canon of the parent show. This is done instantly when we are swiftly reintroduced to Captain Jack Harkness, with John Barrowman nailing it as usual, and with him comes his crew of Torchwood: Davies wastes no time introducing us to Tosh, Owen, Ianto and Suzie by having them show up at a murder scene and promptly resurrect the victim while our protagonist Gwen watches on from above.
The resurrection is done nice and in style, because this is Torchwood and that’s how this show works, with the tone uncomfortably dark with rain (it’s Whales so that’s normal) and everything. This tone is fantastic and makes it fascinating to watch. It draws you in, but the moment you remember, as you move on to the next scene, is after the man’s dead again and Jack asks his colleagues what they think – and then looks up and asks Gwen. That’s the moment right there when this show punches you right in the gut and draws you in. Gwen needs to know more about this mysterious Jack Harkness and she needs to know more about this mysterious Torchwood organisation.
The mystery deepens as the story progresses and Gwen uses her police authority to track down Jack Harkness only to discover he’s been registered dead since WWII (a key plot point in a later episode so remember this). Before she can let this set in she’s faced with her first alien – and this is when Torchwood defines itself. The alien itself is nothing you wouldn’t expect in the parent show, the tone has already been more grown up here, but this is the scene that sets up what Torchwood will be like. Eve Myles plays Gwen believably as she watches this alien from afar and tries to rationalise it. Is it a deformity? Maybe it’s a mask? This is Myles grounding Gwen, and by extension the entire series, in reality; if you encountered an alien you’d surely refuse to believe what you were seeing, right?
And then, seconds later, a security guard enters and is visciously attacked as the monster goes right for the jugular. Sickening crunch, spurt of blood, Gwen screams, enter Jack to rescue her; it’s short and quick but it leaves the right impression: No holds barred and pulling no punches, welcome to Torchwood!
What follows in the rest of the pilot is the story of Gwen infiltrating her way into the Torchwood Hub (via pizza delivery) as she finds herself face-to-face with the five mysterious people she saw resurrect that guy. Now that she knows too much about them she’s faced with a tricky prospect to consider: What are they going to do with her? Almost as an afterthought, there’s the issue of the murderer on the loose to take care of too.
Add to that the fact that Gwen is slipped some retcon (Nice name that, good job Russell!) and will have no memory of these events come morning and you’ve got yourself a plot. Bear in mind that this is two-thirds of the way through the episode and the plot’s only just been set up. That’s because as this is the pilot a plot is inessential, all a pilot needs to do is establish who everyone is and what they’re all doing. Everything Changes does this with ease!
Then there's the twist that Suzie is the killer, and especially that she kills
herself to avoid being captured. This is a good way to wrong foot the audience
by killing one of your supposed main cast in the pilot episode, so
credit where it’s due there.
There are some issues with Everything Changes that would continue to dog Torchwood throughout its four seasons. The scene where Owen effectively date-rapes two people is extremely jarring, the way in which Gwen gets her memories restored is a little hand-wavy and the twist reveal of the true killer lost its impact if you'd looked at the cast list in the Radio Times and read that the actress was not in the second episode aired by the BBC immediately after this one finished. But overall the episode is a good one that does what it needs to do. Russell T Davies has the pilot episode concept down to a pat and this proves it.
So for setting up its premise, throwing in some potential plot points for later episodes and establishing the grown up tone of Torchwood, Everything Changes is a resounding success that got Torchwood off the ground with a strong start. Not bad for a pilot! Viewers still don’t know fully whether Jack can be trusted, thanks to Barrowman’s layered performance, but there’s no way that we won’t be back every week to find out!
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The
Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the
latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.