Dr. Moo milks the cash cow.
This is an odd one I have to say. When you have an episode called “Meat” you would hope it the story had some meat to it (ho-ho!). Sadly, while there is a lot of stuff going on here that does work there’s also a lot that doesn’t. It’s got to be one of Torchwood’s iffiest episodes ever and it’s telling that it’s so divisive among fans.
So what are the good bits from this episode then? I’d say that’s down to the characters and the interactions between them. Gwen’s affair with Owen and the love triangle between her, Jack and her actual boyfriend Rhys finally comes together here when Rhys follows her. He’s understandably suspicious of Jack (wouldn’t you be if your romantic partner was so obsessed with a colleague, especially if the colleague in question is John Barrowman?) so when the team set off on their latest case he finally discovers what Torchwood actually is and that aliens are real. Gwen is forced to make her choice. When she finds him dealing with the alien meat slab she confronts him about it and he reveals his suspicions – when the two have the obligatory argument over this it’s believable. Both of them love each other and neither wants to give up what they’ve got, so Gwen finally brings Rhys to Torchwood.
We knew this was coming from the very first episode, but it’s nice to see Rhys grow a pair and stop being such a drip for a change. Catherine Tregenna is on writing duties this time and while her previous efforts have been up and down in the way the characters were written she gets it very right here. She gets the dynamics between Gwen and Jack and Rhys spot on (I like the way Rhys never suspects Owen – well, who would?) and she also manages to deploy the others well. Ianto gets some nice one-liners, with Gareth David-Lloyd delivering them just as well as any 007 could (David-Lloyd for next Bond? Hell yes!). The blossoming romance between Tosh and Owen continues its snail’s-pace progression believably. Indeed, all of the main/recurring cast are well utilised and well written here and the final moments where Gwen must choose whether or not to retcon Rhys (again) provide the emotional payoff when she decides not to. By the end Rhys has finally arrived where his character needs to be for him to become more than just the supporting role he had been up to now.
That’s the good stuff, the characters. The bad stuff is also in the characters, specifically the one-offs. The villains are rubbish here and not written as actual humans. You understand their motivations, you get why they’re doing what they’re doing, but they’re written as little more than cardboard cutouts so you don’t get invested in what they and our leads do to each other.
As for the alien itself, which is some sort of giant whale, it is barely developed. It looks like a giant slab of meat and these people are using it as such to feed hunger, but the actors can’t interact with it. The CGI is poorly done to say the least and it won’t hold up down the years. It's supposed to be one of those unsettling kind of alien encounter that Torchwood has always done so well, but it fails in the execution. We don’t know anything about it, we don’t know how these thugs were meant to have found it, we don’t know and it’s so poorly developed that we don’t care. I think the bit where we get a close-up of the eye is meant to make us care but we just can’t. When the team dispose of it by incineration (how? where?) are we supposed to feel sad? Disgusted? I’m just left feeling apathetic over the whole thing.
While I am within my rights to complain about the villains’ lack of anything resembling characterisation and the total non-entity of the alien, to do so is to miss the point of the story. Meat is an episode designed to achieve one goal and one goal only: Rhys to discover and accept Gwen’s life at Torchwood. Meat serves to progress that subplot and it does so with great skill. On that level it’s a success, it’s a shame the meat (sorry) of the main plot undermines that side of things. As such, how much enjoyment you can get out of watching Meat depends which aspect you actually choose to watch. For the alien encounter story it’s rubbish but as a relationship drama it does a really good job.
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.