Dr. Moo looks at the Torchwood episode that isn’t really a Torchwood episode.
Watching the 9th episode of Torchwood’s first season, the enigmatically titled Random Shoes, gives me a strong sense of déjà vu. There’s a man stuck between death and whatever comes next. There’s the “Am I Dead?” shtick that seems to be a staple of every series ever made, and there's the fact that our main cast are barely in it, instead allowing the plot to follow a “fan” of their work in his efforts to get closer to them while he narrates – Yep, this is Torchwood does Love & Monsters! Why you’d rip off that particular abomination* is beyond me but there we go, it’s happening.
Playing the Elton Pope role in this story is Eugene Jones. This guy is a hit-and-run victim and also the protagonist of the episode as his ghost takes on the role of narrator and tags along as Gwen investigates the events leading up to his death. There’s an interesting, even if somewhat unoriginal, idea here. It’s just a shame that he himself is just so uninteresting. Elton from Love & Monsters was uninteresting too but at least Marc Warren’s performance made him charming; Paul Chequer has no such appeal and makes Eugene very dull. Any interest you get from Eugene’s story rests entirely on his interactions with Gwen Cooper during her investigation. Thankfully we have Eve Myles on hand to deliver some of her best ever work in the role. She is subtle and subdued in her performance and the way Gwen can somehow hear Eugene without hearing him is only a plot device that works because she is a good enough actress to pull it off.
And that’s just as well since she’s the only one of the main cast to really do anything this time round. Sure, we do get to see Harkness and co. for a few moments but Gwen is the only one who seems to care. She’s the only one of them with any empathy or compassion – a point hammered home in the previous installment – but for a team who have dealt with Cybermen, sex-gas, cannibals and more than one resurrection they seem awfully closed-minded when they dismiss Gwen’s suggestion that Eugene’s death is anything out of the ordinary. If not for the strength of the actors they all come across as complete and utter arseholes.
The involvement of Jack, Ianto, Tosh and Owen feels like it was included only so that the viewers were reminded that they are still watching Torchwood. Sure, you’ve got a ghost, a mystery, an alien artefact and lots of Welsh references but despite all of that it just doesn’t feel like Torchwood. It feels like any generic by-the-numbers Ghost Exploring Why He’s Dead story that you can see on pretty much any other show you want, thankfully this one just happens to have Gwen Cooper involved.
This is Gwen in her element here, for the first time since the pilot we get to see her police roots as she goes to track Eugene’s actions from the last few days. We meet his parents and his friends, go to a restaurant where he’s a regular, we see him selling something online, he’s had a recent existential crisis, his friends and family have been lying to him… every cliché in the book shows up here but none of it would be especially interesting if not for Eve Myles’s performance.
It turns out Eugene has been lied to by his parents, he’s been shafted by his friends, his alien artefact is nothing particularly unusual. Then he gets run over and dies. It’s hard to care about him at this stage because he’s such a flat and dull character that whatever happens to him you just do not care at all. Gwen’s investigation takes her all over Wales but she discovers little of interest. And what of the pictures on his phone of the eponymous random shoes? Totally irrelevent in the end!
When the fifty minutes of boring fluff comes to its end you’re glad it’s over. Sadly we have one more horrendous moment to go yet!
At the end, her investigation over, she crosses the road and somehow Eugene takes physical form again and saves her from being run over. Then Gwen kisses him and he ascends into heaven?!
It’s an ending that tries hard to tug at the heartstrings but its efforts to do so fall flat. In that respect I suppose it makes it the perfect ending to Random Shoes. This is Torchwood’s attempt to make you cry but it ends up making you fall asleep instead. A very boring episode that, while not as offensively bad as Love & Monsters (which it unashamedly rips off) or other Torchwood episodes like Day One or Cyberwoman, is certainly not very good, aside from a powerhouse performance by Eve Myles. If you watch it again you’ll be watching it for her. Trust me, there’s nothing else here to make this worth another viewing.
*I’d like to use much stronger language to describe Love & Monsters but I’ll resist it.
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.