Friday, 15 February 2008

TORCHWOOD 2.6 – "Reset"

Friday, 15 February 2008
Writer: J.C Wilsher
Director: Ashley Way

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), Alan Dale (Professor Aaron Copley) & Paul Kasey (Weevil)

Jack calls in Martha Jones to help investigate mysterious deaths that lead back to a sinister medical testing centre...

BBC Three
nabbed the premiere of episode 6 (showing it after Adam aired on BBC2), so there are MAJOR SPOILERS below if you didn't watch this sneaky Torchwood double-bill. Reset will air on BBC2 next Wednesday.

Reset heralds the arrival of Doctor Who's Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), who chose to leave The Doctor at the end of Who's third season and behind stay on Earth. Jack (John Barrowman) has called her in to help investigate some mysterious deaths, now that Martha has become a fully qualified doctor and works for UNIT.

To be honest, this was an episode where the stunt-casting allure of a DW/TW crossover overshadows the storyline at times. There was little reason for Martha to actually be involved– as Torchwood has its own "doctor" in the shape of Owen (Burn Gorman) – so Reset wobbled between delivering a fun crossover for Whovians and a medical conspiracy with an X-Files vibe.

Martha soon helps the team deduce that people are being "miraculously" cured of terminal illnesses and untreatable conditions, after signing up as test subjects for a government-funded facility called "The Pharm" – run by Professor Aaron Cropley (the ubiquitous Alan Dale).

A hospitalized woman tell the team she was cured of HIV thanks to a new drug called "Reset", before dying and releasing a swarm of alien larvae from her mouth. It's clear The Pharm are treating their test subjects with a drug that releases alien parasites into the bloodstream, curing any disease imaginable, but eventually causing death when the parasites burst free of their host.

Jack and Owen visit Professor Cropley in the mansion-façade of The Pharm, confronting him with their crazy-sounding claims of alien parasites, but it falls on deaf ears, and they're ejected from the premises.

At the Hub, Martha volunteers to go undercover at The Pharm, using the pseudonym Samantha Jones (the name of The Doctor's first companion, coincidentally), and scour the premises for clues. The team agree, and Martha is equipped with special contact lenses that can stream live video back to the Hub, and allow the team to converse with her using in-vision text messaging.

Inside The Pharm, Martha tries her best to seem like an ideal candidate for treatment, but isn’t having much luck convincing Copley and a dour nurse. She eventually "lets slip" that she has hepatitis, and this is enough to persuade Copley to process her for testing.

After snooping around the facility later that night, under the watchful eye of the team back at the Hub, Martha soon draws attention to herself and is chased through the facility by security guards, before coming face-to-face outside with a large praying mantis-like insect called a Mayfly. Conveniently, some radiation from the critter cripples Martha's lenses (huh?), meaning the Torchwood are forced to mount a rescue of their imperilled friend...

Inside The Pharm, Martha is implanted with the alien Mayfly's spawn, and Copley is intrigued to find her biochemistry shows signs of having travelled through time and space. Apparently that makes her even better as a candidate for their experimental techniques, but I'm not sure why – it's all quite vague and nonsensical.

Want to know how you gain access to a government research facility? Hire a black SUV, attach neon-blue strip lights to the window frames, then drive up to the security gate, screech to a halt at the barrier, and bark to the on-duty guard: "Torchwood!" They have to let you through -- without checking ID. It's the law. If you think that might fail, simply strap the dead body of an employee behind the wheel. They'll never twig.

The team burst into the facility and discover a basement where Copley's staff keep various aliens (including a Weevil) -- using them to create cutting edge medicines for mankind. It's an obvious allegory for animal testing, but I was disappointed the juiciness of that idea wasn't fleshed out.

By now, the story is in one of those Torchwood mad rushes for an ending, with Owen having to save Martha's life by killing the Mayfly offspring growing inside her stomach (shades of Alien), by using an alien-tech foreshadowed in the episode – which can destroy objects hidden inside or behind other objects. Despite its previously temperamental nature, Owen gets the device to work this time, saving Martha's life with seconds to spare, and everyone makes their escape – with Tosh wiping the medical information The Pharm have stored on their servers.

The final scene has Copley on clichéd mad scientist mode, brandishing a gun at Torchwood, wearing a white lab coat and seething about their near-sightedness. Actually, if Copley could perfect his experiments, isn't the exploitation of a few aliens (one of which is arguable not even sentient) actually worth it to eradicate every single terminal illness? Let the debate commence. Anyway, an deranged Copley fires a shot into Owen's chest, dropping him to the floor, where he dies seconds later.

How's that for an ending? Didn't see that coming, did you? But I'm not convinced he's dead, even if the trailer for next week's episode shows Owen about to undergo an autopsy. Do you?

Reset is actually a middling episode – as everything about The Pharm just reeks of children's science-fiction. As soon as the episode gets a bit more interesting with its moral dilemma of "alien testing", it's already sprinting towards a shock conclusion.

A lot of the blame can be placed on the need to make Martha a part of the story. Reset spends vital time having Martha interact with the regular characters at the Hub – swapping war-stories (well, a war story) with Jack, making infuriatingly veiled nods to The Doctor ("you could say we were under the same doctor" – teehee), and generally seeing how Martha interacts with the Torchwood cast – being primarily used as a same-wavelength friend for Gwen (Eve Myles).

Freema Agyeman does quite well, although it's sometimes a bit weird watching her Who-style enthusiasm mix with Torchwood's grit. The episode treats Martha's arrival like it's she's the Second Coming, with her musical motif blaring out constantly. As much as I like Martha Jones, she's not really deserving of swooning adoration from the show – having only starred in one season of Doctor Who, lest we forget.

Forced to celebrate the arrival of Martha in Torchwood's world, the guts of writer J.C Wilsher's script suffers as a consequence. There was a strong idea here -- but it’s haphazardly told, and Martha's presence is too much of a distraction. Alan Dale (Neighbours veteran and guest-star extraordinaire in the US) does what he can as a thinly-written villain, but he's just coasting on a "misunderstood scientist" archetype.

It was nice to see Tosh (Naoko Mori) and Owen's relationship develop, as Owen enquires about her proposal for a team snooker tournament, only for Tosh to admit it was intended to be a date. In retrospect, as soon as Owen accepted her idea, his grizzly fate was sealed – the course of true love never does run smooth, and usually ends in death on science-fiction shows.

Watching Martha mix with Gwen and Jack has its moments (if you can stomach all the rib-poking allusions to Doctor Who), and Agyeman definitely began to settle into the show after a wobbly start. Ultimately, Reset was decent enough, but I suspect it would have been better if Martha had been absent – enabling more time to explain the slightly unclear nature of the Reset drug, and offer a meatier allegory for animal testing than we got.

Reset is an episode that mainly exists for its DW/TW crossover appeal to fans, and is most memorable for the unexpected death of a main character.

13 February 2008
BBC Three, 9.50 pm