Saturday, 20 June 2015

A Day in the Death written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Andy Goddar

This story in a nutshell: Owen Harper: walking corpse.

Dangerous Doctor: 'I'm made of glass...' The finest study of Owen Harper in his time on the show bar none, A Day in the Death opens with an impressive montage that reveals the drama, heartache and development that the character has already been through. Imagine experiencing death and yet not being able to rest? That is the premise for this episode, now that Owen has come to terms with the fact that he met his maker in the previous episode. He's still living the same life but he's not feeling anything and he is surrounded by people who eat and sleep and love and (ironically enough) it is killing him inside. He's no longer a member of the Torchwood team but a subject for study, relived of his position in favour of Martha Jones. Jack couldn't have just let Owen go during this troubling adjustment period, instead turns him into the coffee boy in Ianto's stead. If Owen hurts himself no he wont feel it but he will be stuck with the scars. Bruises wont heal, bones wont mend...he's fragile. That's a nice way of having to calm the character down and force him to live a quieter life. Owen shows the appropriate concern for Parker, something that was entirely absent from his character is the first series. It took him to die for him to start acting like a human being. The episode tries to convince you that this is Owen's swansong and offers a dry run of the parting of Owen and Tosh, a scene that is surprisingly affecting an would be even more so come Exit Wounds when it is played out for real. Owen is scared that if he closes his eyes he will be trapped in the darkness but recognises that he has friends around him now who will be his light. Especially Tosh.

Jack's Crew: Has there been a simmering tension between Ianto and Owen that I haven't been aware of? Owen mentions how far the previous butler has come on in the past year, always out on missions and sleeping with their boss, but I think that is all said in the heat of anger rather than being rooted in anything long term. Ianto stands up for himself, talking about his relationship with Jack proudly when it is dismissed as something of a fad. I can't decide whether Tosh turning up and asking whether she can eat when Owen cannot indulge in any pleasures of the flesh is insensitive or not. Given how he has treated her on occasion it is probably karma. It is long past time the two of them discussed their unrequited love and Owen considers this the perfect time given that he is now safely off the menu. He goes hell for leather, pointing out Tosh's insecurities and her obsession with him, questioning her choice and trying to push her away. As I have said before when she is shoehorned into the role of a victim Tosh really comes into her own and Mori's doe-eyed reaction to this onslaught might just break your heart.

Marvellous Martha: Whilst I question whether she was used to her full potential post Reset, Martha has managed to slip into the Torchwood team as if she had always been there and I certainly wouldn't have objected to her having stuck around for the rest of the season. It's not easy to cross fro one show to another as effortlessly as this, especially when you are a character that is created for a particular core audience and you have stepped into a series that is aiming for a completely different audience.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Just because we're both planning on jumping it doesn't mean we have some kind of special connection.'
'I'm Doctor Owen Harper and I'm having one hell of a day.'

The Good: Lidster has hit upon a brilliant framing device to hold the episode together; Owen and a woman who is planning on committing suicide sitting atop a roof and discussing what the future will bring. One man who can go on living and a woman who has choice to. There has always been something of the bizarre about the Torchwood team but until now it has just been the most collection of flawed and sexually corrupt human beings ever to have been assembled in one environment. To have the man who cannot die heading the organisation and the man who died and lives on as their Chief Medical Officer seems to fit somehow. A true bunch of grotesques. Whilst having Maggie lose her husband just one hour after her wedding is perhaps a little unsubtle (even for Torchwood) it does leave room for the vividly shot scenes of the bride wandering the motorway n her blood soaked wedding dress. A shocking image. How superb is the music for this episode? Never trying to push the drama but underscoring it instead, providing the character moments with an extra layer of feeling. I especially like the piece when Owen infiltrates Parker's house and approaches the man himself, it's strange and uplifting and exciting all at once. Owen testing his newfound invulnerability by running for miles and jumping in the nearest lake and floating beneath the water for far longer than a human being would be able to is very dynamically shot. When heat sensors are barring your access to investigate a property you need a dead man to perform the mission, Lidster finding fresh ways for the show to utilise Owen. Parker is a great character, an ancient millionaire, collector of alien artefacts and somebody that Torchwood has been monitoring for some time. He's played by the inestimable Richard Briers; a stunning piece of casting for the series and deliciously growlsome performance for such a optimistic man who has turned bitter thanks to ravages of age. It is a firm reminder of Owen that his condition might ultimately be a blessing. Barring accidents he will never wither away and die like Parker, once impressive and reduced to a paranoid and fragile old man. In relatively short screen time, Parker becomes one of the more vivid characters to have appeared on Torchwood. Beautifully realised, the Pulse is revealed to be little more than a placebo for Parker, a device that is giving him hope of survival when his body has already given up. Watching him clinging on to this device in bed is a great metaphor for our fear of death and the lengths that we will go to to try and hold on to life. You might be convinced that the Pulse is going to punch the breath of life back into Owen but this episode doesn't resort to any cheap tricks like that. His condition is long term. Finally this show has real consequences. Reversing the usual 'life is shit' nonsense that Torchwood often pedals out, A Day in the Death has a gloriously upbeat climax that reveals that sometimes life can throw great surprises at you. The final scenes of the Pulse reaching out into the sky are magnificent because they manage to connect with the audience intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. It's a stunning climax and hardly anything happens.

The Shallow Bit: 'Skinny guy in tight jeans jumps into water? I was taking pictures.' Martha gets to kiss Jack before she leaves but only because everybody has had a go.

Result: 'You get to live forever...I get to die forever.' A superb character drama that never resorts to cheap tricks to make its impact. I remain convinced that Burn Gorman is the strongest member of the early ensemble and when he is given the appropriate character material to play he runs with it and never looks back. My problem is that he was characterised appallingly at times, often seen to be a complete bastard with no redeeming features. In series two the creators went out of their way to change that and turn his reputation around and come episodes such as Reset, A Day in the Death, Fragments and Exit Wounds he has been completely revolutionised. Russell T. Davies mentioned in The Writers Tale that the TV Skins put its main character through hell in the second series in order to force the audience to connect with him and Torchwood does precisely the same thing with Owen, making the same mistakes and jumping through the same hoops to rectify it. Owen had to die and live on for us to get close to him but in the examination of that macabre notion, Joe Lidster makes many profound points about life and pushes Torchwood into new areas of sophistication with the themes it can explore. Pretty much every member of Torchwood is dead inside anyway (as would be revealed in Fragments in one way or another) so it strikes me as perfectly natural that they should actualise that physically with two of the characters. A Day in the Death doesn't have the usual overload of plot and extreme content but instead chooses to examine its regulars and use the device of Owen's immortality to expose how things have shaken up the team. Like Adam, things are different because of this and the development that the team is experiencing in the second year is phenomenal. They might even be a functioning unit by the end of their second year. Gorman excels and there is a terrific support from Richard Briers and Christine Bottomley and director Andy Goddard deserve a round of applause for shooting this elegant episode with real artistry. What a shame that Lidster wouldn't write for Torchwood again. Their loss was SJA's gain: 9/10

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