Thursday, 25 April 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.2: Sleeper

Beth (Nikki Amura-Bird) has no idea what she is...
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Two - Sleeper
Written between 9th and 10th March 2013

How often have you heard the question, "What does it mean to be human?" It's a typical sci-fi staple, really, something that you're bound to find anywhere you look. Hell, it's so ubiquitous in fiction that we have a series that is literally about Being Human. (I'm still mourning, go away.) This week, Torchwood takes a standard murder mystery plot and gives it a shake-up with another well-acted guest star and a set of moral dilemmas about the nature of humanity enough to satisfy any English Literature student.
     The team are called to a burglary where the two burglars have been stabbed brutally despite there being no knives in the room at the time. The second burglar dies with his deathbed words speaking of being afraid of the woman in the house, Beth (Nikki Amura-Bird, before Survivors), who Jack immediately brings into the Hub. Despite having her own electromagnetic field and inpenetrable skin, Beth is adamant that she is human. A mind-probe reveals that she is the first of a set of alien sleeper agents, implanted with false memories to blend in but constantly absorbing information in preparation for invasion. Beth gains enough control over her alien tech to help Torchwood stop a small invasion attempt, but she sets up a situation that forces Torchwood to kill her, prefering that death than losing her mind to her true self.
     Beth, for what could have been an undersaturated guest character, is surprisingly well characterised. The themes surrounding her loss of identity and the threat she poses to those around her is explored without her ever becoming anything less than a convincing human being. Her "death by Torchwood" demise is also pretty deep, and manages to bring an adult side to the series that doesn't rely on its old adolescent machismo. It's hard to see what we would do in that situation, and the show does its best here to represent that in a captivating way.
Having a sword-arm all the time can't be good for balance.
Or dexterity. It's why we tend to not have sword-arms.
     This week also managed to fit in a few pieces of horror in there as well, with some of the other re-awakened agents. Two of them effectively become suicide bombers, including one who was pretending to be a young mum, while the superior agent brutally murders a man in cold blood in front of his family before attempting to use nukes the blow up the world. (Although what any alien besides the Slitheen would want with a chunk of radioactive rock is beyond me.) On their own, the alien sleepers, with their in-build forcefield (I gotta get me one of those) are a really cool idea, and one that's properly executed.
     Sleeper always gets a tad faded over in my memory of the series, and that may be because it wasn't as immediately memorable as the two stories flanking it. But as a piece of science fiction it's a fairly well-execution exploration of the "what does it mean to be human" question, with some classic horror and a few very quotable lines thrown in. Torchwood has pretty much fully thrown off all predeliction towards its prior silliness, and it's operating as a piece of sci-fi for a mature audience. And that's awesome.


NEXT WEEK: I debate (jnternally) on whether I ship Tosh/Owen or Tosh/Tommy more... it's To The Last Man.

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