Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.8: A Day In The Death

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Owen lets out his frustration at being unable to die.
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Eight - A Day In The Death
Written 30/3/13

At some point in our lives, we all experience bouts of sadness. And some of us experience depression, whether clinical or otherwise. Whether it's grief at the loss of a loved one; guilt at one's own misdeeds; or simply a way of looking at the world that doesn't leave room for any hope - most of us know what it feels like. A Day In The Death is my favourite episode of Torchwood because it doesn't just feature some smashing character work for Owen Harper, but it provides what I feel is a comprehensive analysis of depression and provides a case for simply enjoying your life to its full potential.
     Owen meets a girl on a rooftop who is about to jump. Revealing to her his bullet wound, he goes on to explain through flashbacks what led him to that point. After the events of last week, Owen is decommissioned and put on coffee duty. He is frustrated at his lack of perception or feeling and he is bitter at the way the world is carrying on while he must stay static and unfeeling. He tries to drown himself, but he is unable to, and he tries to keep his mind off of his nature by going on a mission, bypassing heat-sensors and infiltrating the alien horde of dying billionaire Henry Parker (the late Richard Briers). The artefact he's looking for is an alien messaging device whose energies are keeping Parker alive, and upon its removal Owen is unable to give Parker the kiss of life. Owen summarises his speech to the girl on the roof by saying that despite that, there's always something worth living for - even if it is mundane.
     Owen's condition - feeling numb all over, having deep trauma on the inside despite working in normal conditions in the day to day - is a clear analogue for depression. The episode takes that up and uses the sci-fi to make it more fluid. We see Owen reject his day to day lifestyle (throwing away all of his food and drink, which he can no longer digest), become seperated from his friends and feel a mixture of complete numbness and intense outrage at the world. It's a chart of the journey into depression, as well as the slow and painful trek out of it.
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Owen and Parker talk about death.
     Christine Bottomley's Maggie is perfectly balanced as the mouthy but fundamentally tragic suicidal woman, who is reeling from the aftermath of a wedding day car accident that rendered her a widow after an hour of marriage. She provided a human counterpoint; a way to work the viewer into the depressive mindset through a more identifiable tragedy. Richard Briers didn't get to do much as the dying Henry Parker, but his death and his life-long optimism about life on other worlds helped underlined the episode's messages about how your attitudes towards living your life affect your overall mood. Parker was happy because he did what he enjoyed, because he found that one spark of hope to keep him going.
     I'm probably reading too much into what is a fairly simple episode of a cult television show. But A Day In The Death is just perfectly written, and sees the end of the Martha Trilogy in a style that's instantly memorable and is, in many ways, moving. A Day In The Death may not provide a perfect metaphor for the deep psychological effects of depression, but does a damn good job of approximating it to a point where it's pretty difficult to tell the difference.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We learn for the first time that if you live in the Who Universe and you're marrying a man named Williams, you'll never change your surname. It's Something Borrowed.

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