By Joan O'Connell Hedman
Torchwood dips into its Doctor Who back story ("Army of Ghosts", "Doomsday") in this sorry mess involving Cybermen, bathetic love, a pterodactyl, and a hapless pizza delivery girl. Redeeming qualities are few, but we can always hold out hope that the pterodactyl was mortally wounded and won't return.
As "Ghost Machine" showcased Owen (Burn Gorman), "Cyberwoman" belongs to Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), which proves to be the episode's undoing. Gorman's visible terror and barely contained rage stand in stark contrast to David-Lloyd's adolescent bleating and blubbering. Ianto is written here as a resentful and rather stupid adolescent, and David-Lloyd's over-the-top performance does nothing to convince us he's not.
Particularly annoying was a scene in which Ianto snarls at Jack (John Barrowman) for not caring about him, never asking him about his life. The rest of the team looks guilty. "Aw, poor Ianto," you can see they are thinking—but Jack is pissed, and rightly so. Ianto's love life is none of Jack's business, and working at Torchwood is deadly serious. The issue of whether or not Jack has ever loved anyone the way Ianto loved Lisa would be worth exploring, if Ianto loved Lisa in a realistic way, as opposed to the way toddlers love their teddy bears and refuse to give them up when they get too ratty. (For the record, I'm in favor of toddlers, and older children, keeping their much loved, and much abused, stuffed animals. They don't have the potential to enslave all humanity.)
The wall-to-wall Ianto would be enough to bury this episode, but Chris Chibnall, the series' lead writer, keeps piling on. It's bad enough that we're presented with Ianto's love, Lisa (Caroline Chikezie), dressed in a cross between a Roman soldier's kit (crested helmet, arm and leg sheathes) and a metal bikini. How, exactly, are we supposed to believe that any one at Torchwood thinks that the pterodactyl could actually defeat Lisa? The Lisa-v-flying reptile cuts feature the lamest fight choreography and worst use of blue screen I've seen in a long time. This chick electrocuted Jack to (temporary) death twice in the space of a minute and threw Ianto into a wall so hard he died, too. (Jack later revives him, more's the pity.) There was no way Lisa was going to lose that battle.
Other problems include the squickiness of Dr. Tanizaki (Togo Igawa) the cyberneticist, feeling up the unconscious Lisa; the repeated too-gory shots of the failed upgrade of the doctor; the inconsistent, maddening use of Jack's techno-wristband: enough power to get Gwen out of the upgrade chamber, and enough to open the door of the pterodactyl's hideaway, but not enough to do anything else useful. Last but not least, the callback to the pilot episode, with the pizza delivery girl being buzzed through the front office to Torchwood proper.
Let's ignore for the moment the idea that she would just walk down that dungeon-like corridor without so much as a friendly "Come on in." It's impossible to explain how Lisa performed a brain transplant on herself—and that she was up and about, fully functional, within minutes of the operation. I can accept that the Cybermen solved the tissue-rejection problem, but that's stretching the idea past the breaking point. Ianto's failure to kill the newly-transplanted Lisa was also beyond belief; how many murders and attempted murders—including his own—does it take to convince this guy that Lisa has become a monster?
There were a few bright spots amid all this idiocy. Burn Gorman's performance was fantastic again, particularly the scene in which the conversion unit is discovered and he explains it all to Gwen (Eve Myles). Gwen and Owen have nearly as much chemistry as Gwen and Jack, and the scene in the autopsy room put that to good use, also. Rhys (Kai Owen), who has a knack for calling just as Gwen is mid-snog, had the briefest of scenes, hilariously asking Gwen to video Wife Swap. Tosh (Naoko Mori) was a non-entity, again.
As for Jack, he seemed to be channeling Jack Bauer, but given the situation, it wasn't out of character. In the aftermath, will anyone remember that Jack survived Lisa's electrocution, twice? You'd think they would already have noticed his inability to stay dead. Ianto's ranting that Jack was the worst monster of them all illuminated the extent of Ianto's delusions. If Ianto were a teenager, I'd understand all this excess, but since Ianto is both a grown man and gorgeous, it makes no sense whatsoever. Jack's single-minded focus on destroying the threat of another Cyberman takeover was the only appropriate response.
As usual, the show looks fantastic, cheesy inter-species fight scenes aside, and ignoring any lingering X-Files flashbacks that the use of flashlights by male-female teams may provoke. And again, the score heightened both tension and humor, particularly in the Iron Man-like riffs we heard during Lisa's introduction. Clearly, the production values are there, as are the good intentions—but the writers have to step up and make their characters more consistent and their plotlines at least vaguely believable if they want to make a go of this. Joan O'Connell Hedman's first sci-fi series obsession was Farscape. In addition to writing a semi-regular food column, Joan blogs at Oasis of Sanity. This article's screencaps are from The Institute, a Torchwood fan site.