“From Out of the Rain” was so reminiscent of Season One's “Small Worlds” that it came as no surprise that it, too, was written by Peter Hammond. Like Hammond's inaugural episode, “From Out of the Rain” is atmospheric and creepy, and reaches back into history both personal and cultural. But where “Small Worlds” grappled with a well-known archetype, here we're dealing with something almost unrecognizable: a traveling sideshow that appears out of nowhere to abduct and murder. It was OK that we never got much of an explanation about the fairy elementals, but it's frustrating here that we never learn anything about the creatures that terrorize Cardiff. Well, not quite; even worse than the lack explanation is the curious lack of menace. “Small Worlds” worked, in part, because we knew that the elementals had the power to destroy everything. Both urgency and momentum are lacking, here; without that existential threat, there's little to engage beyond nostalgia.
We first see them when the episode begins at a turn of the last century fairground. A mother and daughter approach a tall mustachioed man in a top hat (Julien Bleach), delivering the typical “come one, come all” speech. We'll call him Joshua Joy, since he's standing under a sign proclaiming his show, and he's clearly the boss. He offers the girl a pink ticket, declaring everyone's waiting for her. As she reaches for it, a fox cries in the woods, and her mother looks away for just a moment. When she turns back, she's completely alone; the entire scene, and everyone in it, had disappeared.
In modern-day Cardiff, a young man (Craig Gallivan) surrounded by old film canisters and film strips opens a canister to see what it holds. A strange burst of music sounds, and he pauses, but the music is gone so he loads the film into his camera. Typical old-fashioned home movie scenes play out, until suddenly the film changes, and there's Joy again, beckoning us to the show. The camera continues into the show, and we see the various performers: clowns, a strong man (“The Great Stromboli”), a tattooed man. The young man is amused but business-like; this show business doesn't belong with the film he's splicing together. He stops the projector to cut out the offending frames, but suddenly a window blows open, and the tape re-threads itself into the projector and runs to the end. He notices that the image of Joy, reaching and calling, keeps looping, even though the tape has finished.
At the Hub, Jack (John Barrowman) pauses momentarily, hearing that same brief snatch of music. He wanders over to ask Toshiko (Naoko Mori) if she heard anything, but Tosh is up to her eyeballs in gadgets and monitors, and didn't hear a thing. Jack asks about a circus or a traveling show, and Toshiko says such a thing would be wasted on such a stormy night, but Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) would know if there was anything going on. She explains to Jack that Ianto has dragged Owen (Burn Gorman) and Gwen (Eve Myles) to some cinema; by the time she looks up, Jack has already gone after them.
Our three intrepid Torchwood team members are braving a terrific downpour to get to this cinema, but it's not your typical movie theater. Ianto's eyes are gleaming as they let themselves in, sopping wet; this is the Electro, the cinema he used to come to with his dad, when he was just a boy. Gwen asks after popcorn and sweets, but Owen disabuses her of any notion of fun: this is educational. The manager, looking uncomfortable in his suit, complains to his wife in the ticket booth about how late their son Jonathon is; he's bringing the film. Just then we see the young man dashing out of his flat and belting down the stairs.
When he finally arrives, his father is none too happy with him, but he puts on his best “everything's all right” face and gets the evening started. His introductory speech is awkwardly offensive, but he blunders through it; his meager audience is either apathetic or forgiving. Cuing the piano player, they start the black and white film of scenes from the Electro's heyday. The film begins normally enough, with scenes of ordinary men and women, soldiers lined up, people walking up and down the street. But then, just as in the apartment film studio, the images change, there's Joshua Joy, beckoning us in again, and there are all the performers as well.
Jonathon notices and tries to stop the camera, but it won't switch off. Even worse, the film appears to be looping; Gwen and Owen make obnoxious comments, naming each performer after one relative or another. Owen referring to one female as an aunt who'd gotten into the gin again was too much for Ianto, but Owen and Gwen are acting like schoolchildren on a field trip. They're too busy laughing to see their own Jack up on the screen. His smile is a mile wide and he's brandishing a gun; it looks entirely like he's blowing his own brains out. Ianto tells the other two but they don't believe him; while they're waiting for the image to repeat, the film finally stops. As Ianto stands up to leave, we see two shadows scurry past him.
Jack arrives too late, but Ianto describes what happened, including the figures sliding past him. Jack goes off into one of his nostalgic meanders, remarking that cinema killed the travelling show, now they're just history, trapped on film, forever.
Again, not quite: a young woman is standing out of the rain at a bus stop, pleading into her cellphone, trying to get her mum or dad to come and get her. Joy, still in his top hat and white-face makeup, walks with the woman from his troupe, dressed like some kind of flapper acrobat (Camilla Power), moving with a peculiar, languid grace. Joy talks to the young woman, and asks if she'd like to join the show; of course the young woman refuses. Before she can get away, Joy reaches out and touches her mouth. Immediately she begins gasping and choking. Joy opens a silver flask and captures a wisp of something silvery as it escapes the young woman's mouth; she collapses.
Jack and Ianto are up in the projection room with Jonathon, who insists that the film played itself. Jack stretches this extraordinary statement even further: “Like something was trying to get through.” How did he reach that conclusion? I have no idea. It didn't make any sense to me.
Tosh calls in to report that there has been Rift activity at the Electro, and she heard that music Jack mentioned. The police have discovered the girl at the bus stop, but Jack tells Tosh to notify the police that they'll handle it. Owen examines the poor girl and finds that she has a heartbeat but she's not breathing; she's alive, but only by the slimmest of threads.
Joy and the acrobat continue their midnight stroll through the wet streets of Cardiff, with the acrobat pausing every so often to bathe in the puddles. They approach the Windsor Café, where a lone woman is cleaning up. Joy knocks, and she opens the door enough to say that they're closed. The acrobat speaks, “Make her cry.” The woman can't believe what she just heard. “I want to drink her tears,” the acrobat finishes, and Joy touches the woman's lips just as he did to his first victim.
At the hospital, the team discusses the inappropriateness of the hospital's treatment of the young woman; they're all still there when the woman from the cafe is brought in. Jack says that there's something keeping them alive, some life force somewhere. Again, there is nothing evident to support this assertion, but we'll have to go with it.
Toshiko has set up a projector at the Hub, and everyone is gathered to watch the film they confiscated from the Electro. It really was Jack that Ianto saw in the film; one of the better attempts at humor happens here: Jack says, “I was part of this freak show,” and continues, “Some things never change.” Owen picks right up on that and shoots back, “Are you being rude about me?” Gwen teases Jack about doing stand-up, or being a song-and-dance man. Jack demurs; he was billed as “The Man Who Couldn't Die,” and he was “shenshational.” The film keeps running during this banter, and comes to an image of Joy's troupe, assembled. That triggers something in Jack's memory, and he identifies them as the Night Travelers.
Jack tells them what he knows, what he heard, 80-odd years ago when he was sent to investigate this mysterious sideshow. They only performed in the dead of night, and they seemed to come out of the rain. There were stories about people dying strangely or disappearing outright, linked to the appearances of the Night Travelers. Jack never did find them, all those years ago—but apparently he learned enough to be able to identify them now. The extended flashback here is evocative, and we hear Joy introducing “The Amazing Pearl”, as like to a mermaid as you will ever meet, able to take your breath away.
Ianto, with his eye for detail, notices that it's not quite the same film they saw at the Electro—but of course it has to be, right? But the man in the top hat, Joshua Joy, and the scantily clad young woman, Pearl, are missing, as if they had walked out of the film. Jack assigns everyone tasks, looking for old cinemas, witnesses, anyone who might know something about the Night Travelers. When he says he needs Ianto for his local knowledge, poor Eve Myles is saddled with the line, “Is that what they're calling it these days?” This line didn't just fall flat, it was completely out of character for Gwen. It's not that she doesn't joke, it's that she doesn't joke when people are being left in bizarre near-dead condition and they have no idea how or why it's happening, or whether or not it will happen again. I winced.
Toshiko's monitors go haywire for a few minutes; she's reading the sea in the middle of town.
Somewhere in Cardiff, a family of four is out in their SUV. Dad comes to a sudden stop to avoid running over Joy and Pearl, but by the time he stops they've disappeared. Mom wonders why he stopped, but before he can say anything, there are Joy and Pearl, beside the car.
Then Joy and Pearl are somewhere else, and there's a huge puddle that Pearl continues to bathe in. The area is alight with candles all along the perimeter. Pearl speaks to Joy about “their audience”; we can hear the sounds of the sea, gulls crying. “Can we bring the others?” she asks. She wants to travel, to perform. Joy says they need the rest of the film. This scene is pretty but inexplicable. Who set up all those candles? By “perform” does Pearl mean collect more people? What are these two, anyway? Evidence points to neither one of them being human, but we don't even get a theory on what they might, or where they might be from.
The stricken family has been brought to the hospital. A nurse overhears Torchwood's conversation, and recognizes Jack's phrase, “out of the rain.” She remembered a patient at the mental institution had used that phrase. They go and visit Christina (Eileen Essel), who knows there's something uncanny about Jack: “Your eyes are older than your face,” she says. Jack tries to laugh it off, but she takes it quite seriously, and tells him he doesn't belong anywhere.
We cut away briefly, and hear the music of the hurdy-gurdy. Pearl, at an abandoned pool, opens a door and peers in at a roomful of people, standing, paralyzed: their audience.
Christina tells Jack how Joy, the Ghost Maker, asked if she would like to join the traveling show, how he had a silver flask that would hold her breath so she could be in the audience forever. Newspaper stories from 1911 repeat the key details of Christina's story. Now the team has a new mission: find the flask, save the victims. With the prevalence of CCTV, and Torchwood's ready access to every single camera in Cardiff, they should've been able to make short work of this, but Hammond drops the ball completely. In Torchwood's Cardiff, no one can ever hide as effectively as Joy and Pearl have, even if only for a few hours. They certainly wouldn't be able to sweep up so many victims without someone else noticing, would they?
Back at Jonathon's flat, his film archive has been trashed. The sound effects in this scene are especially evocative, contributing to the sense of dread. The young man is distraught but cautious, and he moves slowly through the apartment, coming to the bathroom at last. The tub is overflowing, and he approaches, not knowing what he's going to find. Pearl is there, submerged, but she sits up and reaches out to him; he flees.
Joy gloats to Pearl that they have the film, and now it's time to bring the others.
The young man, hysterical, calls Jack immediately and tells him what happened. He's waiting outside his flat and doesn't see them come out; he insists they should still be there and tells Jack to hurry over.
His parents aren't faring much better over at the Electro. The piano's going, but no one is playing it. But Pearl is there, with a flashlight, playing usher, “This way, please,” she directs them. The parents are now part of the permanent audience.
Clips from the sideshows play up on the big screen as Torchwood arrives. “They're bringing more through,” Jack says, and we get to see the process of the flat, black-and-white images taking flesh and stepping away from the screen. It worked better in The Purple Rose of Cairo when Jeff Daniels' character remained black and white. It's strange to see these characters come from the film, but it's not exactly scary. They're sideshow performers, after all, and none of them have done anything to indicate that there's something we should be afraid of. Joy and Pearl have some weirdness going on, certainly, but why exactly should we be afraid of these others, besides the fact that they're part of Joy's troupe? Do we really need to care about them?
Jack gets the idea to put these characters back on film, and then destroy the film to destroy them. Why should this work? Why shouldn't they be able to control the new film the way they controlled the old one? Because those questions posit an amount of internal consistency which is lacking here. At any rate, Jack is now wielding a camera like a gun, watching the tattooed man, juggler, and clowns come through, filming them. Owen has gone up to the projection booth to try and stop the film; he comes face to face with Joy, who recoils at the still-dead Owen. Since Owen has nothing for Joy to take, he leaves him, and Jack's able to capture him on film as well. Outside, Jack rips the film from the camera, exposing it; one by one, the characters disappear. Joy, seeing what's about to happen, unstoppers his flask and sends it arcing up into the air; Ianto catches it and uses his thumb to save whatever he can. They've managed to save one, but which one?
They go to the hospital (presumably they still don't know about that roomful of people at the abandoned pool), and find the only victim still sort of alive is the little boy from the SUV. Jack holds him up, and tips the contents of the flask into his mouth. The boy gasps, able to breathe again. Ianto chokes up, “It worked.” Yes, it's just wonderful that this poor boy's entire family was wiped out, inexplicably. He's going to have a great life, you can just bet.
Ianto reports that he destroyed the films in Jonathon's apartment, but Jack worries about other old films that may be lying around anywhere. We see a father and son at an estate sale, buying an old projector and film canisters. Jack puts the flask into the vault, but pauses; at that estate sale, the boy drops the canister and it opens, hurdy-gurdy music escaping. Jack hears it and knows that the Night Travelers may be back; he slams the vault shut.
The biggest flaw of this series is inconsistency, and “From Out of the Rain” points that up, again. If they're going to use the ubiquitous closed-circuit TV cameras in every other episode, they have to at least explain why they can't use them here. And it would've been nice if someone had said that they weren't human at all, but a peculiar type of alien breath-sucking vampire. Maybe I'm being too picky; the episode looked fantastic—the breathless victims presented a new kind of “sucked dry” appearance—the period costumes and make-up were fantastic, particularly Pearl's sparkly outfit and her bizarre silvery-gray eye shadow. The guest casting was good, as was the pacing and direction. The real failure here was to generate a palpable fear, and to come up with a way to eliminate the Night Travelers that actually, you know, made sense. I can only suspend my disbelief for so long.
Joan O'Connell Hedman sometimes blogs about movies and television.