“Out of Time”, gorgeous throughout, ostensibly tells the story of three individuals lost in time thanks to a temporal anomaly caused by the Cardiff Rift. At its heart, it continues Torchwood’s nihilistic view of existence. A series that consistently argues that this present reality is all there is while simultaneously featuring a main character with a death wish suffers from both confusion and clinical depression. Ten episodes in, Torchwood still hasn’t figured out what it’s about, but it appears to be getting closer.
Consider our three travelers, who take off in December of 1953 and somehow end up in Cardiff in 2007. John (Mark Lewis Jones) is a forty-something shopkeeper, the type of control freak father we expect from the early 1950s. Diane (Louise Delamere) is a glamorous pilot, 30-ish, whose pin-up girl looks combine with her obvious intelligence and independent spirit to make her practically perfect. Last is ingénue Emma (Olivia Hallinan), just 18 years old; she expects to find a husband and have a family, and not much else.
Each of these three, confronted with the reality that they’ve fallen fifty years into the future, deals in a different way. Each is paired up with a Torchwood companion, of sorts, and the results of each pairing speaks volumes about the attitudes and capabilities of our Torchwood team members.
For John, his life is over when he witnesses his childless son’s dementia first hand. He rejects Jack’s encouragements: he’s young, he can have another family, build a new life. For John, it’s not worth the trouble, and Jack (John Barrowman) can’t find a single thing to say to convince him otherwise. He doesn’t even try.
I want to castigate Jack for his failure here, but I can’t. This episode shows the depths of Jack’s agony; he is “condemned to live”, and so finds he cannot deny John’s suicidal impulse. These are Barrowman’s best scenes in the series by far, and the fact that they reveal Jack to be a basket case is essentially immaterial. After 150-odd years, he’s still railing against the fate that Rose-as-TARDIS unwittingly imposed on him. Perhaps it is too easy to absolve Jack because he has suffered so much; you would think his experiences as a Time Cop and the decades since he was stranded would have introduced him to the idea of culture shock. If so, any such information remains inaccessible to him here, and so he’s of absolutely no use to John. How can I stay mad at the guy who’ll hold your hand while you die of carbon monoxide poisoning? Jack’s expression is a look of such exhaustion and fear that you wonder how he can bear to get out of that car, and then you remember: he has no choice. I imagine not-dying of starvation would be particularly gruesome. Not-dying of CO poisoning doesn’t appear to affect him physically at all.
Diane, meanwhile, has been adopted by Owen (Burn Gorman), who is instantly smitten with her. Who wouldn’t be? They fall into bed, and love, but ultimately, Diane decides the 21st century isn’t where she wants to be, and she takes off again in her Sky Gypsy to find that temporal portal, and a way back home, maybe—or a way to somewhere else. While I enjoyed the way Diane schooled Owen on the history of sexuality (“You didn’t invent it, you know,”) I found that this writing of Owen rang hollow. Owen professes his love for Diane in a fumbling, passionate, charming speech, and Burn Gorman sells it, but here Continuity rears its ugly head. I can’t help remembering how smitten he was with Gwen in the first flush of their affair, as we overheard his thoughts in “Greeks Bearing Gifts”. This isn’t the first time Owen has been in lust, and he’s old enough, and experienced enough, to know that the first heady rush of a new affair is more than apt to leave you in that breathless, hopeful, besotted state. Diane is exactly his type, if Suzie (Indira Varma) and Gwen (Eve Myles) are any indication: dark-haired, brainy, bossy women are just his thing.
Diane’s leaving is in keeping with her character; she wouldn’t allow herself to be kept by Owen, at the mercy of love. Did she need to go back up and look for the portal? It is a desperate maneuver to get away from the entanglement that a relationship with Owen represents. In this one episode, it seems that love for Owen translates into wanting something more permanent than he has ever shown he has wanted before, and it is just that permanence that drives Diane away. If she had met Owen in her own time, she could’ve just walked away, because she had a place in the world she fit into; after passing through the portal, though, the only place she fits at all is with Owen, and that is not a life she could tolerate for very long. Fun for a fling, and such wonderful memories, but Diane never intended forever.
Gwen putting Emma up on her couch is the natural reaction of Gwen’s generous nature to John’s overbearing manner towards Emma. John’s over-reaction to Emma’s bit of fun with the other girls sharing their temporary home is exactly the kind of thing that Diane expected in a marriage and illustrates why she ran away. Emma, being younger and malleable, accepts her new life in 2007, and goes for it. As soon as she looks around, she realizes that she’s not limited to getting herself a husband; she can make a life for herself and then find a man when she’s ready. Gwen’s instinct to hold onto Emma and keep her in Cardiff is over-protective, but it comes from concern, not a desire to control; wisely, Emma waits her out and eventually Gwen comes around and realizes that Emma needs to go, off to London and her new job and her new life.
Emma’s presence in the apartment brings too many things to the surface for Rhys (Kai Owen) to bear, because Gwen foolishly spins a story about a semi-distantly related cousin and plans that fell through, instead of telling Rhys the sort-of truth she eventually owns up to: Emma was lost, and only 18 years old, how could Gwen leave her? Given that explanation up front, you know Rhys would’ve given Gwen a hug for the soft-hearted fool that she is; instead, he’s thinking about all the times that Gwen’s run off to work with some non-story or too-detailed story. It’s so easy for Gwen to lie to him, now, and he’s crushed by that knowledge. Next week’s preview shows that this storyline will be continued, possibly to its logical conclusion.
In the end, all three travelers have moved on, through fear and into various unknowns; Team Torchwood is left behind, basically a muddled mess. Jack’s even more depressed than ever that he can’t die now, and he is feeling his dislocation in time even more acutely. (Shouldn’t he be over that by now?) Owen, I suppose, will mope like a forlorn puppy, but I sincerely hope he doesn’t, although he is a dog. It wasn’t quite a lie, saying he had no girlfriend, and certainly the “real men moisturize” line was worth a laugh. But Gwen is still entangled with Owen, whether or not Owen wants her to be. Owen’s like the small child in the toy store, who loves this toy the best until he rounds a corner and sees one he loves even better. Will Owen turn to Gwen to salve his wounds? I won’t buy heart-broken but I’ll believe his pride is stinging; Diane had to get so far away from him that she risked piloting through a temporal anomaly rather than stay in Owen’s time.
As for Gwen, the inevitable crumbling of her relationship with Rhys is accelerating. It had to happen; no relationship can survive the number of secrets that Gwen has been juggling. And given that so many people seem to know about Torchwood, exactly why has she been so tight-lipped about everything? We’ve had a number of episodes where it seems that knowledge of Torchwood is fairly common: entire police departments know, Eugene and his friends knew, Mary the not-Greek knew. Why can’t Rhys know some of what’s going on? That has always been Gwen’s call, no matter what Jack says. (Who really listens to Jack on this kind of thing, anyway? Witness how they’ve all walked around with unauthorized alien tech at various points.) It was Gwen’s choice, and her very first “yes” to Torchwood was her decision to leave her life with Rhys behind.
Production values are stellar in this episode. The casting of the three travelers is exquisite, as are their wardrobes and speech patterns. Their little jaunt to the supermarket with Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) is not quite a Moscow on the Hudson moment, but it is a nice, light scene in an episode that threatens to become overwhelmingly heavy. The score is really lovely, with romantic 1950’s standards highlighting Owen’s growing feelings for Diana, and with the undercurrent of foreboding evoked by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
Torchwood’s conservative view of sexuality reappears as well, with Diane insisting that sex should never be casual—and then demonstrating, leaving Owen completely lost for words. Even more telling is Gwen’s post-clubbing conversation with Emma, who learns that people are having a lot more sex before marriage now (well, at least they are admitting to it) than they were back in 1953. Gwen admits to having “a few” lovers, but the entire conversation spins out of her control when she realizes how stupid she sounds: with the right guy, if you’re feeling the right way, sex is great, it’s the best. But when Emma then suggests it’s OK for her to do it, Gwen backs right off and says no, that her first time should be special. I loved this scene, because Emma is not stupid, and Gwen realizes how lame her rationalizations are. When pushed to make a summation about what she actually thinks about sex, the best Gwen can come up with is that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Emma, hearing this but also having really listened to everything Gwen said before, decides to wait, declaring she’s not the type of girl to sleep around. Emma doesn’t come right out and call Gwen a slut, but the implication is hanging there. At the moment, you know that Gwen, who never thought of herself as a slut before, wouldn’t have argued the point.
This is a very well-made episode, but it shares, along with many other series, a certain blindness that irritates me. These series posit a world exactly like ours, except that there has never been a single word of science fiction ever written. (At least in Heroes, Star Trek exists.) In our present reality, the men and women most involved in space science and technology, and the really way-out experimental biology and engineering fields, are the kids who grew up reading science fiction, exactly the type of person who would have read at least a dozen stories about people displaced in time, and how they dealt with it. But no one at Torchwood has a clue about culture shock, or basic human psychology, for that matter. Why not? Why leave these three travelers in the hands of three untrained, inept individuals? John died because Jack was too tied up in his own predicament to see that he wasn’t recovering from the shock of the transition at all. No one tried to show John what his new life could be like. The same thing is true of Diane. Owen was too busy shagging her to see how restless she was with her displacement. I’ll concede that he did try to take her flying that day, but he didn’t show her a fraction of what she could do with her talents in 2007. What a waste to let her go back up, never to be seen or heard from again. Only Emma made the turn, and only because Gwen encouraged her, and let her go. Of course it was easier for Emma since she wasn’t starting over, but it’s rather disgusting to believe that neither John nor Diane could have succeeded in our time, isn’t it? They were both very good at what they did, there was no reason to believe they couldn’t have done it again, in 2007, if they had wanted to, if anyone had bothered to show them the way.
I confess, I’m concerned about where the series is headed. Specifically, we’re in serious need of redemption, somewhere, and soon. The opening voiceover reminds us every week, “The 21st century is when it all changes; you’ve got to be ready.” Why? So far, Torchwood has taught us that humanity is monstrous, there’s nothing out there when we die, and we’re sentenced to lives where even love is an affliction. Without hope, there’s no point to any of this. I can’t imagine a series with such an overtly dark heart attracting and keeping much of an audience.