Following the new Doctor Who’s tradition of ending each season with a cataclysmic event, “End of Days” brings Torchwood’s premiere run to a mostly satisfying conclusion. I could fault writer Chris Chibnall for eliding far too many important details, but there’s no need for such a tedious reckoning. What he has given us is an enjoyable combination of characters, alien technology, and an unknowable so far outside our understanding that we want to label it supernatural. Desperate love wreaks havoc, but simple faith can (apparently) repair all.
We pick up shortly after the events of Captain Jack Harkness, with Gwen (Eve Myles) staring lovingly at a sleeping Rhys (Kai Owen). Their morning idyll ends quickly when Jack (John Barrowman) phones and asks, “You watching the news?” It’s not all hell breaking lose out there, it’s all time, with people from past ages, and futuristic air/spacecraft from the future, suddenly appearing all over earth. The initial interpretation was that these events were a series of stunts, but as they continue, everyone realizes that Something Very Bad is happening.
At Torchwood, Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) helpfully reads aloud from apocalyptic accounts including The Book of Daniel, but Owen (Burn Gorman) cuts him off before he can get into the details about Abaddon. Owen’s sure that this isn’t anything too serious, and tries to shrug the whole thing off. But the entire world is asking Torchwood what’s happening, and whether or not they had anything to do with it. When Tosh (Naoko Mori) puts up a display plotting the events, it’s clear they’re all stemming from the fracture in the the Rift that Owen caused by opening it without knowing what he was doing. Owen pushes away any responsibility, saying that Jack and Tosh would still be trapped if he hadn’t opened the Rift; Jack doesn’t even bother to respond to that one. Still, Jack’s confident it’s not the end of the world and tries to reassure the team. We know where his confidence comes from, but of course his team does not, and they’re still very worried.
Tensions ratchet up among the team members when Owen is called over to Cardiff Hospital, which has established quarantine; Tosh goes along in spite of Owen’s protests. Owen realizes that the corpses he’s seeing are plague victims, most likely from the 14th century, and his façade of indifference finally disintegrates. He realizes that all sorts of sicknesses could come falling through time, and he warns the ER doctor to be ready for them. The doctor, of course, is incredulous: “You’re Torchwood! You’re supposed to fix all this!” But Owen doesn’t know how, and tells the doctor he has his responsibilities cut out for him now.
While Owen and Tosh are at the hospital, Jack and Gwen are called in by Gwen’s old partner, Andy (a boyish but serious Tom Price), who has taken custody of a furious Roman soldier; already the guy has killed two people. The steady stream of Latin invective is very convincing, but Andy is still having a hard time believing what Jack’s telling him: Time is broken. Andy gets to deliver the first pop culture reference of the episode, tagging Jack and Gwen as Mulder and Scully, asking them what they’re going to do about it. (The second comes soon after, when Owen derisively calls the ER doctor House.) Gwen tries to laugh it off—“Oh, Andy, did you think the world was going to end on your shift?”—but Andy knows her too well and sees right through her bravado.
Before leaving the hospital, Toshiko has a vision of her dead mother, a fresh wound upon her forehead. She warns, “It’s coming, out of the darkness,” that same idea we’ve been hearing most of the season. Unhelpfully, Tosh’s mother doesn’t say what it is, or why it’s coming, but clearly the vision was intended as a warning. Meanwhile, back at the police station, Gwen has a vision—or a visit from—Bilis Manger (Murray Melvin), whose sad, inky eyes contemplate her as he says, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Gwen appears hypnotized, but when she breaks out of it and tells Jack what happens, he finally decides to find Bilis. It’s starting to seem as if he may have had something to do with all this Rift business.
Back at Torchwood, Ianto is tortured by a vision of his dead lover, Lisa (Caroline Chikezie), wholly human, and begging him to open the Rift and set everything right.
Everyone is extremely keyed up, and Owen pushes Jack to be a leader, tell them what to do, and fix what he broke. Owen is acting out of overwhelming guilt, but he’s still an asshole here, and he finally takes it too far. Jack tells him, flat out, “This is not supposed to be happening,” but Owen can’t bear to hear that, and wants to dump it all back on Jack. Jack admits he doesn’t know quite what to do, but he insists that his team be united behind his decisions. When Owen continues to challenge him, Jack fires Owen. Ianto, Tosh, and Gwen, witnessing this entire scene, can’t believe what they’ve just heard, but Jack is adamant, and tells anyone else who feels like Owen to follow him out the door. The other three remain motionless, but Owen fairly staggers out the series of doors that will take him back to the real world. He knows he’ll be RetConned within a day or so, and all his time at Torchwood will be erased. This scene showcases the fantastic directing and editing that went into this episode. Burn Gorman could do a dramatic reading of nursery rhymes and have everyone in tears, but Barrowman tends to the overblown and unconvincing. Quick cuts between the two men mean that we see glimpses of Jack’s determination and anger, expressions that Barrowman really can’t sell in extended shots, but we see just what we need to see.
This is one of the first times that Jack has been called on to lead and he has actively, assertively done so. It doesn’t matter that Owen’s questions—“Who are you, anyway?”—are legitimate, and that the team more or less has a right to know. The midst of a crisis isn’t the time to be calling the question, especially when he didn’t have any better ideas.
With Owen gone, the rest get back to work. Bilis keeps an antique time piece shop, and Jack and Gwen find him there. They get right to the point, and Bilis admits that he can step through time, from one era to another as anyone else might step from room to room. He tells them that the solution to all their present difficulties is to open the Rift, and let it suck back in everything that was let loose. Jack is suspicious; he knows it can’t be that easy. But when he tries to strong-arm Bilis into accompanying them back to Torchwood, Bilis has already disappeared.
Jack leaves, but before Gwen can follow him, Bilis reappears; she asks him why he was apologizing. When she insists that she really wants to know, he shows Gwen a vision of Rhys, horribly murdered in their apartment. Gwen takes off (reminding me that this is the first running scene we’ve had in ages), and bursts into the apartment where there is no blood spattering the walls. Rhys is cleaning the oven, but Gwen insists he come away with her; when he deters, she tases him and puts him in a holding cell at Torchwood.
Owen, meanwhile, is doing his best to anesthetize himself with alcohol, when he has a vision of Diana (Louise Delamere), completely distraught and out-of-character, but Owen’s too engrossed in his own troubles to notice. Diane claims she’s lost, and begs him to open the Rift and find her again. The vision dissolves when the bartender asks Owen if he wants another, but that doesn’t stop Owen from being affected by it.
Torchwood is abuzz because Gwen’s brought in her boyfriend; they’re trying not to show that they think she’s gone around the bend. Gwen asks Tosh to bring up the security camera feed on her monitor so she can keep an eye on Rhys in his cell, but just then there’s a security breech. As the Weevils’ shrieks compete with the alarm, Rhys’s cell door opens, and he wanders out. He sees Manger at the end of the corridor, and asks him if he knows what’s going on; Manger guts him. Rhys can’t believe it, even as the blood soaks through his shirt. Manger stabs him again; Rhys collapses. Manger disappears and the security breach alarms quiet almost instantly. Gwen, up at the office level, screams and runs; she fears what she’ll find.
Eve Myles plays hysterical very convincingly. She swings between too-calm and frantic, and her thought processes are twisted by grief. There’s this lovely moment, with Rhys, dead on the table in the autopsy room and Gwen sitting next to him, thinking, thinking; Jack is standing by Gwen, slowly cleaning the blood from her hand. It’s a very simple, human gesture, but when Gwen turns her head you can see she has a streak of blood on her face as well. It’s small things that help carry scenes like these, where the range of emotions is completely crazy. Jack tries to comfort Gwen, telling her there’s nothing they can do. Tosh and Ianto wonder if that’s true.
Owen comes back at that moment, not to apologize or beg for forgiveness, but to open the Rift. When Ianto goes to follow him, Jack assumes it’s to stop him, but Ianto says simply, “No,” and Tosh and Gwen follow to help. Jack sees that they’ve all fallen for Manger’s trap and picks up his pistol to stop them.
There follows what is arguably the best scene of the entire season for this ensemble. Jack tells them it’s a trap; they don’t care, too many people have died already, and Gwen’s damned if she’s going to lose Rhys this way. Jack mocks their united front, tearing down each one in turn: Tosh, ready to love any alien who gave her pedant; Owen, so tough he climbed into a cage with a Weevil so he could be torn apart; Ianto, hiding his cyber-girlfriend—Jack doesn’t spare Ianto anything here, reminding him that his teammates pumped Lisa full of bullets. Everyone’s standing shell-shocked as Jack dresses them down, until he gets to Gwen: “You’re so in love with Rhys you spend half your time in Owen’s bed.” That’s too much for Gwen, and she punches him in the jaw so hard he flies backwards, losing the gun. There’s a lot more shouting, and Owen has the gun now, but Jack taunts him: “If you want to be a leader, you’ll need much bigger balls,” and that’s when Owen shoots him in the head. Just to make sure, he shoots him again in the chest, too. Ianto, Gwen and Tosh have the grace to be horrified, momentarily, and then they retina scan Jack’s glassy eye.
Jack revives just as the Rift opens, and it’s his turn to be horrified. Gwen’s not surprised but Owen, Tosh, and Ianto are understandably freaked out. Jack looks terrible, as he always does, post-death, with huge dark rings around his eyes, standing out in his too-pale face. The Rift Manipulator mechanism is destroying the Torchwood offices, and Ianto and Gwen help Jack out—Ianto makes a point of grabbing Jack’s coat as they leave.
Out in the street, they look around to see what’s happened, and Owen, at least, is sure that everything’s going to be OK now. He’s dead wrong, of course; it was a trap all along. Bilis Manger is waiting for them with his final pronouncement, “He is come.” In a blessedly short bit of exposition, Bilis explains that he was always the servant of his master, Abaddon, who had been imprisoned beneath the Rift. Now he has come to feed on life, and everything will die in his shadow.
This brief speech, like the speaker, is extremely creepy, but the edge is taken off the terror when we see Abaddon, a 30-story high demon who looks like nothing more than the younger brother of the demon in Doctor Who’s The Satan Pit. We get a long shot of him stomping away, car alarms incongruously sounding in the background. There are some really well-done scenes of Abaddon’s shadow passing over groups of people, who instantly fall dead. I would have really preferred to have seen only Abaddon’s effects and not the demon at all; sometimes leaving things up to our imaginations is the better way to go.
But had they done that, we couldn’t have the showdown between our immortal, TARDIS-born Jack, and the demon who feeds on life. To such a one, Jack deadpans, “I’m an all-you-can-eat buffet.” He still looks like hell, and staggers rather than walks, but the team gets him out in the open where he can draw the attention of the demon. This scene was written to Barrowman’s strengths and was well-directed also. Jack falls to his knees, and his screams seem as if they will never end. At first the demon is delighted, but then Abaddon realizes that there’s something different here, but he can’t break away. Then streams of TARDIS-like energy pour out of Jack, bringing the demon down, and eventually destroying it all together. Jack collapses; he has nothing left.
For the second time, Gwen rushes home; Rhys thinks she’s crazy, she was just there. She gives him a long kiss and promises she’ll be back for him. Back at Torchwood, Jack is laid out in the morgue, and Owen says there’s no way he’s coming back from this. Gwen refuses to give up; Jack told her he couldn’t die. The others don’t know what to make of Gwen’s faith, but they leave her with him. There’s a montage of Gwen with Jack’s body, doing all those tiny fussy things that people do when they can’t accept reality. The others, cleaning up the office, wonder how long she’ll stay down there with him. Eventually Tosh goes to talk to her, “It’s been days,” but still, they won’t rush her. Gwen, in the same grubby outfit she was wearing when the Rift opened, finally seems ready to accept that Jack is gone. She hesitates, then lightly kisses his lips, and then begins to walk away. She has only gone a few steps when she hears Jack’s voice, very weak: “Thank you.”
The reunion scenes are mostly wordless; Gwen has fetched Jack’s clothes and he looks amazing for a guy who was dead for so long. Tosh sees them from across the Core and runs over the catwalk, throwing herself in Jack arms. Ianto can barely move, he’s so overcome; the two men embrace, and then kiss like they mean it. Owen, tears standing in his eyes, hangs back; he looks at Jack and stammers, “I’m…” I’m not sure whether Owen trailed off or Jack interrupted him, but it doesn’t really matter. Jack says what Owen needed to hear most, “I forgive you,” taking Owen in his arms. Owen crumples into his embrace, sobbing; it sounds like the kind of crying that physically hurts. All of Owen’s sins of pride and desperation are absolved.
Gwen later asks the questions we would ask: what now? Jack says the Rift closed when Abaddon was destroyed, and all of the people who fell through time were drawn back into it. But now the Rift will be even more temperamental than before (although how he can know that, there’s no saying.) Gwen wonders what vision would have tempted Jack to open the Rift, the way all of the others were so expertly manipulated; Jack tells her “a certain kind of doctor.” Just then, the “hand alarm” goes off; Jack’s face lights up when he realizes what’s happening. We faintly hear the call of the TARDIS, and suddenly, Jack’s gone. Gwen has no idea what’s happened to him, she just knows he left. The final shot is of the four remaining team members, wondering whether Jack’s going to come back, and what’s going to happen if he doesn’t.
“End of Days” isn’t a perfect episode, but it’s a good episode with some great stuff in it. It stumbles particularly in casting Gwen, Owen, Tosh, and Ianto as entirely emotion-driven; only Jack has the sense to see how they are being manipulated. The others won’t even consider the idea that it’s a trap, because they couldn’t conceive of anything worse than what was already happening. How dearly they paid for that failure of imagination.
Speaking of failure of imagination, it was significantly disappointing to have all the “it’s coming, out of the darkness” warnings add up to a hugely muscle-bound CGI creature stomping on buildings. I liked the “feeds on life” angle, and I liked the dying-in-the-shadow business, but really, couldn’t we have done better than that? And if you’re going to go to the trouble of reading prophetic scripture, it would’ve been nice to tie all that in, somehow. How did the prophets know about Abaddon?
The last big complaint is the abundance of loose ends we’re left with. We know that Rhys was OK, but what about everyone else? Did Abaddon’s victims revive also? Documents at the Hub indicate they didn’t; it would’ve been nice to wrap that up on air. Bilis Manger, the time-jumper who orchestrated all this, disappeared completely; was he destroyed with his master, or did he escape through time? How can Torchwood ever hope to find him, much less reign him in? He’s much too dangerous to be left to his own devices. Last, what’s going to happen to our intrepid team, after they shot Jack and almost destroyed the world? Sure, Jack forgave them, but are they going to be able to forgive themselves?
As for what happened to Jack: lucky us, we get to see his side of story play out in the Doctor Who Season 3 three-part finale, Utopia, The Sound of the Drums, and The Last of the Time Lords. It’s fair to say that Torchwood hasn’t quite known what to do with Jack Harkness, or John Barrowman. “Utopia” is exposition-heavy but it’s useful exposition, clearing the decks of many nagging Jack-related questions. That hand, for example, is the one that the newly-regenerated Doctor lost in “The Christmas Invasion;” Jack found it and used it to make a proximity alert so he’d know whenever the Doctor was near. Jack’s been waiting over 150 years for a chance to talk to the Doctor, because he still can’t understand what Rose did to him in “The Parting of the Ways.” He doesn’t know what he is, much less who he is, and he has been damned lonely living through decades waiting for his Doctor to show up.
Whether or not you watch Doctor Who regularly (I can’t imagine that there are fans of Torchwood who don’t watch Doctor Who, but I’ll grant it’s possible), you should watch at least those three episodes if you plan to keep on with Torchwood. Jack doesn’t find all the answers he wants, but learns enough to make peace with himself. I’m looking forward to the treatment of this character in season two; I’m hoping he’s a lot more settled and that we can have a bit more fun.
Season two episodes will be broadcast on BBC America beginning January 26, 2008, shortly after their debut in the UK. Recaps/reviews will continue to follow within a day or two, barring catastrophe. In the meantime, spend your Saturdays at holiday parties or watching your DVD favorites. I’ll see you in the new year.