Finally, we have independent confirmation that human sexual relations are indeed the best thing in the universe—at least, if we’re to believe this episode of Torchwood. Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles)begins her first “day” at Torchwood when a night out with Rhys (Kai Owen) is interrupted by the crash of a meteorite; apparently her training will be trial by fire. Gwen is barely composed after Jack (John Barrowman) has to vouch for her at the crash site, and her awkwardness manifests when she tosses an instrument to Owen (Burn Gorman), and misses. The tool strikes the rock, and mysteriously triggers a wayward smoke effect from a Pink Floyd laser show—that is to say, fluorescent purple smoke streams out and away. Oops.
Meanwhile, a heartbroken teenager in an alleyway outside a nightclub conducts a one-sided conversation with her ex-lover’s voicemail: “I wish you were dead. Call me back.” Just as she hangs up, the purple smoke zooms in on her, backs her up against a wall, and dives down her throat. She heads back into the club as if there’s nothing wrong, but when one of the bouncers hassles her, she grabs his lapels and plants an intense kiss on him. Either she’s ticked at her ex, or there’s something else going on. We’re not left wondering for too long, because our alien-possessed girl picks up a cute but self-conscious boy and doesn’t so much seduce him as consume him in a scene that was much more explicit on BBC. BBC America (BBCA) cuts it down to the high points, if bathroom sex could ever be described as having such a thing; as shown by BBCA, it’s an unremarkable sex scene, having lost the immediacy and intensity of the original. The young man seems quite sincere in his efforts, but the girl is mostly interested in his reactions. At climax, we get the best special effect of the episode: the boy transforms/explodes into a cloud of golden sparkles, which the girl quickly inhales with a transcendent expression.
Back at Torchwood, the field team recaps. Gwen’s having the worst first day ever, and Owen asserts that there’s an alien on the loose and they have no idea where it is or what it wants. On cue, Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) wanders in with a report of an unusual nightclub death. Off they go to the club to see all that’s left of the boy: a small pile of dirty gray sand. No one really wants to know the answer to the essential question, How did you know this used to be someone? It’s not complicated; the same bouncer was jacking off to the security camera’s recording, only to be scared witless at the last moment. (The BBCA edit here spares the viewer a few seconds of “Ew!”, much appreciated.) “We’ve got to see that tape!” Jack declares. Apparently the Welsh are mad for closed circuit television (CCT); they’ve got cameras everywhere Torchwood could want. While it’s useful, say, for the team to watch the attack in which the alien possessed the girl, it’s absurd to think any city, however small, has the kind of coverage the dialog implies. But having identified the girl out in the alley, it’s just a romp through various impossible databases, some cross-referencing between two disparate sources, and the girl and her address are pinpointed. Gwen, at least, has the decency to be shocked at how little privacy citizens of the UK have.
It would be simple to boil this episode down to a police procedural, or to count the clichés that it serves up: impossibly tough first day on the job, gaseous alien using a human as host, aliens coming to Earth for sex and killing their partners in the process, not to mention the use and re-use of new alien tech we’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. If that were all there was, I would file this episode under “tedious” and leave it at that. Notwithstanding Torchwood’s sex-obsessed reputation, there is exactly one sex scene, one make-out session, and one extended kiss. Sex is not what’s driving this episode, although it is ostensibly what’s driving the alien, who declares male orgasmic energy “the best hit there is,” and insists “I live off that energy.” This particular alien sounds like a horny teenage junkie to me, and therefore not exactly trustworthy. Although no one stops to examine the alien’s testimony, it doesn’t sound like a viable existence, further evidence for why we should never trust anything any alien communicates without good reason.
The main plotlines here involve Gwen, trying to find her place in Torchwood and minimize the damage she believes she caused, and Carys (Sara Gregory), the alien-possessed girl, fighting for her life. It’s understandable that Gwen would feel responsible for the release of the alien, but actually, it was a bit of good luck. If Gwen hadn’t hit the rock and released the alien, presumably it would’ve come out in its own time and in secret. It came to earth to feed, on purpose: “You broke my ship,” is the first thing it says to Gwen. If not for Gwen’s bad toss and Carys’ execrable boyfriend, Torchwood would’ve have had no clue what was happening. It could’ve been much worse, but no one thinks this through.
Captain Jack and the rest of the team don’t bother to reassure Gwen much, but Gwen doesn’t stew in her guilt; she mobilizes it, determined to save Carys and prevent the alien from killing again. The rest of the team can’t understand why she cares so much; when she responds, “Because if we don’t help, who will?” Jack finally defines her position in the team: to remind them all of what it’s like to be human, because they’ve all forgotten. It’s pretty much a staple that when you play host to a gas-based life form, the alien screws up your physiology to such an extent that it will kill you if you don’t get rid of it. What’s new here is the psychological torment that Carys endures. Casual alien sex is usually portrayed as hot and consequence-free for the alien/host, but Carys is a wreck the next morning. She remembers everything, and she’s horrified.
Why did the alien pick Carys? We learn that she worked in a fertility clinic, so perhaps she had an aura of sexual energy simply from being around so many sperm donors. But Carys had just lost her virginity, and she associated sex with love. Carys, failing, reaches out, desperate, “All this sex… all we see, all we feel, so much beauty…so much fear…” The alien just wants the energy, but to Carys it means so much more than that.
Sara Gregory’s performance is outstanding, both as the fragile Carys and the sex-addicted alien; Eve Myles has no problem keeping with up her, eventually bringing out some of Gwen’s maternal tendencies. No one else has too much to do, and although it’s fun to see that Jack has “an excess of alive,” I don’t think there’s any justification for Carys glowing during that last kiss. Gwen’s still the only member of the team that knows anything significant about Jack, and it was interesting that she didn’t share it. She may be the only normal human at Torchwood, but at least by the end of “Day One,” she has figured out some way to fit in.
This episode has some lighter moments, but it’s far from the romp that Torchwood’s flippant attitude may have promised. This is the last place I’d expect to find a morality tale about the consequences of teenage casual sex, but I can’t get away from the idea that that’s just what “Day One” is. There’s a lot that’s silly here, but there was heart where no one would look for it. Any series that can throw a curve that big is worth watching.