Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Cyberwoman - Torchwood 1.4

In which the Torchwood team go out for a drink, leaving Ianto in charge of the Hub. Once alone, he ushers in a Japanese doctor - Tanizaki - and leads him to the lowermost depths of the complex. In a storeroom he introduces the doctor to his girlfriend - Lisa Hallett. She is connected to a Cyber-conversion unit, her body partially transformed into a Cyberman. Ianto explains that she had worked with him at Canary Wharf when the Cybermen invaded. He had managed to rescue her, along with the unit, and smuggled them into the Hub. He is searching for a means of restoring her humanity to her. A UFO sighting over Cardiff Bay brings the rest of the team back early. Ianto goes upstairs, leaving Tanizaki with Lisa. There is a massive power loss, and Ianto sees that it comes from the basement. Claiming this has happened earlier, he goes alone to see what the problem is - rushing to the storeroom. Here he finds the doctor dead, having been partly converted by Lisa.

Ianto is horrified that she has destroyed his hope of saving her. He hurriedly hides the body, but Lisa reactivates the conversion unit to draw more power. Tosh discovers that the CCTV has been tampered with, but some of it is retrieved and they see Ianto welcoming the doctor. The power drain causes the Hub to go into lock-down. Gwen and Owen go to the basement to investigate and discover the conversion unit. They report back to Jack. Owen is knocked out and Lisa attempts to convert Gwen. Jack arrives in time to stop the process, but Ianto stops him shooting Lisa and she escapes into the Hub. To give Tosh time to recharge the power supply, Jack allows himself to be "deleted" by Lisa. She turns on Ianto, knocking him unconscious. Jack sprays her with BBQ sauce - causing her to be attacked by the pterodactyl which lives in the Hub.

This allows everyone to escape to the surface using the invisible lift to the plaza above. Jack gives Ianto an ultimatum - kill Lisa or he will come down after 10 minutes and shoot them both. Meanwhile, a pizza delivery girl named Annie has found the entrance to the Hub unlocked and she descends into the complex. She encounters Lisa. When Ianto goes to the basement storeroom he finds Lisa dead, but she has transplanted her brain into Annie's skull. When she fails to see the wrong she has done - and recommends that Ianto also upgrade - he realises that he has lost her forever. He still cannot bring himself to kill her, but his colleagues arrive and shoot her dead.

Cyberwoman was written by Chris Chibnall, and was first broadcast on 5th November, 2006. The story idea originated with Russell T Davies, and was one of the first pitched for the series. Davies thought there was mileage in a story showing the aftermath of his Doctor Who Series 2 finale - Army of Ghosts / Doomsday. We had seen three women turned into Cybermen - Sally Phelan, the alternative Jackie Tyler, and Yvonne Hartman - but their brains all ended up in standard Cyberman shells. Here, Lisa has only been partially converted, so she retains her feminine form - allowing for a sexualised, fetishistic design. Quite where the Cybermen got the parts, lord only knows.
As Torchwood is aimed at an adult market - it was barely covered by DWM, lest youngsters insist on watching the further adventures of Captain Jack - this allows for the body-horror of Cyber-conversion to be shown graphically. First we see the doctor with parts of his face and head partly implanted, and later we see the crude brain surgery which Lisa uses to transplant her brain into the hapless pizza delivery girl.
Once again, we see that Jack has absolutely no control over his team. It's one thing for them to take alien objects home with them, but here Ianto is seemingly able to smuggle Lisa and the conversion unit into the Hub and keep her there for what must be a number of months at least.

The first two episodes of the series were very much about Gwen joining the team, with Owen starting to come to the fore in the third episode. Here, Ianto gets to be the main protagonist in the plot. He had been pretty much a background character up until now - not even going out on field trips with the others.
As the action is pretty much confined to the Hub, there is only a small guest cast. Lisa is Caroline Chikezie, Tanizaki is Togo Igawa, and Annie is played by Bethan Walker.

Overall, an episode that has divided fans. Some people would have liked to have seen more explicit crossover with the parent programme, whilst others preferred it to forge its own path. As a storyline, it makes for a fast-paced, base under siege adventure. Others would have liked to have seen more about the emotional and moral implications of what Ianto was doing, rather than a monster on the loose shoot-em-up. The pterodactyl fight is a bit silly, however much you like the story overall.
Things you might like to know:

  • Chibnall claimed this was the hardest story he had to write for the series. He started with the conclusion, with the team shooting Lisa dead. One draft did have Ianto pull the trigger.
  • Cyberwoman was supposed to have sat later in the series, but problems with some of the other scripts meant it being brought forward and shown fourth - so Ianto might have been expected to have kept Lisa hidden for even longer.
  • By rights, Lisa and the conversion unit should have been sucked into the Void at the conclusion to Doomsday. Realising this, the official website decided that her implants and the unit were all sourced from material from our universe rather than from Pete's World.
  • However, one big problem is that Ianto claims that towards the end of the invasion, the Cybermen resorted to partial conversions. Surely if you are in a hurry it is a lot quicker to whip out a brain and plonk it in a suit, than it is to start transforming someone piecemeal?
  • How does Ianto keep his job at the end of this - or indeed his life? It is one thing to smuggle his girlfriend and some alien tech into the Hub, but this is a Cyber-conversion unit - capable of starting the whole invasion up all over again.
  • It was around this time that criticism really got underway for the manner in which John Barrowman was playing Captain Jack. Fans knew him as a cheeky, cocky, funny character in the closing episodes of the Chris Eccleston series, but he seems to have had all the fun and joy sucked out of him.
  • The brief flashback scene of Ianto saving Lisa from Canary Wharf took a whole day to film as the camera broke down, as did its replacement.
  • One of the inspirations for Lisa's costume was the Maria robot from Metropolis.
  • Lisa claims that the Hub would make a good Cyber-conversion facility. Ironically, the by then redundant set was later used as the heart of the Cyber-King, in The Next Doctor.
  • With its limited settings and small guest cast, this was the cheapest episode of the season. Even the UFO glimpsed on video was achieved simply by covering a frisbee in tinfoil.

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