In which the Torchwood team are called to the scene of a burglary gone wrong. One of the thieves is dead, the other critically injured. Of the couple who live in the house, the husband is also wounded, and his wife, Beth, claims she can remember nothing of what happened. Just before dying, the injured burglar states that it was Beth who was responsible for the carnage. Beth is taken to the Hub for questioning. A strange power surge occurs when she is given a body scan. Owen attempts to take blood, but the needles keep breaking. The same thing happens when he tries to use a scalpel on her arm. Jack is convinced that she is an alien. When confronted by a Weevil in the cells, the creature cowers in front of her. Beth is adamant that she is just an ordinary woman. Jack orders that a mind probe be used, and Beth agrees - convinced it will show nothing unusual. As the probe digs deeper into her mind, Beth suddenly becomes rigid, and her arm begins to change. It refashions itself into an organic weapon - a huge blade, glowing with strange lights. Beth repeats the same few alien words over and over again. Jack deduces that these are her name, rank and serial number.
Jack tells his colleagues that he believes Beth to be a member of Cell 114. These aliens infiltrate planets disguised as the native species. They are mentally conditioned to believe totally in the false personalities and memories which have been implanted. They act as a sleeper cell - activated when the aliens intend to invade. They are programmed to then carry out acts of sabotage to help prepare the way. The trauma of the burglary has activated Beth prematurely. She is linked to others in the cell, however, and the fear is that she will transmit to her colleagues. She agrees to be cryogenically frozen, not wanting to hurt anyone else. In stasis, her implant activates and sends out its signal. She wakes and smashes her way out. She goes to the hospital where she is compelled to kill her husband. Elsewhere in the city, a number of people suddenly stop what they are doing and walk out on their loved ones. A man named David kills his family and then goes to the home of a council leader and murders him. Sleeper agents begin to carry out suicidal acts of sabotage, blowing up transport and communications centres.
Torchwood discover that David is heading for an abandoned farm on the outskirts of the city. Jack knows that beneath this is a secret store of nuclear weapons. They pursue him and Gwen uses an electromagnetic pulse to disable David's defences, meaning that he can be killed. He reveals that Cell 114 know of Torchwood and have plans to circumvent them when the invasion begins. When asked when this will come, David reveals that his people are already here, then he blows himself up.
Back at the Hub, Beth has agreed to be put back into cryogenic suspension. However, she suddenly attacks Gwen - forcing the team to kill her. She knew that she would always pose a risk to humans, and could not face this.
Sleeper was written by James Moran, and was first broadcast on 23rd January, 2008. Moran would go on to write The Fires of Pompeii for Doctor Who's fourth season, and co-write Torchwood's third series - Children of Earth - with Russell T Davies.
The inspiration for the story lies in the notion of sleeper agents which were supposed to have been planted in various countries by foreign powers during the Cold War. They would assume new identities and ingratiate themselves into their local communities - making their loyalty unquestionable. This was a long term strategy, the agents expected to maintain their lifestyle for many years if necessary. Should war break out, however, they would be instructed to carry out acts of murder and sabotage to undermine the nation's defences. Such agents feature in the works of writers like John Le Carre, and appear in TV shows such as Danger Man and The Avengers. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica featured a number of key characters not realising they were actually Cylon agents.
The episode also has things to say about the "war on terror", as Beth is interrogated by Torchwood with no regard to legal procedures. Before they realise that she has some kind of protective forcefield, the team are prepared to use torture to get her to admit to her alien nature.
The main guest artist, playing Beth, is Nikki Amuka-Bird. She was seen recently playing the Testimony glass avatar in Twice Upon A Time. David is played by Doug Rollins.
Overall, a fairly action-oriented episode, with a strong performance by Amuka-Bird as a woman struggling to come to terms with who and what she really is.
Things you might like to know:
- Not a lot to say about this one. One of the sequences to be filmed in Cardiff of a building being blown up was scheduled for the day after the terrorist incident at Glasgow Airport. Rather than postpone the filming, the BBC ensured that the media was well-informed of what was going on.
- This episode clearly calls out for some kind of sequel, as we are left with the knowledge that there are more sleepers out there, and the invasion is imminent. However, the story is never picked up. Had the third or fourth season comprised stand alone episodes then this might have been revisited, but as it was they both went for single story arcs.