Tuesday, 27 February 2018

To The Last Man - Torchwood 2.3

In which Tosh looks forward to the revivification of Tommy Brockless, a young soldier from 1918 who has been kept in cryogenic suspension in the Hub. Once a year he is brought out of suspension for a medical check-up. This year, Tosh will be spending the day with him. Back in 1918, Tommy had been a patient at Cardiff's St Teilo's Hospital, where he was suffering from shell-shock. One day two Torchwood operatives - Gerald Carter and Harriet Derbyshire - visited the hospital whilst investigating Rift activity. They took the young man away with them, and left instructions for their future counterparts that Tommy was to be kept frozen as one day he would save the planet. As Tosh and Tommy go out to enjoy the day together, Jack and Gwen visit the hospital which is now closed and awaiting demolition. They discover that there is time seepage, as figures from 1918 are seen around the building. Tosh and Tommy, meanwhile, find themselves growing attached to each other. Owen spots this, and warns his colleague not to get too close, as the young man is only awake on this one day a year.

Back at the Hub, Jack discovers that this year is the time when Tommy is going to be needed. He is going to have to return to his own time with a Rift Key and operate it to stop the two time zones from becoming permanently entangled. Jack discovers that some three months after he was taken, Tommy was due to be executed for cowardice. When Tosh hears this she is adamant that she will not allow him to be sent back, but Jack manages to convince her that it is essential, to prevent disaster. Tommy and Tosh then spend the night together. The next day Tommy and the team return to the hospital.

Jack sees Gerald and Harriet. This is how they knew to take Tommy to the Hub - Jack told them to do it from their future. The young man is shown how to operate the Rift Key then travels back to his own time. However, on his arrival his shell-shocked state returns, and he cannot remember what he is supposed to do. At the Hub, Tosh links her mind to his through the Rift, and tells him what to do. He operates the device and the time distortion is nullified. The planet is saved, but Tosh is left heartbroken knowing that they had sent him back to his death.

To The Last Man was written by Helen Raynor, and was first broadcast on 30th January, 2008. Raynor had been a script editor on Doctor Who before becoming the first female writer for the new series, with the two-part Dalek story Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks. After this she wrote the two-part Sontaran story for Series 4.
When offered the chance to write for Torchwood, Raynor had asked for it to be a Tosh centred storyline. The previous year, James Goss had featured a short piece on the series' website about someone held frozen in the Hub who was defrosted for one day a year. 100 years would pass, but for them it would be just 100 days. This provided the starting point for this story. Raynor's other inspiration came from the stories of soldiers who were executed for cowardice in the First World War who were known to have been suffering from shell-shock - what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Around 300 men were believed to have been shot by their own men for having a mental health condition. The title of the story refers to an order issued by Field Marshal Haig in April 1918 at the time of the German Spring Offensive - "Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement". As well as those executed for shell-shock, many more were sent back to the Front from hospitals, when they had not fully recovered.

In a way, the episode is a companion piece to the previous season's Captain Jack Harkness, in that it revisits an earlier time period during a time of war, and meeting a character whom one of the regulars falls in love with even though they know they are fated to die shortly afterwards.
Playing Tommy is Anthony Lewis, who had been a regular on the soap Emmerdale. He had previously featured in Children's Ward, a series for which Russell T Davies had contributed many scripts. Gerald Carter is Roderic Culver, son of the noted English actor Michael Culver, whilst Harriet is Siobhan Hewlett. Her father was also an actor - Donald Hewlett, who had featured as Sir George Hardiman in The Claws of Axos.

Overall, it is a moving little episode. The whole time distortion thing hardly matters, as this is simply a doomed romance, with some powerful things to say about the horrors of war in general, and of the Great War in particular.
Things you might like to know:

  • In the draft scripts, Tommy was to have asked about Suzie Costello, as she would still have been with the team when he was last reanimated.
  • A working title was "Soldier's Heart". This is how shell-shock was known during the American Civil War.
  • On the US DVD, the story was re-titled as "Last Man Standing", which totally misses the Field Marshal Haig inspiration.
  • When they first go for their day out, Tommy and Tosh visit the pier at Penarth. In the closing sequence, when Owen tries to comfort Tosh, they are standing beside the ceramic monument to Captain Scott, outside the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay, only a stone's throw from where the Doctor Who Experience was situated. Scott set off on his final Antarctic expedition from Cardiff in June 1910, and the city used to have a huge Norwegian population - hence Roald Dahl's connection to the city.
  • At one point Tommy remarks on how silly it is for someone to save the world in their pyjamas. This is a nod to the newly regenerated Tenth Doctor defeating the Sycorax in his jim-jams.

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