Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A Day in the Death - Torchwood 2.8

In which Owen Harper struggles to come to terms with his new condition. Walking home one night he spots a young woman sitting on the ledge of a building - evidently contemplating throwing herself off. He goes up to the roof and joins her. Her name is Maggie. He starts to tell her of his problems.
He is being studied by Martha Jones of UNIT, who has stayed on as new medical officer for Torchwood. He cuts his hand on a scalpel and she stitches the wound, and explains to him that he will have to do this every week from now on, as the wound will never heal. Back at his flat he begins to throw out things he no longer needs - food, as he can no longer eat, shaving foam, as his hair no longer grows. He is visited by Tosh and tries to force her to reject him, as he can no longer love her back. He runs out and throws himself into the bay. Half an hour later, he accepts that he cannot drown, as he does not breathe. He emerges from the water to find Jack waiting for him.

Back at the Hub, the team have a case. They have been keeping an eye on a reclusive millionaire named Henry Parker, who has not left his home for decades. He is known to be a collector of alien artifacts, having the largest private collection of items which have come through the Rift. Strange energy readings have been registered coming from his home, and the team is worried that one of the alien devices is going to self-destruct. Someone needs to break into the house and remove this, but Parker has security guards and the building is protected by heat sensors. Owen points out that his present condition means that he no longer generates any body heat, so he will be invisible to the sensors. He breaks in and makes his way to the bedroom, where he finds Parker in bed, connected to life support machines.

He is clutching the alien device, which glows with a strange light. He calls this the Pulse, and is convinced that it is keeping him alive. He and Owen talk for a long time about life and death, and Owen scans the Pulse. He manages to convince Parker that the device has nothing to do with him staying alive. It is his own will to live which is doing this. Parker relinquishes the device to Owen, but then suffers a heart attack. Owen tries to save him, but cannot administer the kiss of life as he has no breath. The old man dies. The Pulse continues to generate energy and Owen takes it - shielding it from his colleagues before it can explode...
Back on the roof, Maggie has been listening to his story. She has revealed that the reason she is feeling suicidal is that her husband was killed in a car crash on the day they got married. Owen produces the Pulse and it begins to emit beautiful tendrils of light. He explains that it is really a form of message, sent to Earth in response to probes which we have sent out to contact alien life. Maggie and Owen are both given a fresh perspective on life. We are not alone in the universe, and there are still wonders to see.
Jack accepts Owen back onto the team as medical officer, and Martha leaves to return to UNIT.

A Day in the Death was written by Joseph Lidster, and was first broadcast on 27th February, 2008.
Lidster will be familiar to viewers of Doctor Who DVD extras, though he has never been called upon to write for the programme. This is his only Torchwood contribution, but he has written three stories for The Sarah Jane Adventures. However, he has written many peripheral works relating to Doctor Who, including short stories, website content and audio dramas.
The story marks the third and final part of the Martha Jones trilogy. She returns to UNIT once Owen is taken back into the Torchwood team - just in time to call upon the Doctor for help in Series 4.
As mentioned last time, this shows the darker side to Owen's new existence, as he is forced to come to terms with everything that he is losing, badly at first. He becomes suicidal, but fails to drown himself. Even something mundane like shaving is lost to him now. He and Tosh get an opportunity to discuss her feelings for him, but of course he is unwilling to reciprocate, deliberately pushing her away.

The episode is all about Owen's relationship with Maggie, and with Henry Parker - the two guest artists for the story. Maggie is played by Christine Bottomley. Parker is Richard Briers, who had previously appeared in Doctor Who as the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers. Mercifully, this is a much more nuanced performance. Briers had moved on from the more comedic sitcom roles by this stage and was well established as a fine Shakespearean actor. He passed away in 2013, and his widow is the actress Ann Davies, a great friend of Jacqueline Hill and who played Jenny in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Overall, it is, at first glance, a fairly inconsequential story, with no real threat. But look beyond that and it is a lovely character piece, comprising the conversations shared between Owen and the two people contemplating death - one wanting it, the other fighting against it. As a whole, the trilogy hasn't been terribly strong for Martha - only really having a significant role to play in Reset. The other two stories have been very firmly focused on Owen, pushing Martha to the background.
Things you might like to know:

  • Amongst Parker's alien artifacts is a Dogon Eye - one of which featured prominently in the Series 1 story Random Shoes.
  • Ianto describes Parker as being classified by Torchwood as "Mostly Harmless" - a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference. 
  • The episode title may well be a reference to the Beatles song "A Day in the Life", though it had already featured as part of the title of the 1967 play by Peter Nichols: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.
  • Dialogue reveals that this story takes place the very next day after the events of Dead Man Walking - Owen telling Maggie he was shot three days ago, and resurrected two days ago.
  • The sequence with Owen and Parker talking was cut for timing, but also, it is claimed, to remove some mentions of Christianity - the old man being derogatory about it. The latter seems unlikely, as there have been a number of mentions over both seasons of nothing existing beyond death.
  • Another cut scene may be inferred from the credit for Kai Owen (Rhys), as he does not appear in this episode.

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