Torchwood: “The Gathering”
It said something good about this episode (to us, at least) that we felt, for the first time in about 5 episodes, that we absolutely had to sit down and watch it a second time before even attempting to put together our thoughts. Having watched it a second time now, we’re having almost the exact opposite reaction; that is, it says something bad about the series that we had to sit down and watch this episode a second time.
For the first time in a long time, the plot moved quickly; there were revelations and developments left and right, a somewhat more defined idea of what exactly is going on, a heightened sense of excitement, and yet another raising of the stakes for pretty much every single character. That’s all very, very welcome but when you stack it up against all the previous episodes, it only serves to show how structurally flawed this series has been.
It’s become more obvious than ever, with only one hour of story left, that we all had to sit through a TON of pointless filler to get where we are now. But a well-structured story can actually handle a little bit of fluff and filler if the entertainment value is there and it doesn’t bring the story to a halt. When we think back on all the scenes of hospital gurneys, press conferences and supposed cults — as well as ENDLESS scenes of people sitting around a table and talking, we can’t shake the persistent feeling that there could have been far better ways to get the characters to where they are now. And we wouldn’t have had to sit through the rather stunning amount of exposition required to get this episode from point A to point B by the end. We’ll give the writers credit for managing to inject scenes of tension, humor and catharsis, but after watching it a second time, it’s amazing how much of the episode consists of people just talking to each other about what’s going on; in offices, around kitchen tables, and on the phone; in order to get the plot moving, everyone needed to talk and talk a lot. That’s why we had to watch it a second time; not because everything was so exciting and the developments were so shocking, but because except for a few confrontations, this entire episode was basically a series of lectures.
And that’s a shame, because we’re back to being very intrigued as to where this is all going. When we saw that old science fiction standby, the Big, Scary, Magical Vagina, was at the heart of the story… well, truth be told, we rolled our eyes…BUT we were also kind of relieved to see a return to old school Torchwood weirdness and completely flummoxed as to what it means. Did Jack’s blood carve a straight line through the center of the earth somehow? That’s so bizarre it almost makes sense. We doubt that’s the story, though. Rex’s wound started bothering him in Buenos Aires, so whatever the reason for Jack’s blood deciding to go for a walk in Shanghai, it might not be so simple that The Blessing “wants” Jack. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
For the first time ever, both Jilly and Oswald seem like intriguing characters whose decisions are going to have a major effect on how things shake out. Great. So why did we have to sit through so many boring and just plain stupid scenes with these two? Why couldn’t the story of The Families been sprinkled a little more throughout the story instead of infodumped in the last two episodes? Why did they wait until now to make the long-needed jump forward by at least a couple of months in order to convincingly portray a society collapsing into fascism? Because that last one was one of the biggest mistakes. They should have jumped at least 3 months ahead somewhere around the 3rd episode in order to make things like ovens and pretend-Nazis a little more believable. By the way, that cop obsessed with capturing Gwen’s immobile father was like someone from an Indiana Jones movie accidentally got dropped into the story. There are far better and more accurate ways to depict modern fascism than simply ripping the swastikas and accents off standard Nazi characters and clumsily forcing them into a 21st Century setting.
One final complaint: we totally get that part of the appeal of Torchwood is and always has been the team’s loud, bumbling nature, but when all the members who are ostensibly either in hiding or engaging in highly illegal activities phone Rex at the CIA, identify each of themselves by name, mention where they’re all staying, and then discuss all their deductions and plans so far.. well. Let’s just say they deserved having pseudo-Nazi burst through the door and take Gwen’s father away. How stupid can this team be? Oh, that’s right. Stupid enough to do all of the above in front of Oswald and then make him a part of the team. We can easily accept the Big, Magic Vagina, but Oswald Danes as a de facto member of Torchwood is just plain ridiculous. Knock him out with whatever heroin derivative they were injecting into Gwen’s father and lock him up in the basement, keeping the key from Rhys. The solution was right in front of them. An empty, ready-made cell and a method for keeping him unconscious for a good while. In fact, we assumed that’s where it was heading.
Having bitched about all that, we just want to say we do love seeing Gwen in Wales. They really should have kept her there for most of the story. It’s fun for a second to see her navigating American culture, but she’s a Welshwoman through and through and she just works better in her own country and culture. They spent too much time in America with this story. Now that the focus has gone global, we’re struck by how much it should have been global all along.
But we’re excited for the finale, to our surprise. This really was a fun episode and they’ve finally given enough backstory that we’re curious about where it’s all heading instead of somewhat bored by the question. Really, this should have been five hours long, like Children of Earth was.
There are five dominant themes and motifs running through Steven Moffat’s tenure: the concepts of perception and memory are two of them (The Silence and The Weeping Angels both embody these concepts, and the crack in time removed several people from Amy’s personal timeline and memory, among many other examples). The third is the recurring motif of a death scene. Every character – The Doctor, Amy, River and of course, Rory – has had several death scenes during this run. Note that River’s story (from our perspective) starts with her depicted death and the Doctor’s story (from our perspective) is due to end with his depicted death. Add the fourth recurring motif, which is the phrase, “Time can be re-written/unwritten,” what do you think the possibility is that the end of the Pond-Williams family saga will result in a rewriting of everyone’s fate and that everything we’ve seen, from River dying in The Library to the Doctor dying at Lake Silencio, is not as it seems? Especially when you consider the fifth recurring motif, which is the use of doppelgangers (Auton Rory, Tesselecta Amy, Ganger Amy, Ganger Baby Melody, Ganger Doctor). Every character has had a death scene AND every character has had at least one doppelganger.
The reason we’re throwing this out there (aside from the fact that we think it’s a pretty good deduction) is because with the revelations of “Let’s Kill Hitler,” there’s simply no way for the Pond-Williams family saga to be considered anything but a rather horrifying tragedy for them all; one that practically requires some sort of heroic intervention on the part of The Doctor simply to rescue the character from looking like an utter villain for letting it happen. Getting dumped on an alternate earth with a windup sex toy, having to walk the earth for a year while your family is in captivity to an omnipotent madman, getting all memories of your best, most life-affirming and defining moments cruelly ripped from you — these are all pretty horrible fates for past companions, as this episode readily pointed out, but having your baby stolen from you forever, that’s a far darker and more psychologically damaging fate for any companion to have to bear, let alone two of them. They’ve painted themselves into a narrative corner but we’re more convinced than ever that it’s all part of the plan.