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Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the flawed 'Day One', Torchwood gets back on track with 'Ghost Machine', a largely character-driven episode that manages to be mature in a way that the sex-crazed alien shenanigans of the previous episode blatantly weren't. Helen Raynor's script focuses purely on the interactions of her characters, both regular and supporting, and although we get an obligatory alien artifact in the shape of the quantum transducer, it essentially acts as a catalyst for the plot rather than being the main focus. Which is probably wise, as the technobabble explanation for how it works ("Human emotion is energy") is load of old bollocks. Nevertheless, as a means of driving the plot it fulfills its function, and Raynor puts uses it sparingly. Refreshingly, the script also managed to surprise me: usually in science fiction series, predictions of the future come true, so when the quantum transducer shows Gwen with a bloody knife in her hands, this is exactly what she ends up with, but confounding my expectations Bernie Harris' vision of himself lying dead in the street is averted when Torchwood stops Ed Morgan from killing him.

Having been portrayed largely as a self-centered misogynist in previous episodes, Burn Gorman's Owen here gets some welcome character development, as the transducer shows him the past and he feels the terror that Lizzie Lewis felt when Ed Morgan killed her. As a result, Gorman gets plenty to do here, as Owen becomes obsessed with finding Lizzie's killer in the present, and tracks him down, before putting "the fear of God into him." His confrontation with the aging Morgan in the man's living room is very intense, and Gorman conveys Owen's barely-controlled fury quite convincingly. When he gets the chance to kill Morgan at the end he resists the temptation, but for a minute it isn't clear if he's going to be able too, and this is thrown even further into question given that the audience has already been given a glimpse of the future.

Jack and Gwen also again get meaty roles here. Torchwood provides Russell T. Davies with the opportunity to have sexual tension between the main characters without alienating long-time Doctor Who fans in the way that Rose's lusting after the Doctor might, and here we get the most blatant example of this so far in the weapons-training scene. The scene crackles with sexual tension between Jack and Gwen, and although the fact that they are discharging powerful weapons together automatically robs the sequence of any subtlety, the actually dialogue skirts the issues; the closest we get to an admission of the obvious mutual attraction is when Gwen finds out that Jack lives at the Hub and doesn't sleep, to which she replies, "Doesn't it get lonely at night?" Balancing this out however is the following scene with Gwen returning home and using the quantum transducer to recall happy times with Rhys, just before he unexpectedly arrives home and they settle down together on the sofa, a rather sweet and quite touching moment that does make me hope that the series doesn't go down the obvious route of having Gwen cheat on her boyfriend with Jack.

As for Captain Jack himself, he seems to be slipping further and further into the role that the Doctor fulfills in Torchwood's parent series, as he identifies the alien device as a quantum transducer to the audience and reassures Gwen that what she has seen is only "one of many possible futures.

"The supporting cast in 'Ghost Machine' is generally fine, although rather alarmingly John Normington (familiar to Doctor Who fans as Morgus from 'The Caves of Androzani') is quite dreadful as Tom Erasmus Flanagan, playing him in a manner that is reminiscent of Hugh from, The Armando Iannucci Shows as he delivers in a boring anecdote in an accented monotone that does little to advance the plot. Christopher Elson is memorably sinister as the young Ed Morgan, his high-pitched voice making the scene of Lizzie's murder all the more chilling, but it is Gareth "Blake" Thomas as the older Morgan who virtually steals the show. He's effortlessly convincing in the role of an embittered old man wracked by guilt and paranoia and conveys the wretchedness of the character perfectly, making Morgan by turns hateful, pathetic, and pitiful.

'Ghost Machine' is the first episode not directed by Brian Kelly, with Colin Teague instead handling the episode, and his style works better for me, losing the gratuitous aerial shots of Cardiff and providing some dynamic chase scenes that balance out the slower, dialogue-driven scenes quite nicely, and are completed by incidental music that just about manages to enhance what is happening on screen without distracting from it. Overall, 'Ghost Machine' works very well as an example of what this series can achieve when it isn't being puerile and in doing so hopefully sets a benchmark for future episodes.

FILTER: - Television - Torchwood