Another of my occasional looks back at Torchwood series 1 takes me to Ghost Machine. My memory of the original transmission is I liked this story and found it better focused on story than the previous Day One. Now I rewatch it I think it’s absolutely tremendous. I’l try to capture why I think that below.
Writer Helen Raynor worked on both Doctor Who and Torchwood and for my money this is one her best for either. It’s moody, dark and tells a story dripping with emotion. There’s no showy effects and we’ve moved on from Gwen the new girl.
Part of this comes from focus. While Gwen has been our narrative vehicle for much of the first two episodes, she isn’t the whole of Ghost Machine. The centre of this story is Owen and Burn Gorman turns in a strong performance.
Yes Gwen has a lot of screen time, and has a powerful journey to go on, and yes we get good backstory with Rhys, sexual tension with Jack on the firing range as well as raw emotion as she deals with visions of the past, the future and the reality of death. And yes we see a good mix of girlie Gwen, fresh from the police as well as glimpses of dark Gwen who would be so prominent in later series. And yes Eve Myles is very good, John Barrow makes a convincing leader of the team who is not quite as the are. And yet for me Owen is the centre.
The plot concerns alien tech giving true visions of scenes from the past with powerful emotion. He witnesses the brutal bullying and murder of a young girl decades earlier and is compelled to seek out the killed. Spoiler — enter Gareth Thomas the vile Ed Morgan.
It’s Owen who has the face to face confrontation and Owen who really does want to commit murder; yet it’s Owen the Doctor who still is called on to try to save a life at the end.
I’m pleased I took the chance to rewatch this story, and I’m keen to get on the rest of series 1.