Doctor Who #743: Small Worlds

"Come away, O human child."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.12 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Torchwood comes across fairies that steal away children.

REVIEW: This is pretty much what Peter J. Hammond always writes about, a variation of the same premise to be found in the first series of Sapphire & Steel, and the later Torchwood episode Out of the Rain. In each, something timeless and tinged with nostalgia intrudes upon our world and so weird things and ultimately kidnap someone from our sphere. It's no surprise that his stories are the most overtly supernatural of the series, indeed, of the entire Whoniverse canon. Still, the clues we're given do justify the monstrous fairies' existence. They are ancient beings from the dawn of time untethered to a fixed point in time, so just like the Carrionites, they appear to do magical things, and could be linked to the various Elder Gods Who shares with Lovecraft. Jack compares them to the Mara, a reference that makes me joyously giddy. The Fairies might Earth's version, a "part of us" that can escape our subconscious, our child-self, the fairy tales we tell our kids. The story has its starting point in real world fairy lore, and specifically uses the Cottingley Fairies (a famous hoax) to timey-wimey effect.

Torchwood is still trying a bit hard to be "adult", so that two episodes after we've had a rape, we get another sex offender, a pedophile. And frankly, it makes this episode rather humorless. In both cases, the mere notion that these things exist in the Whoniverse is subversive enough, and we're not assaulted with anything graphic, thank God. The way the Fairies kill, choking their victims with rose petals, is a powerful and memorable visual, and director Alice Troughton (no relation) does a good job of evoking an enchanted forest with her choice of woodland, angles and filters. The CG monsters are effective enough, and their jamming their arms into people mouths violent enough, but a nowhere near as effective as the more subtle effects used when we're NOT allowed to see them. The little girl is suitably creepy too, so either the Chosen Ones are chosen because they're sociopaths, or the Fairies make them that way by whispering in their ears for however long it takes for them to be ready. Shades of Fear Her, but done right.

And it's a Jack-centric episode, with Gwen as his sole confidante. The rest have very basic roles in the drama, the coroner stuff actually divided between Tosh and Owen, which I suppose shows she knew what she was doing in Aliens of London well enough. But you can tell it's really because the magic plot had nothing for the techie to do. I'm glad for every short bit we get with Rhys, though it almost feels a waste that he doesn't get to meet Jack when the good Captain goes over to Gwen's apartment. So we'll have to wait a while yet for the team to get fleshed out. I'm a bit impatient. Still, some good Jack material here, showing him operating in 1909, having a lover in the 40s who currently thinks he's her boyfriend's son, seeing that person die, and so on. It's Jack who has nightmares about his first meeting with the Fairies, and we start to understand how he might have lost some of his joie de vivre in between The Parting of the Ways and today. In fact, a few years on, the scene where he has to let Jasmine go with the monsters in exchange for preventing the apocalypse is much more resonant after Children of Earth, or for that matter, the revelation that Jack lost his little brother. It seems there's a running theme in his life of letting children go into the dark beyond. Barrowman's delivery is often strange and mannered, especially in Series 1, but I think he acquits himself rather well in this rather emotional episode. He does well by doing less, and his stunned expression after Estelle dies is just perfect, as is his visible anguish at losing Jasmine.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's good, but we're missing Torchwood's trademark humor, and I'm growing more and more impatient waiting for Tosh and Owen to actually DO something substantial.


Craig Oxbrow said...

We actually quite liked this one, partially for the atmosphere but also because it kept the adolescence to a minimum, but yeah, it's a bit overly bleak for the Whoniverse.


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