Doctor Who #747: Random Shoes

"The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second. Pain travels through the body at 350 feet per second. Even a sneeze can reach 100 mph. And as for life, well, that just bloody whizzes by."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.10 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Gwen tracks a man's last days with the help of his ghost.

REVIEW: Between the narration by a sweet outsider and the use of pop tunes and imaginary sequences, this is very much Torchwood's answer to Love & Monsters, except it doesn't end with a fart monster. Instead, Random Shoes features an interesting mystery and a touching ghost tale that's also a kind of offbeat love story. Our protagonist is Eugene Jones, or at least, his ghost, the theme of whose life is the inability to make contact with others. His father left when he was a kid and even when he tracked him down, he was unable to go and meet him. The alien eye a teacher gave him never brought the alien to his doorstep, nor was he ever able to get Torchwood's attention, despite being a bit of a groupie (in actuality, he's one of those "scavengers" Mary was talking about two episodes ago, albeit a low-level one). Ironically, it's once he's dead that someone takes an interest, compassionate and empathic Gwen Cooper, who senses him on some level and wishes to unravel the mystery of his last two weeks. Compounding that irony is the fact that even then, he fails to elicit any interest from the rest of Torchwood, and Owen forgoes the autopsy that would have revealed the Dogon Sixth Eye (my ears perked up, as I'd read a lot about the Dogons, an African tribe reputed to have been influenced by aliens) in his stomach. Once contact has been made, with Gwen and with his father, his ghost is free to pass over.

Gwen was perhaps the only member of Torchwood suited to "hearing" Eugene, not just because she's the heart of the team, but because she's the most rooted in the real world Eugene inhabited and wanted to escape. It's a world of telemarketers and office romances, with diners and the jerkiest video store employee this side of Randall in Clerks, of disappointing mathletes and tea going cold. This is what a Gwen Cooper cop show might have been like, and the mystery is well constructed, with plenty of clues to follow, witnesses to interview, and twists to reveal. The only real difference between this and a normal cop show (until the end anyway) is that Gwen's leaps of logic are caused by Eugene whispering in her ear. It's this interaction that makes the episode so endearing however. Gwen acting on impulses and never questioning them. Eugene waking up next to the woman he's loved from afar and blowing in her hair. Guiding her to the people in his life, in effect guiding himself there so he can "look back" with (and you'll pardon the turn of phrase) a detached eye. The way he looks at his estranged father singing "Danny Boy" at his funeral is effectively rescued from the cliché by the father's awkwardness and Eugene looking at him with open curiosity. These are answers to his questions. Who was my father? Will I be missed? Did I matter?

Eugene's story pieced together and told, there's nothing else for the ghost to do. Or is there? In a moment of fantastical transcendence, Eugene is finally admitted into the Torchwood world, and becomes solid and visible enough to save Gwen from the fate he himself met. He saves her from being run over, is seen, gets a kiss, and is even glimpsed by his family. How these things are possible is all down to the nebulous properties of the Eye. It hardly matters. It needs to happen for his story to conclude, and for his soul to be released into the universe. Somehow, it reverses what we learned in They Keep Killing Suzie while making the same point. Eugene's soul ascends into a bright light and then into space (you can decide whether the Whoniverse has a Heaven or an Eye's users are somehow taken to some planet), it is not sent howling into the Void. And yet, Eugene tells us the same thing Suzie did. Life is there to be lived, every moment is precious, and it can so easily pass you by. Both characters had their lives cut short, and both had a chance to come back and take stock of their too-brief time on Earth. Eugene's conclusions were hopeful and positive however, making this a veritable ray of sunshine in the middle of the otherwise bleak first series.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A sweet story with a fun mystery at the heart of it. Gwen shines as a character and you hardly miss the others.


snell said...

"He saves her from being run over, is seen, gets a kiss, and is even glimpsed by his family."

Was it just me, or did that feel a bit like it was referencing Father's Day?

Siskoid said...

Mmm, maybe. I think we get that vibe anytime "ordinariness" is celebrated in the Whoniverse.


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