Doctor Who #749: Combat

"It's like looking into the darkest recesses of your own soul."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.24 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Fight Club with Weevils. Gwen tells Rhys she was unfaithful.

REVIEW: Written by Noel "Mickey Smith" Clarke, Combat deal with a lot of fallout from the series' subplots to date. Its main focus is Owen dealing (not very well) with Diane's departure in the previous episode. He's slacking off work (not that he had a good work ethic to begin with), drinking, getting into fights, and generally being a tit. His rage is mirrored in the episode's A-plot, which is all about Weevils being used in an underground fight club. Though that's the weakest element of the story, mostly because of a douchy Tyler Durden wannabe called Mark, who spouts a lot of "deep thoughts" derived from Chuck Palahniuk's novel (or more likely, David Fincher's movie adaptation; same difference), but corrupts its middle-class Baby Bust generation expression of malaise for a profit, gearing it instead to business men who can get into the cage with a monster at 1000$ a pop. Mark doesn't get it, but I think Clarke does, because Owen schools this sucker in death wish behavior, exorcising his pain by placing himself in danger. Mark follows suit, but gets killed. When Owen tries again, his snarl makes the Weevils back away (I expect his studies have led him to understand how their empathic communication works, but "King of Weevils" is a conversation for another day). Though Mark and Owen have their similarities - including an equally Spartan apartment - only one of them is the master of his pain and rage. Mark is only a petty, cruel child who likes to hit things, next to the long-suffering Owen who routinely turns his pain into both armor and weapon. Burn Gorman is quite good in this.

So is Eve Myles, for that matter, whose Gwen Cooper is also affected by Diane Holmes' role in Owen's life. Now cut off from her lover even as her real relationship starts to fall apart, she finally decides to break it off with the former. "Decides" may be too generous a word. But she makes a huge mess of things with Rhys, combining a brutal confession with retcon, so her sins can be both forgiven AND forgotten. She gets no satisfaction and the camera dares stay on her for an extended time as she deals with her loneliness and guilt. A beautiful moment that also proves to be deft plotting because it's her sad return to the only thing she has left, the job, that puts the team on the right track. While I wasn't on board with the Gwen-Owen affair, I do think these moments make the whole ordeal worthwhile. And hey, good on Rhys for showing some backbone and not becoming a one-note "grateful" boyfriend to the end. No, he's not very nice in this one, but he's human, and has been pushed to his limits. I've got his back all the way.

The other characters aren't badly served by the script either. Jack's memories of WWII inform his feelings, and serve as foreshadowing for the next episode. The fact that he calls their captive Weevil Janet is a cute joke and reminds us that he doesn't subscribe to the same gender stereotypes we do. Tosh seems more confident and proud of herself than ever, and has a fun moment doing the Mission Impossible stuff with the undercover Owen's website, and goes Weevil-hunting too. All of that works quite well. Ianto is relegated to background, but still a useful member of the team. No, really, it's only when we get to the fight club and things start feeling a little too derivative that Combat gets in trouble. That's right at the end, so it's not much of a flaw.

THEORIES: For no apparent reason, Mark mentions the series' meme about something in the dark, coming. Suzie was really the first to mention it - and that it was coming for Jack - but the idea of there being nothing and yet some kind of consciousness after death, has been in the series since the pilot. People returned from the dead know of this "something" moving in "nothing", but how does Mark? Does he worship at Abaddon's feet? Is his fight club a kind of death cult? Are the Weevils somehow connected to the "devil in the dark", through their empathic field perhaps? And if so, have the killings committed by Weevils in Mark's presence somehow given him access to this information? Might we go further and say that a lot of the evil committed in and around Cardiff, including the cannibalism in Countrycide and many murders and sex crimes and of course all the underground violence in Combat, were at least in part motivated by Abaddon's whispering from across the Rift? Because I doubt it's a fair representation of Cardiff or Wales in general.

- A dark episode for a Christmas Eve broadcast (Out of Time was actually the "Christmas episode"), but a rather good one. The A-plot is a bit unoriginal, but it's all about the characters and realistic consequences to their actions over the past series. For the usually wasted Weevils, this is (sadly) as good as it gets.


Madeley said...

"...I doubt it's a fair representation of Cardiff or Wales in general"

You should see the place on Saturday night JUST KIDDING.

In the past few reviews of episodes I haven't seen, you're actually selling me on pre-Children of Earth Torchwood. I didn't see that coming.

Siskoid said...

I can see why the first half of the season would be a turn off that taints the rest, but once they stop with the juvenalia, there are some quite excellent episodes in the first two series.


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