Doctor Who #784: Adam

"Our memories define us. Adam changed those memories, he changed who we are. Now I have to help you all go back. Find a memory that defines you, rediscover who you are. If I'm wrong, he'll still be here when we've done this."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.13 2008.

IN THIS ONE... An alien that infiltrates and changes your memories fanfics Torchwood in his image.

REVIEW: I love the frisson I get from this episode, because to me, we really are the sum of our memories, and any force that changes them (yes, even the passage of time) is a disturbing violation. (With that word, the TNG episode Violations just came flooding back, because it has the same premise, though it failed where Torchwood succeeded.) Adam is a living, false memory that has inserted himself into the lives of the Torchwood team, and whether for fun or as a side-effect, has changed their personalities. Most notably, Tosh and Owen have changed roles - her the sexually confident one, him the shy homebody suffering unrequited love. All trust Adam implicitly, though he's really only been around 24 hours, and he's still tweaking their memories in front of our very eyes. Ianto is turned into a tortured psychotic killer of women. Tosh into a pliable and obsessed love partner. And the process has unforeseen effects - Gwen forgets Rhys, causing an anomaly that eventually makes Adam's story unravel, and Jack has hallucinations drawn from repressed memories of his childhood and his lost brother Gray (there's that name again). And we're affected to, or didn't you notice the clever inserts of Adam into the opening sequence?

Seeing the cast twisted like this fills this viewer with dread and apprehension. It's psychological horror that works for me. However, the episode also manages to explore the characters' pasts. These aren't alternate-universe versions of Torchwood, they're the real deal with only SOME things changed. The biggest revelation, of course, is that Jack lost his little brother during an alien raid when he was a kid, which sets up the season finale and tells us a little something about what Jack is running from, and why he might have joined the Time Agency. This might have been a good time to address the memories the Agency took from him, though we could easily imagine these moments from his childhood were part of what was lost, only now coming back thanks to Adam's prodding. Less tragic is how Gwen and Rhys met and fell in love, sweet and amusing. It's lovely to see Gwen fall for the big lug all over again, and experience first-time sex with a partner who knows all the right buttons to push. From what we see, Toshiko is driven by a mixture of brainy self-love and crushing loneliness (I know it well), while Owen's difficult relationship with women may stem from his mommy issues (see Versions). Ianto gets the short straw, mostly thinking of Lisa, nothing new there, and we even hate his cyber-girlfriend a little bit.

The set-up is brilliant, harrowing stuff, but the resolution is... bizarre. I do like the idea that Adam can only be defeated if he is forgotten, and using retcon to do this is a great use of the tools on hand (as opposed to inventing some convenient new alien tech). Adam's last ditch attempt to stay alive is equally great, trying to infiltrate a cherished lost memory, forcing Jack to sacrifice the memory if he wants to destroy the monster. Because of course everything needs to be reset and undone, but it doesn't feel cheap because a price is paid. And I like the lyrical (and ambiguous?) epilogue with Adam's puzzle box opening and revealing simple sand, at once evoking Adam's remains, Jack's beach front memory, and the idea of memories slipping away with time (sand in an hourglass). What's bizarre is the retcon-taking scene. It's like something out of a cult's suicide pact, with Jack acting as cult leader, imprinting himself as some kind of loving Messiah in each his teammates' lives. Some of the memories and feelings they share are out of left field, especially Owen's (though they make sense), and Gwen admitting she "loves" Jack in some other way (she implies a LESSER way) than she does Rhys. I wish they'd stop beating that dead horse, it really doesn't fit with anything we've actually seen in the series. But I'll forgive this strange scene, given everything else in this episode.

VERSIONS:
The DVD includes three deleted scenes from this episode. A long bit where Owen is embarrassed at the mention of sex. Gwen spooning with Rhys. And a phone call between Owen and his overbearing mother, making sense of his latching on to that memory.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- A creepy psycho-thriller, ironically quite memorable.

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