Doctor Who #792: Exit Wounds

"The end is where we start from."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.4 2008.

IN THIS ONE... Captain John Hart returns with Jack's brother Gray who has turned bad. Owen and Toshiko don't make it.

REVIEW: To be sure, Exit Wounds has all the hallmarks of a season finale, including the death of two main characters (discussion on which I'll dedicate my last paragraph to). As in the best finales, the situation is desperate, with explosions rocking Cardiff, Weevils hunting in the streets, a nuclear power plant about to blow, and Captain Jack in the clutches of the enemy. While in principle more mundane than the previous season's kaiju demon, this works better. It feels more real, and the multiple threats create urgency and a lot of work for the characters. This won't all be solved with the Rift manipulator this time. Some problems are mere distractions to keep them occupied (including a Hoix, the better monster from Love&Monsters, finally named on screen), others are part of a larger plan to destroy everything Jack cares about, and he cares about a lot of things. It's lovely to see Gwen working with the police again, having gone from lowly constable to de facto officer since her time with Torchwood. And even more lovely for Rhys to see her in action and be proud of her. I'm always up for more PC Andy as well.

What doesn't work so well is Jack's long lost brother Gray as the Big Bad. Lachlan Nieboer just isn't strong enough an actor to make up for the fact that Gray's motivation and abilities are really sketchy. He's got the looks to pass himself off as John Barrowman's kid brother, and his voice is so similar, I kept thinking Barrowman redubbed him in post-production, but no real charisma. Part nihilist, part sad sack, he's just there to make Captain Jack cry and do his "I forgive you" Messiah shtick again (same as last finale). Because he's so one-sided, he becomes irredeemable, especially after he shoots Toshiko, so we don't care what Jack does with him. It certainly doesn't help that he's standing next to John Marsters through most of this. Now there's a man with charisma, and though the sociopathic lost puppy turned by his love for the hero isn't an original addition to his C.V., to say the least, he's always watchable and DOES find redemption. But imagine him as the sole villain of this story, and though it erases a couple of twists, it does seem to work better. His fatal attraction to Jack could have motivated everything in the story much better than Gray's unreasonable fratricidal impulse. Jack could still have had some tech on him allowing Victorian Torchwood to find him and store him in the cryo unit for a century. (Strange to think Jack was asleep in the basement almost the entire time he was a member of Torchwood. How many times has Jack died now? It's probably impossible to count.) So while I like Hart's redemption, I still like him better as the villain of this story, if only because Gray is too lame to have caused the death of two agents.

So yeah, we lose Owen and Toshiko, the two ships missing each other in the night of this series, so to speak, and it's deeply felt. The two of them are allowed to spend their final moments together, yet apart, on coms, saving the city. Owen goes first, not knowing Tosh is dying from a fatal gunshot wound, and the emotional content of the scene runs the gamut. When he realizes he's doomed to decompose slowly in irradiated coolant, he first rages against the darkness he's tasted before and doesn't want to face again. It breaks Toshiko's heart, and she breaks mine in that moment. When the end comes for Owen, he's found a way to accept his fate, and it's that serenity I find most touching and hopeful about his death. The moment itself is ambiguous, with a white light coming over him. Is it the radiation? The coolant? Or is it a fate opposite to the Void that took his soul after his first death? To date, the characters that came back from the afterlife have reported a terrible darkness filled with a demonic presence, but in Random Shoes, Eugene's spirit was lifted into the sky, suggesting a heavenly alternative to Abaddon's Hell. Is Owen a better person than he was before his first death? Well, yes, but it may be more than that. Eugene too came to accept his death, and that acceptance might be part of the world view here. Raging against one's fate is sinful wrath, a negative emotion that draws you into the dark dimension. If I'm trying to make something of this, it's because I want Tosh to have a similar fate. Her protracted death is quite sad, but she hardly has time to say goodbye once the rest of the team shows up. Instead, she's programmed a video message to pop up in the eventuality her file gets sent, to use the visual symbol the show does, into the mists of Torchwood's deep archives. It's very sweet, and her mention of Owen really stings, but the gist of it is that she was prepared for death, accepting of it, and thankful for the things Torchwood had allowed her to experience and the close friends she'd made there. It all gets very weepy there at the end, perhaps unbearably so, but though downbeat, it's not an ending without comfort.

- But for the lame villain, this would be a truly excellent finale. The two shocking and touching character deaths still manage to get me right in the ticker.


snell said...

"Strange to think Jack was asleep in the basement almost the entire time he was a member of Torchwood. How many times has Jack died now?"

Just as interestingly, how many times has Jack lived through WWII England? His visit as a time agent; he lived through it again post-Parting Of The Ways; a visit again in Captain Jack Harkness; and finally (?) a looong vigil in Torchwood's basement. No wonder the TARDIS reacted badly to him...

Siskoid said...

He's a knotted little ball of personal timeline.

Jeremy Patrick said...

Great post. Agree completely on the poor casting for Gray and the well-done death scenes for Tosh and Owen.


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