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2 June 2020

TARDISMonkey's Torchwood Diary - watching Torchwood an episode a week from the start...

2.2: Sleeper

Oh Torchwood, it was a valiant effort but a difficult one to keep up with after a triumphant first episode. “Sleeper” is an episode that tries to combine the elements of Paul Cornell’s Virgin New Adventure “Human Nature” but with more grown up themes of violence, death and alien spies. 


We start the episode with a very happy couple sleeping away in their bed, when a noise disrupts them as burglars break into the house. There’s a lot of close up camera shots to create a sense of distraction and confusion, as murderous screams ring through and dissolve into the Torchwood theme. 


The Torchwood team once again are called in by the police as they try and investigate how the two burglars were murdered, as there were puncture wounds to chest and forehead and one was thrown from the window onto the car below. Not a typical self defence technique. This is a very true typical Torchwood style kind of story, however this is when it all starts getting a bit messy.


Owen and Gwen go to the hospital to interrogate the couple from the flat. This is when the plot moves at a million miles an hour. We’re introduced to Beth who was in the flat and all of a sudden we’re dragged into the Torchwood interrogation room with Jack screaming “We know you’re an alien”. We then take a trip around Torchwood and on to meet Janet the Weevil, who is scared of her. Unfortunately all of this happens in the space of about 5 minutes and it really detracts from the emotional connection we’re supposed to feel towards Beth, as we can’t slow down enough to take in everything she’s feeling. Jack again seems to be really unlikable for no reason. I know we had a lot of this through series 1, but there’s usually a reason that builds up and Gwen confronts him. This time, his attitude is almost down played as Ianto sees the interrogation and Jack as a joke. It’s all very strangely paced and again I found this really distracting to what’s going on. 


The direction of the story is also somewhat distracting, with quick pans and zooms in scenes that don’t appear to require it, such as a conversation between the Torchwood team as they try to work out who she is. Unfortunately this technique happens quite a few times though the story and iit really distracted me from the plot.


The Torchwood team think it’s a good idea to use the mind probe. What!? No, not the mind probe I hear you cry? Well I like what James Moran was trying to do, as most Doctor Who fans will know the mind probe is something you do not mess with; however, other than the shock factor, the whole design of it disappointed me a bit. I liked the archive shots  which were used to show how the mind probe digs through the subconscious and suddenly we find Beth is a sleeper agent.


As they discover this, suddenly all the other sleeper agents activate and go on a murderous rampage around Cardiff. I like what they were trying to do by taking out the military base and use the nuclear war heads to destroy the world to take over, however there’s not enough build up in the episode and too much exposition to take in before we even start to care about the situation.


What makes this episode stand up is the relationship between Beth and Gwen. It challenges the conventions of what it takes to be human, as Beth discovers she’s an alien. Beth explains she is someone who fell in love and wants to start a family and Gwen takes it upon herself to say “What is it that makes us human, anyway?” It’s not about the body, it’s about your mind and how you feel, which was a nice take on her facing this identity crisis.


Once Jack and the team take out the last sleeper agent, Beth knows she can’t go on. She’s seen the devastation the sleeper agents have caused and makes the ultimate sacrifice by getting herself killed, by pretending to attack Gwen before being gunned down. Beth chose to be the person she wanted to be and I think that’s the clear moral message here.

Ellie (TARDISMonkey) 



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