TV Seven-hundred years? Jack is more than seven-hundred years old in 1927? On his first walk through the twentieth century? Did Moffat know this when scripting The Empty Child? Did Russell T Davies have that in his head when he was writing Jack’s first death in The Parting of the Ways? When he planning the first series of Torchwood and Chris Chibnall when he was executing it in every sense of the word? At what point did he gain these years? Before he first met the Doctor? Between Satellite 5 and 1869? Was this how long it took to find the time bracelet? This is huge! It’s the Torchwood equivalent of discovering the TARDIS has a benevolent streak all of its own. It’s Davies in a few words rewriting the history of his character. Either that or like the Gwen joined Torchwood in 2006 debarkle of six weeks ago, a weird mistake. Or he's joking.
As you might imagine on hearing's Jack confession, Jane Espenson’s Immortal Sins was pretty much derailed for this knotty chronology hound for a good ten minutes in the middle while my braincells worked through the implications, just surfacing in time for the episode to enter a total squee meltdown with mention of the Doctor and his “companion” (Ninth and Rose since this “younger version” last saw them on the aforementioned big orbital broadcasting station) and the Trickster's lot (a Sarah Jane Adventures reference for goodness sake) and the first appearance of an non-Boeshanian alien which must have all come as a surprise to anyone who’d thought the last six episodes of Flash Forward-lite were a representative sample of what this franchise is about. Anyone one else of the opinion this is the only non-humanoid we’ll be seeing this series and it’ll just be a homosapien with some advanced tech also explaining Jack's missing two years while they're at it?
That said, judging by the ratings, this thing’s being sustained by the core audience anyway so they might as well have a Nimon cameo in the next episode since the need for accessibility’s gone out of the window. If the whole thing wasn’t already in the can before transmission you’d almost think the production team had sensed this since, predictable as clockwork, with Rex and Esther sidelined, the introduction of a flashback structure revealing an important bit of history relevant to the main plot and Jack and Gwen shouting about how much they hate each other and want their friend to suffer the agony of a thousand deaths, Immortal Sins is the most Torchwood episode of the series. The mythology is just icing on the Brittanicus Base and a reminder about why that core audience are still coming back.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the episode is that structure. After seeing the trailer, I’d expected a kind of Young Jack Harkness Chronicles with the older mortal relating to Gwen that really important moment in his life which we’d never heard of before. Instead, until the final revelation, apart from a couple of thematic character crossovers between Angelo and Gwen, this was more akin to an episode of Lost with the viewer as an omniscient observer. I mention this because it’s the first time in the series such things look like they’ve been properly thought through, rather than simply throwing a bunch of characters and scenes together and hoping that they'll stuck. This was paced like proper drama with a literally a killer twist that was all the more shocking because we understand that Jack feels every death. Ick.
Similarly, when John Barrowman is given space to breath, be Jack rather than the shadow which has drifted his way through much of the rest of the series, what charisma he has bubbles up. Perhaps it’s true that some of the dialogue reminds us of past glories. Perhaps all the talk of sucking the air out of the room, or whatever Jack says to seduce Angelo, has all the ripe hallmarks of Owen’s more direct approach in Countrycide (“Have you ever cum so hard you can’t remember who you are…” S’not the “Homosapiens!” speech is it?) But there is a conviction to these scenes which we’ve not seen all series, helped in so small way by having Daniele Favilli's passionate performance to play opposite. As for the rest, didn’t that look more graphic than the stuff which was cut out of episode three? Or did the end get nibbled?
But for all the positives (in which we must also include Tom Price's beautifully appointed moment as Andy realising he’s just shot someone for the first time) Immortal Sins still betrays many of Miracle Day’s problems. This iteration’s need for a positive episode resolution means we don’t see Gwen actually hand over Jack to save her family and all of the emotional ramifications of that. As expected, at least five episodes of running around could have been spared if Jack had conveniently remembered the something important he would have done if this story was being told over forty-five minutes (cf, again, Walter Bishop in Fringe). The realisation that if Immortal Sinw is anything to go by, Davies et al would have been much happier working back within an anthology-like format.