To the Last Man.

TV Sometimes high-brow culture channel BBC Four broadcast Spice World: The Movie last week as part of their season investigating pop music. Having not seen the film since it was released (a sentence which sees me admitting to seeing the thing at least twice in this lifetime) I noticed across the gulf of years that the girls' pregnant non-singing best friend is actually played by our very own Naoko Mori.

According to the imdb and wikipedia, it was only her third screen role but prior to that she appeared in Miss Saigon opposite one John Barrowman, which goes to show what a twisty-turny thing life can be. Of course the first time many of us noticed her was during Doctor Who's Aliens in London. She seemed oh so cool then and turning to a certain discussion board her agency portrait was already being circulated and some of us really wanted to know more about this two scene character, sanguine in the face of a porcine alien threat.

Of course that meant that when it was announced the character of Toshiko would be transferring to Torchwood it was one of the reasons to be excited. She looked oh so cool in those early publicity photos, chique-geek behind her bifocals. Alas, as with so many things wrong with that first series it totally failed to take advantage of the actress or the character largely relegating her to the background save to be insulted by Owen, left her out of the story altogether or most unforgivably having her play second fiddle to the guest star (but what a guest star) in, Greeks Bearing Gifts, the one episode which was supposed to focus upon her. They didn’t know what to do with her and only a few late series heroics allowed her to make any kind of a mark, to suggest she was fated to be anything more than a victim and vulnerable, writing messages in blood and whatnot.

New series, new focus episode and finally they’ve got it right. Whilst the main story in To the Last Man, (superficially similar to Doctor Who’s The Girl In The Fireplace and a few episodes from last year) principally took the usual approach to temporal anomalies that we expect from the series – not so much timey-wimey as utterly bollocksy - writer Helen Raynor was clearly more interested in the character beats and on that basis the episode really delivered, offering a very sweet, usefully problematic take on the impossible love affair, with Tosh finally being given the chance to save the world.

From the opening post-titles burst of energy in which Tosh made herself loverly onwards she seemed like a far more rounded character, not simply a one note stuttering nerd. Slow-way time traveler Tommy Brockless was basically just an ordinary lad, not more or less special that the many tens of thousands of young soldiers who died in those trenches. Beautifully played by Anthony Lewis, there was a perceptiveness though, an understanding of time passing. Despite the personally tragedy of outliving his parents he was clearly enjoying the chance of seeing years passing on a daily basis.

As with sleeper alien Beth’s plight last week, your appreciation of this episode probably depended upon the extent to which you bought this stuttering relationship. Some have already said that they thought the two lack chemistry but actually it’s probably that all too well they captured the desperation of the coupling, the strange inevitability of two people who understand each other but can never be together, nervously skipping a few bases because they simply don’t have time for them.

There’s undoubtedly some similarity with how the Doctor greeted a century of festive seasons in Paul Cornell’s short story The Hopes and Fears of All the Years, but each of Tommy’s new days were like Christmas even though he’d simply been seeing the price of beer shoot up within days and become one of the few people alive able to explain to Richard Griffiths that the films don’t ‘just keep getting better and better’ (how annoying is that advert for the showbiz slot on News 24?). As he spun about in Cardiff Bay he wanted to experience everything, and by the end of the episode he probably had.

Except, and this is were the real thematic weight of the episode descended, he was also able to see that men just like war even though history keeps reminding them that it doesn’t work in the long run. It’s a message which has been repeated time and again across the franchise and although Human Nature/The Family of Blood still has the edge in terms of sheer poignancy, isn’t it just refreshing to see Torchwood looking at these ideas and actually spending time over them rather than simply giving them lip service between some shouting and snogging?

After all, what we were seeing here was Tommy being given the opportunity to get his rocks off before returning to the front and certain death. Captain Jack Harkness covered similar territory last year, but then it was largely wrapped up in our Jack’s past life and the events which would lead up to him taking his identity, here the treatment was raw and Reithian with the material about shell shock underling how even the apparent ‘good guys’ did some very bad things when provoked.

You could potentially argue that some of this was undermined by the fact that through another odd bit of business that didn’t quite make sense (it’s a drug which taking advantage of anomalies allows someone to travel back in time and into a particular human’s mind or some other jibberish) future Tommy forgot his future history lesson after stepping back in time, but that meant that for once Tosh could finally shine, convincing her lover to do the right thing, despite the very real cost which had been laid out to her.

Elsewhere, there were certainly chills as the Torchwood crew investigated the hospital their impression becoming ghosts of the past and vice versa, perfectly pitched by director Andy Goddard (clearly relishing a decent script after Countrycide and Combat) with composer Ben Foster in full Bernard Hermann mode. The rehabilitation of the main cast continued apace with Owen showing (shudder) empathy and happy Ianto clearly having dealt with loss of his girlfriend by snogging his boss, despite the fact that Torchwood, as this episode illustrated again, is the one place were Hub-based romances never end well.

There were hopefully intentional laughs too, Gerald and Harriet of Torchwood yesterday clearly demanding a spin-off scripted by Mark Gattis, the kind of Georgian X-Files facing the fantastic with a stiff upper lip, steampunk technology in hand. The other highlight was the trailer for next week, Meat already looking like a classic bit of black comedy with only the potentially poor treatment of Rhys discovering the details of his wife’s day job to by the kybosh on things.

On the basis of this early run of episode though, that doesn’t look likely. Whilst the approach the series takes to time travel and some fantasy leaves a lot to be desired, it seems far more capable of looking at the real strength of an idea and making the most of it dramatically and in the case of Tosh finally allowing a character to fulfill their potential. I said some very nasty things about the series last year so it seems only fair to be redressing the balance here. Torchwood has turned into the kind of series that's a pleasure to watch rather than because you feel the need to since you’re incessantly reviewing it on a website.

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