Torchwood 1.09 – Random Shoes

“I can’t help but notice that this is not my bed.”

Sorry for the lack of an episode last week! We’re jumping right back in, though. Random Shoes! This is one of those “Love & Monsters”/”Blink” episodes of the Doctor Who universe where we bench the main team for most of the episode and let some random person take the reins. This time, it’s Eugene Jones (Paul Chequer), an adorable, hapless geek whose voice over we should get comfortable with for the next fifty minutes.

As the episode begins, Eugene is understandably surprised to wake up and find himself lying flat on his back in the middle of a country road, but climbs to his feet and wanders a little further down, where police have blocked off a scene of crime. In very edgy medias res, Eugene happily (if perplexedly) greets Team Torchwood as they mill around what appears to be a hit-and-run. He knows them all by name. They all ignore him. He can’t help but notice that the body they’re standing around looks a lot like him. Tosh says, “He couldn’t even cross a road without messing it up.” No one disagrees. Torchwood is a cold bitch. Gwen wonders what he was doing here – “Perhaps he was hit deliberately? Maybe he really did have something important?” He was apparently always trying to show them stuff. Eugene, staring at his own dead, bloody face, asks, “Am I dead?” No, Eugene. Of course not. He tries to reach out and touch Tosh, but his hand goes through her shoulder. So he just keeps asking whether or not he’s dead. Because it worked so well the first time.

In the grass near Eugene’s body, a cell phone starts to ring, and Tosh answers it, but when it’s Eugene’s mother, she immediately shoves it at Gwen, her facial expression saying, Oh God, my robotic scientist heart is not prepared for this type of situation. Gwen, you’re the human one, right? Eugene, panicking a little, wonders if he’s a ghost, or a zombie, and goes with the team as they pile into the SUV. “Stick with the team. This is Torchwood. It’s gonna be okay.” Oh, Eugene. You are climbing aboard the H.M.S. Failboat. Beside him, Gwen goes through his phone, but only finds pictures of random shoes. Eugene thinks, looking fondly at Gwen, “You know what – whatever’s happened, all of a sudden, I’m somewhere I’ve always wanted to be.” Aww, etc.

Then VO Eugene takes us back to the beginning: when he was a kid in school, he choked during a math competition and his team lost. To try and cheer him up when the other kids were being weirdly mean about this nerdy competition, a teacher showed him this glass eye that fell out of the sky while he was golfing, then lets Eugene keep it. His dad was at the competition, and was mad at him for losing, and proceeded to fight a lot with his mom when they got home – but Eugene didn’t care, because suddenly he had this eye, and he was absolutely certain that it belonged to an alien. And his dad left them that night, but it didn’t matter, because he had an alien eye, and therefore the possibility of an alien encounter when the alien came back to get it. And thus began a lifelong obsession with aliens as a coping mechanism for being abandoned. So he waited for the alien to come. And, while waiting, he discovered Torchwood, and in doing so, discovered “you,” Gwen Cooper. It was love at first, “Hi! Sorry, I’ve got to go!” Eugene kept ambushing them at crime scenes/crash sites, trying to get them to look at the alien eye, but mostly trying to connect with Gwen somehow. Nothing worked.

Now, back to the present: Gwen sits in Eugene’s mom’s kitchen, telling her that yes, her son is definitely dead. Eugene goes to his room, where Owen and Ianto are snooping through his stuff, while Gwen moves on to Eugene’s brother Terry, asking if he understands what’s happened to his brother. “Yep. He walked into a road and got run over.” Terry doesn’t seem too broken up about it; that program about elephants on TV is way too interesting.

Prediction: this kid will become a psychopathic zoologist.

They take all of Eugene’s stuff back to base, and Eugene gets his first encounter with the majestic subway of wonders that is the Hub. He goes into paroxysms of nerdery. Gwen’s getting serious about figuring out what happened to Eugene, and Owen points out that she’s only doing it because Eugene had a crush on her and she feels bad. He tells her that she can do the autopsy, if she cares so much (and immediately turns in his medical license for letting an untrained beat cop do an autopsy), and before she even makes an incision, Ghost Eugene, who was watching, faints. While he’s out, Ianto pops up to tell them that they found the hit-and-run driver, and it was just a drunk driving accident, nothing untoward.

To a sad song about dying, Eugene wanders around the Hub and goes home to creepily watch through a window as his mom cries. Back at the Hub, Gwen can’t let go of the case, even though they know that there’s no alien involvement. She asks whether the others think Eugene committed suicide; she says that she just feels like something is off, but it seems like she just feels bad for ignoring him whenever he tried to talk to her.

So, of course, she takes it into her own hands. She takes his phone and goes to return a DVD he had rented (which Owen was watching at his workstation). She stops by a lunch café to ask when the video store opens, and Eugene turns up, surprised and delighted to see her there, where he had lunch every day. (Except, when she asks the guy who works there whether he knows Eugene Jones, the guy has no idea, so, you know – not the best feeling ever.) He talks to Gwen like she can hear him, watching her go through the random shoes on his phone and telling her that he can’t remember anything that happened a few weeks before he died, except – “Phone Gary, he might know something. Phone Gary.” As though she subconsciously heard him, Gwen phones Gary, but gets his voicemail. She goes over to the video store when it’s open. The guy behind the counter is a creep, but he remembers Eugene. Bit of a dreamer, sweet guy, used to come in with a mate. Continuing being a creep, he asks whether Eugene killed himself. “See, no disrespect, but Eugene had loser written through him like ‘Brighton’ on a stick of Rock. Maybe he couldn’t live with his failure.”

Eugene takes offense to that, in voice over. “Failure? Is that right? Has my whole life been a failure? I mean, maybe I never lived up to my early promise as a maths genius, but that’s because I was waiting – for the alien to collect his eye and change my life!” As he talks, he and Gwen arrive in a becubicled office. “And while I was waiting, I joined Passmore Telesales.” Telemarketer. Poor guy. Gwen uses the picture of shoes on his phone to find Gary, who is obviously upset about Eugene’s death, agitated and annoyed that no one else really cares. Except – one woman stops Gwen as she’s walking after Gary, to ask whether it’s true that Eugene was hit by a car. When Gwen says it is, she starts to cry. Her name is Linda; she’s a kitchenware seller. She says that Eugene wasn’t a great salesman because he always stayed himself; she thinks the only reason he wasn’t fired was that their boss (whom she is dating) was too kind. She and Gwen plan to meet later. She tells Gwen where Gary sits, and Gwen goes to snoop around, finding a flyer for an exhibit on “Black Holes And The Uncertainty Principle” that matches one from Eugene’s room. Owen calls and asks where she is, and Gwen tells him that she “has some things to sort out” and she’ll be back later.

I feel like this was supposed to be a red herring, but is the most poorly executed one in the history of misdirection.

She meets Linda for lunch and Linda tells her the story of how Eugene offered to give her the money to go to Australia, which was a dream of hers. He told her not to waste her life waiting for something that might never happen. Poor Eugene. He planned to sell his alien artifact, the eye, and brought it into work to show her; no one believed that it was an alien eye. He went ahead and put it up on eBay anyway; it sat there for a while, but then all of the sudden, it started getting a ton of bids, until it reached £3,000. And then it jumped to £15,005.50. She has no idea who bought it. Gwen gets a call from Eugene’s mom, who says that she needs to see something, so Gwen goes.

Eugene’s mom shows her the video of Eugene choking at the math competition, and tells her the story about the “plastic eye” he got as a consolation prize. Eugene’s terrible little brother comes in and drops a few truth bombs: Eugene blamed himself for his dad leaving; despite the fact that their mom had been telling them that their dad had left to work for a corporation in America, Terry knows that he actually just works at a gas station in town, because Eugene found out and told him. So Eugene remembers why he decided to sell the eye: he found his dad, and realized that everything he’s believed since he was a kid was a lie. His dad didn’t leave because he failed at a math competition, and he didn’t go to America, and the eye was probably just a dumb toy. So why not sell it, and give the money to someone who deserved it? As the voiceover explains this, Gwen drives to Eugene’s dad’s gas station and watches him from her car for a moment. When she goes to get out, Eugene tells her not to. And, again, as though she can hear him, she stops. He tells her that he doesn’t want anything to do with him, and that he’s sorry. Gwen says, “It’s okay,” and drives on. So that’s weird.
Back at the Hub, Gwen’s taking more of Eugene’s stuff when Jack sneaks up on her to confront her about turning her phone off. She admits that she’s been working on Eugene’s case; she says that he “just needs a bit of help,” and Jack points out that he’s dead, so there isn’t much she can do. Meanwhile, Eugene is fluttering around nervously, talking to her, telling her to tell Jack about the £15k. She does tell him about the eye and the money, and it jogs something in Jack’s memory. “Like a Dogon Sixth Eye?” There’s a market in them; they let you see your past. “Kinda puts things into perspective. It’s useful, fun, slightly terrifying – that’s why they were in demand.” He gives her the weekend to get the eye. Delighted, Gwen decides to go to Aberystwyth, where the lecture on Black Holes and the Uncertainty Principle is happening, where she knows Gary will be. And Eugene is happy, too, in voice-over, as he rides along with her: “If I’m gonna spend a night by the sea, I know who I’d rather be with. I’d trust you with my life. Well, if I still had one.”

Of course, when they get there and Gwen finds Gary, Gary runs. But she just waits, and he comes back and says, “I’m not proud of what I’ve done.” He tells her about how, in the beginning, he made a few online aliases to bid on the eye, to cheer Eugene up. But then someone bid the £15 (and then, £15,005.50) and Eugene got an email telling him to meet the bidder at a restaurant. Gary says that Eugene met up with him before he went to meet the alien because he was nervous; Gwen asks why Eugene would take pictures of his and other peoples’ shoes, but Gary says he doesn’t know. But he misses him.

At Gwen’s hotel room, Eugene’s working through what else he remembers while Gwen plays with his stuff, which she brought with her. He remembers calling a cab and walking up to a big, shiny building that had something to do with “happiness.” Gwen finds a piece of paper with a big Pacman-smile logo on it. Eugene realizes he doesn’t want her to figure it out, because he doesn’t want this to end. He says, “I love you,” and Gwen seems to hear it. There’s a creepy Patrick-Swayze-in-Ghost moment.

Where is a pottery wheel when you need one?

The next morning, Gwen wakes up early with Eugene doing his ghostly non-sleeping next to her, and they head out find the restaurant where Eugene met his highest bidder, which was called the “Happy Cook.” As Gwen walks in, she finds one pair of shoes from Eugene’s phone on a waitress, and Eugene starts to remember more about what happened.

When he walked in to meet his alien, he instead found his friends, Gary and the guy from the video store. (Who, it turns out, was lying about not knowing Eugene well.) Turns out, they were the ones who bought it. Someone really bid the £15k, but Video Clerk got greedy and bid £5.50 more, and no other bids came in. Video Clerk’s nefarious scheme was to resell it for the original £15k. (Eugene, for some reason, took pictures of their shoes.) Eugene was pissed, because his alien was going to buy it – but Video Clerk explained that the bidder was a guy who collected alien ephemera and Nazi memorabilia (and Beanie Babies); “teeny bit cuckoo, but endearingly rich.” Video Clerk tried to grab the eye away from Eugene, and they fought for it on the floor. Eugene got it away and, rather than let them have it for £34 and a banana milkshake, he swallowed the eye. Video Clerk tried to Heimlich it out of him, making Gary forcefeed him the milkshake, but Eugene broke away and ran out of the restaurant.

The waitress has just finished explaining all of this to Gwen when, low and behold, Gary and Video Clerk walk in. Gwen keeps a low profile while they tell the waitress that people might come in to ask questions about what happened, and that it would be in her best interest if she were to keep quiet – until Gary sees Gwen. Whoops. Video Clerk runs, but Gary grabs him and throws him on the ground to stop him. When Video Clerk asks why he did that, Gary says, “I miss him!” Gary and Video Clerk explain the rest of what happened. They chased Eugene across the parking lot, but he got away from them. So that’s that.

“Did someone call for a giant douche and a sentient raincoat?”

Gwen, armed with the rest of the story, finally calls Eugene’s dad to tell him that his son is dead, while Eugene remembers more about running across a field, feeling good, feeling alive, right up until a car slammed into him. “By rights, I should be well pissed off. My mates had cheated on me, and I didn’t get to meet any aliens. But I realized that when I swallowed the eye at the Happy Cook, I was given the chance to look back on my lie and see it for what it really was.” While he talks about this in voiceover, he wanders around his funeral. Not the best turnout, but Gary’s there, and Gwen, and his dad. “Only fourteen years late. So now I know it wasn’t my fault that my dad left. And of course he wasn’t superman, or even an alien. He was just an ordinary bloke.” When Eugene’s mom can’t get through her speech, his dad helps her to her seat and gives his own, about how he wasn’t there, but he wishes he could have seen Eugene before he died. He sings “Danny Boy.” It’s all extremely touching. After the funeral, Gwen gets the undertaker to give her the Dogon Eye from Eugene’s stomach. Eugene says that he thinks he’ll have to go soon.

But even as she goes to the gathering after the funeral, Eugene is still there. “So if it’s the eye that’s been keeping me here, and now it’s no longer inside me, why the hell am I still hanging around?” Gwen asks aloud if Eugene is still there, and Torchwood turns up. Jack asks if she got the eye, and she shows them. Tosh says that they have to go, but Gwen asks for five minutes, and watches as Eugene’s dad reunites with Eugene’s mom and little brother. And then she’s almost hit by a car. Eugene sees it, and runs at her, shouting her name, and shoves her to the ground – suddenly corporeal! The whole funeral party stares in shock, but Gwen’s so happy to see him, despite the fact that he’s on top of her. Eugene thanks her, and she thanks him for saving her life, then kisses him. He gives her the Dogon Eye which she dropped and says that he thinks that’s it now. He floats away or disappears or whatever, while everyone watches.

I’m sure Ianto will have fun retconning that out of everyone who was at the funeral.

Next time, on Torchwood: to people from the 1950’s, automatic doors are magic.

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