Torchwood 1.03 – Ghost Machine

CCTV: helping police to capture dark blobs since whenever they installed it.

We open on a chase! Gwen and Owen are running through Cardiff, chasing a fleeing suspect through the streets and into a shopping center. Tosh is in the Hub, tracking the rift energy coming off of the suspect and directing Gwen, Owen, and Jack, who is in the SUV. Just as Tosh gets a good visual on the suspect – young, male, wearing a hoodie – Jack arrives and jumps out of the SUV to join the hunt. In the shopping center, someone is bringing the gate down on the exit, and the suspect slips through. Gwen only just manages to roll underneath of it and keep running, while Owen and Jack crash into it and yell for it to be raised again. The suspect jumps a gate and runs into a train station, and Gwen follows, and finally grabs the suspect’s jacket, but he slips out and gets away. Tosh is ecstatic. “You did it!” But Gwen says she didn’t; he got away. Tosh is sure that whatever the rift energy was, she is definitely holding it. Confused, Gwen looks through the pockets of the jacket she’s still holding. There is a little alien device, with its lights bright and flashing. As if she’s being willed to do so, Gwen thumbs the button at the top of the device.

It is immediately darker. The world is sort of grayscale and empty, and Gwen looks up to see a little boy walking out of a tunnel in the train station, with the sound of steam engines in the background. He’s wearing old-fashioned clothes and carrying a little suitcase and a teddy bear; there’s a tag with his name pinned to his lapel. He doesn’t answer when she asks who he is. All he says is, “I want to go home. No one knows who I am here. I’m lost.” He doesn’t see her. He just turns and walks back into the tunnel.

When Gwen snaps back into the real world, she looks terrified and numb. As Jack and Owen catch up to her and ask if she’s all right, she says, “I’ve just seen a ghost.”

In the Hub, they’re going over the footage of Gwen grabbing the jacket and the suspect slipping away. No little boy. Gwen’s insistent: it was real, she could feel what the kid was feeling and hear what he was thinking. Tosh says that she can use facial recognition software to get their suspect, but the little boy is different – does she remember the name on the card on his collar? “Tom Erasmus Flanagan.” Jack tells her to look through all the usual places – births, marriages, deaths, criminal records, passports – but Owen interrupts. “Found him.” He was in the phone book. Well done, Owen.

The living incarnation of Occam’s Razor.

During the day, Gwen and Owen go and pay a visit to Tom Flanagan. Gwen introduces herself as a detective inspector, and Owen as a detective sergeant. Owen is annoyed at being demoted. They are invited in, and Owen is sent off to discuss Strictly Come Dancing in the kitchen with Tom’s adult daughter while 70-year-old Tom speaks with Gwen. Tom Erasmus Flanagan is very sweet, and tells Gwen about when he was a child and he was evacuated from London during the Blitz. He was so quiet that they forgot him at the station, and he ended up lost and alone before they remembered him and came back. Leaving the house, Owen grumbles about being “stuck in the kitchen with Motormouth” but Gwen doesn’t understand; if Tom is alive and in his seventies, what did she see the night before? Just a bit of him, still hanging around? She gets a phone call and answers it on the way to the car; Rhys wants to know if she wants him to do her laundry — and also, when is she coming home? She doesn’t know. Rhys gets annoyed. “I can live with all of this Secret Squirrel stuff, but if you can’t even tell me when you’re coming home!” Gwen is annoyed in return. “Well, nagging isn’t helping.” Fine; Rhys will go out tonight, she can do whatever she wants. He hangs up. Owen honks impatiently, and Gwen gives up and gets in.

In the Hub, they have an ID on their fleeing suspect: Sean Harris (Ben McKay), AKA “Burnie,” nineteen years old. Gwen is hanging up her profile while they discuss his history; a string of convictions for burglary, shoplifting, credit cards. (“Do warn me if he’s dropping in,” Ianto says, handing out coffee and donuts.) He’s a bit of a failure as a thief, just a dumb punk kid. “Criminal mastermind,” Owen quips, playing a video game. They haven’t gotten anywhere with the device they got off of him. Jack asks where he lives. Splott. Odd name for a town. Ianto says, “I believe estate agents pronounce it ‘splo.’”

And now the best part of the episode! Gwen, Owen and Tosh go to Splott to ask around about Burnie. Everyone has an opinion. None of those opinions are positive. A nice little montage of people badmouthing the kid culminates in my favorite line, a woman stocking shelves and saying in a bored, resigned voice, “Wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.” As they stand slumped by a canal, Gwen’s discouraged mumbling says it all: “Burnie Harris, the Scarlet Pimpernel of Splott.” Jack appears, and they all look up at him, empty-handed. Like a disapproving dad, he sighs and starts walking, and they follow. They’re going back to the railway station to recreate the circumstances of Gwen’s ghost. When the team argues that it’s dangerous, Jack throws the ghost machine to Owen and says, “I’m sorry, I thought you were the guys who gave up looking for a nineteen year old kid this morning. I figured maybe you were after something more exciting. Bit of a challenge.” All teeth. Uh-oh. Dad’s mad. Owen mutters under his breath about it until he notices that the ghost machine has started to light up and make noises. He tries to call the others back, but they don’t pay any attention, and suddenly Owen is plunged into the dark, with the sound of rain.

At the end of the tunnel, a girl in a 60’s style pink coat appears, stumbling and crying. “I said ‘just a dance,’ but he wasn’t having a bar of it! I shouldn’t have gone outside with him, I should’ve known better.” Owen asks her what her name is, but of course she doesn’t hear him. At the mouth of the tunnel, a sing-song voice calls out, “Lizzie! Lizzie Lewis!” She’s afraid of him, but also angry. “You’re a bad one, Ed Morgan! The girls said not to go with you and they were right!” Ed Morgan is, in fact, a bad one. He’s slimy and intimidating in that too-friendly way, and he says she’s smart, asks her if she doesn’t like it that someone sees how smart she is. He kisses her, and for a moment she lets him, but when she tries to pull away, he grips her tighter. When she shoves him back, he slaps her, then grabs her hair and pulls a knife out of his pocket. “I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t.” Owen is terrified. He’s feeling everything that she’s feeling, even as Ed drags her away into the dark with her screaming for help. When he’s finally snapped back into the real world, he’s breathing hard and on the edge of tears as Gwen runs to ask if he’s all right, and he drops the ghost machine into her hands like it’s too hot to hold.

At the Hub, they discover that Lizzie Lewis was found raped and murdered under that bridge in 1963, and her killer was never arrested. Owen is still visibly affected by what he saw. The computer scanning the ghost machine goes off, and they find out what it is: a quantum transducer. A transducer turns one form of energy into another; this one turns emotional energy into amplified visions. (Warning: logic non-applicable to alien devices.) Owen is still stuck on Lizzie; he needs more information, he needs to find a way to bring her killer to justice. He argues with Jack about it, and Jack angrily sends him home, before turning to Gwen and telling her to come with him.

Just in case you were under any illusions otherwise, Torchwood has everything. The Hub is gigantic. Still, it’s a surprise to Gwen when she follows Jack into a huge firing range that seems to be made out of an old tube tunnel. Jack gestures at a table laid out with many makes of gun and tells her that she needs to learn how to use them. (Gwen was a beat cop when she was on the force, and beat cops in the UK don’t carry guns.) Gwen doesn’t even kill spiders in the bath. “Nor do I,” Jack says. “Not with a gun.” There follows the most awkwardly erotic demonstration of how to hold and fire a weapon that has ever existed on television, and then a lot of fun montage stuff of Jack teaching Gwen how to do all of the cool gun techniques that no one does outside of film. I don’t know who drew those targets with Weevils on them, but they’re adorable. When they’re done, Gwen notices the time. “When do you get to go home? You seem to live here.” Jack doesn’t answer, because he totally does live there. “You gotta be ready. And I hate to commute.” He says he doesn’t sleep, which is probably not exactly true given later episodes, but whatever! Gwen says that it must get lonely at night, and Jack’s face falls a little. Poor Jack. Gwen quickly says that she should be getting home, and she goes.

\o/! (Illustrated Janet does not approve of Gwen’s victory arms over shooting her with duel-wielded handguns.)

As Rhys is out of the flat, staying over at a friend’s house, Gwen indulges in a little stolen alien tech of her own. She’s taken the ghost machine home with her, and she uses it to relive some moments with Rhys in their apartment: their celebration when she became a police officer; one time when they were running late for a party and Rhys’ zipper was broken so she chased him laughing with a stapler. Rhys comes home; his friend had a fight with his wife and is sleeping in their spare room. Rhys says that he doesn’t mind the long working hours, as long as she still wants to come home to him. Of course Gwen does. They kiss, and Gwen surreptitiously hides the ghost machine in her purse.

At the same time, Owen is sitting in his huge, empty apartment and obsessing over finding Lizzie’s killer. It’s obvious from the lack of furniture or even curtains for the giant windows overlooking the bay that he’s hardly ever there, but he has newspapers and police reports spread out over the floor, and he’s drinking from a bottle of either whiskey or scotch as he tears out the page of the phone book with all of the Ed Morgans.

The next day, Owen has many Morgans crossed off of his list, and is parked outside of another’s. He roots through his stash of fake ID cards and picks one for Gas Supply Services before approaching the house. When he knocks, no one comes, but the curtain twitches, and finally the door is opened by a nervous older man with a half-smoked cigarette. Owen knows it’s the right man. “I need to come in.” Inside, Ed Morgan asks him who sent him, the neighbors? He can’t smell any gas. Owen takes him into the living room and sits him down, then slowly begins to ask about his old neighbors, about Mable Lewis, and her daughter, Lizzie, who died. Owen tells Ed Morgan that he knows what happened that night, describing the scene in such perfect detail that Morgan can only stare at him, terrified, until he stands up and kicks Owen out of his house, shouting, “You’ll get nothing from me! I told you before, you’ll get nothing from me!”

Owen stands outside of the door, breathing hard and nodding at the mailman a few houses down who is giving him weird looks. When he starts moving, he sees someone perched on a bench. When the kid looks up, Owen recognizes him: it’s Burnie Harris. Burnie runs, but Owen chases him, all through Splott, crashing into an old lady, interrupting a game of football/soccer in an alleyway while the kids cheer him on to “kick his head in,” and finally jumping fences through back gardens and cornering Burnie by a garden shed. “Don’t hurt me, please, I’ve got asthma!” Burnie says. Owen shakes his head. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m gonna bloody kill you.”

The smoothest criminal in Splott.

There’s a smashcut to a pub, Owen and Burnie are sitting across from each other at a small table. Owen asks why they call him Burnie. “Burnt my neighbor’s shed down when I was twelve. I was just having a fag [cigarette], got a bit carried away like.” Burnie is obviously a charmer. Gwen, Jack and Tosh show up, and Jack shows Burnie the ghost machine. He gets scared, looks away. Jack says, “Well, it’s worth knowing we’re probably the only people you can tell.” Burnie got the device from a storage unit that use belong to “this old guy, a bit soft in the head he was.” There was a tin full of foreign coins and weird bits of rock and the ghost machine, so he took it, hoping to sell it for something, but he discovered what it did and used it to blackmail (“She offered!”) a woman into keeping quiet about him seeing her putting her dead infant into the canal a very long time ago. He also saw Lizzie and Ed Morgan. With all of the information they need from him, they start to leave as Burnie shouts that they can’t steal the ghost machine from him. “Oh, so you don’t want the other half, then?” They all turn back.

Burnie takes them to his apartment, where he gives them the other half of the ghost machine. The rock and money in the tin he’d found is alien. “Driftwood,” Jack says, “washing in through the Rift.” Tosh fits the two pieces of the machine back together and Jack hands it off to Gwen. They go, but Burnie stops Gwen, telling her he only ever used that half of the machine once. She asks why, and he says, “I’m gonna die. I’ve seen it happen, out there on the road.” Gwen is disturbed, but being called by Jack, so she leaves. On the street, the newly whole machine begins to chirp and light up, and Gwen is compelled to press the buttons. In terrible slow motion, Jack runs towards her shouting, “Gwen, no!” The world goes dark and fuzzy, and Gwen stares at herself, with bloody hands, holding a knife. Future!Gwen says, “Help me, please, I couldn’t stop it. Owen had the knife, he wanted to kill him.” And then it’s day again, and Jack takes the machine out of Gwen’s hands. Gwen stares at Owen, afraid.

In the Hub, Jack and Gwen discuss what she saw, away from the others. Burnie thinks he’s going to die, and Gwen thinks Owen is going to kill someone, but Jack says that it’s just one of many possible futures. It isn’t terribly comforting. Gwen doesn’t know what to do.

A little later, Tosh and Owen are out at a bar, having drinks. Tosh tells him that she found Ed Morgan through a trace earlier, and Owen tells her about the little visit he paid. He asks her what she found. Apparently Ed Morgan has some major medical issues: “he’s claustrophobic, paranoid, depressive, with a couple recorded attempts of suicide. He’s barely left his house in years.” Owen says that Morgan seemed think he wanted money, and that he said, “I’ve told you before.” Tosh asks, “Told who?” They both realize at the same time: Burnie saw the night under the bridge with Lizzie. Burnie must have tried to blackmail Morgan. Jack, in the Hub, taking Burnie’s profile down, realizes that at the same time.

Gwen turns up at Burnie’s flat to try and reassure him that just because he saw himself die doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but Burnie isn’t easily comforted. Jack calls Gwen to tell her what they know: Owen came clean about going to see Morgan, and they’re guessing Morgan thinks that they’re part of the same group. They think he’s spooked. They’re on their way to Burnie’s flat, except for Tosh, who’s watching the CCTV in case Burnie makes a run for it. Instead of Burnie, Tosh sees Ed Morgan, stumbling his way down to Burnie’s road. Burnie sees him and goes outside to meet him, and when Gwen catches site of him, she runs out, too, to find Morgan threatening Burnie with a knife.

Morgan is incredibly paranoid; he thinks that people always know what he did, when they look at his face, so he’s hidden himself away. He approaches Gwen and Burnie slowly with the knife. Before he can use it, Jack and Owen tackle him from behind, and Owen pulls the knife out of his hand. With Morgan held still by Jack, Owen turns the knife on him to threaten him, angry about Lizzie. “You said you were sorry, you said you didn’t want to hurt her, but you didn’t stop! What if I didn’t stop?” Jack and Gwen shout at him, and finally, he pulls the knife away. Gwen takes it, relieved, looking at Jack. “No one died. You stopped it from happening.” Of course, at that moment, Ed Morgan lunges forward. “I knew you’d come for me!” He impales himself on the knife and collapses. Gwen is shocked. Owen runs forward to work on him, and there’s nothing to be done. Gwen stands there with bloody hands, murmuring about how he was so close, she couldn’t stop it, staring at Jack with huge, terrified eyes.

This hasn’t been a nice night for Gwen.

Back at the Hub, Gwen sits wrapped in a blanket, while they all stand around Jack’s office, with Ianto pouring brandy for all of them. Tosh tells Gwen that he was suicidal, he wanted to die and would have found a way no matter what, but it doesn’t help. She asks about the ghost machine, and Jack says, “The problem with seeing the future is that you can’t just sit and look at it. You gotta try and change things. Make it happen differently. It’s not meant for us. All these ghosts. We’d be lost.” He gives it to Ianto to store in the secure archives, and he takes Gwen outside to watch the sun come up over the bay.

She’s still in shock, guilty, but Jack tries to get her to move past it. “The sun’s coming up!” he says. A new day. The world is full of ghosts, and we just have to learn to live with them. He puts his arm around her, and she leans her head against his shoulder as they turn to wait for the sun. It becomes clear here that Torchwood is never going to be great at the subtle denouement.


Next time on Torchwood: why does Ianto punch Jack in the face? Why is that lady wearing a metal bikini? All will become clear.