Hoorah, hooray, Martha Jones returns to the world of Torchwood!
That’s the capsule review out of the way. Now let’s go a little deeper.
Martha Jones – London-raised medical student, universal time traveller, one-time lovesick puppy and rebound reject, since then getting her life well and truly back on track, first with assignments at Torchwood and then with UNIT – has always needed a bit of explanation in terms of her relationship with Gwen Cooper, Valleys copper turned gun-toting world defender and one of Torchwood’s finest. On the surface, it feels like they’d have little in common, but on screen, they developed an interesting chemistry, a friendship born of the experience of modern women doing things that, even a generation ago, would have raised the eyebrows of a disapproving patriarchy, saving the world themselves, rather than being saved. Using their brains and their nous (and in Gwen’s case, free from the pacifist expectations of the Doctor, occasionally a big world-buggering gun) to get by in different organizations with different cultures and ways of doing things.
Those differences are crucial in Torchwood : Dissected. In fact they’re our starting point for the drama. At the end of a very long day of bodies and post-mortems, with her surprise leaving party being planned for half an hour or so from now, Martha Jones opens the door to a UNIT base and finds Gwen Cooper of Torchwood on her doorstep, with a body in the back of her car.
Never let it be said that Valleys girls ever turn up empty handed to a party.
Gwen has a corpse that doesn’t feel right, somehow, and she needs Martha to give it the once-over before she can let it lie. As you’d suspect of Gwen and Torchwood, that’s mostly true and partly a blatant falsehood. As you’d expect of Martha, she knows as much and lulls Gwen into a false sense of security.
The relationship between the two is initially quite spiky and frosty, and it only really thaws out once the two have faced a particular peril together. Much of the episode re-introduces us to the two and how they work together, but adds a new dimension of Martha’s dissatisfaction with the life of a UNIT operative, schlepping around the world, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but yet inherently fairly scornful of the occasional shoot-first-reanimate-the-corpse-ask-questions-later style of Torchwood. Even in this release, Gwen has a scanner the use of which Martha has to explain to her, because Gwen has just grabbed it and gone without performing the necessary calibrations.
In particular in this episdoe, they face the consequences of a dead body that seems decidedly eager to please. While not being entirely as grim as that sounds, it is at least 90% as grim as it sounds, and if you’re not a fan of mouths full of maggots…well, consider this your trigger warning before you go in, cos yaaaargh!
While the main thread of the story is a kind of Mr and Mrs Smith style dance of who trusts whom first, why and how, especially when you have a body that may not be a body and the words ‘chameleon tech’ in your ear from early on, there’s a point where the two, for all their differences of approach and intention, come back together after quite a while, seeming slights explained, seeming manipulations overcome, and you begin to see how cool the world of Jones and Cooper could be – imagine these two on the run together, or setting up a private world-saving agency with the best of Torchwood’s instincts and the best of UNIT’s methods working in harmony, and something deep in your brain screams ‘Shut up and take my money! No, no, all of it! Take it now!’
We may be a little way from quite that dream scenario, but by the end of this story, Martha’s future, which seemed unfocused at the start as she prepared to leave UNIT, has many new opportunities, and some of those certainly include more work alongside Gwen or other Torchwood members. Her future might not be full-on Torchwood-based yet – Martha actually has more of an above-board core in her way of operating than perhaps would fit with the day-to-day, job-done-at-all-costs ethos of Jack Harkness’ Torchwood. This is the woman who toppled the victorious Master not with a clever gun, after all, but with an inspiring story, a vision of hope, of brightness, of salvation based on positive energy, rather than with a bullet to the head. First, do no harm, the Hippocratic oath of healers is keen to remind her, somewhat in conflict with the Torchwood way. But through the battles of this story, both with Gwen and with the body that may or may not be a body (though if we’re honest, the idea of it being just a body never really flies. This is Torchwood, after all), Martha gains a degree of new perspective on herself, on the world, on the threats that challenge it and on the ways by which they can be fought.
There’s an opportunity here for Martha to discover or rediscover herself for a new stage in her development. Just as travelling with the Doctor initially opened her eyes to a universe of possibilities and showed her she was second best to nobody, saving the world in her own signature style, so Dissected, while a much tighter, inherently smaller voyage of discovery, sets Martha’s uncertain, somewhat disillusioned feet at a new crossroads. We all know where we hope she chooses to go from here, but a straight jump to full-on Torchwood might not only be tricky in terms of that tattered flag we call canon, but also might not be the right move for Martha – at least not yet. If it happens to take a fairly long run of one-off releases to pull Martha more and more into the Torchwood orbit…it’s probably fair to say that Torchwood fans everywhere would be entirely delighted to hear them. Then, once Gwen eventually leaves Torchwood, maybe there’d be room for that private oddness-investigating business in that continuity-window. Jones and Cooper: The Correctors…
Bottom line, what Tim Foley’s delivered in Torchwood : Dissected is an hour of mostly character-based drama, allowing for two very different people with some distance and some grudge between them to find a way back to what they like and enjoy in each other, in spite of their divergent strategies. Gwen learns from Martha’s new, grown-up, UNIT-appropriate and methodical approach, Martha remembers the power of doing things the instinctive, intuitive Torchwood way. At the end of the story, the two women have reminded themselves and each other that in many ways, they’re each better than the sum of their organizational approaches – and that’s a reminder that’ll have you punching the air and begging for more. Tony Fyler