‘You Gotta Be Ready’: Everything Changes (S01E01)

Suzie at Work

Ok, real talk. This was a really difficult post to write. Of the nine episodes of Torchwood; I have watched so far this story is the weakest. In trying to explain my rationale I used examples from the episodes and it turned into a hideous ten page Torchwood Monster. 

So I had to kill some of my darling and instead write a fourteen page Torchwood monstrosity. Cutting a long story short, I suspect that Russell T. Davies is uncomfortable with the Torchwood Institute being seen as heroes. Therefore, rather than writing a straightforward story that introduces the programme, RTD instead writes an episode in which every aspect of the setting is subverted. 

Everything Changes is an incredibly clever script, but the effects of all the subserve elements ultimately make it difficult to care about the adventures of an organisation, which as the opening of the claims that: "You Gotta be ready."

The Glove

In my opinion the biggest weakness of Everything Changes is discomfort with the Torchwood Institute being seen as heroes. I suspect this discomfort lies in the conception of the Torchwood Institute as an Imperial Organisation. 


When the organisation was introduced in Doctor Who, it was clear that  Queen Victoria established Torchwood explicitly as a response to witnessing that: “Great Britain has enemies beyond imagination. And we must defend our borders on all sides. ……” (“Tooth and Claw” 44.30).  Well, Gawd, bless ye Marm, Torchwood certainly ran with that ethos. 

By the time the Doctor and Rose encounter Torchwood again in 2006, the institute has grown to include four branches: 

  1. Torchwood One based in One Canada Square London.
  2. Torchwood Two based somewhere in Scotland. 
  3. Torchwood 4 which mysteriously vanished (perhaps the IRA bombed it I don’t know.
  4. Torchwood 3 based in Cardiff (“Everything Changes” 31.00-31.13). 

Throughout his confrontation with Torchwood, the Doctor and the audience both learn that the institution is still doggedly imperialist. Here is a list of quotes supporting that assertion 

  1. Shooting down alien vessels because they “violated our airspace.”
  2. Persisting in using Imperial units measurements evidently “Torchwood refuses to go metric”.
  3. Reverse engineering the  technology stolen from the aliens they kill to arm and equip the British Empire under the mantra of “If its alien it's ours” (“Army of Ghosts” 21.24, 22.41 & 23.05). 

Fittingly,, Torchwood One ends up destroying itself in an attempt to achieve British energy independence by meddling with a space anomaly citing “if we can harness that power we need never depend on the Middle East again” (“Army of Ghosts” 30.10).

 Our band of brothers aka Torchwood Three aka T3  are the inheritors of that toxic Imperial legacy, and operate under a similar rubric to Torchwood One despite claims to the contrary. 

We learn that Torchwood Three monitors a Rift in time and space through which aliens, technology and individuals from different times and places can be deposited. Any alien technology that is salvaged from the Rift is reverse engineered and put to use by the team. (“Everything Changes” 29.48-29.57) 

The central plot device in Everything Changes: is a piece of alien technology called The Glove or the Risen Mitten. As the Risen Mitten can resurrect the dead, the team is naturally keen to get it working properly dun dun dunnnnnnnn!

Given the Torchwood Institute’s Victorian origins; and the marketing of the programme as an X Files-esque procedural programme; you would be forgiven for thinking that we were going to getting a story which organically lends itself to what John Carpenter calls Right Wing Horror: the horror is outside the tribe and its coming to get us. (Jones) For God's sake the premise is literally stalwart Victorians holding back the alien horde.

Firstly, let’s be fair and say that Torchwood attempts horror. I am never scared while watching Torchwood, rather I am fascinated by what it is instead, Torchwood is Weird with a capital W. 

Now Weird is a sub-genre or a type of horror which: “arises out of a sense that the material world is degrees of magnitude larger and more complex than we could have possibly imagined” (Jones).  An excellent example of a mystery hiding behind the mundane world, and I am just picking a random example off the top of my head, would be the presence of a giant temporal spatial orifice which disgorges alien bollocks into Cardiff. 

If your Victorian sense is tingling, that is because the concept of a vast terrifying world full of ideas and non-white people is heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. 

Cards on the table; I have not read any Lovecraft but you cannot frequent the circles I do without encountering his: fear of unknown quotes. I am very comfortable calling Lovecraft; a very ill man who needed psychiatric help; and whose racism heavily colours his work; pun very much intended.

Lovecraft is right-wing horror in its purest form; even a superficial knowledge of his stories reveal fears of 

  1. Miscegenation shagging e.g. the shagging of fish people will result in degeneration into and degenerating into shambling monsters
  2. Hatred of the lower classes e.g. the incestuous wizard family the Waitley’s 
  3. The ear of anyone who is not White, Protestant and from New England e.g. a multicultural death cult operating in the Louisiana Bayou (“Halloween Special HP Lovecraft”). 

Torchwood adopts the guise of this kind of horror; with alien technology they cannot use reliably and alien migrants called Weevil’s who the team cannot communicate with, but here is the third act twist though: the racist fears that underpin Lovecraft’s tropes are not what Torchwood is interested in. 

The terror that Torchwood seeks to inspire in the audience is rooted in the Sublime of The Weird. Edmund Burke defined the Sublime as: “a fundamentally metaphysical even numinous category that is infused with the divine. Short-circuiting reason completely in its presentation of images and spectacle so vast and overwhelming that they produced an effect of reverent awe and even terror in those who experienced them (Jones). 

Basically, it’s a big universe and we could see all manner of things which are both wonderful, beautiful and divine which can still terrify us without relying on problematic tropes.

Suzie’s Life

All that sounds great, what is the issue? Well the the issue is that Everything Changes feels the need to  outwardly resemble to be your typical Right-Wing Horror. Except it’s not horror, and it’s using tropes that come from what John Carpenter calls: Left-Wing Horror; the evil comes from within the members of the tribe (Jones). So it’s Left-Wing Weird wearing the skin of Right-Wing Horror. This is an odd mix to say the least. 

Picture it, a dark rainy night, police and crime technicians are working on a corpse in a dingy alley and in swoops an elite glamorous special operations unit to assume control of the crime scene and apprehend a serial killer: Torchwood! Watching from the side and asking who these sexy models are; is Gwen Cooper our main character and saving grace of this episode. 

We have all seen that scene of an elite team swooping in to assume control of a crime scene: it's ubiquitous in American crime TV series . Fortunately, this is Torchwood and while T3 put on a very good show of being “too cool for school” they are not as competent as they would have you believe (“Everything Changes” 01.38). 

Firstly, they are not at the scene to investigate the serial killer, they are there to experiment on the recently deceased using the Risen Mitten. (“Everything Changes” 31.55- 32.07). Jack even uses this as an opportunity to satisfy his curiously about the existence of an afterlife before the team conclude the scene by bitching at one another over being unable to act human enough to get a dead man talking (“Everything Changes”05.04-05.25)

I love this scene; its ghoulish and it establishes T3 as real people underneath their gritty leather clothing, rather than dreary CSI Clones. The issue is it’s the first of several scenes which depict the T3 Team as crap at their jobs. 

Before, I started writing this blog; I invented the Horny Exploding Rat (H.E.R.) award which I would bestow on members of Torchwood Three who let their inner sociopath out during an episode. This week the whole team wins the award for the following reason:

  1. Jack Harkness is a terrible judge of his employees' characters failing to notice that they have been nicking alien technology and taking it home with them. 
  1. Toshiko gives into peer pressure and plays with alien technology. 
  1. Owen is a rapist. Potentially a serial rapist. I am not sure the episode makes three stupid mistakes which honestly provoked a backlash. Owen is shown to have stolen a phial of alien chemicals which he keeps in his medicine cabinet at home. It’s not clear how long he has had the chemicals, nor if he has used them before. This double ambiguity is deeply problematic because we very quickly find out that chemicals are a basically a love potion which makes the wearer sexually irresistible to the target. Owen uses this chemical to compel a woman who is utterly disinterested in him (and later her irate partner) to have sex with. Owen’s actor Burn Gorman is amazing; but this is hard first scene to overcome 
  2. Ianto comes across as a robot. We will learn why in two episodes.
  1. Suzie is the successful serial slayer slashing scientific subjects.

Thematically this all makes sense; I will argue that the character arcs of T3 involve them  rediscovering their sense of morality, responsibility and valuing human life in an existential sense. 

They have to be insufferable gobshites at the start of the series to get the point across; but when you marry these character flaws with the fact they are not very good at their jobs: we end up with an observation made by Video Game critic Yahtzee Crowshaw about horrible characters: “One can get behind a nasty effective protagonist or a nice ineffectual one. But nasty and ineffectual? That’s just depressing”(Crowshaw). 

Torchwood Three do not even catch Suzie, no-body does really but I will get into that. Speaking of Suzie it’s time to get back to the left-horror thread I left dangling. You really cannot be more explicit in depicting that evil comes from within; than by making one of your cast members a serial killer.

What’s fascinating about Suzie Costello though is that she is a Matryoshka doll of dissected tropes and ultimately illustrates why Torchwood failed as a programme despite its thematic richness.

 Suzie is written to first subvert T3 as the ever-vigilant defenders against all that is foreign/alien/not us but then she herself is undercut. What usually would happen in the kind of horror Torchwood is pretending to be is that the figure of the Serial Killer would be depicted as a “modern demon to whom supernatural skill and intelligence is attached” (Jones). 

Rather than doing that though; the episode focuses on a lesser explored aspect of the serial killer; that of the fears of anonymity in a large crowd (Jones). This is more Victorianna; the modern conception of the Serial Killer emerged from the development of the Industrial city (Jones). This fear was evident as early as the 1840's which is when  Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story called: The Man Of the Crowd which is about the dangers of anonymity in a large urban area. (Jones). 

Ultimately, I find the application of this subversion to be problematic. As people can see from the “Suzie’s Life” profile which was once posted Torchwood’s defunct website; no one knows who Suzie is, including the audience. In turn this means we do not know what Suzie wants either. 

Any information the audience gets about Suzie and her motivation comes from her. Frankly, I am disinclined to believe anything Suzie says at face value. Reading between the lines and paying particular attention to this line: “How come we get all the Weevils and bollocks and shit? Is that what alien life is – filth? But maybe there’s better stuff out there; brilliant stuff, beautiful stuff, just … they don’t come here. This planet’s so dirty, that’s all we get: the shit’” yields better results. (Walker, 2883), 

My best guess about Suzie's character is that she was an unstable individual before she came to Torchwood Three. While the episode is really trying to sell the idea that the horror of her job catalysed Suzie into a serial as we have mentioned before Torchwood is Weird not Horror. In effect, the story reads to me as though Suzie went off the deep end because she is fed up of dealing with all the nonsense that is inherent in the Doctor Who universe and wants to be in a more grounded Science Fiction programme. 

Truth be both the best thing to come out of Suzie’s characterisation in Everything Changes is an idea that really defines Torchwood when it is at its best, what I call “The Bad Companion” episodes.

I picked the term “Bad Companion” from an idea that was done on Doctor Who in 2005, namely how would someone who would be a poor choice as the Doctor’s companion act when shown the wonders of space and time. 

Over two episodes; Dalek and The Long Game The Doctor and Rose take on a companion called Adam Mitchell. Adam does not last on the TARDIS very long because the first thing he does on being taken to the far future is attempt to steal future information that will make him rich in 2005. 

“Bad Companion" is going to be my short-hand for episodes in which a human bastard encounters weird bollocks and thinks; “how can this help me?” rather than the weirdness itself being inherently evil. Continuing this run of positivity before we go, I get to talk about the best part of the episode: Gwen Cooper. 


Gwen is great. I love how she is characterised. Throughout Everything Changes Gwen displays intelligence, determination. open-mindedness, compassion and ambition. Gwen also gets the hero moment of the episode; but it’s so oddly placed you can easily miss it. Quick rundown of actions demonstrating Gwen’s massive set of brass Welsh balls:

  1. Initially responses to the appearance of the Torchwood Team at a crime scheme by asking who they are and what they are doing. Everything Changes” 1.16). 
  1. Initiates police investigations which allows her to successfully track down Torchwood (“Everything Changes” 17.30)
  1. Infiltrates  infiltrate their base using a disguise (“Everything Changes”18.30). 
  1. Accepts the reality of alien life with the aid of a pint. (Everything Changes” 23.50). 
  1. Displays a moral compass Gwen by putting herself forward as Torchwood police liaison officer when she learns of their mission. (“Everything Changes” 29.19)
  1. Calls Torchwood out on their bullshit and emphasises that they should be helping to catch a serial killer inconveniencing Cardiff stick a pin in that (“Everything Changes” 27.02-27.23).
  1. Tracks down Torchwood again after they wipe her memory by leaving a handwritten note for herself. “Everything Changes” 31.43 & 42.19).

Number 6 is the hero moment of the episode and it happens half-way through the run-time.  After she calls Torchwood out on being full of it, Jack Harkness wipes Gwen’s memory of the encounter.

 Apparently she was very persuasive though: because off-screen Jack  asked Suzie to liaise with the police and get the evidence they had gathered on the serial murders. This evidence included the re-creation of the murder weapon which Suzie was working on in The Hub. 

The story climaxes with a gun wielding Suzie confronting and ranting about her apparent motives. Keep in mind that throughout the confrontation scene Gwen is still drugged and cannot remember Torchwood or who this shouty mad lady is. You see what I mean by no one really catches Suzie. 

Fortunately, if you ignore the serial killer plot the real bread and butter of the story is the way it compares and contrasts the weirdness of Torchwood with Gwen’s ordinary life. A lot of time is devoted to showing Gwen’s job as a Police Constable dealing with murders, bar fights and making coffee for useless detectives (seriously she gets saddled with this) before returning home to her partner Rhys Williams (played by Kai Owen). There is one gorgeous scene of domestic bliss between Gwen and Rhys; she returns from her shift to find him cooking a mouthwatering looking dinner. While they eat, the pair discuss their days as a police woman and transport manager (“Everything Changes” 16.16). 

The reason I am gushing about this one scene is because it’s the only event in the story played straight with all the sincerity that accompanies straightforwardness. Unfortunately, every other scene between Gwen and Rhys suffers because Gwen is thinking about Torchwood and shutting Rhys out.

 I wish Torchwood had the courage to be sincere about itself. Everything Changes is a very clever script;  but it’s all head and very little heart. 

I wish Torchwood had started openly as a left-wing and extremely weird show, in which the Weird instead of being used to inspire horror is shown to be awe inspiring, wonderful and worth exploring while also being unsafe. 

Therein, lies the dissidence thought; that is too optimistic for the tone of the programme so we end up with a messy programme which outwardly pretends to be Lovecraftian “ohhh isn’t the unknown scary” horror, but actually does not want the xenophobia that is built into the genre. The programme feels like a diesel engine car trying to run on leaded petrol, lots of stuttering and you are never sure if the engine is going to explode or not.


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