This forty five minutes proved that you only need three things to make scintillating television; a good script, great acting and expert direction. You don’t require a huge budget, fancy sets or CGI to make a product that viewers can’t take their eyes off. When Chris Chibnall takes the reigns of Doctor Who, this is the sort of direction I hope he takes the show. Not as dark obviously, but his script was one where you truly didn’t know what would happen next.
When Doctor Who reaches the middle of a series and you maybe see a companion in life threatening danger, but you know that they’ll survive just because it’s not a grand enough occasion for their exit. This episode was slapped right in the middle of the first series of Torchwood, and you genuinely doubt a lot of character’s chances of survival. Gwen was shot around fifteen minutes into the episode and you thought she was going to die until Owen came in and saved the day. Tosh getting chased through the forest while handcuffed was such a gripping scene and when Evan, the cannibal, started throttling her, she looked to have no chance. Ianto too looked to be about to meet his death as a meat cleaver was drawn to his neck before Captain Jack’s dramatic entrance. Not knowing who was going to survive added to the already huge amount of intensity that this episode had.
There were also so many superb twists you couldn’t see coming. For three quarters of the episode, it seemed as though some dark alien forces were at play, brutally murdering villagers. The direction was superb as we saw the team get watched, this footage was played from the perspective of the cannibals who were making very rabid and monstrous sounds. At no time did you suspect that it was going to be cannibals. Even when Helen, the female cannibal, came to escort Tosh and Ianto from their cell, it still seemed as though they were about to encounter a fearsome race. The woman being one of the cannibals, as well as the Policeman who had helped Owen and Gwen turning out to be fraudulent, were two excellent twists that made the team’s plight seem all the more inescapable.
Cannibalism is an issue that only Torchwood could tackle in the Doctor Who universe. Human cannibalism is too dark for Doctor Who, even by Moffat’s “Don’t cremate me” standards. Hearing the ringleader whisper to Gwen “It made me happy” really proved just how dark and evil humans can be. I think this episode sent out an important message that even when you’re fighting things well beyond your knowledge, human beings can be just as bad as any alien invasion. The only other time I’ve seen Captain Jack as scared as he was in this episode was when he’s faced the Daleks, so that shows just how threatened the team felt. The ending of the episode was brilliant too as Jack burst in and gunned down members of the family, injuring them quite severely while saving his team. It was a fittingly dramatic resolution to a brilliant story.
If Chibnall can recreate some of the spooky and almost horror like tone in Doctor Who, obviously to a lesser extent to suit a family audience, then I will be eagerly anticipating what he does. I really do hope we see more of this sort of script, rather than other Chibnall scripts like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which was far more light hearted. I was invested in the story all the way through and genuinely feared for several main character’s lives at different points in time. Out of the first two full length series of Torchwood, I think this episode is the standout one. Chibnall didn’t have a lot to work with in terms of budget, but he used everything at his disposal to create such an atmospheric and warped script that led to a tremendously gripping forty five minutes of television.