Defenders of the Earth
Tony Fyler remembers heroes.
November is the month when
remembers all those who have died in war. Britain
We never forget at Project: Torchwood that our favourite show is just that – just a show. But it’s a show that has the power to move, to teach, to inspire and to put us in touch with the best and worst in all of humankind.
It can remind us of people who are ordinary, who sign up for something that by its very nature makes them extraordinary, that puts their lives in danger, that shows them people and places and wonders they never dreamed to see, and gives them nightmares they would never wish to remember. It can remind us of people who make the choice to put their skills and their service at the disposal of something bigger than themselves for the cause of hope, and in Series 2, Torchwood showed us that it could prove to us that sometimes, even the best of people die.
Dr Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) is not who we first think he is. When we first meet him he is sarcastic, abrasive, womanising, seeming to care little for the consequences of his actions, but always ready to click into place, his medical expertise and his strong devotion to its ethical use overriding his many character flaws. We may not like Owen from the very beginning, but we certainly respect him in action.
Over the course of two series though, Owen’s more complex nature reveals itself. In Ghost Machine, his empathy and sense of justice power him on with a kind of fury to seek justice for one of life’s many, many victims, proving that he really does have a heart beneath his Hippocratic Oath. He has a sensitivity to those whom life has treated unfairly. In Out of Time, we go beneath the sharp sarcasm and the casual sex, when Owen forms a genuine bond of something that could eventually be love with female pilot Diane Holmes. This isn’t the Owen we know, he doesn’t let himself be vulnerable to his own emotions. His connection with Diane, especially in the light of her eventual decision not to stay with him, and his subsequent plan to re-open the Rift to be with her, shows us why, and makes some sense of the surface he has shown us. Owen feels things deeply when he dares to let himself feel at all, and we’re left wondering what it was that first taught him the pain of that and led him to shun deeper connections.
Owen is by nature the most vocal of the Torchwood team, the one least likely to toe Jack’s line just because he’s the leader. Every member of the team is in some way vital, but Owen, really is the most vital of them all: he’s the person every team must have – the potential Judas, the alternative, the opposite view of the world from the leader’s. Why is that so essential? Because otherwise, the view of the team is the view of one person with an agenda. You need an Owen to question you when you’re about to drive over a cliff.
There’s never a particularly good explanation of why, having been shot dead, Owen doesn’t die in the traditional sense. All we know is that he goes through an extraordinary journey, the very anitithesis of Captain Jack – the man who dies and won’t lie down, rather than the man who cannot die. Between them, they form the tension, the duality of Torchwood, the potential to find a way around or through every challenge and every obstacle, even including death. And in Fragments, we finally find the answer to Owen – his relationship with a woman with ridiculously early onset Alzheimer’s, his inability to help her, Jack’s high-handed interference, and Owen’s determination not to let Jack have his way.
When Owen dies the second time, the Torchwood team is never the same again – it’s a tighter, faster thing, maybe, but it forces Gwen to step more into his shoes, taking Jack to task when his long life and high-handed decisions go against her heart and her instincts. Owen has made an impact not only on the world and on those that Torchwood has helped or saved, but on those who got the closest to him.
Toshiko Sato is Owen’s polar opposite, the quintessential ‘good girl,’ only finding herself in Torchwood because she tried to save her mother in an impossible situation, and her genius for abstract thinking allowed her to fill in gaps in the failed design of a piece of technology she was forced to build from stolen plans.
Throughout the first two series of Torchwood, prior to our learning Tosh’s origins and how she gained her place on the team, her hallmarks are loyalty and reliability, a genius with systems and for making things do the things they should do – she’s responsible for making things work and delivering Torchwood the data it needs to investigate all the things that come its way. From the very first episode, it’s Tosh who gains access to databases she’s not supposed to be able to access to get information to speed the investigation of the alien along (in particular the police database), and throughout much of her time, she harbours a quiet passion for Owen. Like most of the Torchwood team, she’s a fairly open-minded citizen of the universe, but she’s not about to be taken for a ride, as she proves in Greeks Bearing Gifts. And while, in To The Last Man, she finds a chance for happiness with World War I soldier Tommy, ultimately, she does the responsible thing, respecting if not liking his decision to return to 1918, where he will be killed for his shellshock.
Tosh, played by Naoko Mori, is the quintessential workmate – the thoughtful one, the one who you can always rely on to do her job, and who, most of the time, will be there to help with any personal crises too: watch her in Something Borrowed for a comical slant on her character. She wants to have no enemies in the world, but her time in Torchwood teaches her to stand up for herself rather more than she did when she was recruited. Her journey through the universe of space and time as it washes up on the shores of the Cardiff Rift makes her a better, broader human being. When she dies, her death wrings tears from us, because while Owen’s character was easy to dislike but worth getting to know, Toshiko leaves a big gap in both the team’s effectiveness and its heart.
Torchwood is just a show. But from Day One it was filled with people we know – Gwen the group mum with the heart of a lion and the mouth (when needed) of a wrestler. Ianto the local lad made good but driven by love. Toshiko the genius-next-door, always ready with a friendly shoulder and yet devastatingly good at her job. Owen, the prickly womaniser who feels too much. Even Jack, the reformed con-man trying to make something good out of evil, in a gesture of every-day tribute to the man who taught him how to live a better life. They each represent the kind of person who puts themselves between the world and danger, and so in a sense, it’s only right that we should lose them. They represent the sacrifice and the loss of people without number throughout time, and people every day as we sleep.
And in remembering Owen, and Tosh, and ultimately Ianto Jones as well, we remember them all, this November and every day.