Ghost Machine

Posted in Audio by - June 02, 2018
Ghost Machine

Aired 29 October 2016

Following a shaky second episode that missed the mark with the execution of its central concept and characterisation of its leads, Torchwood delivers a much more confident and well-balanced outing in ‘Ghost Machine’ by Helen Raynor as the driftwood always coming through Cardiff’s rift once more comes into focus. Although no character that has received any significant screentime so far has been classically likable, Owen’s behaviour has been so detestable to this point that it makes sense that he should focus here as the series tries to develop and inject an essence of humanity into the character. While it’s unfortunate that it takes a sexual attack and murder to finally bring about a more respectable and dedicated turn as he goes after the long-forgotten killer, Burn Gorman does well with the expanded emotions while still highlighting just how unstable Owen is. Indeed, his sterile home and eventual knife-wielding confrontation speak volumes about the state of mind of this character who clearly has so much history and thoughts yet to be explored, and the tense one-on-one conversation between Owen and the murderer who traditional means can never convict that relies on nothing but two enthralling performances is easily the standout moment of the episode and proves that Gorman is more than able to handling a more profound storyline when offered.

Raynor proves adept at mixing the true urban setting of Cardiff with the fantastic concept of an alien device in two halves that can show visions of both the past and the future. A great pre-credits sequence that gracefully follows Gwen through the streets as she pursues a hooded figure before suddenly finding herself in a subdued wartime setting populated only by a single scared boy sets the contrasting but complementary tones of ‘Ghost Machine’ perfectly, and the emotions never relent as Owen takes hold of the device and the rape and murder that happened so long ago is witnessed once more in a surprisingly effective and reserved display from a series that has already overtly delved into very dark territory. During the course of the investigation, both Ed Morgan played by Gareth Thomas and Bernie played by Ben McKay come to life as the first truly believable and well-rounded supporting characters of the series so far and lend a great amount of depth and believability to the many layers of this episode as events hurtle towards the tragic future Gwen has foreseen.

‘Ghost Machine’ does still make a few questionable decisions along the way, perhaps the most overt being the prolonged gun range sequence that suggests that firing a gun is akin to foreplay with how personal Jack and Gwen become during it. Torchwood has had a brimming fascination with hinting at something developing between these two, but the entire sequence is very disjointed to the rest of the episode and only serves to paint Gwen in a less than favourable light, especially when following this is an immense scene with the machine that shows just how incredibly happy she has been with Rhys during their time together. The series is starting to show the fraying of this relationship as Gwen continues to keep secrets and dedicate herself more and more to Torchwood, a storyline that could be quite fascinating if handled well, but only Rhys as the incredibly compassionate man who can only guess at what is truly happening with Gwen comes off as a compassionate figure here, one who Kai Owen plays to remarkable effect.

Owen has by no means atoned for previous actions here, and ‘Ghost Machine’ doesn’t really explain why he is so passionate about catching this rapist and murderer when just two episodes ago he was using an alien substance to get together with others even with the advent of the emotional aspect of the machine, but it does at the very least allow him a dynamic chance to shine in a positive light without forgetting the darker impulses and thoughts of this trouble individual. The climax and resolution don’t quite live up to the wonderful tension and intrigue of the setup and development, but with strong acting and direction throughout, this is a tremendous step in the right direction and hints at the true storytelling potential that the rift and the emotional and physical effects on humanity of what comes through it can have.

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