Small Worlds

Posted in Episode by - June 05, 2018
Small Worlds

Aired 12 November 2006

The first four episodes of Torchwood have varied dramatically in terms of plotting and characterisation, leaving the leads as fairly unknown quantities who have yet to develop a true chemistry. Opening quite stunningly with an elderly woman quietly walking through a forest at night to avoid waking an unknown group of beings shown first as glimmering lights accompanied by soft string music before their true monstrous forms manifest behind her back, ‘Small Worlds’ by Peter J Hammond is the first story to truly show Gwen shrug off her new girl status and to finally delve into the long history of Jack Harkness as it pertains to this particular fairy threat.

‘Small Worlds’ is perhaps most successful precisely because it offers a much more focused and subtle tone than what has come before. Whether because these events relate to his own past or not, Jack is the personification of this more nuanced approach, and John Barrowman gives by far his most emotional and profound performance as the head of Torchwood Three yet as Gwen is offered a look into the history of the man who seemingly does not age checking in on the woman he fell in love with during World War II. Posing as the son of his father who never existed, he reveals a much softer side to the man who just last episode was accused of being the greatest monster of them all, and the fact that he never has the chance to reveal the truth to Estelle before the fairies she has always had such a fascination with kill her is a tragedy Jack will surely carry with him for some time. While it’s a shame that Estelle’s death eliminates further potential drama and emotion from this particular storyline, the eerie flashback to his wartime train journey in 1909 when he first came upon the fairies and their vengeful malice proves to be a perfect means of beginning to flesh out Jack as a true person on Torchwood while setting the scene for what is about to occur.

The CGI unfortunately does let down the appearance and effectiveness of the threat somewhat, but the actual mythology and ideas behind the fairies are stunningly effective. Although the scenes with their demonic forms would have probably been more effective with the figures staying to the shadows and off screen, the fairies’ groundwork leading up to the powerful final scene is always compelling if at times over the top in its execution, and the fact that the fairies are not threatening the young girl but instead want her to become one of them is realised quite wonderfully. The script isn’t perfect since it never explains why exactly Estelle must be murdered when their other two victims are a paedophile and the girl’s one-dimensional stepfather who had both been threatening the girl, but all three deaths do show the incredibly unique power of these beings as they seek compensation for perceived wrongs.

This episode also shows Gwen at her absolute best, and Eve Myles seems to revel in the opportunity to play a woman who has shed the confusion and hesitancy of a newcomer and who has embraced a firm sense of courageousness and determination as she takes the bizarre in stride. It’s at the conclusion, though, that the show finally hits its true potential in one incredible moment as Gwen desperately seeks to find a way to prevent the girl who wants to be taken by the fairies from being taken. Jack simply holds her back, asks for a guarantee that the girl will not be harmed, and then lets the girl go to meet her fate, perfectly encapsulating the contrasting thought processes of these two leads and providing an engrossing moral and ethical complexity that has been sadly missing up to this point. ‘Small Worlds’ is not perfect, but it’s the finest example yet of what Torchwood can be on a weekly basis with the right balance of character, plot, and genuine emotion, and hopefully this will be a foundational change for the series going forward as the rest of the Torchwood Three team are again brought into the fold.

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