After the somewhat disappointing start to the new series of Torchwood last week, where I thought the plot somewhat took a back seat to the high profile guest star, episode two, Sleeper, was a distinct improvement.
Of course the plot – an alien sleeper cell where the sleeper agents don’t know who they really are is a plot that has been done before a number of times. However, what parent show Doctor Who has always been quite good at is taking an existing story and reworking it into it’s own format, so over the years most sci-fi staples, and numerous well known stories have appeared in a reworked form as Doctor Who episodes, and this Torchwood episode is no different.
What lifted this episode, and certainly set it apart from last week, was having a central character with whom the audience can empathise. The episode begins with a couple being awoken by a burglary taking place in their flat. The husband goes to investigate, but is knocked unconscious, leaving the wife, Beth, to face the burglars alone. We don’t see what happens, but both burglars end up dead – one stabbed by some sort of sword, and the other thrown out the window. Beth remembers nothing about what has happened, but before he dies, one of the burglars says that it was her.
Torchwood investigate, and discover that she has a hidden implant in her arm, and deeply buried in her subconscious another personality. Their attempts to stop her being a further danger inadvertently activate the remaining alien sleeper agents who start to carry out their plan.
However, what this episode is at it’s heart is a character piece, as Beth struggles to come to terms with who she really is – her husband of course knows nothing of her true identity. Essentially it explores similar concepts to Human Nature in the last season of Doctor Who where the artificial personality has real feelings and a real existence, and essentially is innocent, but has to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. In the case of Human Nature, John Smith has to choose to sacrifice his future life, in Sleeper, Beth realises that despite Gwen’s repeated promises that the team will try and find a way to save her, the only thing that can be done is to sacrifice herself to get rid of the alien agent.
Mixed in with the character story, we also got a bit of action, as the other sleeper agents start to execute their plan, and the oft mentioned new humorous elements, which on a couple of occasions during the episode raised a laugh from us – again an improvement on last week.
So all in all it seems to bode well for what is to come…