...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Day 2167: TORCHWOOD: Random Shoes


I have flappy feet so I do not need Random Shoes, but my Daddies have lots. I have decided to help them! I will put all of the LEFT shoes in the fridge and all of the RIGHT shoes in the cooker. That should sort them out!

Let's see…
The week after Suzie Costello coldly informed us that there was nothing after death, nothing at all, we have the story of a ghost.

They could hardly have had this episode before "They Keep Killing Suzie" or Gwen would have had a great put down for her dead fellow traveller with: "well actually my life was saved by a ghost the other week, so you're dead wrong and that means your little killing spree was down to you being a psycho, bitch."

Alien technology aside, though, this would seem to be a flat refutation of last week – at the very least something of heroic loser Eugene Jones persists after his death.

The story is of Eugene's small life. That story looks at first like one of wasted potential, and futility. A life seemingly lost in dreaming and hiding from the facts behind comfortable lies: dad has gone to an important job in America; a job at the call centre isn't a dead end, it's "waiting"; there is an alien who will return for his lost eye. Eugene's so-called friends are both rather unpleasant creatures, really. Gary at least is sorry for his actions but Josh from the video store is a piece of work. And Eugene's life is ended at the moment when he still has so much potential, when, tragically, just as life has beaten him right down he realises he can still be happy.

But, and this is the point and this is why this is the opposite of "They Keep Killing Suzie": that life was worth living. Every life has its alien eyes and banana milkshakes and random shoes and every single life is worth living.

This was very much the "Love & Monsters" episode of Torchwood, and not just in the "life is good even when it's awful" message: taking the focus away from the familiar characters for a week to look in from the outside gives you an episode that is easier on the schedule for your main cast, so they can be off filming the season climax, say, while you cover this with a second unit.

Interesting to see Gwen and Owen's relationship from this perspective. They seem to be sniping at one another more and flirting less – though that could just be from Eugene's point of view, and anyway, their flirting was always fairly snippy. But more like it seems that the affair has reached a turning point, and you have to wonder if it wasn't Suzie's revelation last week.

And we see Gwen sleeping alone – ghostly Eugene aside. She's taken a weekend trip to Aberystwyth and is staying overnight, so there's no expectation that either Owen or Rhys would be with her. But it is an interesting motif, nonetheless.

"Love & Monsters" was also – notoriously – a pastiche, an homage to the Doctor Who fans, with their weekly meetings in their special club. In a similar way, Eugene is an archetypal sci-fi fan, here with the ultimate viewing experience: he can watch Torchwood from every angle, but like the viewer, cannot touch or talk to them, is in fact unseen by his heroes. And his "real" life is not nearly so exciting as theirs, with a low rent job and few friends. Torchwood are virtually investigating their own fan base.

"I don't want this to end," he says at one point – so he'll clearly be relieved by news of the second season, there.

Though there is the question of whether Gwen is aware of Eugene.

She seems unnaturally obsessed with Eugene even from the beginning – though this could just be more of the "big hearted Gwen" syndrome that we have had all season. Yes dear, and remember it nearly killed you last week? But as the episode goes on, we start to see that Eugene appears to be affecting Gwen's subconscious – first she orders his lunch, double egg ham and chips, in his cafĂ©; then he persuades her to try Gary's speed dial on his phone; then stops her going in to see his estranged dad. By the time she's staring moodily out of the window of her Aberystwyth hotel he can blow on her hair and move it. When she addresses him aloud at the end, telling him the eye is no longer inside him, does she do so because she expects him to hear or is it just because of a feeling?

Alex suggests that she doesn't quite consciously realise she has her little ghostly puppy, but sees him from the corner of her mind.

Of course, it does all get a bit silly at the end when he returns corporeally to save her life and then, from the camera movement, appears to ascend into heaven. Bit embarrassing if Eugene was in fact the second coming.

Fittingly, for a story called "Random Shoes" the episode has odd random moments in it, adding to it's richness but if they signify something or nothing who can tell?

Alex pointed out to me that Josh charges Gwen £34 as a fine for returning Eugene's DVDs – the same £34 he offered to pay over for the eye.

Eugene's DVD, incidentally, is "A for Andromeda": a message from a dead civilisation creates a new life form… another form of life after death.

Captain Jack guesses Eugene's alien eye is a "Dagon Sixth Eye" without even seeing it, though when he does get a look at the end, he does believe it to be the genuine article. But then how does Josh know that the alien had six eyes?

(A "Dagon sphere" is, of course, important in Buffy's fifth season – the one where she dies before being dragged back to life.)

And it is almost impossible to believe that Russell T Davies did not instruct that the roadside caf should be called "Happy Cook" knowing full well how that would sound pronounced in a Welsh accent.

"Random Shoes" is a mixed bag of an episode. Coincidence and compassion lead Gwen around a collection of moments subtle and unsubtle and occasionally cringe-making. But on the whole it turns Suzie Costello's nihilistic worldview inside out: where Suzie thought "there's nothing beyond life so it's all rubbish", this says "even the rubbish bits are a life".

I recall a line from Neil Gaiman's endlessly superior "Sandman": everyone gets the same length of time to live – a lifetime.

And a Very Happy 16th Day of Advent to All of You at Home!


Will said...

I almost spluttered my cider when the waitress pronounced the restaurant name.

Quite a sweet episode, like L&M. The line I laughed at was "I'm Linda. I'm a silver caller."

Liberal Neil said...

We watched this one last night and agreed that it was one of the stronger stories of the series - partly because the Eugene character was atually a lot more believeable than some of the regulars.

Gaping holes in plotline aside it was well paced, fitted the lenght of episode well and displayed a subtlty that has been sadly lacking in much of the rest of the series.

And, as usual, your posting once again highlights my childlike innocence - I just thought 'Happy Cook' was a simple replacement for 'Little Chef' and didn't get the joke until I read your post!