James Moran’s script may use standard generic tropes like the sleeper agent, a concept recently deployed by Battlestar Galactica, but the execution is perfect and retains the unique identity of Torchwood. A great sense of mystery builds throughout as we, alongside Torchwood, are keen to uncover the truth about Beth. Do sleeper agents dream of electric weevils?
Nikki Amuka-Bird delivers a wonderful central performance as the mysterious Beth and makes us really feel for her plight. The juxtaposition between her frail, human identity and the reality of her monstrous alien existence is wonderfully portrayed.
There’s also some fascinating character development amongst the Torchwood team. Captain Jack shows a very ruthless streak in his unsympathetic attitude towards Beth - and we can clearly see the revulsion on Gwen’s face towards this. Ianto also continues to be showcase his newly humorous persona with several amusing one liners. His cheery outlook must surely be linked to the upsurge in his love life.
The visual highlight of the episode, and possibly the series, occurs with a brilliant and terrifying montage sequence when the sleeper agents are activated around Cardiff. It echoes the iconic imagery of classic Doctor Who, when the monsters emerged from the sea, sewers or spacecraft to begin their invasion. Of particular note is a clever and horrifying twist on the famous Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin, as the agent’s pram rolls out of sight into a busy road with the horrifying consequences left for our imagination.
The gore throughout the episode befits the show’s post-watershed timeslot and contains classic body horror elements that David Cronenberg would be proud of. Colin Teague’s direction is the perfect match for the subject matter, imbuing the action with quick cuts and fast zooms to ensure the pace never relents. He also knows when to lay off the flash style and give a stillness to the camerawork, which greatly benefits the satisfying, poignant ending.
Despite lacking in originality, ‘Sleeper’ is the best episode of Torchwood to date - a thinking and thrilling slice of science fiction.
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