Torchwood: Adam
(1 episode, s02e05, 2008)

 

A science-fiction staple trope hits Torchwood Three: Fake memories for everyone!

Gwen is late for work due to some morning frolicking with Rhys. Meanwhile, the Torchwood team is investigating a strange box with new team member Adam Smith. Gwen doesn’t recognize him since she’s been away, but after a brief touch on her shoulder, Gwen is fully onboard thanks to some false memories.

Adam does the same with Tosh, implanting some romantic memories after fiddling with his personnel file. Other changes include a playful Owen who is now wearing glasses and Jack seeing visions of a child in the containment cells. The cracks start to show when Gwen goes home but doesn’t recognize Rhys – Adam has never met the man, and his power tends to replace memories rather than merely inserting them – and calls in the team to deal with the supposed home intruder. Jack recognizes Rhys and, thanks to the engagement ring on her hand, Gwen is convinced enough to accompany her teammates back to the Hub.

Owen examines Gwen while Jack interviews Rhys to help jog her memory. Gwen returns home, and Jack keeps seeing visions of the kid. When Jack pursues a Weevil into the sewers, he finds a man who he recognizes as his father. Adam appears moments later and places a few more memories into Jack’s head while he probes the man’s past.

He thinks back to his childhood on the Boeshane Penninsula. His community was invaded by aliens, and Jack was given charge of his brother Gray when his father went back for his mother. In the confusion, Gray was lost, and Jack returned home to find his father dead. Jack is riddled with grief and guilt, and he storms away.

Owen and Tosh continue their investigation of the strange box. The box is made of wood, and Ianto offers to check his diary for any history of the artifact. Owen keeps flirting with Tosh, but she’s completely enamored with Adam. Owen professes his love for Tosh, but this only angers Tosh. Owen is devastated.

Rhys and Gwen go to a general store, and when the cashier ignores Rhys, he goes on a rant. Gwen laughs as some of her memories come back to her.

Ianto notes that his diary has no mention of Adam. When Ianto confronts the newest Torchwood member, Adam inserts false memories of Ianto as a serial killer. Adam relishes the thrill while Ianto is left crying on the floor. He then visits Tosh and leverages her fake memories of him to gauge her devotion to him. She claims that she would die to protect him.

Jack puzzles over why long-buried memories of his childhood trauma are surfacing now. He returns to the Hub to find Ianto begging to be incarcerated for his supposed crimes. Jack investigates, eventually finding the CCTV footage of Adam manipulating Ianto’s mind, and he finally uncovers the truth behind Adam’s touch.

Jack checks the records but can’t find a blood sample for Adam. The lights come up as the team arrives for the morning, complete with an apology bouquet from Owen to Tosh. Adam tries to bring the team in for a group hug, but Ianto rejects Adam’s touch. Jack confronts Adam by gunpoint and, despite Tosh’s protests, eventually sends the imposter to the cells. Adam claims that everything has changed the team for the better, but Jack is furious.

The team discusses the Adam situation as their real memories start to surface. Jack gives each team member a Retcon pill to wipe the last 48 hours – Adam’s existence – from their minds. Jack visits Adam one last time and Adam offers to revive a good memory for him. It’s a kindness born of an eternity spent floating in the Void: Jack recalls a day with his father and Gray. Adam can’t help himself, however, and inserts himself into the memory as means of survival. The memory is ruined and Jack takes the Retcon pill.

With no one left to remember him, Adam is destroyed.

The team wakes up sometime later, curious as to why the last 48 hours have vanished. All that remains is the bouquet and the mystery box that contained Adam’s essence. Jack figures out how to open the box, but all that it holds is sand.

Presumably from the memory of the Boeshane Penninsula.

 

The false memory and implanted memory trope is a staple of science-fiction. TV Tropes has a page dedicated to it, and the trope is everywhere. The saving grace is how Torchwood approached it with the show’s dark vision. In fact, Adam’s claim that his intervention has improved the team – gaslighting, anyone? – makes him a believable villain, and the writers hung a lampshade on his manipulation being a violation. Particularly with Tosh and the forced intimacy, which plays as an allegory for rape. Unfortunately, the recovery from that is never as simple as Torchwood‘s quick fix amnesia pill.

To that end, I enjoy the creepiness of this story, especially how it showed how vulnerable our heroes are despite their upfront strength. Guns and alien tech only discourage so much, you know? I also liked how the show keeps an eye on internal continuity: One of Ianto’s anchor memories was Lisa.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Reset

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.