Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood had a decidedly shaky first season. Its place as an 'adult' side of the Doctor Who universe left it in a weird place of trying too hard to be edgy while, at the same time, being wildly immature. But it quickly grew up in its second outing — and this is the moment when it finally paid off.
Welcome back to The Exact Moment When, our weekly listing of a moment where something changed — for the better or the worse.
The climax of 'Reset', the sixth episode of Torchwood's second season, is almost perplexingly small scale for a show that had tried so desperately hard to give itself the same sort of stakes its parent show had on a weekly basis. But the moment that Professor Copley, beaten and broken by Torchwood, shoots Owen in an act of vengeance, is the direct opposite of the big stakes that Doctor Who was known for, and that Torchwood had tried and failed to emulate multiple times across its first season and a half. There's no big build up, no ominous declarations of death and impending doom. The story's over; the team are packing up to go home.
When Copley pulls his gun, Owen tries to talk him down, appeal to his rational side — in any other circumstance, it would've been a stirring speech that convinces Copley to discard the gun and turn himself in, but he doesn't even dignify it with a response. He just shoots Owen, and is killed by Jack before he can kill anyone else. The rest of the team is dumbfounded as they surround the body of their dead friend. It's not melodramatic; it's almost banal in its ordinariness. It's the lack of melodrama that makes it so painful and messy and shocking upon first viewing.
But Owen's death is also symbolic of the show's turning point. In its first season, there was an impetus to connect itself to Doctor Who as much as possible — and the spinoff show's idea of maturity was 'there's sex and we say fuck a lot'. The Doctor Who connection was a blessing and a curse: it gave Torchwood a rich world to play around in, but at the same time served as a crutch for it to try and skew as adult as it could. But the maturity with which it handles the moment of Owen's death is the show evolving from its perceived 'adult' nature into an actual adult tone, one that would flourish and thrive in the show's seminal third season, Children of Earth. It's almost too perfect that Martha Jones is present for it — it becomes an almost literal handing over the reigns from Doctor Who to let the show stand more on its own.
Going back and watching Torchwood's first season, it's difficult to imagine this would be the show that would flourish into the stunningly tense miniseries Children of Earth. But the second season, and Owen's death, would lay the groundwork that would let the series shine its brightest in its third outing - a grounded sense of self in regards to maturity and the willingness to not glorify it violence so much. It would fumble again (especially in its last series, Miracle Day), but Owen's death represented a turning point where the show could move out of Doctor Who's shadow and stand in its own light.