Slow Decay

Roots: There are references to Edvard Munch, the Klu Klux Klan, Cobra lager, the Kaiser Chiefs, Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen, iPods, Elvis Presley, David Beckham, Jack the Ripper, Colin Farrell, Radio 1 and Radio 2, Ant and Dec's performances in Alien Autopsy, Chuckie, Tom and Jerry, Bill Gates, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, eBay, The Flaming Lips, Suzanne Vega, T. S. Eliot, A. A. Milne, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Riemann Hypothesis, Erimem, Chris de Burgh, Scooby-Doo, Prada, Newsnight, Special Brew, Asda, GQ, the Crazy Frog, Carry On films, Manolo Blahnik, David Attenborough, Budweiser, Sherlock Holmes, the Beatles, Smarties, Alien, and Changing Rooms.

Dialogue Triumphs: "We can't observe without interfering. We shine a light into the darkness, and it alters things".

"You can't find anything in a woman's handbag. It's not organised along logical lines"

Continuity: The parasites are worm-like and have blue-ringed bodies, triangular in cross-section, and with thin white strands erupting from the end. Dr. Scotus discovered one in the stomach of a cow near Cardiff when he was a vet and discovered when it infected him that he rapidly lost weight. He set up the Scotus clinic, giving out the creature's eggs as pills, along with a second pill containing a plant sterol to flush the creature from the patient's system. Infection by the parasite gives people an insatiable and ravenous appetite, in order to try and satisfy which they will resort to cannibalism, unable to control the hunger. Their desperation for food makes them strong enough to kill Weevils. Owen hypothesises that the creatures have a life cycle similar to a tapeworm, and that the eggs hatch when activated by stomach acid. They have no visible mouth and probably absorb nutrients through their skin. When the host dies, the metabolise the resulting mass of flesh and enter the egg-laying stage of their life-cycle, in which they develop long-black bodies with a sharp point at each end and a pair of gossamer fan-like wings that allow them to fly. They inject their eggs into a new host (probably a grazing animal on its home planet), killing or wounding it in the process, so that when a scavenger eats the corpse it consumes the eggs. The creature inside Scotus has been there for so long that its tendrils are too entwined with his nervous system and brain: he dies when Owen injects him with a solution of the plant sterol to kill the creature.

The emotional amplifier is a batch of items that arrived on Earth in the nineteen-fifties, all with different functions but made by the same designer. Each contains a three-dimensional portrait of the maker, and Tosh hypothesises that together they tell his/her/its life story. Twelve or thirteen of the items are already in the Torchwood archives, having been confiscated from various places in South Wales. One was in the Torchwood London archives until Torchwood London was destroyed, since when it has been back in Torchwood Cardiff (see Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). Two of the devices were originally found in what was believed to be an alien life-craft in an archaeological dig on an Iron Age site near Mynach Hengoed in 1953; another five were bought as a job lot in an auction in 1948, provenance unknown; and another was transferred from an earlier Torchwood box dating back to 1910. The devices were signed into the Archive by Captain Jack in 1955.

Weevils are carnivorous but not cannibalistic. They know when other Weevils are in danger (see 'Combat'), and collect the bodies of their dead. The bizarre secrets of Weevil sex almost made Owen throw up when he first learnt about them. Weevils don't seem to get sick: their physiology allows them to digest almost anything and their immune system is an expansion of their digestive system into the rest of their body, meaning that anything that gets inside their skin, including bacteria, viruses, bullets, knives and stakes, gets rapidly digested. Their body temperature is lower than that of humans: Toshiko devices a way to track them by using overhead infra-red imagery from military studies. The system can't track them if they are indoors. Jack has been using it to study them, so that he can learn about their social structure, as part of a plan to work out how to get rid of them once and for all. He has also been intending to try using carfentanyl to sedate Weevils.

Jack has a tendency towards reckless driving in the SUV. There are periods of his life that are a bit vague, including one in which he thinks he was a sailor. The last time he held a girl's head whilst she threw up was when a friend had drunk too many hyper-vodkas: he thinks she might have gone on to become President of somewhere. Jack may have met "fifth Beatle" Stuart Sutcliffe. He believes that Gwen has more force of will than anyone else he's ever known. He claims that he once started a religion and has no intention of ever doing so again.

Since joining Torchwood Owen has learnt about vast diaphanous creatures that can slip through rock like whales move through water, and single beings that take the form of flocks of birds. He and Toshiko have often argued about the relative merits of physics and biology late at night in the Hub: Owen usually breaks off the discussion by sulking when she points out that biology is essentially chemistry, and chemistry is itself a branch of physics. Owen lost his virginity in a stationary cupboard at school when he was fifteen. Owen grew up in Plaistow in the East End. After his seven years of medical training, he spent a year as a junior houseman at Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Most of his friends went on to become car mechanics or estate agents; not wanting to do either, he looked for an alternative but was only inspired to become a doctor when his dad died of an aortic aneurysm. During the fight with Scotus' thugs, Owen receives wounds to his forearm.

Gwen met Lucy before at a barbecue in Ely. Gwen and Rhys used to socialise with his workmates quite a bit before she joined Torchwood. Gwen cooks marinated chicken in parma ham with parmesan and asparagus for her and Rhys, even though she thinks that parmesan smells like vomit and asparagus makes her urine smell bad. She and Rhys used to buy recipe books and go through the recipes one by one, often with disastrous results, such as when they tried turkey with chocolate and chilli pepper sauce, brie wedges in breadcrumbs, and pork, paprika and pears. They once made peanut butter and apple soup from a vegetarian cookbook when friends Rebecca and Andy came to visit. Gwen is familiar with the sound of blood: as a policewoman she was once present at a house in Butetown where an old man cut his wrist through to the bone with a hacksaw. A kid on drugs once punched her in the face in a squat in Ely, giving her a nose bleed. Gwen has been reading a John Updike book for a couple of months. She carries a Leatherman, having been introduced to it by a colleague in the police. Having killed her boyfriend whilst infected by the parasite, Lucy ends up under long-term psychiatric supervision.

Rhys's surname is Williams. He works for a transport and shipping company. He has a sister. He can play bass guitar. Rhys's workmate Lucy Sobel has recently lost vast amounts of weight due to Dr. Scotus' diet treatment. She is clearly attracted to Rhys. Rhys resolves to lose weight and get in shape, partly to try and improve his relationship with Gwen, and takes Scotus' weight loss treatment: he's thus infected by one of the parasites, but Gwen persuades him to take the "stop" pill and flush it from his system. He likes Murphy's Irish Stout. He has had various fights in the past, including drunken brawls and fights on football pitches, and once thrashed a drug-addled would-be mugger in an alley where he'd gone to urinate. Rhys thinks that Gwen's old partner Andy dislikes him. Rhys has read every Dean Koontz novel at least once, and often reads them again: Gwen tried to read one once, but couldn't get past the first paragraph. Rhys once bought a book entitled How to be an Effective Manager. After the events here, Gwen and Rhys spend a week on holiday in Shrewsbury.

Tosh finds the damp Victorian brickwork of the Hub distasteful. Jack once told her that the water basin is the home of the last survivors of a civil war on a planet of very small insectoid aliens, which she has mistaken for mosquitoes: he was probably joking, but she stopped swatting them just in case. Tosh values logic and order above all things. During the fight with Scotus' thugs, she receives cuts to her palms. She knows Fendi, which she uses to overcome her attacker.

The Torchwood Archive contains a section devoted to the records left behind by previous Torchwood members, in the form of videos, photographs, an ancient daguerreotype, and a scratchy wax cylinder containing the recording of a man talking calmly up until the point where he suddenly lets out a chilling scream. There is an underground train station in the Hub, which Ianto claims (possibly jokingly) was once part of an underground system that linked the Torchwoods together. The Hub also contains a room full of fish tanks constructed using alien technology and containing fish from deep in Earth's oceans, where the pressure is enormous and there is no light: they have been in the Hub since before Jack arrived. The fish are fed by either an automated system or Ianto. The Hub was built partly around an old water pumping station. The Hub's portholes into the waters of Cardiff bay are old pipes that have been sealed off. The team uses guns loaded with bullets made of alien alloy: Toshiko uses a Walther P99, Owen uses a Sig Sauer P226, and Gwen uses a Glock 17. Toshiko hates using the guns. The team uses thin metal bands as cuffs that can be wound around a captives wrists or ankles and, when pressed together, meld into an unbreakable loop until they are irradiated with low-level microwaves: Tosh has so far failed to determine how they work. The Bekaran deep-tissue scanner is essentially an ultrasound generator and detector, which Toshiko has modified so that it sends its readings via wireless LAN to Owen's terminal.

Links: The first three Torchwood novels take place between Ghost Machine and Cyberwoman. The Weevils first appeared in Everything Changes. Operation Goldenrod was first mentioned in Border Princes. Ianto is up to something in the basement (Cyberwoman). There are references to Suzie (Everything Changes). Rhys' workmate Lucy and her new diet were first mentioned in Another Life, which is also where Jimmy Mitchell first appeared. Operation Goldenrod was first mentioned in Border Princes and again in Another Life, as was the Bekaran deep tissue scanner. The line "nasty, brutish and short" may be a nod to The Time Warrior.

Location: Cardiff, late 2007.

Unrecorded Adventures: Operation Goldenrod took place before Gwen joined Torchwood and whilst Suzie was still a member. Goldenrod was a huge piece of alien technology that kept reconfiguring itself whilst Toshiko worked on it, that melted people together during sexual congress, leaving them as teratological monstrosities with their flesh joined together. Owen tried to surgically separate the victims, leaving deformity and death behind in most cases, whilst Toshiko spent somewhere between forty-eight and seventy-two hours solidly working on the machine. Owen has apparently persuaded a girl to strip off in the cells: Jack caught him and didn't approve.

The Bottom Line: Engaging and well-written, as might be expected from Lane. Owen again benefits well from the novels, as we get to see his human side, and some much-needed attention is spent on Rhys and Gwen's relationship.

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke
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