Ghost Machine was the third episode of series one of Torchwood. This episode followed up with Gwen Cooper’s confession in the previous episode that she didn’t know how to shoot a gun. Seeking to fix this, Captain Jack taught his newest operative how to use guns efficiently and trained Gwen into a fine shot. Her new skills would become vital to survive within the Torchwood organization.
Gwen and Owen are running down a city street one evening, chasing a signal that Tosh is tracking. Tosh doesn’t have a visual yet. Jack is on his way, driving the SUV.
Tosh finds their quarry on the CCTV feed and calls out to the tracking team that it’s a man in a hoodie. They chase him through a shopping area, until he ducks under a closing exit barrier at the High Street Arcade. Only Gwen has kept close enough to make it through; Owen and Jack have to pause until the mechanism can be reversed. She chases the man in the hoodie over the gate into the train station and through some travelers until she tackles him. The runner squirms away, leaving Gwen with his jacket. Gwen is angry that she lost him, but Tosh says the signal is still right there. Gwen finds a device in the jacket. It’s beeping, and lights on it are flashing, as she lifts it up in both hands and presses a big button.
The world around Gwen blurs and the other people disappear. She’s in the same station, still night or evening. A little boy, in short pants, coat, and tie, with a little grey hat, walks out of the booking hall, with a suitcase, two brown paper packages on string, a stuffed bear, and a tag pinned to his lapel that says he is Tom Erasmus Flanagan. Gwen tries to talk to him. He doesn’t really answer, but says he’s lost and no one there knows who he is. Tom walks back to the booking hall. Gwen fades back as Jack comes up with Owen, apologizing for missing the gate. He asks Gwen if she’s alright. Gwen says she’s just seen a ghost.
Back at the Hub, Tosh goes over the CCTV, which shows that Gwen didn’t go anywhere after pressing the button. Gwen protests that the encounter felt very real, to the point where she could actually feel the little boy’s emotions. Owen suggests both hallucinations and dementia, causing Gwen to shout at him. Jack examines the device while Tosh tries to backtrack the hoodie guy with the CCTV and the little boy from the vision. Owen says not to bother, he’s found Thomas Erasmus Flanagan on 74 Bryaeron Terrace, Butetown… in the phone book.
“DI Cooper” (Gwen) and “DS Harper” (Owen) pay a visit to the address. A blonde woman answers, and she turns out to be Tom’s daughter, Eleri. Tom is watching TV. When Gwen says she needs to ask about an incident the previous evening, Eleri says they were watching the Strictly Come Dancing finale. Owen and Eleri go to make tea while Gwen speaks to Tom.
Tom never lost his accent, despite his 66 years in Wales. He says he was evacuated with the other children from the East End in 1941, when he was 8, and was sent to Cardiff as a way station on his way to the country. His mother and big sister sent him off from Paddington station and he never saw them again. There was a mix-up and he had been left at the Cardiff station all alone. It felt like the end of the world as he wandered around, totally lost and forgotten, looking for someone to look out for him. Eventually they realized he’d been forgotten. He was taken in by a nice family, and since he had no family left in London, he never returned after the war.
Gwen tries out theories on Owen as they walk away, but is interrupted by a call from Rhys. He’s doing the laundry, and wants to know if she’s home tonight. She isn’t sure, and he is angry. He feels that even if she needs to keep secrets for her job, she should know whether or not she’ll be home. He says he’s going out tonight and hangs up on her.
Back at the Hub, Jack and Tosh have found Sean Harris, also known as Bernie, a known petty thief. They’ve also analysed the device, which is a nano-technological instrument of such complexity that it makes the work of NASA look like Toys Я Us. Gwen notices that the machine isn’t currently beeping and lighting up. Ianto shows up with snacks and coffee.
All except Ianto go to Splott, which is listed as Bernie’s neighborhood, to look for him. They strike out rather impressively, as they discover that Bernie has managed to annoy pretty much every person who knew him, right down to his own mother, who won’t let him back in her house until he pays her the 50 quid he owes her. Gwen, Tosh, and Owen have just given up when Jack walks up and keeps on walking. They follow him and ask where he’s going. He says they’re going to the railway station and they all stop under the bridge to argue about how dangerous it is. Jack tosses the device to Owen and taunts them about giving up on the search for Bernie. As Owen lifts up the machine, it starts beeping and he calls for the rest to come back.
The world blurs for Owen and suddenly it goes from sunny afternoon to rainy night under the bridge. A girl stumbles down the wall. She’s in a pretty pink coat, a nice dress, and a 1960s hairstyle, but she is sobbing. She’s Lizzie Lewis, and she’s running away from a boy called Eddie Morgan; she has realized the other girls were right, she shouldn’t have gone outside with him. Eddie comes up behind her, asking if he’s a bad boy. He flatters her and she stops running. He kisses her but the kiss turns hard and she starts to fight away. He slaps her as she cries, then he grabs her hair and pulls a blade. As she pleads, he drags her over towards the wall…
Owen blurs back to the rest of the team. He’s frantic, knowing she was so scared, but he could not move and couldn’t help her. He pants and starts to cry as Gwen takes the device. Back in the Hub, Jack tells Tosh it was 40-45 years ago, and she finds that the only child of Mabel Ann Lewis of Hatford Street died March 29th, 1963. She had been raped and murdered on Penfro Street under the bridge at age 17. No one had ever been brought to trial. As Owen asks Tosh to look for Eddie Morgan, Jack notices that the scan of the device shows a quantum transducer. This is a device for converting energy from one form to another. This particular transducer seems to amplify the energy of human emotion into ghosts. Jack says, “When you feel déjà vu, something behind you in an empty room, there was, there always is.”
Owen pushes for more information about Lizzie’s death and Jack realizes that Owen wants the case reopened. He emphatically states that, no matter how it felt, Owen was not there, he was not a witness, and they can’t take it to court. Tomorrow, they’ll do their job — which is to find the origin and uses of the alien device and secure it. He sends Owen home and stalks off after ordering, “Gwen, with me.”
Gwen finds Jack in an area of the base which has been set up as a shooting range. He starts with the basics, then stands back to watch her. After a somewhat rocky start, the roof is safe and she’s hitting targets with a gun in each hand. As they finish up, Gwen checks her watch and says she’s got to go. She jokes that Jack lives there, in the process finding out that Jack does actually live there. He doesn’t have a place to sleep because he doesn’t sleep. When Gwen asks if it gets lonely at night, he doesn’t answer.
Gwen goes home, finding that Rhys has gone out to Daf’s to play poker. She’s brought the device home and uses it to see happy scenes, such as her flirting with Rhys in the kitchen when they celebrated her new job as a police constable. Rhys comes back, and they make up. As she kisses him, she hides the device back in her purse. Owen is home drinking liquor from the bottle. He’s taken the reports on Lizzie’s murder from Torchwood. With some effort, he finds Eddie’s current address on Prysse Ave. He goes to the address, selecting a false ID from the Gas Supply Services. He talks his way into Eddie’s home, even though Eddie uses electric. Owen sits down with him and talks to him, saying he knows about the bridge. Morgan chases him out, saying he’ll get nothing from him.
As Owen returns to his car, he spots Bernie smoking, and chases him. People in the neighborhood dislike Bernie, and the bystanders help Owen keep track of him. Finally, Owen corners Bernie in a fenced backyard. Bernie asks Owen not to hurt him. Owen replies, “I’m not gonna hurt you… I’m gonna bloody kill you.”
They go to a pub to wait for the rest of the field team. Bernie is babbling when Jack puts down the device and says, “It’s worth knowing we’re probably about the only people you can tell.” Bernie stole the device from a storage unit. It was with a bunch of strange coins and rocks in a tin. After he’d taken the device, it started going off near the old wharf. He saw a woman dumping her dead baby in the water, and realized he knew the woman. He blackmailed her. Jack realizes that Bernie doesn’t know anything more about the device and they begin to leave. He yells after them that he’s got rights, but they don’t stop until he asks if they want the other half.
They go to Bernie’s flat on Evelyn St to collect the other half and the alien coins and rocks. Tosh finds that they fit together like LEGO. Bernie is dismayed that they’re going to confiscate everything. Gwen trails behind the others and Bernie tells her that he never used the second half again, as it showed him he was going to die bleeding in the street outside. Gwen hurries down and calls out to Jack, but the machine starts beeping. Without stopping to think, Gwen holds it in both hands as Jack bolts toward her, yelling.
The world ripples around Gwen and she sees herself standing with her hands covered in blood, holding a knife. Vision Gwen is asking for help, she couldn’t stop it, he’s dead, Owen had the knife. Gwen stands there in shock as the vision ends. Back in the Hub, Jack tries to ease Gwen’s fears, telling her it’s only a possible future. Gwen wants more assurance, demanding to know if any of that alien stuff they collect is ever of any use.
Tosh and Owen are out for a drink. She tells him she found Eddie. Owen tells her what he did and asks what she found out; Tosh found that Eddie had major issues with mental instability and hasn’t left his house in years because of it. They realize that Bernie must have tried to blackmail Eddie. Meanwhile, Eddie calls Bernie. Gwen shows up at Bernie’s to let him know what Jack said about possible futures. Jack calls Gwen to let her know that Eddie had been frightened by Owen, and they’re on their way. Tosh sees Eddie on the CCTV, coming up Evelyn Street. Bernie runs for it and Gwen follows.
Eddie confronts Bernie with a knife and a paranoid rant. Gwen tries to calm him, but Eddie gets angrier, as he blames women for making him bad. Jack and Owen jump him, then Owen gets the knife and threatens Eddie with it. He realizes what he’s doing and gives the knife to Gwen, who is relieved. As Eddie goes to hug her for saving his life, he walks right into the outstretched knife in her hand. He drops to the ground, bleeding. Owen begins CPR, but realizes quickly that it’s futile and stops. Gwen is staring in shock, blood on her hands, the picture from her earlier vision.
Back at the Hub, they debrief. Owen is glad that he decided not to kill Eddie. Gwen is shocked and guilty, and Tosh and Jack try to comfort her with the thought that it could have been anybody. Jack gives Ianto the device for the secure archives, then takes the silently crying Gwen to the bay to watch the sun rise.