Random Shoes was the ninth episode in the first series of Torchwood. It was unusual in its format, in that it sidelined the regular cast in favor of a guest character. It was also the first story to have no real enemy. In retrospect, one might call the episode a “Jack-lite” one, centering almost entirely around Gwen Cooper’s independent investigation of Eugene Jones’ death, and following Eugene himself as he watches and develops feelings for her. The rest of the Torchwood Three team barely appeared.
Finding himself lying in the middle of the road, Eugene Jones makes his way to the police tape blocking off a crime scene. An officer lifts the tape for an exiting officer, and Eugene slips past. He recognizes the staff of Torchwood Three, a group to whom he has been trying to speak for quite a while. As the team try to determine what happened to the victim, Eugene realizes that the dead body on the ground is him. He tries to touch Toshiko, but his hand runs right through her. “Am I dead?”
Eugene’s mobile phone rings. Tosh answers it, and hands it to Gwen to tell Eugene’s mother of the accident. As the team leave for Eugene’s home, he climbs in the car, and finally realizes that he must be a ghost.
During the drive, Eugene recalls his childhood: the day his father left home, and the beginnings of his interest in aliens, in particular, an artifact given to him by a teacher: an alien eye. He thinks of his prior encounters with Torchwood and how he never got the chance to tell them about the eye.
At Eugene’s home, Gwen notifies his mother and brother, Terry, of Eugene’s death, while Ianto and Owen look at the alien “artifacts” in his room. Most are fakes, including an “alien” rock made with painted Rice Krispies. One empty stand interests Gwen. Eugene follows the Torchwood team in hope of finding out what happened to him.
Back at the Hub, Eugene is amazed by all of the technology and alien artifacts. Owen tries to convince Gwen that Eugene’s death was only a road accident. Owen has too much paperwork to perform an autopsy on Eugene’s body. Gwen will do it herself. As she presses the scalpel to Eugene’s body, Eugene faints; Gwen looks up, thinking she saw movement. As she looks down to start the autopsy again, Ianto enters with the news that a drunk driver in a red car has been pulled over, and admits to striking someone near Cardiff.
Eugene awakens, lying on the floor of the Hub, and walks home. Seeing his mother crying, he walks on.
In the conference room at the Hub, Gwen cannot let go of Eugene’s death. Owen and Tosh point out there is no evidence of involvement of anything mysterious or alien.
In the morning, Gwen finds Owen watching a DVD he stole from Eugene’s room. Gwen, upset, offers to return the DVD to the rental shop while she grabs lunch. As she leaves, she takes Eugene’s cell phone from the evidence box.
The video store is closed. Gwen stops at a cafe around the corner, followed by Eugene. Gwen asks the waiter about Eugene, but he does not remember him. Eugene, upset because the cafe is his usual lunch spot, recites his usual order, two eggs, ham and chips. Gwen places the same order. Gwen sits at a table, and flips through the pictures on Eugene’s phone. The most recent are of random shoes. Eugene says he doesn’t really remember anything from the last few weeks, and that Gwen should call his friend Gary to see if he knows anything. Gwen flips through his list of contacts and phones Gary. She leaves a message.
Stopping at the hardware store, Gwen meets Josh, who works there. Repeatedly hitting on Gwen, Josh tells her Eugene was a nice guy, but a loser — a complete failure. He asks if Eugene committed suicide. Gwen returns the DVD, pays a £34 fine and leaves the store. Eugene himself contemplates on Josh’s words: has his whole life really just been one big failure?
Gwen’s next stop is Eugene’s old employer, a telesales business. As Gwen wanders through the office, she glances at the phones and the floor, trying to find the shoes from the picture. She spots a pair of Converse All Stars from the pictures, worn by Gary. She asks him if he saw Eugene the day he died. Gary says that he hadn’t. He goes off on another office worker for writing, “Good luck on your new job!” on the sympathy card. As Gwen follows Gary between a row of cubes, she is stopped by Linda, a friend of Eugene, broken up by his death.
Concerned she may get in trouble for talking during work hours, Gwen agrees to meet Linda for lunch. While she looks around Gary’s desk, Owen calls. Gwen tells him she’s taking care of a few personal things and will be back soon.
At lunch, Linda fills in some of the missing pieces of Eugene’s last weeks. A few weeks before, Eugene was depressed. When Linda came into work one day after an argument with her boyfriend, Eugene agreed to help her move to Australia to start a new life. He told Linda he would sell his alien artifact. When he brought the eye to his office, a few of his friends laughed; ignoring them, though, he still placed it on eBay. The price soon climbed to £15,005.50. Gwen’s phone rings. It is Eugene’s mother asking Gwen to come by. She thanks Linda and leaves.
Gwen and Mrs Jones watch a video of a maths competition that Eugene lost when he was a boy. She explains to Gwen that Eugene was given a plastic eye by a teacher as a consolation. Terry tells Gwen that the night Eugene lost the competition was the same night their father left, and that Eugene blamed himself. Mrs Jones tells Gwen the boys’ father really left for a job in America, but Terry tells his mother that he and Eugene found out the truth two weeks back: their father still lives in the area, working in a garage across town. Suddenly Eugene begins to remember why he sold the eye: after discovering the lie, he realized that he’d been believing in fantasies his whole life, waiting for something that’ll never come. So why not sell it?
Gwen drives to the garage to tell Eugene’s father about his death. Eugene talks about how finding his father made him believe that everything he had hoped for was for naught and he might as well sell the eye and get something for it. As Gwen opens her car door, Eugene asks her not to go. As if hearing him, she reconsiders, and closes it again. He tells Gwen he doesn’t want anything to do with his father, and when he apologizes Gwen tells him it is alright.
Back in the Hub, Jack confronts Gwen about turning off her phone. She tries to explain to Jack what she is feeling, and mentions the alien eye. Jack believes it might be a Dogon sixth eye, an item that allows its user to see his past and put it in perspective. They were traded for the novelty factor. Gwen tells Jack that she has almost tracked it down, and he gives her the weekend to finish her investigation.
Gwen’s next stop is a lecture at Aberystwyth University called “Black Holes and the Uncertainty Principle”. Gwen runs into Gary, who initially runs away from her. He finally admits to her that he bid up the price of the eye to cheer Eugene up, but Eugene started to think that the bids were made by an alien. Gary says that the £15,000 bid was real. When she asks Gary again if he saw Eugene the day he died, he says that he had coffee with Eugene before he went to meet the auction-winning alien. Gwen asks him about the shoe photographs. He says they are random shoes, and he misses Eugene.
In a hotel room in Aberystwyth, as Gwen looks through some of Eugene’s belongings, Eugene tells Gwen that he took the eye and called a taxi to take him to the meeting place. As he talks, he realises that he really enjoys the time he is spending with Torchwood, and Gwen in particular, and doesn’t want it to end. He tells Gwen that he loves her. She stands and walks to the window near where Eugene is standing, and Eugene blows on her hair to make it move slightly. She brushes the hair from her face, closes the window and heads to bed. Eugene lies down next to her.
As Gwen returns from Aberystwyth, Eugene recognizes the Happy Cook restaurant as the location of the drop off. Gwen enters and recognizes the waitress’s shoes. Eugene begins to remember coming in and meeting Gary and Josh. At first he thinks they came for moral support, but Josh makes it clear that they were the real buyers and did it as a joke and to cheer him up. Although someone made a real bid of £15,000, Josh got carried away, and although they only had £34 with them, Josh still expects to be given the eye so he can turn around and resell it. Eugene uses his phone to take a few photographs of the shoes under the table. When Eugene doesn’t hand over the eye, Josh tries to take it from him.
Gwen, meanwhile, is hearing the same story from the waitress’ point of view. Apparently, the two men began to fight over the eye. When the waitress picked it up, Josh grabbed it and headed for the door, only to be tackled by Eugene, who grabbed the eye and swallowed it. Josh tried to get the eye out of Eugene, who then escaped.
As the waitress finishes her story, Josh and Gary come into the restaurant, and Josh begins to talk to the waitress to tell her not to mention anything to anyone asking questions.
As Josh talks, Gary sees Gwen standing off to the side. Josh turns to run. Gary trips him and tells Josh he misses Eugene. Eugene remembers all of what happened. Josh and Gary chased him from the restaurant and then lost him.
Eventually, Eugene stops running to catch his breath and, as he walks across the road, he is struck by a car. Gwen calls Eugene’s father to tell him the news.
Gary, Gwen, Eugene and his family are at Eugene’s funeral. For the first time, Eugene sees his father as a normal man, and begins to wish he had more time with him.
At the back of the funeral home, Gwen is handed a paper bag containing the eye by the mortician. Eugene doesn’t understand why he’s still around, now that the eye is no longer in his body. Gwen is giving a last speech to the dead man, almost seeming to know he’s there, when the Torchwood SUV pulls up. Gwen hands the bag to Jack and asks if she can have a few minutes to speak with Eugene’s family.
As she crosses the street, a car comes around the corner and nearly hits Gwen. Charging from the pavement, Eugene yells her name and knocks Gwen to the ground. Not only can Gwen see him, but so can everyone else. Gwen gives him a huge kiss. For a moment he can say thank you to Gwen, before he floats up into the light.