Small Worlds was the fifth episode of the first series of Torchwood. It was the first story to explore Jack’s past in any detail. In particular, it revealed that Jack had been married to a British woman in the mid-20th century.
It also established a storytelling convention used in every subsequent series of Torchwood. From here forward, Jack’s past would occasionally be teased through the use of extended flashbacks that demonstrated how his history tied in to a present-day problem that Torchwood was fighting.
At the Torchwood Hub, Jack wakes from a nightmare of dead soldiers in a train carriage with rose petals spilling out of their mouths. He finds a single rose petal atop his desk. Ianto, still in-office, informs Jack about strange weather patterns in the area.
The next day, Jack takes Gwen to visit an old friend of his, Estelle Cole, give a talk on fairies. Estelle shows them the Cottingley fairy photos, then compares them to photographs she had taken the day before. She claims to have found proof of the fairies’ existence.
After her presentation, Jack and Estelle discuss the photographs and the nature of fairies at her home. Gwen asks Estelle and Jack about an old photograph she found of Jack. They both claim it is of Jack’s father, and say that he had a relationship with Estelle during World War II. Estelle mentions that Jack looks and walks just like his father. Jack interrupts that thought, and asks Estelle to let him know if she encounters any more fairies.
On the way back to Torchwood, Jack explains to Gwen that the fairies are creatures from the dawn of time and are not bound by linear time. He says that the fairies can be very dangerous. Jack instructs Toshiko to watch for strange weather patterns in the area in order to locate the creatures.
Meanwhile, a young girl, Jasmine Pierce, decides to walk home from school alone as her mother’s boyfriend, Roy, did not arrive on time to pick her up. She encounters a man, Mark Goodson, who tries to lure her into his car. When Goodson makes a grab for Jasmine, a strong wind kicks up, accompanied by strange, ethereal voices. Goodson retreats into his car while Jasmine continues to skip home to play with her fairy friends in the nearby woods.
Later, a tense Goodson, still hearing the voices, stumbles through the Cardiff market, attacked by something unseen by the other shoppers. He starts to cough up rose petals. He gets himself arrested to seek the safety of a jail cell, but continues to be attacked by unknown forces. He is found the next day, dead by asphyxiation. Torchwood arrives and find Goodson’s mouth filled with rose petals. Jack confirms that Goodson was killed by the fairies as part of their protection of a “Chosen One”, a child who will soon become the fairies’ if Torchwood cannot find her in time.
Late at night, Estelle hears the strange voices. She calls Jack to alert him. However, before Torchwood can arrive, she drowns in a rainstorm although everything around her is completely dry. Jack mourns her loss, and Gwen makes him admit that it was he who had a relationship with Estelle long ago. Jack explains that he has seen the rose petals before, on a train in Lahore in 1909. Some of his troops had drunkenly run over a little girl. A week later, all of his men died, their mouths stuffed with petals, and he realized that the young girl had been a Chosen One. Gwen returns home to find her own flat in disarray, with leaves and rock patterns on the floor. The team understand that the fairies are becoming more protective and aggressive.
At her school the next day, Jasmine is bullied by two girls and the fairies make a gale sweep over the area. Torchwood arrives. Jasmine’s teacher says that no-one was harmed, but the only one not affected by the storm was Jasmine.
Meanwhile, Jasmine’s mother Lynn and Roy are celebrating five years together with a backyard barbecue party. Jasmine helps her mother with the food, and gives disturbing answers to her mother’s questions. When Jasmine goes outside, she finds that the backyard has been fenced off by Roy to prevent her from going to the woods. Angry, she bites him. He slaps her and calls her a bitch. A sudden wind rushes up and the fairies make themselves visible to everyone, attacking and killing Roy.
Torchwood arrives in time to prevent harm to other guests, but Jasmine and the fairies race off to the woods. Jack catches up with her and demands that the fairies not take her away. They refuse, stating that she is their Chosen One and if she is prevented from going, many more people will die. Admitting he has no other choice, Jack requests a promise that Jasmine will not be harmed. The fairies respond that she will live forever. Jack lets Jasmine go, and she skips away, surrounded by glowing fairies. Lynn, seeing this, cries angrily and hits Jack over and over. The only thing Jack can do is apologize. Lynn has lost both her boyfriend and her only daughter in one afternoon.
The Torchwood Three crew return to their transport vehicle with tension in the air. Gwen, Owen, and Toshiko are evidently disturbed by Jack’s concession to the fairies’ demands, but all proceed silently. None of them speak a word about what just transpired, afraid to set off a powder keg, but they make little effort to hide their disapproval. Jack notices a few dirty looks from his peers, leaving him to defensively respond, “What else could I do?”
Back at the Hub, Gwen sorts through the pictures in the case. A Cottingley Fairies photograph from 1917 appears on the board room monitor screen. Spotting something, she zooms in on the photograph until the face on one of the fairies becomes clear. It is Jasmine, frozen in mid-dance, smiling. A fairy voice whispers: “Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” (“The Stolen Child”, by William Butler Yeats)