The Evolution of Gwen Elizabeth Cooper
Connor Johnston pays tribute to Whoniverse heroine Gwen Cooper on Eve Myles’ date of birth.
It’s almost been 8 years since the remarkable Eve Myles blasted onto our screens as the thrilling, passionate and tough grit heroine Gwen Cooper in the first series of Torchwood back in 2006. Since then we have been privileged to watch the character secure herself as the heart of the Torchwood team, appearing in a main role throughout all four series. What is it that makes Gwen such a loved character of the Whoniverse still today after nearly 3 years suffering from SDS (Spin-off Deficiency Syndrome)?
For me, I believe it’s the fact that the character of Gwen is based on a core value of humanity. It’s fair to say that, after being introduced as the obvious heroine, Gwen manages to be simultaneously the most down-to-earth and most ethically twisted character the Whoniverse has ever known. The success of the character can be attributed to the most basic of descriptions: Gwen is a REAL character. At times she’s ambitious and feisty, but her compassion and ability to relate to people keeps her grounded. She is however, realistically not without flaws as her empathetic nature and desire to believe in the goodness of others has been known to often create dangerous situations for both herself and others.
Today, on Eve Myles 36th birthday I’ve chosen to pay tribute to the extraordinary abilities of the actress, and look back at the evolution of the character we learned to know and love so well over her 4 seasons of Torchwood: Gwen Elizabeth Cooper.
“You’ve been hidden down here too long. Spending so much time with the alien stuff. You’ve lost what it means to be human.” – Day One
During the first season of Torchwood, Gwen’s character arc revolves around how chaotic transitioning into the team was. Her connections to the team start off with a chance meeting over a murder case. Very quickly Gwen is thrust into this wild world of alien threats and murderous sex, and learns almost immediately the repercussions of her rash decision making. Isolating the first half of the series, we see Gwen faith in humanity constantly being tested with personal plots including dealing with an elderly man who kills himself in front of her after raping and murdering a girl in his twenties during “Ghost Machine”, a town full of crazy countrymen and women who kill people and collect their body parts (for fun) in “Countryside”, as well as being betrayed and slowly having the life sucked out of her by a dead woman she was trying to help in “They Keep Killing Suzie”.
Gwen’s character (like the first season as a whole) is slightly messy and lost towards the second half of episodes as we can visually see the effect the realizations in the first few episodes have had on her. She is slowly losing her mind, ridden with guilt over her affair with Owen and struggling to deal with the continuous confronting nature of her job. Her ticking over into insanity cultivates in “Combat” in a, quite frankly, disturbing scene confessing and un-fessing with the help of retcon the fact she’s cheated on Rhys. It’s after this major personal event as well as experiencing what losing Rhys would do to her in “The End of Days” that Gwen starts to deal with this new life in more balanced, healthier way paving the road for the comfortable, confident “leader” Gwen that matures into the second series.
“This was a targeted attack, designed to cause maximum panic. Usual emergency procedures won’t cover what’s happened here. This is where we find out how good we really are. Cover the whole city. Knock on doors, check on people. Tell people that they are safe and that it is being dealt with. Get out there and do your jobs.” – Exit Wounds
To describe Gwen in Season 2 in three words, I would say: “Controlled, Chaotic and Brilliant”. Again her character seems to reflect the tone and quality of the season itself – much more down to earth (ironic really given the alien factor of the show’s premise), much more mellow – but without losing the wildness and human imperfection we love her for.
We enter Season 2 with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and see that in Jack’s absence (see “Doctor Who: Series 3”), Gwen had adopted the leadership position in the team. Gwen and Jack’s relationship is a mild yet important focus constantly through the background of the series – we realize that there definitely is an attraction there – but looking through Gwen’s eyes we identify that there is so much more than a physical fascination. The two have such a deep and intense mutual respect and admiration for each other. This focus on the pair’s dynamic in Season 2 starts the transition to Gwen and Jack being equals in the hierarchy of the team – an idea that is cemented in the next 2 series’ (But more on that in future paragraphs.)
Another major development in the timeline of Gwen’s character for Season 2 was her choice to keep her long suffering partner Rhys aware of her secret life after the events of “Meat”. This choice did wonders for the pair’s relationship and allowed Gwen the crutch of her fiancé and eventual husband to deal with the struggles of a Torchwood Life. As most of the second half of the season focused on the other members of the Torchwood team Owen, Tosh and Ianto as well as special guest Martha Jones, it allowed the intense focus on Gwen to be balanced out across the board. The season finale “Exit Wounds” saw Gwen once again step into the role of the leader serving as the inspiration to the entire Cardiff police force, before suffering an enormous blow in the passing of two of her best friends. The deaths of Toshiko and Owen had a profound impact on Gwen, to the point where she questioned whether it was worth Torchwood continuing.
Children of Earth
“There’s one thing I always wanted to ask Jack. Back in the old days. I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world; except sometimes he doesn’t. All those times in history where there was no sign of him … I wanted to know why not. But I don’t need to ask anymore. I know the answer now: Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.” – Day Five
Enter Season 3 and Torchwood reaches the pinnacle of its quality, while Gwen reaches yet another brilliant level of character development. Children of Earth combines and highlights the best of her character from all other chapters of Torchwood – The caring humanitarian we met in Season 1 in her compassion for Clement McDonald; the clever action hero of Season 2 in her passion fighting to rescue Jack; and even featured the foundations of the bad-ass mother that Miracle Day highlighted (more on that later) – in her reactions and decisions after discovering she was pregnant as well as her determination to save the children during the climaxing moments of “Day Five”.
Following yet another heart wrenching loss to the cast in the death of Ianto Jones, we find ourselves no longer with a Torchwood team. Gwen is now completely equal to Jack on the Torchwood hierarchy pyramid – and eventually she’s left lost and alone in a world she possibly knows TOO much about – too much about the monsters from the sky and even more about the monsters from the earth. She knows the truth about the human race and what they are capable of… it’s in these closing moments we realize how relevant the opening of monologue of Episode 1 is to Gwen’s awakening to the horrific beauty of the universe. Everything Changes.
“When I was about 5 or 6, my dad came home from work early. And I knew there was something wrong, I could hear voices from the kitchen. So I looked through the door and I could see him crying. Turned out money’d gone missing from work and he got the blame. So I went to get all my pocket money and I put it in his hand. Must have been about two pound fifty. He looked at me and said it wasn’t about the money. He said “I can’t stand anyone thinking I’m not an honest man,” and I’ve always remembered that. Always. Because that was the first time in my life anybody had spoken to me like an adult. And then we went to the back garden and we played until dark. So that’s my dad. Geraint Wynn Cooper, the nicest man in the world. And today’s the day that I kill him.”- The Blood Line
Miracle Day is a divisive season among the Whoniverse to say the least. Regardless if you enjoyed the chapter or not – hopefully one thing we can all agree on was the brilliant consistency of Gwen’s character. We’re looking a series with a brand new team, a brand new setting, a brand new pace, a brand new tone – yet the Gwen we know and love has managed to emerge with her character development from over the previous few seasons completely intact.
Personally, when Gwen first showed up on my screen during season 4, everything all of a sudden just felt right – felt like classic Torchwood. It takes an incredible character to be able to link to completely different eras of a show just with her presence. When we last left Gwen she was broken – having lost both Ianto and Jack she found herself suddenly so alone. Come “The New World” and we are reintroduced to a strong maternal survivor – a description that stays true throughout the 10 episodes as we admire the courage of Gwen, seeing her have her family kidnapped, having to betray her best friend and having to watch her father live in constant pain without death, and knowing that despite all this her spirit never weakened, she never gave up and she always cared.
Miracle Day also gave us insight into Gwen as a mother through not only her love for her daughter, but also her relationship with Esther – particularly in “Dead of the Night” where she plays the part of the supportive shoulder for Esther during her initial period of being overwhelmed by life of Torchwood madness. Motherhood doesn’t mellow her BAMF nature though, as we see Gwen sent into her full-on Mrs. Weasley “Get away from my Daughter (You Dalek!)” mode– More so towards the second half of the series.
- “Exit Wounds” (Season 2): A sensational finale heightened by Gwen’s Leadership.
- “Ghost Machine” (Season 1): Exhibits perfectly the chaotic effect Torchwood had on Gwen’s life.
- “Sleeper” (Season 2): An insight into Gwen’s greatest and worst attribute: her humanity.
- “Day Five” (Children of Earth): An episode that begins with a chilling monologue by Eve, and once again focuses on Gwen’s spirit and her undying determination after witnessing her heartbreak over losing Ianto.
- “Adrift” (Season 2): A Brilliant and heartbreaking plot that focuses on Gwen’s realizations and her self-evaluation over her choices and their moral effect on others.
Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper was without doubt the cornerstone of the Torchwood team – with her we were thrown into a secret world hidden amongst our own and with her we grew to accept and love the danger, adventure and wonder that was her life in Torchwood. Throughout 4 seasons of Torchwood Gwen Cooper took us on a journey – we cried, laughed, loved and found our fire and our passion with the daring police constable from Cardiff who let her curiosity get the better of her before ordering a pizza that would change her life forever. Myles’ devotion to her character is what made Gwen so realistic and relatable, the two main reasons she remains one of the Whoniverse’s most cherished treasures even after so many years without her sassy Welsh attitude.
The story of Gwen Cooper is a story of heroism and bravery – but more importantly it’s the story of a genuine human being: a story of mistakes, corruption, realization, pain and growth; the story of the best and most self-destroying attribute: her humanity; and he story of personal evolution. And so on that note I hope you’ll all once again join me in applauding and wishing a Happy Birthday to the extremely talented Eve Myles. Attached below is a tribute video to Eve’s time on Torchwood, in honour of the most kick ass lass Cardiff has ever known!
Many happy returns Eve!