When your favorite characters have identity crises and begin acting like someone else, it allows fans of the show to see these characters, and these actors, behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. As always, I’d love to hear your favorite identity crises found in British or Irish television, so please leave them in comments. In the meantime, here are my top five.
5. Life on Mars: Sam Williams
In the season 2 finale, suspicious police detective Frank Morgan (Ralph Brown) convinces our protagonist Sam Tyler that he is not, in fact, from the future, and instead simply has amnesia, and his brain fabricated the story about being from 2005 (he is now in 1972) to fill in the gaps left by his memory loss. His real name is Sam Williams, and he chose Sam Tyler because he saw it on a gravestone. Although this identity crisis does not lead Sam to behave differently (although more frustrated), both Sam and many viewers will begin to believe Morgan’s explanation, as it is more feasible than time travel.
4. Sherlock: Richard Brook
In the season 2 finale (The Reichenbach Fall), Sherlock’s archnemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) creates an entirely new persona for himself, claiming that he is an actor named Richard Brook who was hired by Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) to take the fall for Sherlock’s crimes while Sherlock used his brilliance to convince the police that he was solving the crimes that he himself had committed. Moriarty’s embodiment of this Richard Brook is so convincing, we even see Sherlock waver for a moment when looking into Brook’s eyes and not seeing Moriarty look back. Perhaps the audience too will feel a pang of doubt.
3. Red Dwarf: Despair Squid
In the episode Back to Reality, the crew of the mining ship Red Dwarf wake up to find that they have been playing a virtual reality game for the last few years and are, in fact, not the people they believed to be when they were in the game. While they wait for their real memories to return, they use clues found in their possessions and the way people talk to them to put together their real identities: moral-driven Lister (Craig Charles) is a political murderer, OCD Rimmer (Chris Barry) smells of yak urine, mechanoid Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) is a half-human traffic cop, and best of all, stylish Cat (Danny John-Jules) is a thermos-toting, sandal-wearing dweeb called Dwayne Dibbly (a character who is so popular, he comes back in a couple episodes later on). In the end, they decide it’s best just to commit mass suicide.
2. Doctor Who: John Smith
In the heart-breaking double episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood, the Doctor (David Tennant) must hide from his enemies by becoming human and wiping his memory. He becomes, then, John Smith, a school teacher in 1913, who falls for the school nurse (Jessica Hynes) right under the nose of his companion Martha (Freema Agyman), who still has her memories and now works as a servant in the school. Toward the end, John Smith remembers what the Doctor is like, and we get to see the Doctor in a new light, how broken and wrong and destructive he is and how John Smith doesn’t want to become him again. The return of the Doctor’s memories is almost literally the death of John Smith.
1. Torchwood: Adam
In what I perceive as the best identity crisis episode out there, the members of secret alien-fighting group Torchwood get their memories tampered with by an alien called Adam who squeezes his way into their club, as well as their memories. This results in accidental personality shifts. While Jack and Gwen suffer from slight memory loss, and Ianto is forced to remember false memories of raping women, the most interesting identity changes are that of Owen (Burn Gorman) and Tosh (Naoko Mori) who almost swap places. Normally, Toshiko is the quiet one who has a secret crush on Owen. Owen is usually the asshole who likes to party and isn’t usually very nice to Tosh either, though he probably suspects her feelings for him. Now with Adam’s meddling, Tosh is a confident woman who’s madly in love with Adam and won’t shut up about it. Owen is meek and adorably in love with Tosh, bringing her sandwiches, shy about drinking beer on the job, and fumbles over his eventual confession of his love for her. There is something about having the tables turned on their unrequited love that is so much more heartbreaking than the death of John Smith, especially when Tosh turns Owen down.