Aired On: BBC
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
Top of the morning to you all. This is the originator of the web review—for this site, using the name Ismael—and I'm back with a round review of a show from our cousins across the ocean. This time around I bring to you a review of the first British show I've ever watched, Torchwood, a spinoff of the longest running sci-fi series of all time, Doctor Who. My introduction to this show was actually a pleasant accident on my part; I was scanning through my Netflix, trying to find something new and interesting to watch while the baby was asleep, and I stopped on Torchwood, mistakenly thinking I was about to watch Deadwood, which I'd heard good things about. Well, I was about two minutes into the show when I'd realized I'd erred, but I'd already situated myself snugly on my couch with a sleeping infant in my arms and did not feel like getting up to grab the remote, so I just went with it.
Torchwood, as stated previously, is a spinoff of the new Doctor Who series, following the exploits of Captain Jack Harkness, omni-sexual, former time-traveler and former Companion of the Ninth Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston (Heroes). Captain Jack (John Barrowman, Desperate Housewives), has a personality as big as his name implies and—with his ever-present, old-style army trench coat—a presence that is unmistakable. In Captain Jack's last appearance in season one of the revamped Doctor Who series, he is killed by a Nazi-like race of aliens called the Daleks only to be brought back to life by a Tardis-enchanced Rose Tyler.
Our next encounter with Jack comes in the pilot of his own spin off show Torchwood—an anagram for Doctor Who—in which he runs a clandestine alien-hunting division stationed in Cardiff Whales, near a rift in space-time. For those who follow Doctor Who will recognize the name Torchwood as the second season's arch-word. It's the name of the secret organization Queen Victoria instituted shortly after meeting and banishing the Tenth Doctor from England, as well as the name of the group that destroyed a retreating alien spaceship in that season first episode. On the heels of the battle of Canary Wharf, the Torchwood Institute was left in rubble, leaving only Jack and his skeleton crew of a team to defend against the horde of aliens that slip through the dimensional rift.
Much like in Doctor Who, we see Jack through the eyes of an outsider, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles, Doctor Who, Merlin), who acts as surrogate to the audience. Gwen, a Cardiff police woman, crosses paths with Jack at murder crime scene, where Torchwood is granted special access and she is told to leave the area. Curious, Gwen spies on them and witnesses them interrogating the victim, via the use of an alien glove that resurrects the dead, but only for a minute. Now that her eyes are opened, Gwen sees more evidence of aliens and finds her way to Torchwood, where, following the death of a key member, she is asked to join.
Gwen quickly realizes that her new job comes with a price of insulation. What she sees and does can not be told to anyone. So her co-workers—Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) resident coffee guy and the Captain's part-time lover, Owen Harper, (Burn Gorman), medical examiner and lecherous womanizer, and Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), techno-genius—become the only people she can turn to for understanding. Balancing her top secret job while maintaining a stable relationship with her boyfriend, Rhys Williams (Kai Owens) proves to be no easy task. His growing suspicions regarding her relationship to her new boss Jack and her frequent, unexplained absences, clash with Gwen's need to share her wonderful and frightening adventures with someone. But Gwen has little time to spare to worry about Rhys, when the fate of the world hangs in the balance on a constant basis.
The first two seasons are mostly episodic with an overarching theme running in the background. Like Doctor Who, Torchwood does go to the well of old enemies from time to time, but extremely rarely. For the most part their bad guys are unique and separate from that of it's maker. The third season breaks from that mold with a five part, mini-series style story, called Children of Earth, in which an alien species, hijack the world's children and, through them, announce their arrival. They secretly demand of the world's government, one tenth of the world's children or everyone will die. While the world's nations discuss who to pick and how to ferry them to the aliens, Torchwood takes on the task of stopping them. although the lines of right and wrong are sharply blurred when we learn the aliens have been to earth before and our hero Captain Jack has firsthand experience with them. And the key to stopping them lies in the horrible act of sacrifice.
The first three seasons are a dark, twisty adventure, that can often pull and bite at the emotional nerve and drag it to the surface. This show doesn't just glaze over difficult topics. The real departure of Torchwood from DW is in the way it deals with pain and loss. Where as Doctor Who can have an episode where millions of people are dying, Torchwood can spend a whole episode focusing on the loss of one life, examining it in different ways until the audience is caught in that loss and can't help but feel something for that person.
That's not to say there isn't any humor or camp in this series; there's plenty of that from Jack alone, who can be, at times, over the top. But the mood of the show is one that does not ignore the pain, hurt or ugliness of the job, as opposed to DW which tends to show the adventures in bright colors and high, fun energy. I should warn you now, there will be deaths of main characters throughout the series, so don't get too attached to anyone, because you never know what might happen. And even though Jack was rendered immortal by Rose Tardis, he suffers a great deal throughout the series and his immortality is not shown as a great, wonderful thing. It's used many times to torture him in ways that can be disturbing if one thinks about it for too long. In one such example, Jack is taken back in time several thousand years and buried alive underneath Cardiff, to die and resurrect and die and resurrect again and again for centuries before being found.
So my final verdict on this show is, watch it. It has laughs, it has sentiment, love triangles, love rectangles, unrequited love, danger, action, suspense, sex, and a good deal of drama. My favorite thing about this show is that our hero Jack is not perfect. Hell, none of them are perfect. They are all flawed, scared, selfish creatures who are just trying to make sense of it all as they save the world from the disasters the Doctor can't handle or doesn't know about. It's a good ride and I personally can't wait for the next season, coming in July, which follows the same mini-series format as Children of Earth. I'll be sure to check it out, hope you'll join me.
PS. I never did see Deadwood.