In Captain Jack Harkness, creator Russell T. Davies and actor John Barrowman created a truly unique warrior for the science fiction and paranormal set. The dashing bi-sexual hero was first introduced on Davies’ “Dr. Who” reinvention and quickly became a fan favorite. So, it was with some amount of excitement that I followed Barrowman to his own show expecting some variation of the “Dr. Who” narrative. But no, the show is stylized in a very different way. The “Torchwood” spin-off plays like a high octane and oftentimes quite amusing cousin to “X-files.” There is a fair amount of sexual content, of all varieties, within the new series that might frighten some of the purists–but, as a whole, the show exceeds as adult escapism at every level. Set ostensibly in contemporary Cardiff, Torchwood is a covert governmental agency designed to investigate and control unexplainable phenomenon. With a state of the art facility buried deep underground, on a rift in time and space no less, the team of specialists deal largely with an alien menace in its many variations.
The core team, aside from the invaluable and riotous Barrowman, includes awkward Owen (a winning Burn Gorman), industrious Toshiko (Naoki Mori), and guy Friday Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd). In the first episode, a position on the team opens up and Barrowman courts a local policewoman (Eve Myles) to fill the slot. Many of the early episodes deal with Myles’ orientation and initial disbelief at the wonders confronted by Torchwood. Most of Season One is highlighted by stand alone and self contained episodes–kind of a beast of the week theme. As such, the show can be a bit inconsistent depending on how involving the particular case may be. But the humor and quirkiness of the team and their interrelations are always an appealing selling point. The creature effects and the show’s look are top notch, but it is the irreverent and fast paced dialogue that further distinguishes this from the sci-fi pack. The show gets progressively tidier (although a late episode Random Shoes was the only episode I found actually painful). The 13 episodes of Season One are spry and entertaining, if not perfect.
Season Two, also comprised of 13 episodes, starts to really put all the great components of the show together into fascinating ways. A stronger mythology and a more continuing story line only amp up the dramatic elements of the show and give all of its actors real opportunities to shine. Whereas the primary relationship explored in Season One was the platonic bond between Barrowman and Myles–here, everyone gets a chance to play and to be developed in new and intriguing ways. While the team are still battling strange beasts, there is an unexpected gravitas to the proceedings that have long range repercussions to major characters (both good and bad). Appearances by James Marsters (Buffy’s Spike) as a man from Barrowman’s past and Freema Agyeman as her Dr. Who character Martha Jones add memorable dimension and even heartbreak. Everything is heightened for Season Two–where life and death is really on the line.
“Children of Earth,” a five part miniseries, really redefines everything in the Torchwood universe. Still reeling from the aftermath of Season Two, the team must respond to an unknown threat that has Earth’s children chanting forebodingly in unison. An alien force demands to be given ten percent of the children or they will destroy the planet. Not for the feint of heart, this is the darkest and scariest incarnation of the Torchwood mythology. With top echelon acting and huge dramatic moments, this was one of my three favorite programs of 2009. Telling this one harrowing tale over five episodes, the show reaches new heights in complex and emotional story telling. An absolute game changer, alternately loved and hated by series’ fans, this miniseries is an absolutely incredible and unmissable event in my opinion–but it’s not always pleasant!
“Torchwood” is not a perfect show, but it is a favorite of mine. Simple reasons: Barrowman’s Harkness is an awesome character, loads of humor and incredibly smart banter, characters that develop, the show gets progressively deeper and more emotional, production values are terrific for a TV show. It can still be viewed as somewhat of a controversial show, however, especially for its open attitude about sexual pairings–I personally, however, found that aspect refreshing. Season One ranks about 4 stars, Season Two about 4 1/2 stars, and Children of Earth is easily 5 stars–but I’m rounding up overall for my personal passion. Next up: Starz has “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” a new series with Barrowman and Myles premiering in July. I have my doubts, but my fingers are crossed! KGHarris, 5/11.
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My copy just arrived, and the presentation of the set is nicely done. The disc case is done up like a bound book. The ‘pages’ inside include full color screen shots on the sleeves, generally from an episode present on that particular disc, but not always so. Each sleeve holds a disk as well as a list of the episodes or content on the disc and which writer or cast member is doing the audio commentary. The BBC did a really nice job on this set. The first series has commentary on every episode, but there are none on the second series episodes, so I was a little disappointed. The Torchwood Declassified insider peeks and interviews are available for both series 1 and 2 however, as well as outtakes and deleted scenes. The commentary and Declassifieds add snippets of backstory that were lost in the deleted scenes.
Torchwood is a spin-off series of the legendary Doctor Who, focusing instead on the adventures of a former companion of the Doctor, a time traveler from the future, Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack is a walking anachronism, born in the 51st century, dressed like the middle of the 20th, and living in the 21st. Jack also has a little problem – he can’t die. A handy feature in the dangerous profession of leading a semi-secret organization (The Torchwood Institute) and taking on the responsibility of guarding the Earth from the effects of a huge rift in the space-time continuum that runs through Cardiff, Wales. But as the years pass, it becomes obvious that Jack often looks on immortality as a curse. He’s outlived just about everyone he’s ever known or loved. He sends his friends into danger knowing that they can be killed by things he can walk away from. So he does the only thing he can do: Live out loud, and try to make a difference.
The show is at times lighthearted and laugh out loud funny, but the topics and subplots are more adult in nature than those found in the majority of Doctor Who. The willingness to embrace the humor and occasional camp is needed though. When you take a break and wander into the kitchen between episodes to get a glass of water it’ll occur to you that most of the episodes are rather grim stuff, and the show attempts not to get crushed under that weight. Like his friend The Doctor, Jack finds himself in the position of having to be the one who has to make crappy decisions in which the team often disagree with, where no one is the hero, the ending isn’t always happy, and it’s a matter of choice between the lesser of two (w)evils. Because he has knowledge of future events, and a certain amount of shame regarding his own very long history, he doesn’t share some info with his team and the resulting friction is a major plot point in several episodes.
Torchwood is still very much an ensemble cast, and episodes will tend to focus on certain characters and their relationships to each other in a stressful job. Several stories are viewed from Gwen’s perspective as an “Everyman” due to her newbie status on the team shaking up the business as usual routine. By maintaining ‘normal’ relationships outside of Torchwood, Cardiff her perspective challenges Jack to retain his humanity, a theme often seen in the parent series’ Doctor Who and his companions. By no means does this indicate that the other team members are lacking in humanity – they triumph, make mistakes, get it totally wrong, or utterly right and are in the fight they signed up for. Owen is cynical, pragmatic and often a jerk with flashes of gold underneath, but their resident medic. Toshiko is the stereotypical quiet, shy computer whiz, but with definite personality of her own. Ianto is a gem of understated dry humor and wit, and hidden facets and provides a delightful contrast to Jack’s larger than life personality. Rhys, Gwen’s often bewildered boyfriend (“Aliens? In Cardiff?!?”) is also a gem and the show skirts sucking him into the weirdness of Torchwood while keeping him (and therefore Gwen) anchored in the real world.
The three series (seasons to us Yanks) are short; American seasons are 22 – 23 episodes long, whereas Torchwood runs 13 episodes in a series, with the exception of Series 3, which was the 5 episode miniseries Children of Earth. There is much muttering about CoE among fans because the feel and events differ sharply from the previous seasons, and without giving away many spoilers, contains a series of short, sharp shocks to viewers. I didn’t watch Torchwood or read anything about it until I spent a week viewing all the episodes back to back. I think that not spending three years as a fan gave me a little different perspective on the events of CoE. I love Torchwood, in spite of it’s flaws. Characters sometimes acting outside of normal behavior, as many plot holes as twists, editing issues (really, how many bodies DO they keep in morgue drawer #6?), and an apparently endless stream of Welsh extras dying whenever something dangerous comes through the rift…
Heres a couple short points.
Story: Cult classic. Theres alot of children of earth haters out there, and yes it is a very different style/storyline, but its still a torchwood worthy story. otherwise great stories, unique personalitites. Smoke sex alien….awesome…
Content: Pretty extensive for season one, tones of monster type files, behinds the scenes etc. Very few for season two and almost none for children of earth.
Packaging: Very sturdy packaging. thick cardboard casing. very convenient and sturdy book style for each disk. though getting the disk out of the sleeve can be a pain to grab ahold of.
Playability: Played great for me. my only issue was with blu-ray some of the scenes seemed a bit too bright and it seemed like some scenes were super sharp the other scenes were like standard definition. Also none of the special features were in high def.
Overall if your a torchwood fun this is a must have. if you dont like chidren of earth whatever its still a great deal at 97 bucks. enjoy!