Some SPOILERS here.
TORCHWOOD, a spinoff of DOCTOR WHO, is yet another television show with nifty science-fiction and paranormal elements, and it IS a marvelous and fun show. The premise: the Torchwood Institute is a covert organization given the responsibility of being Great Britain’s watchdog against all things malicious and extraterrestrial. This series revolves around the amazing exploits of Torchwood Three, a branch of the Torchwood Institute which operates out of Cardiff, Wales.
In the debut episode “Everything Changes,” Policewoman Constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) witnesses a deceased stab victim’s temporary return to life. This becomes her introduction to a hidden world of frightening monsters, incomprehensible alien technologies, and extreme paranoia. She meets the very charming Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a man displaced in time and leader of Torchwood Three. Oh, and he can’t die. He obligingly places Gwen in the loop: “We don’t just catch aliens. We scavenge the stuff they leave behind, find ways of using it, arming the human race against the future.” Fairly soon, after some fairly interesting – not to mention, harrowing – moments, Gwen finds herself recruited as the group’s police liaison. And with a spacetime rift located in Wales, she and the other Torchwood members remain up to their necks in weirdness and peril. On a more personal scale, Gwen struggles to maintain a normal relationship with her lived-in boyfriend. It’s not easy being Scully.
I happened to stumble onto this dark, moody series on the On Demand’s BBC America channel and became speedily hooked. It’s done by the Brits and they bring their sensibilities to the table. Its tone, while somewhat reminiscent of the X-FILES, also does remind me a bit of DOCTOR WHO, but that one’s to be expected as these two shows are closely linked. In fact, the word “Torchwood” is an anagram of Doctor Who and was a security code used by the crew of that series to foil television piracy.
The sci-fi elements naturally loom large. The show immediately immerses the audience in its peculiar and scary universe lurking just behind the veil of normality. Cool and wondrous gadgets and concepts abound: perception filters, invisible lifts, ghost machines, time rifts, resurrection gloves – you know, screwy science-run-amok stuff. The show’s contents do tend to stray toward more adult themes, and the casual use of earthy language underscores this. As a reflection of this maturity, the show isn’t shy in depicting several of the team members as leaning towards an alternative lifestyle. Captain Jack Harkness himself is bisexual and disarmingly casual about it. In the sexually-charged “Day One” the baddie is a snog-happy (wonderful word, “snog”) space creature who snuffs out its victims at the moment of orgasm (As Jack off-handedly comments regarding one casualty: “He just…came and went.”). So, no, not for the young ‘uns, this show.
There are 13 episodes in the first series, and they are thoughtful and lushly plotted and just as splashy as their American counterparts. The CG is certainly there. The mostly British actors are very good. Gwen Cooper is played by Welsh actress Eve Myles, and Gwen makes for an engaging and ideal point-of-view character. The popular Captain Jack Harkness, last seen in the DOCTOR WHO series, comfortably crosses over into this show and drags actor John Barrowman with him. Barrowman, by the way, is magnetic! The cast of characters is interesting and complex and develops as the series progresses, with team members keeping their share of dark and dangerous secrets. One of them even turns traitor, dies, and comes back from the dead. Needless to say, the group dynamics tend to be volatile.
One negative is that most of the episodes are self-contained, which introduces a certain faltering in overall cohesion and continuity. However, the episodes will still suck you in. The best ones, in my opinion, are “They Keep Killing Susie” (Former Torchwood member Susie Costello returns), “Out of Time” (great and melancholy episode with three aircraft passengers from 1953 disembarking in the present and forced to acclimate to this brave new world), “Captain Jack Harkness” (very good time travel story as Jack and Toshiko journey temporaly to 1941 and meet the real Captain Jack Harkness, whose identity Torchwood’s Jack would soon steal), and the exciting season finale “End of Days” (Wales’ time rift becomes unstable and begins causing disturbing temporal anomalies).
Hmm, the Doctor Who universe seems to be rapidly expanding. First, this riveting Torchwood offshoot and now followed by THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES (longtime Doctor Who-philes will recall investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, a popular companion to the 3rd and 4th Doctor). As a fan, I say keep it coming. To the curious out there who somehow haven’t yet turned on to a good thing: c’mon, get hip…
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Torchwood is the most-times dark, sometimes gory, adult tie-in to the new Doctor Who series, but that hardly matters as it is the most unique TV you’ll ever see. ..Dr. Who producer & two-time Hugo-nominated writer Russell T. Davies created the series as an opportunity to do more than just family fare, part CSI, part X-files and the remaining part is out there on its own. In Dr. Who there have been hidden references to the “secret” organization TORCHWOOD (the name which is an anagram of DOCTOR WHO) since season one (an answer given by the ANNE DROID in BAD WOLF episode 12 ), then appearing more physically throughout season two, even featuring the origin of the organization created by Queen Victorian herself to defend the Earth from alien threats, including The Doctor. The series takes place over a hundred years later as Jack says on the promos, “In the 21st century, everything changes.” Captain Jack Harkness (played BRILLIANTLY by the dashing John Barrowman, best known to Americans as the singing Nazi lead in the “Springtime for Hitler” number in the Producers musical) is a character introduced during season one of Dr. Who, an ex-time agent, con-man, the Doctor & Rose meet in the 1940′s and turn towards the path of good and righteousness, well almost.
Jack is originally from the 51st century, which is intended to explain his oversexed ways (i.e. he is very liberal in who he “SNOGS”& “SHAGS” ) His background is really complex, even before he meets the Doctor, but he is missing some of his memories from his time as a time-agent, during the “Parting of the Ways” the first season finale of Dr. Who his character becomes even more interesting, but I won’t say more without spoiler warnings.
I know I’ve referenced Dr. Who, a lot, but WATCHING DR. WHO IS NOT A PREREQUISITE FOR ENJOYING TORCHWOOD, MERELY A BONUS. There is a level to Torchwood that is directed at DW fans, but it isn’t obtrusive. The initial season of Torchwood begins introducing the viewer to its world through the eyes of Gwen, a low-rung Cardiff lady cop, eventually becomes part of a jaded almost amoral group that uses scavenged alien-tech to protect the world from future threats. The neophyte member eventually serves as catalysis to re-humanize the team. But the dynamic of the characters is one of abrasiveness, deceit, love and lust. The major players are far from perfect, by the end of the season, most of the team have done things both unexpected and at times alarming.
Most of the performances are great to watch, much Americanized, gritty acting. Gwen, played by Eve Myles, who oddly enough played a Victorian servant girl named Gwyneth who opens the closes the very rift Torchwood is build on in Dr. Who season 1. Gwen is an earthy attractive but not unrealistically so, as are most of the players, except Jack, of course, who is over-the-top silver-screen good looking, which is perfect for his over-the-top fearless-leader-with-a-mysterious-past archetype.
Torchwood is very stylish, lots of aerial shots of building in Cardiff, the Welsh city where the series is filmed and most of the action takes place. Its waterside features remind me of New Orleans. Another anchor location of the show in Cardiff is soooo appropriately the Roald Dahl Plaza (Carciff-born creator of Willy Wonka) it would naturally hold a time-space rift and the headquarters of a secret organization under the fountain where it can monitor extra-terrestrial traffic through the rift. Kind of a sexed up Men in Black, except no one wears black, well ok Iantos does, but he’s more of a case manager type. The series music co-composed by Dr. Who’s Murray Gold is both edgy and original. As is the special effects and make-up. In the pilot episode, the make-up on the Weevil, a reoccurring species, is so good that a long scene is shot in full-light with Gwen and another character studying the creature. That is how confident and bold the makers of Torchwood are! The series won a BEST DRAMA SERIES BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts), besting Doctor Who season 2 in the category and first episodes gave BBC 3 its highest ratings ever. One series flaw is that Torchwood is meant to be very covert, but they also seem to be high profile “special ops,” other than that amusing conflict, I love the series and think that many Americans who may have never watched any British TV before, will be hooked!
The episode guide that follows may have some MINOR SPOILERS, okay?
#1 “Everything Changes”
This is a good one, I give it 9 out of 10, it is one of the best series pilots I’ve seen. Unlike some series openers, it seems familiar with characters and where they are going, there’s no early season one awkwardness here, INFACT, Eve Myles WON a “BEST-ACTRESS” BAFTA (Wales) for this one, John Barrowman got a nom…
South Wales coffee makin’ cop Gwen Cooper is at…
I never got into the X-Files, but I love Torchwood! It’s smart, funny, and a little bit naughty. The science fiction parts are always interesting, sometimes scary and usually pretty cool. All the characters are well developed, well written and well acted. The show is anything but predictable. Many times, the show goes in an unexpected direction and really keeps you on your toes. Russell T Davies is a genius. I’ve even started watching Doctor Who for some of the background to Torchwood. Can’t wait until Torchwood – Season 2 comes out in September!