Blightyvision: “Torchwood”

Written and created by Russell T. Davies
Starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Kai Owen, and Gareth David-Lloyd

Back in 2006 or so, Torchwood was a show it was very easy to make fun of and be cynical about.  The Doctor Who spinoff was advertised from the get-go as being aimed more toward adults, covering edgier subject matter while still hitching itself at least somewhat to its parent show.  In the back of my fandom mind, I recall thinking it would end up being one or two things: either exactly what was being advertised, or alien-hunting with lots and lots of sex.

Surprise surprise, the first series brought us the latter of those.

To that end, early Torchwood served for myself (and many) as somewhere between a guilty pleasure and a thread of Doctor Who-ness to hang on to, especially given its central figure, fan-favorite Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman, who made his Whoniverse premiere in the Moff two-parter “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”).  Without getting terribly wrapped up in the mythos behind it, Torchwood is an agency whose last remaining branch is currently headed up by Harkness, its purpose being to track and deal with alien activity.  Audience-association character Gwen Cooper (Myles) becomes an agent in the first episode, and then there’s a whole bunch of sex and very little plot.

Sounds a bit cold, I fear, but also true.  Despite having fantastic characters to play with — the tech whiz Tosh (Naoko Mori), the ever-present tea-boy-and-more Ianto (David-Lloyd), and the headstrong Owen (Burn Gorman) — there’s little to no character development and a weak overall metaplot that ends with an episode that’s not so much Biblical symbolism as Biblical plagiarism.  It had a great deal of promise, but became so wrapped up in being grown-up that it was missing a lot of the thrill that comes with its sister shows.  One could quite literally watch the first and last episodes and not be lost — a plus to some, but not what we’ve come to expect of shows of this type.

At the end of the first series, Jack is whisked off to the events of the Doctor Who episode “Utopia,” and a few episodes later is sent back to Torchwood to explain why he abandoned his team.  In his absence, Torchwood did its fair share of growing up — which could also be said of the show.

While the first series was rather single-minded with most episodes justified as being “well, you know, fun for what it is,” the second was far stronger.  There were actual change-ups in character relationships (and even the cast as a whole), and while not every episode was a winner, every episode was at least relevant. By the end of series 2, it was no longer a guilty pleasure.

And then came “Children of Earth,” a miniseries aired over the course of five consecutive weekdays (referred to during its run as “Torchweek”).  In it, Torchwood investigated a phenomenon during which all the world’s children stopped what they were doing at 8:40 AM and began reciting what appeared to be an alien warning.  The series dips into Jack’s own past and bends the limits of the show’s format, with some utterly stellar writing that ends rather up in the air, leaving many of us to wonder if there would be a continuation.

Well, yes, there is.  But it’s kind of not done yet.

I am, to be perfectly honest, not a fan of any show that encourages the phrase “Oh, it gets better after the second season.”  I have a three-episode rule and I don’t like being begged to break it.  However, Torchwood really is one of those shows where you need to forgive it for its first series and go on from there.  You can very easily get away with watching the first and last episodes of series 1 for continuity, with Jacquetta May’s episode “Random Shoes” being a legitimate stand-out from a writing standpoint.  From there, you can go straight on to the second series (and, as it were, right to the good stuff) with no problem.  It seems to have found its formula in a one-story-per-series format, and “Children of Earth” is legitimately stunning — a far cry from its “let’s have a Cyberman except we’ll make it a hot chick” origins.

The first three series of Torchwood are available in a great big Blu-Ray box set, with the new series “Miracle Day” currently running on both STARZ and BBC.  I’m not even gonna say what it’s rated M for because that’d make for a very long article.

Posted on August 11, 2011 at 22:04 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , , , , ,