Torchwood: Season One
Usually a spin off is a big gamble for the television network. While some of the best series have started as an off shoot from a popular show many more have gone down in flames. The general rule of thumb is the more popular the original series the higher the bar is set for the spin off. In the case of the British science fiction series ‘Torchwood’ the gold standard was incredibly high. It had to live up one of the most popular and without a doubt longest lasting Sci-Fi series of all time, ‘Doctor Who’. Since 1963 this series has been an almost constant feature on the BBC and has come across the pond to our shores here in the States. For at least two generations now the Doctor has dominated the genre. One of the features that made this series so amazingly popular is also the major hurdle for ‘Torchwood’. ‘Doctor Who’ is built around a universe that is so set that a legion of fans could and will point out any deviation no matter how small. The success of ‘Torchwood’ is completely dependant on getting the ‘Doctor Who’ fans to watch and if there is even the slightest discrepancy in the continuity they will rise up in rebellion. Fortunately the creator of ‘Torchwood’, Russell T. Davies is a member of the latest incarnation of the Doctor as well as the other major spin off, ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. Considering the sexually indeterminate nature of the main character of ‘Torchwood’ is work on ‘Queer as Folk’ is a major plus. This series will not disappoint long time fans of the Doctor at all.
‘Torchwood’, began its life as a part of the first season of the latest incarnation of the Doctor. For the detailed oriented out there specifically the ‘Bad Wolf’ theme of 2005 season. There is some homage to the American series ‘The X-Files’ and the ‘Men in Black’ films throughout in ‘Torchwood’ especially the use of off world technology. While the themes are familiar to any fan of science fiction the way they are woven into a story and presented here is what makes this series spectacular. It should be mentioned emphatically that this is not a family friendly Sci-Fi series. The plot points tend towards the adult end of the genre. It was considered a little too frisky for the more family oriented Sci-Fi channel and was only broadcast here in the States in BBC America. That network has a well founded history of being more mature that what regular programming is permitted on this side of the Atlantic. Following ‘Doctor Who’ this series has automatic access to a wealth of characters, situations and places. It maintains the tongue in cheek humor of the Doctor taking it to another level. BBC Home Video is now making the first season (or for our British friends, series) of this innovative show available on DVD.
The Torchwood Institute is devoted to the gathering and protection of all forms of alien technology. They do their best to keep this advanced technology away from the villains and also to isolate the general population from the knowledge there are aliens out there with the will and means to destroy our planet. Heading up the Welsh branch of the secret Torchwood Institute located in Cardiff is Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Captain Jack originally came from the 51st century and worked as a time agent and whenever possible a con man. He has the ability to travel in time and several pieces of advanced technology at his disposal. During his temporal journeys he crossed paths with The Doctor. At one point he was killed until the current companion of the Doctor accessed the immense power of the Doctor’s time machine, the TARDIS, and resurrected him. The side effect of this rendered Captain Jack immortal; no matter what happens to him he cannot die. Jack is also omni-sexual; open to intimate relations with any species ever remotely humanoid and any gender. He would most likely make a pass at a silicone based Horta if the opportunity arose. Captain Jack feels isolated from his Torchwood teammates by this immortality. It makes him wary of forming bonds with the ephemeral normal humans. Although Jack is usually the most over sexed person around he appears to be the only Torchwood member not getting any.
Another key member of the Torchwood team is Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), She started out as a 21st century South Wales police officer. She has all the necessary attributes of a covert team member. Gwen is intelligence, enthusiasm and an excellent sense of social responsibility. Upon further more formal examination it was determined that she is posses a potential for great empathy. While Jack is willing to sacrifice individuals, even a young girl, to save the world Gwen acts as his conscious giving him a more human perspective. In some ways Gwen is dismayed by how her work at Torchwood has changed her. She finds it easy to be secretive than ever before. She does have a boyfriend, Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) who does not know the true nature of Gwen’s work. At one point she engages in an affair with her teammate Owen. Dr. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) is the team physician and second in command under Captain Jack. He is a darker personality than Gwen; self absorbed, over confident and not above taking a life. He is possibly also bisexual although he often comes across as a lady’s man. The local computer whiz is Dr Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) more commonly referred to simply as Tosh. She is not only a genius with computers but doubles as a medical doctor. She also was given a piece of alien technology that allowed hearing other people’s thoughts. Like many in Torchwood she has show bisexual attractions. Last there is Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). He acts as the front man fro Torchwood and the main administrator. Aided by a technology to erase inconvenient memories of the public he makes sure Torchwood is not discovered.
Like episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ this series travels through time and space making sure there is always something new for he audience. It is extremely well written, imaginative and innovative. Some may be turned off by the overt sexuality of the characters but it fits and never comes across as gratuitous. The pacing is fast, always moving. Even so there is ample exposition that brings even the newest viewer into the loop. It is a great move to make a powerful, sexually adventurous character like Captain Jack so isolated. He has the ultimate gift of immortality but that only isolates him; separating him from his native species. While he is a born con man the Jack we see here hides his uncertainty and finds he is in charger of an organization vital to the survival of mankind. This is a classic implementation of the inner self of a hero revealed. The characters are a bit like rabbits in heat but it does seem to work here. These are people working in secret guarding all of mankind. It is not as if they can go to a bar to hook up. This situation would naturally result in intense inter-personal relationships. The stories intertwine perfectly in the Doctor Who universe and add to the understanding of it.
BBC has been on the cutting edge of television for years. Thankfully this series came directly to the States instead of having a weak and diluted American version. The season set is presented in widescreen video and Dolby 2.0 Stereo. This is a must have for all the Doctor fans out there but it also stands alone nicely in case you are new to this particular universe.