Set in the Whoniverse (the Doctor Who Universe) Torchwood follows new recruit Gwen Cooper as she slowly learns that Cardiff is on a rift in time and space. Strange creatures exist in the sewers beneath the city and alien life forms regularly find their way to Earth. In this Doctor Who spin-off we see Captain Jack Harkness (last seen in the Doctor Who episode Parting of the Ways) leading a group of ordinary men and women that defend Cardiff in Wales from aliens. The series was shown after the watershed which features elements of sex and violence. It also deals with more ‘adult’ issues than Doctor Who could. Plus if you rearrange the letters of Torchwood you get Doctor Who…clever right??
The ideas of Doctor Who could be pretty interesting and possibly the most famous tool in the Doctor’s arsenal was the TARDIS, a simple police box that was bigger on the inside. The show was revived in 2005 and resulted in this spin-off in which the charismatic captain Jack takes centre stage. Unfortunately in the first series at least Jack has lost a lot of the charm and personality that made him so enjoyable during his brief stint travelling with the Doctor and Rose. When David Tennant was the Doctor Series 2 dealt with the Torchwood story ark which had its central building in Canary Wharf in London, this show is based around Torchwood 3 that exists on top of a rift in time and space and apart from sharing a name has nothing to do with the facility in London.
Before I go any further let me give you a rundown of the series I have seen so far…
Torchwood is seen mainly from the perspective of Gwen Cooper (Eva Myles) who happens to witness Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) trapping a Weevil, a creature that traditionally lives in the sewers of the city. She later discovers what the Torchwood Institute is and what it is they do. She joins the institute which is made up of Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). It is through her that the audience also learn more about Torchwood.
In the first series Gwen has to contend with a sex-addicted alien, pressure from her boyfriend (who doesn’t know what she is now doing for a living), a host of dangerous life forms and the knowledge that she cannot talk about her work with anyone. Something huge and powerful beneath the rift is waiting to be awoken and it is up to Captain Jack and the rest of the Torchwood team to stop it destroying the city. The Doctor is not mentioned (although his hand is seen in a container) and Jack spends the majority of the series trying to figure out what he is and why he is incapable of dying.
In Series 2 Jack is back. His return follows on from the end of his adventure with the Doctor and the Master at the end of Doctor Who Series 3 and has returned to Torchwood because he wants to be there and not because he is killing time waiting for the Doctor to return. In addition Captain Jack’s past takes centre stage several times during the series beginning with the first episode when former Time Agent Captain John (played by the brilliant James Marsters of Buffy fame) arriving in Cardiff. Around him the other characters have also had an opportunity to grow in the intervening 18 months between Series 1 and Series 2 meaning that even Owen has started to become likable.
The format of the series remains the same from the previous series and Doctor Who. There is an underlying theme that ultimately comes to a head in the final episode. The scale of the stories in the second series has been downplayed so that the Doctor can be forgiven for not appearing to save the Earth yet again.
Now whilst Torchwood Series 1 was trying establish itself away from Doctor Who and had very little to do with the Time Lord. In Series 2 the audience is treated by the arrival of the Doctor’s former companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). This better links it in with the events that we have seen in Doctor Who and gives the show a greater context within the world of the Time Lord.
The format changed following the end of Series 2 and Series 3 was actually a series of hour specials called Torchwood: Children of Earth
The Torchwood Team are still reeling from the events of Series 2, when a new threat looms on the horizon. Earth’s children begin to say in unison ‘we are coming’ over and over. The government realises that hostile alien forces are about to come to Earth and they have a horrifying ultimatum.
Torchwood: Children of Earth (aka Series 3) is set in a five episode story arc and features Captain Jack (John Barrowman), Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) and Gwen (Eva Myles). Rhys (Kai Owen), Gwen’s husband, also takes on a more prominent role.
Torchwood is amongst the government agencies that investigate when the children of Earth started saying the same message over and over – “We are Coming”. The government realises that an alien threat they have previously had dealings with are about to return.
As sinister forces in the government prepare for their encounter with an alien species known only as the 456, Torchwood becomes a target. With the Hub in ruins and Torchwood under attack from the government it was created to protect, Captain Jack along with his team must try to save the world from the 456.
Each hour represents a day’s events and the story builds up to a horrifying climax in which the government realise what they are going to have to sacrifice to survive. Torchwood struggles to combat the 456, and the forces in government trying to kill them, but even Captain Jack’s team might not be able to find a way to stop the alien threat.
If there is one thing that you can say about Torchwood is that it has had a bit of a shaky start, it was obviously trying to step away from Doctor Who which is a television show that appeals to young and old audiences. It is limited because it is intended to be viewed by children; therefore it cannot include swearing, sex, or graphic violence. Torchwood is able to deal with such things. One of the stories includes a sex-addicted alien, whilst another deals with disillusioned men entering a ring with a dangerous animal to fight for their lives. There are also numerous swear words which are scattered throughout the episodes along with several violent scenes.
Series 1 sees former Doctor Who companion Captain Jack Harkness in Cardiff. He was last seen in 200,100 being killed by a Dalek and resurrected by Rose. Since then he has been searching for the Doctor, and hopes that sooner or later the Time Lord will return to the Cardiff rift to refuel the TARDIS. Regrettably he has lost a lot of the charm and humour that he once had during his time with the Doctor. He is as much in the dark about what has happened to him since the events of the Doctor Who episode The Parting of the Ways as the audience is.
Before I go on I should probably say that knowledge of the Whoniverse is useful but not essential as only Jack and Ianto mention events that have taken place during episodes of Doctor Who.
There are a number of teething troubles with Torchwood. Owen is shown in the first episode to use a spray to get a woman (and her boyfriend) to have sex with him, however, as the series progresses he seems to be an ice-cold womaniser. If he is able to get any woman he wants into bed then why does he uses the spray in the first episode?? Owen is also generally unpleasant to those around him and starts an affair with Gwen only to unceremoniously ditch her later on.
Ianto Jones is a background character that is severely underused, and Jack spends most of the series brooding.
Toshiko (Tosh) is a highlight as the shy computer expert that secretly carries a torch for Owen. It is not often that an audience sees a woman pinning for a guy that barely knows that she is alive; normally it is the other way around.
All in all Torchwood Series 1 seems to be trying to establish itself away from Doctor Who by dealing with more adults themes. However, the scale of the finale might make the audience wonder why the Doctor left things alone and didn’t appear to save the day.
So in the first series it seemed important that the writers take Torchwood to the untapped waters of the Whoniverse with stories about sex and violence. In Series 2, the stories remain primarily for adults but more focus has been given to the subtle humour and the previously established characters of Doctor Who. During the series the characters are also forced to endure their share of heartbreaking tragedies which considering the team are a lot more likable in this series this works much better because when tugging on the audience’s heartstrings it is easier to do that if you care about the characters.
In the second series the main cast all reprise their roles and Kai Owen returns as Gwen’s fiancé. Captain Jack has gotten over his issues with the Doctor, and now understands why he is unable to die. He has also returned to Torchwood because it is where he wanted to be so the brooding Jack of Series 1 is thankfully just a memory. Owen Harper has gone from being a self-centred womaniser to a guy that actually seems to care about his colleagues. Tosh still carries her torch for Owen and works up the courage to ask him out on a date. Ianto Jones takes a more centred role and approaches numerous situations with a dry wit and sarcasm that was sadly lacking in Series 2.
Torchwood Series 2 is a vast improvement on the flawed (but enjoyable) Series 1. The characters are given a greater emphasis which a particular episode highlight being Fragments in which the audience learns how each one was recruited by Torchwood.
James Masters (who portrayed the Vampire Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) once again plays a Spike-type character that has a turbulent relationship with Jack which goes back to their days as Time Agents. His presence marks a turning point for the series which is generally just more fun than the previous one. The presence of Martha Jones cements Torchwood in the Whoniverse and the finale will leave the audience waiting in anticipation for a new series.
It has to be said that Torchwood has had a bumpy road. Series 1 introduced the audience to a group of flawed, brooding and selfish people who protected the world but did not seem to like one another very much. The stories were also unnecessarily sexual and violent. By Series 2 Torchwood was a lot more fun. It still dealt with adult themes and suffered tragedies but was not so concerned with distancing itself from Doctor Who.
The format changed for Torchwood: Children of Earth and it has to be said that this is a terrifying addition to the series in which Captain Jack must sacrifice everything to save the Earth.
Captain Jack’s past come back to haunt him and the audience also gains an insight into his past on Earth. After all he hasn’t spent all of his time working with Torchwood. The audience meets his mortal daughter Alice (Lucy Cohu) and grandson Steven (Bear McCausland). Alice has distanced herself from her father and Steven is under the impression that Jack is his uncle.
Gwen and Rhys are also expecting a baby. Together they question her future with Torchwood, can she really justify putting herself in danger on a daily basis if she’s a mother even if it means that she is protecting the world??
The family is a critical element to the series with the families of Ianto and Jack in particular becoming very important.
Torchwood: Children of Earth is a harrowing story in which the government is obviously in over its head. Typically the idiotic Prime Minister Brian Green (Nicholas Farrell) defers responsibility to scapegoat John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi), who decides that Torchwood is a danger that could hamper negotiations with the 456. This seems odd considering the fact that the reason for the creation of Torchwood was to protect the world from alien threats. It makes the audience long for the days when evil Time Lord the Master was Prime Minister because even though he was evil he would have known how to deal with the 456.
Captain Jack’s inability to die also features prominently as he is forced to endure watching people around him die whilst he will always go on. The 456 seem to be unbeatable, they think nothing of human lives, and Captain Jack shows the audience the difference between heroes and villains when he is forced to make a heartbreaking decision.
As Torchwood: Children of Earth builds up over its arc the world begins to fall apart and as the situation deteriorates Gwen records a final message she calls “how the world ended”.
The show was on hiatus for a while after Children of Earth but came back with Torchwood Miracle Day, unfortunately as I write this I have not had an opportunity to see that so my opinions on the show are based upon the Series 1, 2 and Children of Earth.
I think that in the first series Torchwood was trying to do a bit too much, Captain Jack wasn’t much fun and the rest of the cast were really finding their feet with their respective characters, thankfully as the series entered its second series things quickly improved. The show still dealt with more adult themes. Torchwood is not a show in which the good guys are always going to win, people die fighting to the good fight and the fact that Captain Jack cannot die remains key to the series…I have heard that during the events of Miracle Day the human race become immortal with the exception of Jack himself who becomes mortal…if that is true it could be a very interesting idea.
All in all whilst Torchwood had its flaws, and started off on rather shaky ground it did get better and better. Knowledge of Doctor Who is not essential to understand what is going on, however, it helps if you know what Martha Jones and Jack went through when the Master took over the world.
As a whole Torchwood gets a Thumbs Up, it has to be said that the ending of Children of Earth is a little depressing but like I said the good guys don’t always win and sometimes if a hostile alien race is seeking to take the Earth from humanity it doesn’t matter what you sacrifice because you are going to lose…
7/10 - The first series is a little shaky which pulls down my overall rating. Owen is an asshole, and Ianto is vastly underused. However the mistakes and missteps of the first series fall away as Torchwood entered its second season with James Marsters popping up as the superb Captain John plus Children of Earth taking our heroes further than anyone should have to go in order to save the world.