First aired:22nd October 2006
John Barrowman – Captain Jack Harkness
Eve Myles – Gwen Cooper
Burn Gorman – Doctor Owen Harper
Noako Mori – Toshiko Sato
Indira Varma – Suzie Costello
Kai Williams – Rhys Williams
Gareth Davies-Lloyd – Ianto Jones
Tom Price – PC Andy
Spin Off Specifics:
Where did is spin-off from? Doctor Who
When did it spin-off from? This season ran alongside Doctor Who’s season 3.
What is different? Rather than being set anywhere and anytime, this show focuses on present day Cardiff.
Was it necessary? Not really but the name Torchwood was all over season 2 of the new Doctor Who and people did seem to like the Captain Jack character.
How did it compare? Very different in both tone and premise, there’s little places to compare it.
Plot:Cardiff, there’s a crime-scene. A man has been stabbed and PC Gwen Cooper is one of the police officers keeping the public out. They get a call to leave the scene as a specialist team want access to the scene. This group, known only as Torchwood arrive, three people in modern clothes (emphasis on leather it seems) and a man dressed in 1940’s air-force attire.
As the three others examine the, the team leader Captain Jack Harkness stands apart and tastes the rain, commenting on being able to taste the estrogen in the rain. The other three use a glove to temporarily resurrect the dead body at the heart of the crime-scene. Capt Jack asks the victim, John Tucker, what he saw after introducing himself, but he dies full of panic. When it’s done, the team start bickering over what should be done when asking questions of a dead person and Capt Jack looks up and asks Gwen who has sneaked back in to watch from a nearby roof what she thinks they should ask. Gwen runs back to the station and that night goes home to her boyfriend Rhys. She doesn’t share the grisly details with him and goes to bed. The next day in work, Gwen asks a colleague to look into the name Captain Jack Harkness, then asking unknowing colleagues what they know about Torchwood, before responding to a near-riot in a pub, getting a head injury for her trouble. She is taken to the hospital and whilst there sees the back of Capt Jack running up some stairs. She runs afterwards, finding no one but a porter who has no idea why the upper floors have been barricaded off. Gwen keeps looking and finds what she assumes is a man in a prosthetic mask, looking all alien and beastial. When the porter returns with and tells her that the hospital has no idea what this area is cordoned off for, the beastial creature bites into the porters throat, killing him. The Torchwood team arrive and using what looks like CS gas contain and then remove the creature, with Gwen in pursuit. She loses them, seemingly into thin air.
That night Gwen tracks the group to their base, by checking with a local pizzeria where Torchwood gets their pizzas delivered to. She buys some pizzas and uses the whole pizza delivery scam to get inside the building, based the impeccably dressed Ianto Jones in reception. It’s all underground bunkers and hi-tech and Gwen walks past all the other three members of Torchwood, tech specialist Toshiko Sako, Doctor Owen Harper and the second in command Suzie Costello. On shelves nearby is a severed alien head and next to it a severed hand, familiar to viewers as the hand of The Doctor. There is a huge column in the centre of the room as a pterodactyl flies overhead. Gwen is standing at Capt Jack’s office door, the rest of the group struggling to keep a straight face. Rather than make her disappear or anything sinister Capt Jack dismisses everyone for the night, shows Gwen the alien from earlier, identifying it as a Weevil and then takes her for a pint. He takes her up through a lift that takes them up to the street on a piece of pavement that when anyone stands on it, is invisible to anyone around them.
Capt Jack is very honest, pointing out that Torchwood finds aliens and alien technology, keeping it from harming other people and seeing if they can make it work, arming humanity for the future. Torchwood is in Cardiff, because there’s a space/time rift running through the heart of the city and stuff like the Weevils slip out of the rift into Cardiff. The stuff should stay on the base, but we see Tosh has taken an alien reading device home, Suzie is experimenting with the glove that temporarily resurrected John Tucker and Owen, well Owen uses some aien phermone spray to convince an at first very interested woman to come back to his place. A second spray convinces her angry boyfriend to turn this into a threesome. Gwen finishes her drink and tells Capt Jack that they should be helping find the killer, not using his victims and if he doesn’t she will expose them, but the he tells her that there’s a drug in her drink called retcon, which will remove her memory of Torchwood altogether. Gwen runs home and tries to type up notes on what has happened, but Ianto hacks into her computer, deleting it as she falls asleep at the computer.
The next day, Gwen is at work, oblivious to all the weird stuff that has happened, but while making tea and coffee for CID, sees a picture of the suspected murder weapon and recognises it from one that Suzie had at Torchwood base, cracking through the retcon pill’s amnesia, at least partly. Gwen goes back to the street above Torchwood and finds Suzie, who confesses to a mostly confused Gwen that she was murdering people to test the glove, so she can perfect it. Realising that she is going to get caught, she is preparing to run. Behind her Capt Jack is coming up from the lift, Suzie has been aroudn this stuff for too long and can see through this trick and shoots him between the eyes and to Gwen it just looks like he appears from nowhere with a fatal bullet wound. Then something weird happens, Capt Jack stands up and confronts Suzie. Her memory comes back fully and later after Owen and Tosh return the stuff they were using, Capt Jack offers Gwen a job, telling her that they should be helping more and she’s the kind of person that will push them to do that. When she asks about his surviving being shot, he admits that he can’t actually die, but no one knows about it. He needs to find the right kind of doctor to help, but until then they can help, because the 21st century is when it all changes.
Notes: Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who and was (as legend has it) used to keep secret scripts and other material regarding the new iteration of Doctor Who. It was also used as a plot-point that ran through the second season, in the way the phrase ‘Bad Wolf’ was used in the first. This being a spin off idea from that is not unexpected. The premise is basic enough to work, a local branch of an organisation that investigates alien threats, unnoticed by the general run of humanity is neither a new idea, nor one that has no legs left. Mixing alien stuff with a police procedural works very well in theory and so in concept this is not a bad show. In concept.
Well lets look at the good, Ianto, Tosh and Owen aren’t given a lot to do here (we’ll come back to Owen in a bit) and Suzie is killed off as well, so the show really is being carried by it’s leads, Eve Myles and John Barrowman. Eve Myles is likeable and brings a girl next door vibe to the new recruit character. She has lived in the real world and her life with boyfriend Rhys tethers the show to some semblance of reality. The fact that its set in Cardiff also adds another flavour to it. John Barrowman reprises his role as pansexual former conman from the future Captain Jack Harkness. Barrowman is more hammy than a ham and cheese toastie and chews the scenery with enthusiasm. He’s not trying to fit in, with his period military outfit and american accent, but he does act like he owns the place. He walks with swagger and charms everyone around him. The time-rift thing is also a good idea, pulling stories to it, rather than them having to go anywhere. This really had everything that it needs with a decent cast, direction and premise, but that doesn’t make any of the problems go away.
The problems though are very much there. The script is full of snappy dialogue, which makes it seem glib and irreverant, despite the number of bodies on deck. The story is basic, but there’s little new here, despite the show’s open ended premise. However these are all things that don’t can be got over, but there is one problem that can’t really be overcome and that is Doctor Owen Harper. It’s not the performance, Burn Gorman gives a spirited performance as an arrogant and abrasive man that is good at what he does, more than he is well liked. No my problem is what the character does. We see Tosh steal a reading device, we see Suzie experiment with a resurrection glove and Owen? Owen brings home an alien roofie. We see him spray himself after being knocked back by a woman who is not interested, severely not interested. She is then all over him, all inhibitions gone and when her boyfriend is about to get violent, there’s another spray and he does the same thing. Now, think about that for a second. Person says no, guy uses some chemical without their knowledge and then they’re very much saying yes, or at least, no longer saying no. They are not able to judge what they are doing, clearly under the influence of something, therefore cannot give consent. What do we call that kind of sex? I didn’t see it at the time it was on first, but with so much more public discourse over consent, harassment and sexual assault, things are seen very differently now. Things aren’t how they should be, but they are better and we can see Owen for what he is, a sexual predator. This is one of the good guys? Are we supposed to sympathise with him? From what I can see, this doesn’t come up again, there’s not consequence to this and is forgotten. What happens to the couple? Or the multitude of other people he could have done this to? How is this not a thing that is ever mentioned again? It made the show almost unwatchable after that, meaning that I do not see myself watching this show again.
By the end of the second season, Gorman and Mori were gone and by the third so was Lloyd-Davies, so this was always Myles and Barrowman’s show and they can keep it, because I was put off.
Does it work? Yes, but only just.
Does much need fixing? We need more characterisation and we still don’t really have a status quo.
Does it stand up? Not really, much of the show is a little unwatchable in how dated and amateurishly put together.
Do I want to watch the next one? No, despite the connection to Doctor Who, I feel no reason to rewatch this.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, for all it’s flaws, it’s entertaining.
Overall: 3 out of 5. A decent start, but it hasn’t really cracked it.