I’d tried watching the first season of Torchwood, but I couldn’t make it all the way through. I loved the character of Captain Jack Harkness, omnisexual space rogue played by John Barrowman, when he was introduced in the first season of the new Doctor Who. He was charming and funny and very easy on the eyes. When I heard there’d be a more adult spinoff series starring him, I was all for it. But it was so gloomy and muddy, with ridiculous barely science fiction plots (character who should REALLY know better rebuilds his girlfriend as a Cyberman in the basement, resulting in a robot whose costume was all breasts and bare skin!), that I quit.
I gave it another try when this season started only because James Marsters was guest-starring as Captain John Hart, an unscrupulous ex-lover (!) of Jack’s who shows up to try and kill everyone out of jealousy in an episode called “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”. And it was better than I expected! It kept me watching the whole season. But before we get into that, here are the show’s basics.
Torchwood is a secret organization (only everyone seems to know them, so don’t think too hard about this part) in Wales whose job is to protect the earth from extraterrestrial problems. “The 21st century is when everything changes,” according to the opening narration, “and Torchwood is ready.”
It’s run by Jack, who’s now immortal. The team consists of Gwen (Eve Myles), the regular girl cop who provides the human perspective; Owen (Burn Gorman), the doctor; Toshiko (Naoko Mori), the technician/geek girl; and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), the office boy, who’s my favorite. He’s always wearing a dashing suit and isn’t afraid to talk back to or flirt with Jack.
Overall, it’s more like the X-Files than Doctor Who. “Adult” in this case means both violence and plenty of sexual innuendo. This season, the plots still have holes in them, and there’s too much of a tendency to put the team in jeopardy of death all the time (much like superhero comics, they’ve turned the threat up so high that there’s often nowhere else to go), but the characters are more intriguing to me now. My favorite episodes are those that play up their interaction.
The John/Jack pairing did not disappoint, with them kissing and punching each other in a glorious fight. This first episode follows on from the end of the first season, where Jack leaves his Torchwood team to try to find answers about his immortal state and participate in the final three episodes of the third season of Doctor Who. The group is feeling deserted but trying to soldier on. The plot is kind of a sexy, playful sci-fi caper.
Captain John later returns for the final two episodes of this thirteen-episode season in a storyline involving Jack’s long-lost younger brother. Before then, there are several stand-alone episodes:
- “Sleeper”, about unknowing alien secret agents hiding as humans.
- “To the Last Man”, a great focus on Toshiko and her relationship with a frozen time traveler, originally a soldier from WWI, where we see the 1918 version of Torchwood.
- “Meat” has a space whale being harvested for food and Gwen’s fiance finding out about her secret work life.
- “Adam”, best of the lot, in which the team is infiltrated by someone who can alter their memories, and the viewers learn more about everyone’s background.
And then an arc of episodes six through eight, “Reset”, “Dead Man Walking”, and “A Day in the Death”, which guest star Freema Agyeman as Dr. Martha Jones, the new Doctor’s second companion and a terrific personality. The story focuses on some unusual changes for Owen.
After that comes “Something Borrowed”, in which Gwen tries to get married but is infected with an alien bug that makes her pregnant; “From Out of the Rain”, a creepy tale involving a film about a traveling carnival that captures people (eerie, but not really alien); and “Adrift”, worst of the set, about Gwen finding out that Torchwood hides victims aged by the Rift, their local “explanation for everything mystical”. The season concludes with “Fragments”, which puts the entire team in mortal danger and then flashes back to how they each joined, and “Exit Wounds”, the season finale, with several shocks of its own.
The set includes the thirteen episodes on four discs, several of which begin with an ad for another BBC series. I expect those kinds of trailers in an “extras” section instead of being forced to skip through them on a set they’re charging $80 for. The fourth disc has the special features, with nine minutes of outtakes, ten deleted scenes (which range in length from 15 seconds to ten minutes), and the 20-minute-or-so featurette “The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack Harkness”, narrated by Freema Agyeman. It’s mainly a history retrospective, helpful for those who haven’t watched or don’t remember his Doctor Who appearances, with comments by Barrowman, Russell T. Davies, and other writers and producers. No episode commentaries, though, a noticeable lack.
The bonus fifth disc contains all thirteen episodes of Torchwood Declassified, a supplemental series which goes behind the scenes of each main episode in 10-minute increments. Overall, Torchwood is an entertaining series best enjoyed by fans of shows like Angel, creative semi-supernatural adventure tales with an emphasis on an ensemble cast. (A complimentary copy of this DVD was provided by the studio.)