From the BBC and the creators of Doctor Who comes Torchwood. The series that was spawned in the Doctor Who franchise and operates in the same universe. Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, Owen Harper, Ianto Jones and Toshiko Sato head off the battle aliens, control unknown gadgets, arm the human race for the future and resurrect the dead in this violent, grim action filled drama. Will fans of Doctor Who enjoy Seasons 1, 2 and the mini-series Children of the Earth?

SEASON 1

Torchwood is a spin-off of the new Doctor Who television show. Throughout the first couple of seasons of the new Who we see pieces being put into place to create Torchwood, the organization as well as the idea. Clearly this spin-off was planned to some extent through the new show. Our main character Captain Jack Harkness has a memorable presence on the Doctor Who program as well.

Season 1 of Torchwood introduces us to the team. Without providing too many spoilers, Harkness is immortal as a result of some things that happen in Doctor Who. Harkness leads a team of paranormal alien investigators in a top secret organization known as Torchwood. The series plays out a bit like X-Files with the team tracking down aliens and working to contain them.

The first season starts off about like you would expect with a new member, Gwen Cooper stumbling her way onto the team. Soon after Gwen is introduced we start going on adventures. This show which was created by Russell T. Davies of Doctor Who fame and has many of his trademark stamps on it. From the first episode we can see that he’s planning a larger overall story arc. The theme appears to be “there’s something in the darkness… And it’s coming” which seems to recur over the course of the episode run.

There are a couple of real highlight episodes during Season 1. The team encounters a couple of non-aliens that turn into one of the more fascinating stories. There is also a great bit of science fiction throughout, while keeping the drama somewhat real worldly. One of the early complaints I read from people about Torchwood was that the characters were unlikable. In Season 1, I somewhat understand this.

Gwen is the character we most see through the eyes of, she’s relatively plain and the first season is mostly her struggle to deal with her previous life and how much it’s changed since coming to Torchwood. Her boyfriend Rhys (Reese) is along for the ride and doesn’t know the secrets of where Gwen works which becomes a recurring theme as well.

Captain Jack is the leader and we learn through Gwen that none of the team knows about Jack’s past or his immortality. They also don’t know why he insists on keeping that hand in the jar. The hand of course, ties into the Doctor Who story.

Owen Harper is the team’s medical expert and is mostly a prick during Season 1. He’s not a very likeable character but his snappy dialogue and sharp tongue made him a favorite of mine. Owen starts forming a relationship with Gwen which leads to one of the bigger breakdowns of the season and goes to show how much stress having a job like the one at Torchwood would have on anyone. It causes good people to behave in a nature they normally wouldn’t.

Ianto Jones does very little in Season 1, sans a early episode where he makes a big impact. Ianto is mostly an errand boy for the team although we do see him start to step it up a bit towards the end. Jones is mysterious and cold, though we do see hints that he has a relationship with the unisexual Jack Harkness.

Finally there is Toshiko Sato who is the team’s computer expert. If you’ve ever watched Smallville, Sato basically has the Chloe role. However Toshiko does have a few personality traits, she’s the loveable loser who is never comfortable in her own skin. She saves the day more often than not, but never seems to be respected by her peers. She loves Owen and he never even notices her.

The first season has it’s ups and downs. It’s fun to watch these members go on their adventures capturing aliens and encountering the weird. It’s never quite as good as Doctor Who, but it doesn’t always try to be. Some of the stories are much different and it’s vastly more violent and “adult”. Although I’m not one who really subscribes to the kids show belief of Doctor Who.

Regardless, Torchwood Season 1 is a fun science fiction romp and it’s basically everything you could have wanted out of X-Files without all the lameness. Season 1 builds to an interesting climax that unfortunately has one of Russell T. Davies patented deus ex machina endings. Still some of the earlier episodes and the fun ideas like the resurrection gauntlet and the retcon pills keep drawing you in and by the season’s close you definitely feel like you could want more.

Despite it’s shortcomings, Torchwood is an engaging and fun show.

SEASON 2

Torchwood’s second season promises more bang for your buck and presents the characters and ideals much clearer and more precise than it’s first season. However the sophomore year is filled with it’s own hurdles and ultimately more heartbreaking disappointments. The episodes are stronger, the finale is better and the characters are more developed.

Season 2 of Torchwood picks up largely where it left off last time. The gang are still doing what they do best, but this time they’re doing it without Jack. Harkness left in the finale of Season 1 to go party with Doctor Who and when he returns early into Season 2 we see the effect he’s had on the team. Ianto is falling in love with him and his connection to Gwen is growing even stronger. It’s hard to say if Jack cares more for Gwen than he does Ianto.

Owen’s harshness has softened some we see early on but he also takes some more dynamic turns in the early episodes suggesting that Owen could very well lead Torchwood. Gwen however seems to be the default leader despite spending less time on the team than any of the other members. This three way power struggle never quite comes to fruition but it’s a nice subtext to the season.

The stories are almost all stronger this season with more twists and turns and the characters are all infinitely more likeable. Anyone who had trouble engaging the characters in the first season should be more welcome in the second season. This plays in as both a good and a bad.

Rhys gets a beefed up role as not just Gwen’s boyfriend but eventually Gwen’s husband. No longer does he continually get retconned but he actually learns of Torchwood and ends up on a few of their adventures. There is a truly brilliant story where this all unfolds and it perhaps, the best episode in the entire series run. Not only do we learn a lot about Rhys as a man, but we further see how a real person would be affected by the Torchwood lifestyle.

The season eventually falls into a strange “Owen is going to die” period where Owen Harper’s character goes through a series of near deaths and real deaths that stretches a bit long. At times it’s tragic, at times it’s annoying and when it’s played just right, it’s brilliant science fiction. By the finale Owen was clearly my favorite character despite his obvious faults.

Toshiko becomes a better character in Season 2 although she’s ultimately given less to do. Her confession of love to Owen sort of becomes glossed over because she confesses it to him no less than a half dozen different times for dramatic effect. It would have worked once, but it gets overplayed.

Captain John Hart played by James Marsters of Buffy and Smallville fame enters into the season and provides a “Master” to Jack Harnkess’ “Doctor” but their chemistry is never quite good enough to make it work beyond a little intrigue. Captain John Hart is an entertaining character, but he never quite lives up to the potential.

As for Jack Harkness, we begin to learn more of his backstory. With Harkness the writers have created a character similar to the Doctor in which they can create a thousand different lives for him. A man who can live forever has a deep rich history. This is both the good and the bad of the season as times when we reach into Jack’s past it’s compelling and times when we reach in, it’s utterly pointless.

Gwen’s character remains largely the same although her connection to Jack seems to waver somewhat. She’s still fatally flawed and clearly is sticking with Rhys because Rhys is with her till the end whether she likes it or not, but it does make you wonder if she’d stay with Rhys if Jack offered to whisk her away.

The buildup to the finale is much less nuance this time around and when the final episodes hit we’re thrust into a story that ultimately feels rushed. The payoff ends up being cheapened by the finale and when the end credits roll up on the season I was left wondering why they pulled the trigger on certain events when they did. Clearly the show had another couple of good seasons left in it, but Season 2 does enough irreparable damage to it that you know any further seasons won’t contain the same dynamic.

Highlight episodes include one where a man with the power to force his way into your world through memories invades the team as well as the first guest spot by Martha Jones. There is also a really good story with Owen that seems wasted in hindsight because of the finale.

Season 2 is a lot more fun and a much better show than Season 1, however the end result may be slightly more frustrating. I however enjoyed it more than the first season and I think most will follow in that thinking. The show seemed to rush some things and offered up a couple of swerves and twists perhaps just to throw audiences off. Season 2 requires you to turn your brain off a bit more than Season 1 in terms of plot holes but the tight knit cohesion of the group makes it more than worth it. The season is just much more fun.

MINI-SERIES- TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF THE EARTH

After two seasons of Torchwood, the third season is a mini series. Entitled Torchwood: Children of the Earth, BBC’s Doctor Who spinoff provides it’s freshest story yet. Children of the Earth shakes up the entire formula and produces not only the finest arc of story in Torchwood’s short history but creates one of the best mini series in the history of the genre. Fans of V or other classic mini series will definitely enjoy this one and you almost don’t need to see the previous seasons to understand what’s going on. A testament to crafty writing.

Children of the Earth engages us with an intriguing story without focusing too much on the complete destruction of the Torchwood team from the previous season. Instead we center in on the mystery of why kids all over the Earth are suddenly speaking cryptic messages. In a flash the drama changes as we find the UK government out to take down Torchwood itself, so they can address the issue of the children without Torchwood’s interference.

The first hour is gripping and intriguing. At first it looks as though Torchwood is rebuilding the team, only to have that notion torn apart. We also learn a bit more backstory about some of the other characters. We learn that Jack Harkness has a daughter, which really isn’t that crazy of an idea considering he’s hundreds of years old. We also learn about Ianto’s sister and his apparently rough upbringing.

There’s a fair amount of humor in the mini series which helps to lighten the otherwise depressing tone. The show is known for dabbling in a few laughs despite being ultimately pretty grim. One particularly funny theme for the specials is Ianto being gay for Jack. Is Ianto gay? Not really. He just digs Jack. This plays into some rather humorous situations.

Torchwood rebuilds, falls apart and struggles throughout. Their enemies are not just the UK government but the cause of the children’s cryptic messages, the alien entity known as the 4, 5, 6… Named after the frequency in which they use to communicate. The 456 is a fascinating alien creature and perhaps the best part of the show is how creepy the alien invasion or lack thereof truly is.

Unfortunately Jack Harkness is treated a bit more like Superman than anything else and the mini series plods around a bit by working to free Jack only to have him prove to be anything but Superman. We find out that Jack is partially responsible for the chaos that’s been unleashed on the world and Torchwood in particular.

The final hours of the mini series manage to dimish the legacy of the characters by having them utterly fail before opting for another deus ex machina ending. While the ending is a much more logical payoff than most, the ultimate defeat of the aliens seems overshadowed by all the other wreckage that has been caused to the characters. Rhys remains the most likeable guy in the program while Jack Harkness becomes a failure, a coward and almost a villain. It’s hardly Harkness’ finest hour.

Perhaps the best characters in the program are not the Torchwood team themselves. We see a lot of the government characters with one in particular becoming one of the better stories in the entire franchise. At some point there is a bit of a tease that maybe everything will work out alright, that perhaps the Doctor will show up and right all the wrongs, but it doesn’t happen.

Ultimately that’s the downfall of Torchwood: Children of the Earth and the entire Torchwood show itself. There is a lot of great buildup, good storytelling and interesting characters but there are no happy endings. Everything is gloomy and that’s okay on occasion but the show is at it’s best when the characters are likeable and the stories interesting but the heroes should win from time to time. I suppose Torchwood is more realistic in the sense that everything doesn’t always work out perfectly, but the show forces too much sacrifice. The three seasons of doom and gloom could have been better in my view if the sadness and failure had been sprinkled in throughout as opposed to beating you over the head with it.

At the end, Torchwood: Children of the Earth is an excellent science fiction mini series that almost feels like a story that the Torchwood characters are just in, as opposed to based around. It’s the hallmark of an excellent adventure, but as with the two previous seasons there are parts that make me wish it had been better focused and less reliant on death and doom as it’s key plot points.

Highly recommended however.

In a nutshell, Torchwood is fun sci-fi that gets a bit too bogged down by seriousness. The show takes itself very lightly at points and then far to seriously at other points. I still enjoyed it and would definitely watch a Season 4 despite it’s many flaws.

One Response to Torchwood Complete Series Overview

  • Anonymous says:

    And, I made us watch it all in 2 days! Hehe. I loved this series, it was top on my list with the last 2 seasons of Doctor Who. I am sad now that we don’t have it to watch anymore – but it’s entirely my own fault.

    – Beth, the GF

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