Created by Russell T Davies
Written by Chris Chibnall, Catherine Cregenna, Paul Hammond and Russell T Davies
Starring John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori and Gareth David-Lloyd
As much as I’d love to get hold of a copy, I don’t own the DVD of ‘Torchwood’ because I object the ludicrous prices charged for BBC DVDs. However, I have recently been re-watching the first season on BBC3.
‘Torchwood’ is one of two spin-off shows created following the successful return of ‘Doctor Who’. Whereas the other spin-off, ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’, is targeted at a young audience, ‘Torchwood’ is specifically intended for broadcast after the 9pm watershed.
It has come in for quite a lot of criticism from ‘Doctor Who’ fans and “genre” fans in general because of the sexual content of several episodes –- especially the so-called LGBT content. Having said that, when the pilot episode was broadcast on BBC America in September 2007 it set a new audience record for the channel with 500,000 viewers tuning in.
One season consisting of thirteen episodes has been broadcast in the UK –- between October 2006 and January 2007. Season two will premiere early in 2008. The show has also been broadcast in Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and various parts of Latin America.
Russell T Davies created the show as a vehicle for the Scottish actor John Barrowman (the American accent is genuine –- he grew up in California and attended high school and university there), who had already played the memorable character Captain Jack Harkness in the first season of ‘Doctor Who’. References to “Torchwood” were made in episodes throughout the second season of that show.
We learnt in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘Tooth and Claw’ that the secret “Torchwood Institute” was created by Queen Victoria in 1879 to protect Britain against “nightmares from beyond the imagination” – which, she decreed, would include the Doctor.
‘Torchwood’, the series, is set in present day Cardiff. The not-so-secret organisation (they race around in a ludicrously “let’s draw attention to ourselves” blacked-out 4x4) has its subterranean headquarters, a mixture of Victoriana and the state-of-the-art, beneath the Millennium Centre. In addition to Captain Jack, a flamboyant bi-sexual alien who cannot die, the crew is Gwen Cooper, a former police officer who believes in justice and acts as the moral compass of the organisation, Dr Owen Harper, a narcissistic and sexist medical doctor with an apparent heart of darkness, the somewhat repressed Dr Toshiko Sato, who is the group’s IT expert, and Ianto Jones, who has a “support role” covering a variety of duties.
Toshiko Sato was first seen in the season one ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘Aliens of London’. Gwen Cooper may or may not be related to ‘Gwyneth’, a young female servant working for an undertaker in Cardiff in the season one ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘The Unquiet Dead’, set in 1869. Gwyneth was played by Eve Myles, the actress who also plays Gwen.
Several episodes of ‘Torchwood’ have attracted criticism. In ‘Everything Changes’, the pilot episode, Owen uses an alien pheromone spray on a young woman he meets in a club, his intention simply being to have sex with her. When her angry boyfriend confronts Owen outside the club he uses the spray on him as well.
A lot of people pointed out that the pheromone spray is, effectively, a kind of date rape drug and Owen is therefore guilty of rape, seemingly without consequence. They question how many times he might have done this and argue that it was impossible to feel any sympathy for such a character, making a mockery of the show when a lead character “good guy” is given these characteristics.
For me, Owen is too complex to be simply “likeable” or “dislikeable” and it is only by watching all the episodes of the first season that we begin to form an understanding of his personality and what drives him to be the way his is. It is questionable whether or not we are actually supposed to “like” him.
‘Day One’ (e2) deals with a gaseous alien entity that takes control of the body of a young woman, Carys, and feeds on the energy from sex with men, creating a kind of pheromone to keep her in a state of permanent arousal. At the moment of climax during sex the man is reduced to a pile of dust. In one scene, Gwen is so attracted to Carys because of the pheromone that the two engage in foreplay in a holding cell in the bowels of Torchwood, watched on close circuit television by Owen. However, the sex does not reach climax and Gwen does not die because the alien needs male sexual energy, not female sexual energy. Russell T Davies claims this episode was designed to be a commentary about male attitudes towards sex.
I thought it was very successful in doing just that.
‘Cyberwoman’ (e3) is an episode that seems to be hated to an extreme degree by many commentators. I don’t know why this particular episode upsets them so much, so I can’t comment further about it.
In ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts’ (e7) Toshiko becomes involved in a sexual relationship with a young woman called Mary (played by the excellent Daniela Denby-Ashe) who she meets in a pub. The relationship gives her a sense of identity and freedom from the repressed state she often feels herself to be in, but it also confuses her.
A lot of ‘Doctor Who’ fans are very critical of the amount of sex in ‘Torchwood’ and, perhaps more to the point, the type of sex. The argument is that this is simply done to gain publicity and create controversy, but ‘Torchwood’ is tucked away on BBC3 and its average audience of just a little bit over one million viewers is made up almost entirely of ‘Doctor Who’ fans. There may or may not be some justification in the criticism levelled at the show. Personally, I don’t think so.
I think my favourite episodes of the first season are probably ‘Small Worlds’ (e5), a very creepy story about faeries, ‘Random Shoes’ (e9), an odd comedy episode about a trio of geeks who live in fantasy world that leads to murder, and ‘Out Of Time’ (e10), a really well observed and rather melancholy episode in which a small twin-engine aircraft takes off in 1953 and lands in 2006.
Eve Myles is the best thing about the show. Her character is, I think, the most interesting. Although the show is based around Captain Jack, he largely took a backseat to Gwen in season one. Myles is excellent throughout all thirteen episodes and in the final episode ‘End of Days’ the raw intensity of her acting is quite astonishing.
Having said this, perhaps predictably, Gwen is somewhat unpopular with a lot of fans.