Sunday, May 10, 2009


You really need to watch Torchwood. This BBC series, a spin off of the latest revival of Dr. Who, has it all.

The premise is simplicity itself: a five-person team polices a rift in the space-time continuum that is centered in Cardiff, Wales; whenever hostile alien life forms or dangerous alien artifacts come out of the rift, the Torchwood team springs into action.

Torchwood is lead by the charismatic and enigmatic Captain Jack Harkness, played by Tom Cruise look-alike John Barrowman (Harkness is American, while Barrowman is Scottish born, but raised in America). This Captain Jack has been around a long time, and seen and done even more, including doing a stint as one of the Doctor’s companions. Owen Harper, played by the Willem Dafoe-esque Burn Gorman, is the team’s cynic, physician and specialist on alien physiology. Toshiko “Tosh” Sato, played by the lovely Naoko Mori, is the computer specialist. Gareth David-Lloyd plays Ianto (Yan-tow), the team's dapper support officer. New to the team is Gwen Cooper, a former Cardiff police officer, played by Eve Myles who has the most soulful eyes. It is through those eyes that we, the viewers, see the team and its amazing adventures.

Similar shows like The X-Files and the current series Fringe are generally story-driven “procedurals” but Torchwood has always put its characters at the heart of its stories, which makes its impact that much greater. For example, we have seen in other series the “man or woman out of time” stories (usually someone from the past comes to the show's present). Torchwood’s episode, where a plane from 1953 flies through the rift and lands in Cardiff today, makes you feel what the characters, both the regulars and the guest stars, are going through. (EPISODE SPOILERS ALERT) Gwen becomes a surrogate big sister to 18 year old Emma, who led a sheltered life in 1953, but is much stronger than she knows. Owen falls in love with the plane’s pilot, Diane, a free-spirit who it seems had more freedoms in 1953 than in today’s over-regulated world. Jack has perhaps the hardest time with John, a man in his 50s who had a wife and son. He discovers his wife is long dead and his son is now an old man who has no chance of remembering his father as he is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. In the end, Gwen learns to stop being overprotective of Emma and lets her go to seek her future in London. Owen watches as Diane flies off, to either fly through the rift if she can find it and return to 1953, or soar away to explore our world and time. John finds himself unable to function in today’s society; he has no relatives, no friends, no hope. His attempt to kill himself if thwarted by Jack, but he tells him he will only try again, and again until he is successful. John asks Jack to help him die with dignity. And Jack does.

That last story is what won me over completely on this show. Any other series would have lectured John about the value of life and won him over, and would have ended with John taking care of his Alzheimer’s afflicted son. But Torchwood had the guts to tell the story of a man who simply could not go on, who could not live this new life in this new time, and wanted to end it all. And one of our heroes helped him do it. John sealed himself in a car in a garage and let the carbon monoxide fumes do him in. Captain Jack Harkness sat beside him, talked to him and held his hand so he wouldn’t die alone or afraid. (You see, Captain Jack Harkness cannot die (for reasons that haven’t been revealed), so the fumes didn’t affect him.)

That’s just one story. Torchwood has two seasons (or series as they call them) out on DVD. Each story is grounded by at least one team member’s involvement. They look out for each other, bicker with each other, laugh with each other, and trust each other. The show is innovative and fun, scary and sexy.

Torchwood is a great show. You really should be watching it. (BTW, if you haven't figured it out, Torchwood is an anagram for Doctor Who!)

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to see someone else likes Torchwood! I'm not as enamored of the series as I am Dr Who but then I've watched "Who" since 1979. I wish I had more time to see the show so I'll probably end up buying the DVD/Blu-Rays at some point (I'm still two series behind on the current Who as it is).

    The show I am absolutely obsessed with at the moment, and talk about being behind the times (forgive the multiple puns), is "Life on Mars". If there has been a better character on Television in living memory than Philip Glenister's DCI Gene Hunt I can't think of it. I haven't caught any of its very well recieved sequel "Ashes to Ashes" yet.