Entry updated 22 May 2023. Tagged: TV.
UK tv series (2006-2011). Created by Russell T Davies. Producers include Davies, Julie Gardner, and Chris Chibnall. Directors include Andy Goddard, Ashley Way, and Euros Lyn. Writers include Davies, Chibnall, John Fay, and Catherine Tregenna. Cast includes John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper, Burn Gorman as Owen Harper (seasons 1-2), Naoko Mori as Toshiko Sato (seasons 1-2), and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones (seasons 1-3). Four seasons; 41 60-minute episodes.
The character of Jack Harkness, a charming, omnisexual rogue who briefly travels with the Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler, was introduced in the first season of the revamped Doctor Who, in the two-part episode "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" (2005) (scripted by Steven Moffat, who would go on to write some of the show's most highly regarded stories and to become its showrunner after Russell T Davies's departure). He was an instant audience favourite, as was his portrayer, musical theater stalwart John Barrowman. When the BBC, galvanized by New Who's success, turned to Davies to create spin-offs from the show, a Captain Jack-led series seemed like an obvious choice. Torchwood (the name is an anagram of "Doctor Who") is a secret government organization that deals with Alien and supernatural incursions on Earth. The Cardiff branch is led by Jack (whose experiences with the Doctor have made him immortal), who in the series pilot recruits policewoman Gwen Cooper to his team.
Torchwood was envisioned and marketed as Doctor Who for grown-ups; unfortunately, in the show's first two seasons this translated into a prurient and juvenile fascination with Sex and bad behavior. The sex-lives of the main cast are a topic of constant fascination to the writers, and many of the weird occurrences they investigate hinge on sexual encounters. Nor is the show's handling of this topic particularly insightful or mature. In the pilot episode, Torchwood team member Owen appropriates an alien artefact that makes him sexually irresistible and uses it to coerce a couple into having sex with him, and the show treats this blatant violation as a throwaway gag that is never referenced again. Even on those rare occasions when sex was left out of the picture, the Torchwood team's behavior more often resembled that of teenagers, frequently launching into sulks or overwrought outbursts, and seemingly incapable of seeing past their own hurt feelings and frustrated desires. The show's plots did little to compensate, jettisoning Doctor Who's sense of childish adventure in favor of a tone of fear and anxiety over humanity's taking its first steps onto the galactic stage and the dangers to be found there, without supporting it with worthwhile storytelling, and often descending into camp.
A change came in Torchwood's third season, a five-part story titled Children of Earth (the episodes were aired on consecutive nights on BBC One, where they garnered high ratings) in which the show finally seemed to find its stride. In the story, Aliens demand a tribute of Earth's children, and it is revealed that they had visited Earth in the past and that Jack had acceded to their requests. The story asks the question that Torchwood seems to have been designed to address but had not, until that point, acknowledged – what to do when the Doctor isn't there to save the day? – and much of the story is concerned with the characters' discovery of the depths to which their government will sink in order to serve its notion of the greater good, and the sacrifices that they are willing to make in order to ensure humanity's survival. Children of Earth is a dark, tautly written story, and though it must be acknowledged that much of what works in the miniseries is original to it (in particular, the Torchwood characters are sidelined in favor of original creations, such as Peter Capaldi as a bureaucrat who enables the aliens' abduction of Earth's children, and Cush Jumbo as an office temp who helps Torchwood, both of whom quickly outshine the established cast), it is the first successful use of the Torchwood format to tell the kind of story that Doctor Who never could.
Even before Children of Earth, Torchwood had enjoyed great success in the US, possibly because of its frank and occasionally graphic portrayal of homosexual relationships, particularly the tender romance between Jack and team member Ianto Jones. It may be for this reason that the show's fourth season was co-produced by the American cable channel Starz and featured American as well as British characters (Bill Pullman, Mekhi Pfiffer, and Lauren Ambrose were cast in the project), while the writing staff was joined by the likes of Jane Espenson (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica) and John Shiban (The X-Files). The season, planned as a single story and titled Miracle Day, spans ten episodes and describes the events that occur when the people of Earth stop dying (see Immortality). It aired in 2011 and was less well received by critics than earlier series.
Russell Davies announced in October 2012 that for personal reasons Torchwood would be suspended indefinitely; Barrowman reported in July 2016 that he was engaged in talks with the BBC that could lead to its return, but no further developments ensued. Novel Ties to the series have been written by a number of authors including Dan Abnett, Peter Anghelides, James Goss, Andy Lanea and Sarah Pinborough. [AN]
- Gary Russell. Torchwood: The Encyclopedia (London: BBC Books, 2009) [nonfiction: tie to Doctor Who/Torchwood: Doctor Who: Torchwood: hb/]
- Melissa Beattie, Ross P Garner and Una McCormack. Impossible Worlds, Impossible Things – Cultural Perspectives on Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures (Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010) [nonfiction: anth: Doctor Who universe: hb/]
- Donald E Palumbo, editor. Illuminating "Torchwood": Essays on Narrative, Character and Sexuality in the BBC Series (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2014) [nonfiction: anth: in the publisher's Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy series: pb/]
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