Friday, April 8, 2011


For the last couple of weeks, I've been watching this ridiculously addictive TV show on DVD called
Torchwood. It was produced by the BBC from 2006 to 2009. It's a sci-fi adventure crossed with a
police procedural. I devoured each episode as fast the mail and Netflix streaming could deliver
them. 31 episodes were produced.

Cardiff, Wales, sits on a rift in time and space. Things pass through the rift unfettered. Torchwood
exists to fight aliens, protect humans and appropriate alien technology for use as weapons when
malevolent and predatory aliens make an appearance later this century.

The rift is a perfect sci-fi plot device. Need an alien? Got one. Need a monster? Here. Need a
doohickey to wreak havoc? It's over there. Need a romance with a babe from 1953? Here she
comes now. Want to send your own people back in time? Would you prefer World War I or II?

Torchwood is an independent agency located in an old tube station under Cardiff. Its leader is
Captain Jack Harkness, an action hero sent over by Central Casting. Jack is played by John
Barrowman, who is possibly the most handsome man in the history of, well, men. Jack is a
confident rogue and a fearless leader, as well as a mystery. It is established early on that he is
immortal, bouncing back to life shortly after he is killed, which happens frequently. That trait is
related to him being a former Time Agent, as Torchwood is a spin-off of the BBC's 2005 recreation
of Dr Who. I've never seen Dr Who, so I just went with it whenever references came up.

The heart of the show is Gwen, a former police constable who tracks down Torchwood in the first
episode. Where Jack is often amoral or just rude, Gwen is the conscience of the show and keeps the team
focused on helping humans more than exploring alien swag. Played by Welsh actress Eve Myles,
she is more than a little adorable, despite a David Lettermanesque gap between her front teeth.
Hey, it's the UK and hot is hot.

There are a few things you need to know about Torchwood. First, it has movie-quality visuals.
This must have been an incredibly expensive show to produce. The lighting is lush and beautiful,
and the action sequences are adrenalific. Cardiff looks like a dramatic, sexy city and I'm guessing
that in real life, it might not be.

Another thing, Torchwood is unbelievably bi. Except for Gwen, every character has sexual
congress with members of both genders at some point during the series run. It's kind of strange (although welcome) to see this degree of liberation and you'll never see it on American TV. Captain Jack, born
sometime after the year 5000, hints that attitudes will change in the future but that doesn't account
for the omnivorousness of the characters from this century.

Finally, the Welsh and English accents are a bit thick, so captions were helpful and necessary for me.
Barrowman, born in Scotland but raised in the US, certainly sounds American, but you can tell his
writers had no interest in making him be American. He talks like a Brit, based on phrasing and word choice, but without the accent. For example, he addressed a couple of people as "You lot," which no American would. We'd say "You," "You two," "You guys," or even "All Y'all," but we'd never say "You lot." Maybe it's intentional, as Jack has lived in the UK for centuries. Hard to say.

I'm not sure what the story is behind Torchwood's odd production history. There were two
13-episode seasons, followed by a five-episode season. That third season took place over five
action-packed days and probably cost as much to produce as an entire 13-ep season. It was even
aired in the UK on five consecutive nights, making it quite the broadcasting event. I understand that
Torchwood season four will air ten episodes sometime this summer. It will be interesting to see
where they take the show. After you save the world, what do you do next?

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