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Hooked on Torchwood: a Newbie Perspective

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It’s actually Doris Egan’s fault. Years ago, I made a solemn vow to myself not to become addicted to more than one television series at a time. I don’t have a lot of free time to obsess over more than one, and most shows on my DVR are for casual, one-time view it and delete it use. Right now, the object of my obsession has been House, M.D. as it has since 2004 when it first premiered. But I’m a fan of Ms. Egan’s most excellent television writing. A favorite among House, M.D. fans, she has penned some of the best episodes in the six seasons for which she served as a writer and producer. courtesy STARZ5

Along with many fans, I was disappointed when Ms. Egan left her House gig (whether it’s temporary or permanent, I certainly do not know). However, I was excited to learn that she had signed on to write for Torchwood: Miracle Day. The fourth season of the BBC series Torchwood, originally spun off from Doctor Who, has been transported across the pond to the U.S. (and STARZ).

courtesy STARZFriends have been trying to get me into the Doctor Who universe for many years, but I never quite got into it as a must-see series. I’ve dabbled from time to time, so I know that his ship, the TARDIS is a blue London police call box, and that he’s combating Daleks, and that there have been ever so many incarnations of the timeless time lord (and as many actors playing him). But that’s about it.

So, with Egan attached to the new season, I thought I would tune in have a look at Torchwood. Stick my toe in the water, as I’ve also done this season with Alphas (Syfy Channel): a mere summer fling. At least that was the plan. Before 25 minutes had passed, the plan, such as it was, had been forgotten. Intrigued by the Torchwood‘s complex protagonist Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), I was left hungering for more. 

With a very hot and rainy weekend hovering over the Chicago area (but, not, to my knowledge any evidence of a time rift), I took a deep breath, booted up Netflix. Queuing up three seasons of Torchwood to my hopefully cooperative Blu-ray player, I pleaded with the machine to avoid its usual knack for re-buffering at the most inconvenient times, and plunged in.

Two days later (more or less), I came up for air genuinely addicted. Gee, thanks, Doris! Just what I need: another television series requiring my care, feeding, and constant attention.

The Torchwood Institute, so the story goes, was created by Queen Victoria to investigate the unusual—sort of Victorian X-Files. The Institute operates outside normal government channels, and seems to have fallen in and out of favor over the many decades it’s been in business. Torchwood takes place in modern day Cardiff, Wales, the location of a rift in the time-space continuum. In a time (or temporal) rift, people and objects can fall through from other times (future or in the past) and locations, including alien beings and technology. Torchwood investigates and captures (or destroys) malevolent creatures, collecting their technology to stockpile for some coming battle.

Torchwood: Miracle Day begins with a failed execution. Imagine a convicted pedophile and murderer—cold and unrepentant—prone on his deathbed, the needle plunged into his arm carrying his neither cruel nor unusual punishment. But Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman, Independence Day) doesn’t die. Danes has been given another chance. How he ultimately uses it is another question.  But he’s not the only one refusing to die.

What would happen if suddenly one day, no one could die anymore? Not from illness, not from physical trauma, not from poisoning—death simply ends. That is the premise of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Where does the Torchwood Institute come in? The word “Torchwood” mysteriously appears, then disappears in connection with this so called “Miracle Day.” And soon anyone with any connection to the Institute (even saying its name) is targeted.

When fans last saw Captain Jack, Torchwood barely had a pulse. With most of the team dead, only Jack and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) remained alive. Jack had gone off to some other time and place, and Gwen, now living a theoretically peaceful life in Wales with her husband Rhys (Kai Owen) and new baby, living in constant fear for her life. Events catapult her from the bucolic life back into the action, certainly by episode two. 

As for the immortal Captain Jack, he is, ironically, now suddenly very mortal. The two things must somehow be connected, and the mystery surrounding it is certainly one worthy of the Torchwood Institute. Gwen and Jack reunite and reluctantly go back into action, this time adding CIA agent Rex (Mekhi Phifer) to sort out the “miracle” (which has several definite downsides, including a mega population boom). 

Captain Jack is exactly the sort of literary hero to whom I gravitate: brilliant, outwardly brash, even egotistical, but harboring a lot of torment and secrets buried deep inside. He has a deeply human side, but can come across as cold and overly rational when weighing life and death choices. (Okay, I admit it, he’s very, very easy on the eyes.) The rest of the characters in Torchwood are quite compelling in their own right; none of the characters—friend or foe—are cookie-cutter stereotypes.

Of course now that I’m hooked, I can’t stop with four seasons of Torchwood. I have to go back at least to the relevant Doctor Who episodes (with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the ninth and tenth Doctors). And then of course there are the fansites, novels, and audio books. It’s a good thing House doesn’t come back on the air with new episodes until early October! (Oh, and there is even one episode of the very British Torchwood series that references my own favorite doctor!)

Torchwood airs Friday evening at 10 PM ET on STARZ.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Sherry

    Nice article Barbara. Torchwood is one of my favorite shows. I have a feeling you might get hooked on Doctor Who also, so you might want to watch the first Christopher Ecceleston episode and see what you think, that’s what got me started on it all. It doesn’t take long for Captain Jack to come into it.

  • Hi Sherry. Thanks. Glad you liked the article. Already found the Captain Jack Doctor Who episodes 🙂 Haven’t seen them yet, but soon.

  • Meg

    This article chronicles my own experience with Torchwood, because I came to Dr. Who through Captain Jack. Like the author I had to go back and watch all the Doctor series, especially from the first season to figure out where Jack came from. The journey was loads of fun and now Dr. Who is a new addiction too.

  • 60 plus

    I am regretfully coming to terms with the fact that the coming season may be the last for House, which has been my only don’t-miss TV program for seven years. From the beginning, I was compelled by House’s journey and the way Hugh Laurie portrayed him…the medical aspects were incidental.

    Just as you did, I am putting my toe very gently into other TV waters to see if something else will make my anticipated sense of loss a bit more bearable. 🙂 So far, I’ve found nothing compelling–even those highly praised programs such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Good Wife, etc.

    Because I have enjoyed all of your writing about House and feel that, in general, we valued it for similar reasons, I am asking for your advice. It seems we both also enjoy a good mystery/science fiction story. Would you recommend that I try Torchwood? (It sounds as though Captain Jack shares some characteristics with House.) If so, would you suggest I just plunge in and watch the new episodes, or go back to the beginning–or try both at the same time?

    Thanks for your help.

    ps..Maybe you should consider writing “There will be life after House…” for all of us addicts who are facing detox. 🙂

  • Hi 60+! Captain Jack Harkness (the hero of Torchwood) shares a lot with House: they are both tormented, but hide it well under a lot of bravado. They are both brilliant and also have a humanity they would prefer not to acknowledge. He loves from afar, but finds pleasures of the flesh as well. (Although his casual sexual relationship with one character gets to him more than he would admit). He has sacrificed much.

    The team is composed of equally brilliant researchers, including a doctor and a computer genius–and then there’s Gwen, a police officer turned Torchwood agent.

    You should absolutely give it a try (John Barrowman, who plays Jack is a native of Scotland, but raised in the U.S.–but it’s interesting to hear him speak in his native Scots accent 🙂 — but he plays an American 🙂

  • 60 plus

    Thanks, Barbara. I’ll give it a good try.

  • Andrée

    Welcome to the club, Barbara! I am happy to hear that there will be at least a season 4 for Torchwood. I am a Doctor Who fan now for several years and therefore got caught with Torchwood, too. I have read I don’t know how many Torchwood fanfics, a little less Doctor Who, Jack Harkness being my absolute favorite persona.

    Now I hope that you will write as good comments for Torchwood as you use to do with House.

    I wish you – and us – a lot of fun with this “new” series.


    Andree from the Netherlands

  • Jonathan

    Nice article! And yes, Torchwood is really an amazing series! It litteraly has everything I could ask for in a series!!