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TV Review: Torchwood – Season One

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A few months ago, I embarked on the fantastic journey that is Doctor Who. Six series later, I’m still as captivated as I was from the first episode, cheering on the Doctor and his companions on this voyage that continues to unravel in unexpected and brilliant ways. Along this ride, we have been exposed to wonderful, compelling, and sometimes horrible creatures that encompass the world of Doctor Who. Many notable characters were brought in throughout the series, each uniquely contributing to Doctor’s journey, while enhancing the progression of the storyline. One character in particular had immense potential, which resulted in the popular spinoff, Torchwood.

Glancing back all the way to Series 1 of Doctor Who, we were introduced to the mysterious and dashing Captain Jack Harkness in “Empty Child”. The most we gather about him is that he is a Time Agent, a traveler from the 51st century who has lost his recollection of the past two years and now acts as a con man. Taken from the time of the Second World War, Harkness travels alongside the ninth incarnation of the Doctor. In the Series 1 finale, he dies while bravely fighting against the Daleks, but is miraculously brought back to life by Rose Tyler who’s absorbed the heart of the Tardis to help save the Doctor. Unable to control her god-like powers, Rose not only brings Harkness back to life, but also gives him the curse of eternal life. No matter how horrific the death, he simply cannot die. It is here that Rose and the Doctor leave him behind on the futuristic Satellite 5, in which the story of Captain Jack Harkness begins as he escapes into the 21st century and assumes the position as leader of Torchwood Three, a branch of the Torchwood Institute.

Located in Cardiff, Wales, Torchwood is above any type of law enforcement, acting as they please, abiding by their own rules, and answering to no one. They are a team of specialized individuals specifically focusing on alien activity around the area of Cardiff. The base of their Institute is located directly atop a rift in time and space that runs through the city in which futuristic weapons and aliens can pass from their time to ours. Out of this rift come the impossible and the extraordinary. Mechanisms including devices such as gloves that can bring people back from the dead; however, there is quite a hazardous prerequisite for this to occur. That person must have died a sudden, violent, and unwilling death. Alien creatures pass through the rift as well, causing a series of bizarre and inexplicable activity and attacks in the area. It is this team lead by Harkness who investigate these occurrences and perform what is necessary to protect humanity from the dangers that pass through the rift.

The story features our five main characters: Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, Lanto Jones, Toshiko Sato, and Owen Harper. Although their jobs allow them to witness the incredible, it comes at a steep price. The group is isolated, forbidden to ever tell anyone outside their team of their encounters with alien life. Even in death, their bodies are kept in the underground headquarters in which they work. If ever fired or decide to quit the job, they would be given an amnesia pill with the sole purpose to never remember having worked there. Although they try to have lives outside of Torchwood, theirs is a lonely life, one that revolves around a job that requires attention and dedication any time and anywhere. Imagine wanting to share the wondrous and scary things you’ve seen with that someone special, but you simply cannot and never will. Gwen faces this very dilemma, knowing that she can never tell her boyfriend what she does for a living.

The first series is a fitting drama intended for a mature audience. It’s violent, grittier, and a much darker show that its parent series. Yes, it absolutely involves monstrous alien life forms, but it also deals with the layers of human emotion and what it means to be human in otherwise foreign and dangerous atmosphere.In the first episode “Everything Changes”, a metal glove is the center of controversy as it is seen bringing the dead back to life for such a short period of time. It’s user Suzie and former agent of Torchwood is eager to perfect the gauntlet, trying to create a permanent resurrection rather than a few seconds of renewed life. In her pursuit, she becomes a murderer, violently killing people in order to experiment with the glove. It’s truly a mixed bag of controversy: on one hand her intention is to give life a second chance when it is taken away unfairly. However, on the other hand, in order to give life, you must take it away. The price to perfect a weapon so powerful were the lives of others as well as herself, as she shoots herself when Jack and Gwen confront her about the murders.

In another crucial episode that depicts sacrifice among the Torchwood team, Lanto is seen preserving the body of his girlfriend Lisa, who unfortunately was in the process of being converted into a Cyberman in “Cyberwoman”. Now a half human and half machine, Lanto tries desperately to preserve her, but fails when her machine counterpart begins to take over. Faced with a terrible decision, Lanto was forced to choose between saving his love or destroying her before it annihilates Torchwood and himself. Ultimately, when the time came, the Torchwood team took matters into their own hands and killed Lisa. Lanto not only witnessed the murdering tirade of his girlfriend, but also witnessed her brutal death.

Throughout the series, the question is posed as to whether or not humanity is worth the saving. Is humanity worth the trauma and the sacrifice of these individuals who devote their lives to this job? They will never be thanked, nor will anyone ever know what they truly do for this world. The conventional answer would be that humanity is always worth saving. But in the controversial episode “Countrycide” our villains are not alien creatures from an unknown world with dangerous technology. They are simply humans with a taste for blood. The episode features the Torchwood team facing inexplicable forms of terror as they slowly realize that they are in a dangerous game of Cat and Mouse with relentless cannibals. The team remains largely convinced that the cannibalism they are seeing is the work of alien life, but as Jack finds out, it is the result of humans trying to find their next meal. At the end of the day, after the team is saved from the cannibals, it is Gwen in particular that begins to look at humanity in a darker light.

What makes us different from the monsters that past through the rift? Are we truly worth it? Facing the bleaker side of the human race, forces one to think about whom we’re actually fighting for. It’s also in this episode that Gwen cheats on her boyfriend and begins a sexual relationship with Owen, in which she finally finds someone that she can speak with about the encounters.

During the first series, some very tragic things happen to all the members of Torchwood. Owen, the man that would never settle down, finally falls in love just to lose her to the rift. Tosh confronts the nature of her insecurities towards herself and her commitment to Torchwood and she inherits an alien pendant that allows her to hear people’s thoughts. As she listens, she suddenly becomes overwhelmed by the anger and fear that accompanies each person she listens to. Lanto struggles with the loss of his love Lisa, but begins to form a romantic relationship with Jack while Gwen continues to have problems stabilizing her relationship with her boyfriend at home. Under all the stress, the team also deals with the mysterious nature of their leader Jack. They know shockingly little about him, but Jack refuses to reveal who he is or where he’s from. Perhaps, in a way, he might not even know himself, but what he does know is that he is lost in time and unable to die.

The tension between the team erupts in the season finale “End of Days” as the team pulls the rift open; desperate to bring back the people they’ve lost. In doing so, they release a terrible monster, Abaddon, that begins to destroy Cardiff causing death immediately after its shadow touches you. In a bold move, Jack attempts to destroy Abaddon by feeding it his life force, which proves to be too overwhelming for the monster and both are seemingly defeated shortly after their confrontation.

Soon after, Jack is presumed dead and the Torchwood team prepares to finally put his body away in their underground morgue. However, Gwen is uncertain that he has died and is positive that he’ll wake soon enough. She waits several days before she finally begins to accept his death. After Gwen finally says her goodbye, Jack suddenly awakens, proving once more that his immortality has no bounds. He is warmly welcomed back by all his colleagues and all seems back to normal in the magical land of Cardiff, as much as normal can be.

The rift is closed, despite Jack’s warning that the rift will now be more active than ever before. All of them must be ready for whatever happens next. Jack reveals to Gwen that the only thing that could persuade him to open the rift again is the right Doctor. Almost on cue, one of Jack’s mysterious devices that contain a severed hand starts glowing. Fans of Doctor Who recognize the hand as well as the familiar and exciting sound of the Tardis landing nearby. When the sounds end, Gwen looks over to where Jack should have been, but to only be greeted by his absence. He is nowhere to be found. As the rest of the team walk in and observe the empty space, they sadly presume that someone has taken him.

This is where Series 1 ends, leaving fans on edge and ready for Series 2. I’m currently in the middle of the second series and I believe it’s a worthy successor to its successful first, with the storylines being much stronger, packing a bigger punch. What I find so compelling is the continuity of both Torchwood and Doctor Who. If you haven’t already, check out Doctor Who’s “Utopia” which directly takes place after Jack hears the sound of the Tardis. In that episode, we get to see what happens to the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness as he travels with the Doctor to find his long awaited answers.

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About Jamie Keh

  • Bekah

    Just a tiny little thing… His name Ianto!!

  • Pat

    Indeed it is Ianto and not Lanto and you forgot to mention that he is captain Jack lover…

  • Jamie

    Thankyou for catching my mistake. It’ll be fixed in the future, although I’m sure I mentioned that he was his lover at the end of the article. I really do appreciate the comments

  • GriffithsCymru

    “Lanto.” Lanto? Awesome.

  • Kathy

    Actually, Jack went back in time into the 18th or 19th Century and lived to the 21st, waiting to re-connect with the correct Doctor…