Back in 1987, when I started watching a strange little British science-fiction children’s TV show called Dr. Who, it was barely known in the U.S. I actually had to pull it in from Canada, which meant a tipsy Rube Goldberg contraption of raising my TV up high, attaching tinfoil to the antenna, wires to the tin foil, a coat hanger, and all this thrown out the third-story window, because my dorm room was on the opposite side from all the TV signals. Merchandising was rare, usually imported, and extremely expensive.
Fast forward to 2005. After several years of spotty specials, Dr. Who is brought back to life with actor Christopher Eccleston in the lead role (you might know him from Gone in 60 Seconds, or Thor: The Dark World). This time the BBC has actually put money into it, and it is by far some of the best produced, best-written television out there. Period. And among the recurring companions was the role of Captain Jack Harkness, a mysterious immortal figure from the future, played by actor John Barrowman. Jack Harkness was such a strong character the BBC gave Jack Harkness his own spin-off in 2006, Torchwood (which, by the way, is an anagram for Doctor Who). In American, think X-Files.
The Torchwood Institute is set up as a present-day agency hunting present-day aliens that threaten (mostly) London and Wales. It is based in Cardiff, Wales, and headed by Captain Jack Harkness, a former Time Agent who operates above the law, with powerful technology at his hands. When police officer Gwen Cooper (Eve Miles) stumbles onto the secret lair of Torchwood, she won’t stop investigating, until finally Harkness allows her to join them. It takes Gwen quite a bit to get used to everything going on around her, sworn to secrecy, which puts her at odds with her fiance Rhys, who thinks she’s going batty. She’s never quite sure if Jack is on the side of Earth or not, and it takes her a long time to trust him (partly because at the beginning he keeps trying to slip her drugs to make her forget). Sometimes Jack does seem to have an evil side, but really he’s more of a devout neutral, weighing the balance of what’s right and what’s wrong in each situation. Sometimes you love him, and, after the Children of Earth storyline, you understand his reasoning but you truly want to hate him.
Torchwood is NOT a children’s show, and was never meant to be. It was meant as an adult show. It is at times tough and gritty, and it deals with some very adult themes and morals, including nudity and violence, besides some episodes being as creepy as the best horror films. Although Jack Harkness would make guest appearances on Dr. Who, Dr. Who never appears in Torchwood (beyond the sound of his ship in the background for one episode), specifically to emphasize that they did not want children crossing over to the other show.
I urge you to give the series a try. It is unlike anything on American TV. Especially check out the episodes Countrycide, Captain Jack Harkness, and Dead Man Walking. If you have a high tolerance for anger and horror, watch the Children of Earth storyline.
Torchwood is a wonderful series, less science-fiction than horror, with a lot of drama thrown in. I’ve met both Eve Miles and John Barrowman; they are a delight in person and their on-screen charisma is authentic. Barrowman, a die-hard joker and pain in the neck, had no problem with the nudity on the show, and often used it to shock his castmates; if they look horrified on screen, it just might be an authentic look from something Barrowman had done just as the cameras started to roll. Barrowman is well-known in England, a decent singer of his own with several albums, and was one of the judges of the British version of America’s Got Talent. He can currently be seen on Arrow. Burn Gorman (Owen) has also become a familiar face, in everything from The Dark Knight Rises to Game of Thrones, Pacific Rim, Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, to a current run on the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies.
CPL has the entire run of Torchwood on both DVD and Blu-ray. Check it out, and its wonderful cast of talented stars!