Torchwood (2006-2013) is the adult spin-off of family-friendly sci-fi phenomenon Doctor Who. It’s better written with more depth, deeper characters, real people’s problems, darker themes, and more realistic-looking aliens. It was created by Russell T Davies, who created the Doctor Who reboot before Stephen Moffat took over. It stars John Barrowman and Eve Myles.
Torchwood is available on DVD, both region 1/NTSC and region 2/PAL. It’s on Amazon Instant. Season 1-3 are available with a subscription to Hulu-Plus. Season 1-4 is available on Google Play. Seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix discs and streaming.
Nosy Cardiff copper Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) finds herself recruited by a secret alien-fighting team called Torchwood after seeing them briefly resurrect a dead man to get information about his attacker. Now she has to leave her old life behind–most notably her job, her friends (like PC Andy), and her social life. All she tries to cling to from the old life is her boyfriend Rhys (Kai Owen), but the secrets are tearing them apart. But Torchwood’s not so bad. You’ve got the dutiful butler Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), sharp-witted doctor Owen (Burn Gorman), and computer whiz Tosh (Naoko Mori), who’s hopelessly in love with Owen but would never admit it. You’ve also got the unkillable (literally) American from the future (and he’s got the pheromones to prove it), Captain Jack Harkness. Plus, a pet pterodactyl and monsters in the basement. If that won’t get you out of bed in the morning to go to work, I don’t know what will.
Torchwood starts off on the case of a sex-addicted alien, not unlike the beginnings of Buffy adult spin-off Angel, but the writers soon settle down and start concocting quality episodes like the haunting Ghost Machine, Countrycide (which isn’t that different from an episode of Supernatural), time travel episode Captain Jack Harkness, heartbreaking Out of Time, and one of the greatest of TW episodes: Random Shoes. Former TW co-worker Suzie comes back from the dead for some revenge, and Jack goes one-on-one with legendary bringer-of-death, Abaddon. Season 1 probably isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. On top of being much like CW shows, it echoes The X-files, but it is a very good season, none-the-less.
In season 2, Torchwood stops dilly-dallying in the one-off monster of the week repetition and starts getting deeply invested in its characters. It kicks off with the arrival of an old friend of Jack’s, Captain John Hart (James Marsters), who mysteriously is trying to kill him. We start to question the morality of the Torchwood operation as we see side effects of their work on innocent bystanders: They learn that Suzie used to gossip to a friend and then wipe her mind each night, and that the people who are spit out of the rift in time that runs through Cardiff are hidden from the public, despite that their families are looking for them. A brilliant episode called Adam plays with memories, and we see what it would be like if the roles were reversed: if Owen was the nerdy one pining after the affections of the ever-cool Tosh. Shortly after, Owen is killed, but remains still kicking. He’s unkillable, but not in the way that Jack is. Every injury Owen accumulates, he keeps forever, as his bodily functions, like healing and digesting, have ceased. Things don’t look good for Owen as we move into Fragments, where our heroes are victims of a building collapse disaster. It’s here that we learn the backstory of Gwen’s co-workers. We learn why Owen’s such a bastard, why a genius like Tosh got involved in Torchwood, and what in the world is Ianto’s deal? All of this transpires shortly before the return of Captain John Hart, the secret behind Jack’s missing brother, and the destruction of Torchwood as we know it. If you enjoyed season 1, season 2 will blow you away.
If you enjoyed season 2, then season 3 is going to be the best thing that’s happened to you. Unlike the previous seasons, season 3 is a 5-part story called Children of Earth. It picks up with Jack, Gwen, and Ianto on the lookout for a new Torchwood doctor, but their selection couldn’t be more wrong. Dr. Patanjali is up to something. The government is scheming to keep quiet Jack Harkness, the only civilian to know about the 456, an alien race that visited Earth many years ago, abducting a dozen children in exchange for sparing the lives of everyone on Earth. But now they’re back, and they want more kids…a lot more…ten percent of the population. Torchwood recruits secretary Lois to be their eyes and ears inside the government, where Frobisher (a Peter Capaldi who steals the whole show) tries to negotiate with the monster in the cage all the while trying to get it to confess what the aliens need the children for. (It will make your skin crawl.) In one of the most astounding finales on television, Captain Jack goes darker than he’s ever gone and makes a controversial sacrifice to save the planet.
If you enjoyed season 3, don’t bother with season 4. It will only let you down. Season 4, aka Miracle Day, takes TW in new directions. For one, it takes place in America, and for two, it’s produced by an American company. The few remaining characters lose their depth, although you can see echoes of TW’s soul in the fact that they follow an outsider into the world of Torchwood. Gwen and Rhys are now happily married with a little baby, and some of the stress of their relationship is off now that Reese knows everything about Torchwood and alien-hunting. One day, everyone stops dying, which is a very TW theme after you consider what happened to Owen or Jack’s own immortality. But Jack isn’t immortal anymore, which leads us to believe he has something to do with this global change. They’ve recruited CIA agent Rex Matheson, who is sympathetic at times but isn’t on the whole that likable. Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose also star as unlikable characters. Like in season 3, they discover that while aliens are usually involved in this sort of thing, humans are always to blame.