tagReviews & EssaysTorchwood: A Review

Torchwood: A Review


Author's Note: I tried really, really hard to avoid spoilers in this review. I think I succeeded. My apologies if I've given away anything you didn't want to know.

"Torchwood. Outside the government, beyond the police."

So begins each episode of the BBC science fiction series Torchwood. The series focuses on the fictional Torchwood Institute, an agency devoted to investigating alien occurrences and protecting Earth from alien threats. Running on BBC since 2006, Torchwood is seen in at least seventeen countries.

The show follows the five members of Torchwood Three, located in Cardiff, Wales. Led by Captain Jack Harkness, an omnisexual, immortal former con-man from the fifty-first century, the team also includes Gwen Cooper, Dr. Owen Harper, Toshiko Sato, and Ianto Jones. The interactions among the team are realistically written and portrayed; the characters don't always get along and don't always follow orders, but they do their best to coexist and work together. There are times, however, when it seems like Jack is an adult attempting to corral a group of unruly children.

The episodes primarily focus on the agency's encounters with various alien creatures- though "alien" isn't always an accurate term, since they've also dealt with evil fairies, ghosts, and a man who was cryogenically frozen in 1918; however, there are also subplots involving the characters' personal lives, giving the series some depth. Gwen's fiancé, who is unaware of Gwen's job, is a regular character, and Gwen's affair with Owen encompasses a good part of series one of the program. (Note for Americans who may not be aware: "series" for a British show is the same as a "season" for an American show.) A lost love in Ianto's past is alluded to and appears in at least one episode.

While the other team members' lives are part of the storylines, Jack's life is a mystery, both to viewers and to his team. Bits and pieces are given over the course of the program, but the biggest question is never answered: Who is Captain Jack Harkness, really? In one episode, it's revealed that that isn't his real name, but this revelation only adds to the mystery.

Torchwood is a spin-off from the well known program Doctor Who. Captain Jack was first introduced during series one of the new Doctor Who program in 2005, and spent most of the duration of that series as one of the Doctor's companions. The Torchwood Institute was referenced several times during the course of that series as well, once it was determined that the spin-off would definitely occur. The word "Torchwood" is an anagram of "Doctor Who", and was used as a code word for that program to prevent people from getting hold of program information in advance.

Doctor Who has always been a family-friendly program. Torchwood, however, has darker, more adult themes, including a large amount of sexual content. There is sexual tension among some of the team members, such as the previously mentioned affair between Gwen and Owen, and an attraction between Jack and Ianto. There have been scenes of couples kissing passionately, of people in bed together, and at least one scene of male rear nudity (which was scrambled for BBCAmerica broadcast, at least).

One episode in particular, the second of the program, had a great deal of sexual content. An alien, inadvertently released from a meteorite, takes over the body of a human woman. Within minutes, she seduces a man in a bar bathroom. The episode shows their hookup, not explicitly enough to be soft-core, but definitely enough that there's no question what's going on. Unfortunately, at orgasm the man is reduced to a pile of dust. The alien is captured by Torchwood, and while imprisoned in their headquarters shares a passionate kiss with Gwen. The alien also seduces several other men, until the team finally finds a way to stop it.

Sex and sexuality are an integral part of Torchwood. Captain Jack seems to kiss someone in every episode; in addition to characters who appear in only one or two episodes, he's shared kisses with Gwen and Ianto. In his Doctor Who stint, Jack flirts with both the Doctor and his companion Rose. Apparently in the fifty-first century, everyone is open to sex with everyone else, regardless of gender. To Jack, it seems to make no difference whether someone is male or female; if he finds them attractive, he acts on it. Ianto apparently is bisexual, given that a past girlfriend is mentioned but he's also obviously attracted to Jack. There's no judgment on the part of the characters, or evidently the writers, as to who's attracted to whom or what the sexuality of the characters is, which to me is refreshing, having seen too many American programs where either everyone's straight or characters who are gay are fairly stereotypical. Though of course there are exceptions to that.

Torchwood contains strong doses of action, adventure, suspense, and sex. What's not to like?

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