TORCHWOOD, season 1

The relaunch of the British science fiction show Doctor Who (to be reviewed by yours truly when I see the end of the current season) led to an unusual spinoff: Torchwood. This series alters the Doctor Who formula by going for less interstellar locations... and more sex and profanity. Lots more.

Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) was a regular police officer until a series of events led her to join Torchwood, an organization "outside the government, beyond the police." The goal of Torchwood is not only to find and capture or kill aliens, but to obtain their technology to use to protect humanity.

The goals of Torchwood are less important than its leader, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). An American time traveller who first appeared in Doctor Who, Captain Jack is charismatic, flirtatious, bisexual, authoritative, emotional -- plus he comes back from the dead over and over. The rest of the organization is Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), a volatile doctor; Toshiko "Tosh" Sato (Naoko Mori), a tech geek; and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), the always-serious associate and general helper.

While Torchwood has plenty of alien chasing and battling, the show resists strict adherence to this potentially simple formula. One episode is an almost comic look at a geeky Torchwood fan who finds his invisible, incorporeal self following the team, while another feels very much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The strength of Torchwood is in its characters. Gwen Cooper is the "normal" member of the team, urged not to lose track of her regular life outside the organization, while Captain Jack has secrets from his teammates while wondering why he can't die. Fans of Doctor Who will also find a few creatures from that show making appearances.

Sometimes the Torchwood writing proves its weakness. In addition to the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre episode, other episodes are uncomfortably similar to Fight Club and an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There's no clear description of the chain of command of Torchwood -- at times Captain Jack is an almost dictatorial commander, while other times he's an informal buddy -- and the sex can become gratuitous. Flaws and all, Torchwood is an entertaining diversion. Catch it if you like your sci-fi on the raunchy side, or if you always wanted to see secret agents chasing aliens on the streets of Cardiff.

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: