First Impressions: Torchwood

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CSI: Cardiff. I’d like to see that. They’d be measuring the velocity of a kebab.

I realize that I’m coming somewhat late to the party, but I’ve just begun watching the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, which recently came out on Region 1 DVD.

Torchwood Logo

Featuring Captain Jack Harkness, one of the Doctor’s occasional companions, and his band of alien chasers and tech scavengers, Torchwood is a much grittier and mature show than its parent program. It’s refreshing to watch science fiction with a bit of an edge, particularly in the television/episodic format. I often wonder what a show like Babylon 5 would have been like without the particular strictures of network television.

There’s a fine line between gratuitous and developmental, though. When a show pushes typical boundaries to tell a story more fully, then adding a more adult “sheen” serves a purpose. But adding adult contexts to a show merely to titillate cheapens the storytelling and the show in general. Does Torchwood burnish or tarnish the whole Doctor Who franchise?

After watching the first two episodes, “Everything Changes” and “Day One,” I’m on the fence with that question. Alien sex monsters that travel via easily punctured meteorite are fine and all, but as the second antagonist that the Torchwood team faces? I’ll give executive producer Russell T. Davies and his crew the benefit of the doubt for now (because I really want to like Torchwood). The audience needs to be grabbed and stuck in place, so that they come back the next week. A strong, provocative opening set of episodes helps grab viewers. I just hope that it’s not a perpetual theme.

The references to Doctor Who in Torchwood are subtle but persistent in the initial two episodes—the Doctor’s severed hand from his regeneration at the start of the new series’ second season serves as a minor plot point; a “perception filter” caused by having a “dimensionally transcendental chameleon circuit placed right on this spot, which welded its perception properties to a spatial-temporal rift” (TARDIS, anyone?) hides the secret elevator to the Torchwood base; and Captain Jack’s seeming immortality, bestowed by Rose Tyler, allows him to survive a murder and give meaning to a woman who has lost the will to live. These references ground the show in the Doctor’s universe without pandering to the fanboys (and I do consider myself one) too much.

For Torchwood to survive, it needs to establish its own space in the Doctor Who milieu, respecting the canon without pointing to it in every scene. Viewers of both shows need to be rewarded, while viewers of only one or the other should not feel left out of some private joke.

So I’m looking forward to watching additional episodes of Torchwood. But if that doesn’t work out, I guess I can just wait for The Sarah Jane Adventures to come out on Region One DVD . . .

One thought on “First Impressions: Torchwood

  1. Liz

    Even later to the party (via Netflix) than you; had the same reaction. Day One seemed a bit much for the first (nonintroductory) episode.

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