Been streaming the Dr. Who spin-off, Torchwood, for a couple weeks now. While there are elements that certainly came from the Whoniverse, it is definitely not The Doctor. But that’s a good thing! Spin-offs should be significantly different from their parent shows; if not, then what’s the point of spinning off?
This BBC show, which takes place in and around Cardiff (Wales), first aired in 2006 and a few of the topical in-jokes show their age, but the remainder still works well 6 years later. I’m up to episode 10 and I’ve got to say that so far I like it – at least enough to watch a few more installments, which is in no small part due to the last two I’ve viewed (ep.s 9 and 10). These two episodes are by far my favorites and make up for the general calloused inhumanity of the main characters by showing more of their softer side. You see, while the “secret” mission of this ultra-secret but well-connected and oddly recognized team is to save humanity, through much of it they seem to have forgotten what (or who) it is they are striving to save. At times they seem to have forgotten that they are human, viewing the (people of the) world with fishbowl goggles. By the time we meet them, the current members of Torchwood (the name of the organization is also Torchwood), they have already been exposed to so much alien technology, danger and death that their view of everything is cynical and jaded, and all but the most amazing alien tech incites them to yawn. This is not to say that the characters are boring, quite the contrary.
That’s where Gwen, the newly recruited outsider comes in. Prior to her employment by Torchwood, Gwen was an ordinary, overly curious cop (constable). Besides being our new eyes and ears to the wonders of alien tech and the alien threat, part of Gwen’s assignment is to maintain her pedestrian/civilian outlook and keep the team grounded and sensitive to the other humans (and aliens) with whom they share the Earth (well Cardiff anyway). In this role, Gwen does a good job of staying in touch with her emotions by alienating her too-comfortable, every-guy, humdrum boyfriend by working workaholic hours and occasionally falling into the arms of her habitually abrasive coworker Owen.
Owen hides from the world and his co-workers inside his cultivated repugnant shell. He’s a physician with no bed-side manner and even fewer good manners. Perhaps he’s done one too many autopsies. While he speaks as if love and attachments are for the weak and delusional, and lives as if casually shagging strangers (or any woman who will have him) and insulting friends is all there is, deep down he is lonely and secretly longs to find true love; something he would never admit to anyone. He’s probably more afraid of his emotions than any alien attack and thus pushes everyone away with his brusque demeanor. There is some hint that he has deeper feelings for Tosh, but his apparent attitude towards her is condescending and their interactions perfunctory.
Toshiko or “Tosh” is the cute, tenacious computer/techno wiz of the team. While she is of Japanese descent, her sensibilities are English (so far) with the exception that she is less chatty and more demure (more Japanese). She has a thing for Owen and was jealous when the new girl Gwen slipped into his bed ahead of her, showing slightly prudish disapproval and possessiveness simultaneously. She seems to feel like her “seniority” with Owen (and Torchwood) should giver a leg up, so to speak, but shrugs it off and keeps doing her job. She seems to be the most loyal of Jack’s team, even though she’s been a part of Torchwood for quite some time and is in the dark about their mysterious boss, Captain Jack Harness, as much as anyone.
Perhaps the most sensitive and least exposed member of the team, Ianto seems to be an average man caught in the web of Torchwood through no falt of his own. He reminds me of the quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Ianto stoically brings the team their tea and cleans up their messes with butler-like demeanor and efficiency, and in these capacities he is under appreciated and sometimes abused. Still he shoulders his burdens (emotional and work related) well and pushes through with stubborn Welsh devotion. He also acts as a sort of front/doorman for the Torchwood secret facility. Though it’s only subtly hinted at, Ianto and Jack seem to have some kind of meaningful history.
Captain Jack Harkness (not his real name) was apparently born in our future, lived in our past and is basically lost or stuck in our time. The lone American and leader of the team, is an immortal of ambiguous (perhaps alien) sexuality, who has learned, after who knows how many years, how to make difficult snap decisions. Some of these decisions result in the sacrifice lives for the “greater good”, a good that he alone seems to understand and is not above letting everyone know that he’s the only one who understands. He’s a somewhat romantic character with obvious ties with 1940′s war-torn England. He is also the most knowledgeable about aliens, alien culture, strategies, weaknesses and their technology, which he hopes to put into the hands of mankind in order to arm them against a coming alien threat
(This character and actor also appeared on episodes of Dr. Who in the 2005, ’07, ’08, and ’10 seasons.)
Despite all their character flaws and emotional straitjackets, the characters are likable. Perhaps it is because of their flaws that they are likable. Maybe I’m wrong and they’re just English. At any rate they are likable and likable characters are the backbone of any kind of successful serial entertainment. Like Dr. Who, the characters are the show’s biggest asset.
Please tell me your thoughts on Dr. Who and Torchwood. Unless of course you’ve taken the amnesia pill.