Guest contributor Timothy Ricke rediscovers the Hub...
When revisiting the first series of Torchwood what is instantly clear is that this was written for the post-watershed slot. It's almost painfully clear. Russell T Davies had written adult drama before, as well as injecting new life into Doctor Who, but the first 13 episodes of Torchwood sit uneasily between family TV and kids-gone-to-bed content. There is the odd eff and blind, a lot of mild gay/bisexual content and some occasional (tastefully shot) raunch, but the series doesn't really need it. In fact, the attempts to be 'adult' detract from the stories because they're so obviously tacked on to appeal to the kids-gone-to-bed grown-up audience. It's a worrying note of insecurity in an overwrought debut series. RTD need look no further than Joss Whedon's example on how to successfully bridge the audience generation gap. Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spin-off series Angel, managed to make his shows dark and sexy without resorting to the use of bad language to show how 'adult' they were.
As for the cast; John Barrowman plays a troubled Jack Harkness. How he rose to be boss of Torchwood Three is unclear as his only real qualifications for running the operation are "I Can't die" and "I met a Time Lord a while ago". Eve Myles is at least a match for Captain Jack, playing Torchwood newbie PC Gwen Cooper, but as for the rest of the cast, in this season at least, they are mere filler. Ianto, Owen and Tosh each given an episode to shine in whilst largely performing ancillary duties for the other 12. All the same Barrowman, Myles et all do a good job with what
they're given but the show was clearly over-analysed at the planning
Series 1 does manage the odd moment of humour, but the mood is generally dark throughout, and it's clear that the members of the Torchwood team are all lost in their own strange worlds. There's plenty of scope for the team to try and undermine/shoot/sleep with each other (not in that order, I hasten to add), yet somehow Jack manages to ignore all the bitching and hysteria around him and concentrate on his own neuroses. He is not the happy-go-lucky action bisexual that we first met in Doctor Who, to be sure, which means that unfortunately Torchwood is missing much of the heart of its Time Lord centric counterpart series.
There are good points, and great ideas. For one I think that setting the whole shebang in Cardiff is inspired, and the choice to put Torchwood at the centre of its own off-kilter universe, so to speak, works well. Normally all the big, expensive, exciting stuff happens in London or Manchester or Glasgow in UK TV drama, so RTD's championing of Cardiff is commendable.
The theme throughout appears to be sci-fi/horror, and whilst all 13 episodes themselves feature occasional moments which excel, on the whole they are let down by inconsistencies and the odd idiosyncrasy. For example the Cyberwoman! Why would a bunch of implacable automatons like the
Cybermen create a 'sexy' hybrid with metal boobs, high heels and a
visible belly button? And, if we just take this season into account (because as viewers that is all we have at the time), why didn't Ianto end up dead in a tray next to
Suzy Costello? He flouts every rule of the Torchwood Institute,
recklessly endangers his colleagues and getting a scientist and a pizza
delivery girl killed. How did he earn a reprieve after that level of
betrayal? Presumably no one else knew how the coffee maker worked?
Further series of Torchwood would explore Jack and Ianto's relationship in a way that really should've been featured earlier on. Because with Series 1 we are left to presume that the shock of losing his girlfriend in the
Cyberwoman episode makes Ianto decide to go gay or omnisexual or
whatever. Not the best message to send, and it just doesn't feel like RTD approved work.
Then there's the Torchwood pterodactyl. It's introduced in the first episode and gets to fight the Cyberwoman, and... and.... and then it never appears again this year. Another huge niggle with me is the episode Countrycide. In it Torchwood operatives are getting picked off like flies but no-one thinks about getting the police or the army (dare I say UNIT?) to go in mob-handed. Finally, Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith to most), penned an episode about Weevil baiting - Yes, we'd all seen Fight Club too Noel.
But what Series1 of Torchwood did do right is that it had me returning week after week, not because I had to but because I wanted to. Somehow, amongst all the many problems and inconsistencies there were enough moments to make me feel that hiding under the rough exterior was a polished gem of a series waiting to shine through. The 'Pledge' would be out between seasons, as the second year shone brighter... much brighter, and it was clear that RTD was holding the reigns a little tighter now. But it would be 2009's Children Of Earth when Torchwood would reach its pinnacle, an unmissable TV event that sits amongst the greatest television sci-fi in history. Rivaling, if not exceeding, the very best episodes of parent show Doctor Who. Even if it's just to enhance those 5 hours of television it's worth revisiting Torchwood Series 1.
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