Friday, October 27, 2006


Thanks to my Gallifreyan support team of Mark and Michael, last night I got to see the first two episodes of 'Torchwood'.

By now, most fans of the Time Lord know that 'Torchwood' is an anagram for 'Doctor Who'. They also know that it stars John Barrowman as the charismatic Captain Jack Harkness. Jack is a rogue Time Agent from the 52nd Century who appeared in the last five episodes of Christopher Eccleston's service as the Ninth incarnation of the Doctor.

Several allusions were made to the show's roots in 'Doctor Who': the time/space rift running through Cardiff, as seen in "Boom Town", past invasions by the Cybermen, "The Christmas Invasion" by the Sycorax last year in which the Doctor lost his hand (and which just might be one of Captain Jack's prized possessions back at Torchwood HQ).

Also, Team Torchwood has a pet pterodactyl flitting about its headquarters which apparently is tame enough to be let loose to hunt pigeons in Cardiff during its aerial maneuvers. This could be a descendant of a pterodactyl left behind after the "Invasion Of The Dinosaurs", one of the adventures for the Third Doctor (as played by Jon Pertwee).

Gee, I hope they don't nickname it "Pterry". Been there; done that.

Creator Russell T. Davies, who was responsible for reviving 'Doctor Who' in 2005, is striving to give 'Torchwood' its own identity apart from the Doctor. The themes are going to be more adult in nature, which has earned the show its berth in a post-watershed timeslot.

Based on the first two episodes, the show should succeed in that goal, even without the gratuitous sprinkling of words normally bleeped in Toobworld. (The F-bleep is uttered in just over a minute into the pilot episode, and I know any eventual American audience is never going to hear its many mentions of "shit" when it's broadcast here. Not unless HBO or Showtime or perhaps FX carries the show. But Sci-Fi? Not likely.)

The plotline for the second episode ("Day One") - about a sex-starved alien who kills via orgasm through its human host - isn't really that far off the mark from episodes of 'The X-Files' and the update of 'The Outer Limits'. Again, it will just need some judicious editing of her first kill (as well as of the flashback for the witness) so that it could pass muster with the Gestapo in charge of the FCC. (Not a fan, that.)

The series' premise is general enough so that it can go off in many different directions with the storylines. In that, the show can be considered similar to the American grown 'Eureka'.

'Torchwood' is the name given to an organization that operates outside of the authority of all governments, charged only with the protection of the British Empire from alien forces. As we saw in "Tooth And Claw", an episode from 'Doctor Who' this year, Queen Victoria initiated the project after her encounter with the Tenth Doctor (played by David Tennant).

It's Torchwood's task to not only counter any possible invasion by aliens (if the Doctor and UNIT don't beat them to it), but also - and perhaps more importantly - recover artifacts of any purpose from those aliens.

They're a lot like the American 'Threshold' project in that respect - only not so dour.

The influences for the show are pretty obvious - 'The X-Files', 'Kolchak', 'Men In Black', 'Mission: Impossible', and even "Silence Of The Lambs". One could even point to Gerry Anderson's SuperMarionation for inspiration in the team concept; and I was reminded of 'Babylon 5' at one point. (As with the Babylon project, the fourth version of Torchwood is missing......)

But that's no slam against what Davies has crafted. Toobworld is built upon traditions; it's just a matter of how they're interpreted to make them stand on their own.

The introduction to Team Torchwood is also a classic of tradition: the Outsider who stumbles upon the team in action, and eventually is invited to join.

As I said earlier, the show can encompass all genres, not just be pigeonholed as an alien of the week hunt like 'Threshold' became.

In fact, the first episode ("Everything Changes" - a title that made me think of a Hurley-centric episode of 'Lost' last year) was a good old-fashioned murder mystery, serial killer style. (Last year's 'Doctor Who' episode "The End Of The World" was also a murder mystery in the locked-room, gather all the suspects tradition - Agatha Christie in Outer Space sort of thing.)

It had me guessing right up the Big Reveal, and this was accomplished by the opening credits being used as a cloaking device.

As for our omnisexual action hero, John Barrowman hits all the right notes as Captain Jack. Swashbuckling with the right combination of playfulness and mystery, and a suggestion of sorrow in his possible backstory.
Captain Jack is a hoopy frood.

We don't learn how Captain Jack was able to extricate himself from where we last saw him in "The Parting Of The Ways", the final episode of Christopher Eccleston's work in 'Doctor Who'. But Davies has come up with an interesting consequence to Captain Jack's fate in that season finale; one which could put the Captain on a par with the Doctor himself, as well as with Superman and even two wild and crazy guys from the New Testament.

(And it's something to be found in the theoretical backstory I created for my favorite TV villain, Dr. Miguelito Loveless of 'The Wild, Wild West'.)

Eve Myles plays that Outsider newcomer, PC Gwen Cooper. She appeared in one of my favorite 'Doctor Who' episodes, "The Unquiet Dead". Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with the Companions for the Doctor created by Davies, she's been saddled with a home life storyline complete with its own cast of characters - the lumpish boyfriend and the former partner on the Force. Maybe Davies is setting her up for the big emotional wallop - let's say her work with Torchwood leads to the deaths of those she holds dear sort of thing. We'll see.

Eve Myles as Gwyneth the maid in "The Unquiet Dead" could be somehow related to Gwen Cooper, separated by almost 130 years. But Gwen had no children when she died in 1879, so it's not a direct lineage. Personally, I'd like to think she is Gwyneth's soul reincarnated.

Of the other members of Team Torchwood, we've already met one of them, again in 'Doctor Who': Doctor Toshiko Sato first appeared in the episode "Aliens Of London". At the time, she was a medical intern at hospital, but now she's a computer whiz kid. Not mutually exclusive, but we didn't see any indication of that in 'Doctor Who'. Perhaps her medical skills will come into play eventually while working with 'Torchwood'.

As for Burn Gorman who plays Owen Harper, I'd love to see them finally reveal his character as being the non-human on the team. I don't mean any (okay, not much) disrespect, but his facial bone structure easily lends itself to the idea that he was not born on this Earth.

Not necessarily on another planet; just not on this Earth. Since there is that space/time rift running through Cardiff, he may have slipped (or "slid"?) through from an alternate timeline - one in which the human race didn't evolve into homo sapiens, but some other offshoot. Do you remember the Kro-Mags of 'Sliders'? That was a similar concept.

I'm a baaaad boy for saying this, but while watching him last night, I said to my hosts that he had a better monkey face than even George W. Bush. (And Ethan Phillips, who played Neelix in 'Voyager', could be from that same alternate universe as well!)

So that's what I would add to his characterization to make him a unique member of the team. Probably even give him a vestigial six-inch tail to boot, just like Cromwell claimed that the Irish had!

Gareth David-Lloyd is the reason I thought of 'Mission: Impossible' when it came to shows similar to 'Torchwood'. As Ianto, he's their version of Peter Lupus as Willie Armitage. Not for the muscles, obviously, but for all-around security and transportation needs.

Right now, the character of Ianto is a bit colorless. For all I know, that makes him typically Welsh. (I'm going to get letters......) But I mentioned last night that I would have liked to have seen someone of color in that role.

Had things worked out differently, Mickey Smith could have been brought over from 'Doctor Who' like Dr. Sato, and he could have become Torchwood's "Tin Dog".

But it's not to be.

Okay. So let's get down to the Toobworld notes.

I haven't fully articulated this yet in the "Inner Toob" blog - at least, my poor excuse for a memory tells me I haven't, - but the Ninth and Tenth Incarnations of the Doctor are doppelgangers from a parallel dimension. In the main Toobworld, we lost the opportunity to view his adventures after the FOX TV-movie starring Paul McGann as Doctor Number Eight.

This means that 'Torchwood' should be sent over to that alternate dimension as well. With the inclusion of Dr. Sato and the mention of "The Christmas Invasion" (not to mention the hand!), it's obvious this version of Team Torchwood shares the same dimensional address as RTD's vision of the Doctor.

This would account for why we never saw Team Torchwood make an appearance in any of the episodes over the first 25 years of 'Doctor Who'. Despite such things as the Cybermen invasion and the invasion of the dinosaurs, Torchwood never made their presence known in those instances. (I'm talking about the reality within Toobworld, obviously. I KNOW why they never showed up in those real world instances - they hadn't been created yet by Davies.)

However, there's always a back door strategy. We know from upcoming episodes of 'Doctor Who' that there is an alternate version of Torchwood operating in another dimension. So there could always be one in the Main Toobworld as well.

I think the Doctor is still going full blast in the Main Toobworld and that he even may have gone through the Eccleston and Tennant incarnations. It would be nice to bring that Doctor back, so long as we excise any thought of Harriet Jones as the Prime Minister and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the President. And the same goes for Toobworld; having two different versions of Dr. Sato might explain why Toshiko was a medico in one universe, and a First Contact operative in the other.

So that's my O'Bservations on 'Torchwood'. So long as I can force "Markhael" into letting me come over to watch it, I plan to stick with it. It may even end up on my list of the five best must-see shows of 2006.

And who knows? Maybe some network suit will stumble across this review and decide that they should pick up the rights to the show and broadcast it in America as soon as possible.

If not, then that weevil of a network suit should suffer the same fate as all network suits.

Say it with me, Kids....

"May they be nibbled to death by ducks!"


"Sometimes a little technobabble is good for the soul."
Captain Jack Harkness

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