Torchwood, BBC3 (series 1) / BBC2 (series 2) / BBC1 (series 3-4) / Starz (series 4)
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A bit of backstory, to begin: The Torchwood Institute, according to an episode of the updated incarnation of Doctor Who, was established by Queen Victoria, in Scotland, in 1879. The present-day organization's existence was hinted at throughout the first couple of seasons of "Doctor Who," as well as a Christmas special. On a seemingly unrelated note, during the first season of "Doctor Who," we met a time traveller from the future, who called himself Captain Jack Harkness, who would join the Doctor and Rose for awhile, before parting ways. However, that was not the last we would see of Captain Jack....
"Torchwood," the series, is kind of like "Men in Black." Torchwood, the organization, deals with unusual things. Mostly alien threats, in theory. But it may have to deal with terrestrial oddities, as well. And it scavenges alien technology, to arm the human race for the future. For the meantime, however, it is a semi-secret organization. The public may be aware of its existence, but not what it actually does. They basically seem like the kind of people who show up at a crime scene and assume authority, if they feel like it. Not so different from feds taking over a police investigation, really. Except that Torchwood is outside the government, beyond the police or even the U.N. At the start of the series, we learn that Torchwood One was in London, destroyed during a battle (in an episode of "Doctor Who"), Torchwood Two is in Glasgow (though this is not the original Torchwood House, so I don't know whatever happened to that), Torchwood Three is in Cardiff, and Torchwood Four has disappeared (it isn't said where it was located, but Jack says they'll find it someday. This reminds me of the Babylon 4 station from the series Babylon 5.) I should say that the series is sort of... unorthodox, not just in the kind of situations Torchwood deals with, but in the way they deal with those things. Anyway, it's all interesting enough, I like the show, but not as much as "Doctor Who." And I wasn't always as interested in the characters as I'd like to be, but eventually I came to care about them.
The series is set in Cardiff, at Torchwood Three. The reason it's there is because beneath the city is a spacetime rift (established in another episode of "Doctor Who"), which causes all sorts of "flotsam and jetsam" to drift through from other worlds or times. This is a small branch of Torchwood, with just a few people working there. The team is led by Captain Jack Harkness, though no one on his team really knows anything about him. It isn't really explained how he even came to be in this time and place. For awhile I wasn't even quite sure if this was before or after his travels with the Doctor, in his personal timeline, but eventually it becomes clear that it was after that. Anyway, all that's really learned about him in the first season of Torchwood is that he spent some time in 1941, an American volunteer fighting with the British Royal Air Force, and that he had assumed the name "Captain Jack Harkness," who was actually an officer who was killed in the war. We also learn that Jack- our Jack- can't die. Or at least, whenever he is killed, he comes back to life. And he doesn't age.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. At the start of the series, a Welsh constable named Gwen Cooper is investigating a murder, and it leads her to discover Torchwood's Cardiff base of operations, and she soon joins the team. The team's second in command was a hardware specialist named Suzie Costello, but she will be absent from most of the series. I won't say why. But in her absence, the new second in command was a doctor named Owen Harper, who I don't think is particularly likable. There's also a computer expert named Toshiko "Tosh" Sato, and a guy named Ianto Jones, who seems to be basically a sort of... administrative assistant. But whatever each individual's official role, they all have to do various things in the course of their investigations, or whatever.
Well, at the end of season one, Jack disappears. Because he once again joins the Doctor (and his current companion, Martha Jones) for the last three episodes of season three of "Doctor Who." Here we finally learn a bit more about what happened to Jack between the end of his previous stint on "Doctor Who" and the start of "Torchwood." Why he can't die, and that he'd been stuck on Earth since the 19th century, hanging around the rift in Cardiff for over 100 years, waiting for the Doctor to show up again. But, after an adventure together, Jack returns to Torchwood (though not before leaving the Doctor and Martha with a little anecdote about his past that unwittingly hints at an answer to an ongoing question from the "Who" series, of which Jack himself wouldn't have been aware).
Jack's teammates are a bit upset about his having left them for a time. But they soon get over it. Meanwhile, a former lover of Jack's, and former fellow Time Agent from the 51st century, calling himself Captain John Hart (played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters) shows up and causes some trouble for the team. Just as he leaves at the end of the season premiere, he mentions someone named Gray, who we'll learn more about later in the season (in an episode involving flashbacks to Jack's childhood, and later in the season finale). Well, of course there will be plenty of sort of standard Torchwood adventures, but I should mention some of the major events in season two (here begin this review's major spoilers). They include Gwen's boyfriend, Rhys Williams, finally learning just what Torchwood is all about, and so he'll help out a bit on occasion, though he's never been happy about Gwen's job, even before he knew exactly what it was; also, he's never liked Jack. But also this season, Gwen and Rhys get married, although Gwen appears to have some feelings for Jack. Which may be somewhat reciprocated, although Jack is currently in a relationship with Ianto. (Ah yes, those Brits do love their soaps, eh?)
And we learn that Martha Jones, who parted ways with the Doctor at the end of season three of "Doctor Who," is now working for UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, a fictional military organization which figured prominently for a time in the original Doctor Who series). She joins the Torchwood team for a few episodes, during which time Owen dies. However, he comes back to life. But unlike Jack, he... isn't really alive, he no longer has any life processes. He can walk and talk and whatnot, but doesn't breathe, can't heal his injuries, can't eat or drink (or at least can't digest or excrete, which makes eating and drinking highly inadvisable), can't have sex, etc. So of course he's not happy. Anyway, at the end of that story arc, Martha returns to UNIT.
We also learn that the rift works both ways; not only does it deposit things in our time and space, it can take things. Then in the penultimate episode of the season, we get some flashbacks to when each member of Torchwood was recruited, which was rather interesting. (Ianto's flashback, it should be noted, was when he joined Torchwood Three in Cardiff; before that he had worked at Torchwood One in London. So we don't see his initial recruitment, though we do get to see him and Jack work together to capture the pterodactyl that currently lives in the Torchwood hub; oh, did I forget to mention before that they had a pterodactyl? Hmmm....) Anyway, at the end of that episode, Jack receives a holographic message from John Hart, who has Gray with him. This leads into the season finale, which I'll just say wasn't what I was expecting. Some major stuff happened, with a profound impact on the future of Torchwood, at least on a personal level. Since you've been warned about spoilers, I'll tell you that both Tosh and Owen die (for good, this time).
Season Three: Children of Earth (a 5-episode miniseries)
It begins with something that happened in 1965, involving a group of children. Flash forward to the present, and we see that one day, every child on earth stops for just a minute. Later in the day, they again stop, followed by shrieking, followed by reciting a message (in English, everywhere in the world): "We. Are. Coming." There's also an old man who is affected in the same way, who was among the children from 1965. And there are people in the government who seem to be aware of what's actually going on. Eventually, some aliens called the 456 arrive on Earth, with a demand that no one wants to meet, but I won't say any more about that, except that they had been here before, in 1965, and had returned for... payment. The Torchwood team has to learn the truth behind all this, and stop the aliens. There are some tragedies in the course of the season, including (spoiler alert) the death of Ianto (who had at some point become Jack's lover).
Season Four: Miracle Day
This season was co-produced with the American premium cable channel Starz, on which it aired here rather than on BBC America, as the first three seasons did. At the start of the season, there is no more Torchwood. The only two people from the organization who are left alive are Jack and Gwen. (Torchwood Two had closed down prior to season three, and Torchwood Three was destroyed in season three.) Gwen is now in hiding, with Rhys and their baby daughter, Anwen, somewhere in the Welsh countryside. Jack's whereabouts are unknown. However, we meet some CIA agents, including Rex Matheson and Esther Drummond. At one point there was this message that just said "Torchwood," which appeared... everywhere, maybe, or just to intelligence agencies, I dunno. But it was mysterious and it intrigued Esther. Soon after that, any records of Torchwood disappeared from the internet, while a CIA director named Brian Friedkin had all printed records of Torchwood brought to his office. Meanwhile, Esther was talking to Rex on the phone, while he was driving, and he got into an accident (for which Esther blamed herself). He was impaled through the chest, and should have died. But he didn't. We soon learn that since the moment of the mysterious Torchwood message, no one on Earth was dying, no matter how badly they were injured. Rex figures that Torchwood is somehow related to this phenomenon, with the day people stopped dying referred to as "Miracle Day." Esther figures out how to find Gwen Cooper, and Rex flies to the UK, in spite of being very weak from his injury (he may not be dead, but he can still feel pain and is not in good condition). It later turns out that Jack Harkness was on the same plane as Rex, and he wants to protect Gwen. Someone's trying to kill him, and apparently they want anyone from Torchwood out of the way. Rex ends up extraditing Jack and Gwen to the US, to help him figure out what's going on, but it turns out he can't trust anyone in the CIA, except Esther. The two of them are framed as traitors, so they have to go on the lam, with Jack and Gwen.
At the same time, there is a man named Oswald Danes, a convicted pedophile and child killer, who had been given a lethal injection on Miracle Day, before anyone realized no one in the world was dying. Claiming his sentence had been carried out, he threatened to sue the governor, and was released from prison. People reviled him, but he made appearances in the media, and eventually became increasingly popular with some people. This happened mainly after he accepted the services of a PR agent named Jilly Kitzenger, who worked for a drug company called PhiCorp. Oswald became a spokesman for the company. Another person who was approached by Jilly was a doctor named Vera Juarez, who was a friend of Rex's (as well as having operated on him after his accident). She'll help out somewhat with Rex's investigations into who or what is behind the Miracle Day phenomenon. It's all rather complicated... different people having different feelings about the whole situation, some people even thinking that those who would have died if not for the "miracle," should be dead. Meanwhile, there are different plot threads going on involving the families of Gwen, Rex, and Esther. Gwen's in particular ties in to all the stuff that's going on with the case they're investigating. (PhiCorp seems to be at the heart of everything, though the company's strings are being pulled by a mysterious group that no one knows anything about, and who have a very old grudge against Jack, for some reason.) Of course, with no one dying, the hospitals are quickly becoming overcrowded, and there are concerns of the population increasing too quickly. Everyone needs to start thinking about life in new ways, and new legislation needs to be passed... including creating three distinct "categories of life," one of which essentially deems certain people dead even though they're really not.
And... I feel like I've revealed too much about season four already, but I don't know how to explain it by saying any less. It's definitely different from the strictly UK-produced seasons of the past, especially having a full length season following a single story arc, and being set in both the UK and the US, with many American characters (though I tend to forget Jack himself is American). Anyway, the whole premise is about the most horrific thing ever... and really makes one appreciate the ability to die. Because seriously... there doesn't seem to be any degree of bodily damage imaginable that will lead to death (nor does the show leave it to the imagination, so those with weak stomachs should probably not be watching). But it is all quite intriguing. I won't say any more about how it turns out, except that the new Torchwood team's efforts will have both good and bad results, and a big twist at the end... And, I really hope there's another season, though I'd like to get back to an episodic format rather than serial. Not that it hasn't been fun.