"The twenty-first century is when everything changes...and you gotta be ready"
When Torchwood was first announced as the first spin-off series from the new Doctor Who series, it was surrounded by controversy and criticism. Initial word-of-mouth indicated that the show was going to be "Doctor Who for adults" - a spin-off featuring a bisexual con man from the future leading an elite team dealing with threats of an extraterrestrial nature. It would be primarily earth-based, was set up throughout Season Two of Doctor Who, and seemed to almost push UNIT out of the picture. Much was also made about Torchwood promising to deal with these themes in a more "mature" manner. In short, the big question was...why do we need a spin-off of Doctor Who?
Admittedly, I am late to the game, only recently having finished watching the first season on DVD. As a long time Who fan, I have to say that.... Torchwood is one spin-off that, fortunately, does not rely on its parent show to succeed. In fact, it succeeds perfectly well in its own right, and could easily shed its Who-ish origins and continuity.
To other friends, I've described the show as "gracious helpings of Doctor Who and X-Files , served with a healthy side order of Buffy", but it's not an insult - Torchwood brings a decidedly British sensibility to traditional American television fare. In thirteen episodes, the series not only serves as great action-adventure in its own right, but provides a diverse range of stories that one normally might not find on such shows, In fact, take away some of the more overt Doctor Who elements, and you're left with a show that can easily stand on its own.
But it's a show that works....because it follows such a great template. The best way to describe it is "Quatermass for the 21st Century". As part of the first TV Party/Blog THIS, Pal! crossover, I have written a short piece about two of the three Quatermass serials from the 1950s . (And for more information, head to You Tube for all seven parts of The Quatermass Experiment: Bring Something Back documentary ). The series focuses on a scientific expert, working with an elite team, on threats of an extraterrestrial nature - hmmm, sounds an awful lot like Doctor Who in the 1970's . Or Torchwood.
But bothTorchwood and Quatermass have, as an underlying theme, life within changing times, and dealing with extreme uncertainty.
During the time frames for both shows - Quatermass in the 1950s, andTorchwood i n the 21st century - there was (and is) a great shifting in terms of national identities, of technological advances that threaten to outstrip human understanding, and a rather frightening geopolitical landscape. For the average person, it's an ever-shifting time where roles are being redefined, and there is a general feeling of "not belonging", or worse, feeling "left behind", always running to catch up with a future in flux. In fact, the greatest paranoia is a threat or attack from outside, from some unusual source...for Quatermass, it was usually some malevolent force from outer space, much in line with contemporary American science fiction movies; for Torchwood , it's the flotsam and jetsam that emerges through a time/space rift floating over Cardiff . In short, there's the ever-present feeling of threat, of feeling alien in a familiar landscape...and trying to make sense of it all.
But the great theme of Torchwood is indicated by a piece of dialogue that Captain Jack tells Eve, a down-to-earth Cardiff police officer, in "Day One"....when investigating the disappearance of a young girl, Captain Jack asks Eve to "tell us what it's like to be human in the 21st century". In fact, many of the episodes deal with issues surrounding "the human condition" - isolation and the need to connect ("Day One", "Random Shoes"), dealing with death and mourning ("They Keep Killing Suzie", "Cyberwoman"), inexplicable horror ("Countrycide", which seems to be a Welsh-based spin on the Ed Gein story), and moving forward from the past ("Ghost Machine", "Out of Time", "Small Worlds" and "Captain Jack Harkness"). In fact, the only major clunker out of the 13 episodes is "Cyberwoman", which spins-off from the Doctor Who Series Two "Army of Ghosts" / "Doomsday" finale, and does a poor, cliche-ridden job; however, that means 12 out of 13 episodes are, in fact, pretty strong, and are well worth watching, mostly because they use science fiction concepts to illuminate...well, the challenges of dealing with an ever-changing world.
One brief note - Torchwood has received a lot of criticism from old-school Doctor Who fans, claiming that handling adult material in a spin-off of a "family" show is inappropriate...and more frankly, that its mature depictions of sexuality (including bisexuality and homosexuality) are inappropriate and handled mostly for shock value. On the first point, Torchwood has always been marketed as an adult show, and shown at an age-appropriate time in the UK. (Plus, with season two, a more "family-friendly" repeated was presented after the regular "adult" show ). But claiming that it's inappropriate because it's a spin-off of a "family friendly" show is much like decrying Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because it's a more adult, grittier spin-off than Star Trek: The Next Generation. And in terms of sexuality...I wonder, if Eve Myles played Captain Jackie Harkness, a bisexual con woman from the 51st Century, and John Barrowman played Glen Cooper, a down-to-earth Welsh police officer, if that criticism would still be prevalent.
I have pretty much avoided Season Two of Torchwood - mostly because it's coming out in DVD in September , but primarily because I like not knowing what will happen. How Martha Jones will fit into the Torchwood environment. What role James "Spike" Marsters will be playing. But mostly, because I'm eager to find out more about...what it means to be human in the 21st century.
Until next time...keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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