Coming up this week will be our first serious look into Doctor Who spin off series Torchwood. While not everyone is a fan of the show, and welcome to their opinions, I’d like to throw out a counter argument in favor of the spin off.
Generally (if incorrectly) thought of as “Doctor Who for adults”, Torchwood started off a little rocky. The concept was sound, a group of investigators tackling the strange and unusual for the benefit of England. The problem is, we’ve already seen that show. It was called “The X-Files” and it was pretty good. Yes, there was (at least originally) more sex and violence and swearing than what you’d find on Doctor Who (that’s where the adult comes in) Torchwood has its share of monster of the week episodes, and a few mythology arcs thrown in, and as Glenn calls it, it’s the cherry on top of the Doctor Who sundae. You don’t need to see it, but it makes the over all experience a bit more enjoyable.
The show grows up a bit in its second season, (although there are still a handful of meh thrown in) becoming even more thoughtful and thought provoking science fiction. But it was the third season “Children Of Earth” miniseries where Torchwood blew the doors off its conventions and came into its own. It did this by going DARKER. Now, Torchwood was already a darker show, especially when compared to Doctor Who, and I think that’s where some people got off the carousel, and that’s fine. But for those who also enjoy a wilder ride, it became some of the most riveting television I have ever seen.
The biggest difference between the two shows is that Doctor Who shows humanity at its best, usually through the rose colored lens that is the Doctor. He wants to believe in our ability to be better than we are, and because of his faith, we frequently rise to his expectations. That is a powerful way of looking at the world. It’s joyous and infectious and makes the show fun to watch. Torchwood tackles some of the same issues and aliens as Who, but does it with just us humans. There is no all powerful savior watching over us, we’re left to our own devices, and we muddle through the best we can. As such, the violence and sex doesn’t seem out of place, it seems… well, human.
At the center of the maelstrom is Captain Jack Harkness. He’s not quite the same cheeky hero we remember from Who, but is himself dark and jaded. As the events of Torchwood play out, we discover the transformation of Jack. Who wouldn’t change after becoming immortal? We understand his detachment, who wouldn’t tune out after hundreds of years without the marvels of the universe to keep one occupied? And eventually, we see his long fall from grace in “Children Of Earth”. It’s a great character arc, it’s well written and compelling. Reminds me a bit of Stephen King. People ask me why I read him when I’m not much of a horror fan. And I always reply with, even if I dislike the subject matter, I enjoy the way the story is told. Torchwood’s story—if nothing else—is well told.
And now with Miracle Day, I’m hoping to see Jacks resurrection. While Torchwood is dark, I can still find the hope. Doctor Who gives me hope for humanity, Torchwood gives me hope for television. Because it’s consistently the most thoughtful thing on, and in today’s wasteland of reality TV, news magazines and game shows, a tightly woven, thinking-man’s science fiction script is a commodity to be cherished. <>