On Experiencing Torchwood

Thanks to the kindness of beagles I’ve been watching this weekend the first season of Torchwood.

For some readers Torchwood is an old hat. For other readers, unfamiliar with the program here’s a quick summary. Torchwood is a Doctor Who spin-off, following the adventures of Captain Jack Harkness (seen in the revived Doctor Who‘s first season) and his team of extra-governmental alien hunters of the Torchwood Institute as they combat supernatural and extraterrestrial menaces in near-future Cardiff.

To be frank, this sounded to me remarkably like the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who with Jack as the Doctor-substitute and the Torchwood Institute as the UNIT substitute. I wasn’t indifferent to the concept, but I also didn’t follow spoilers for the episodes either as they aired in the UK. I’ve heard rumblings that the series was rubbish, that it was cheap and tawdry, that it wasn’t well written.

I’ve only watched the first three episodes thus far, and I can say that no, Torchwood is most definitely not the Pertwee era of Doctor Who redone for a modern audience. Nor is the series particularly rubbish, nor is it particularly poor in the writing department. There’s a… vibe I’m getting off the series that isn’t Doctor Who at all. Rather, the series feels like Homicide with a healthy dose of The X-Files. I put Homicide first in that comparison because of the way the series is grounded in Cardiff, just as Homicide was grounded in Baltimore (and if you ever get to wander the streets of Baltimore you will feel the city the way Homicide showed it). More than that, just as our entry into the world of Homicide was Tim Bayliss, an outsider to the Baltimore PD’s Homicide Division, our entry to the world of Torchwood is another outsider, Gwen Cooper. The writing could be sharper–I think the pilot, especially, could have been structured better–but I’ve been surprised by every episode thus far, with “Ghost Machine” being remarkably involving.

I’ve steered away from spoilers, so I have no idea where the series goes. I suppose if I wanted to, I could find out rather easily. I hope to see more Captain Jack; I’m surprised at how… minor(?) he’s seemed thus far. Gwen’s certainly an odd fish thus far–she’s inquisitive, she’s got spunk, but her motivation is a little lacking. Tosh is a complete mystery. Owen seems like the generic, asshole-ish action lead.

Yet despite saying I’m not getting a Who vibe from the show, I do feel like the Torchwood team is structured like the TARDIS crew in the first Hartnell season–Jack=Doctor, Owen=Ian, Gwen=Barbara, Tosh=Susan. (Though who the hell Ianto is supposed to be in that paradigm I have no idea. The TARDIS food machine, maybe?) Hartnell’s Doctor was the wise-beyond-his-years sort who didn’t want to get his hands dirty and didn’t want to get involved. Ian was the action lead. Barbara was the audience identification character to whom things needed explaining. Susan was the very smart, very experienced junior member of the team. (So Torchwood=Hartnell era? I wonder if we’ll get an episode where the team is miniaturized…? Remember, I don’t know Torchwood spoilers at all.)

Torchwood. It’s an interesting show thus far, and I’m curious to see how it develops over the next ten episodes. I hope the Homicide vibe doesn’t dissipate, because I’m really grooving to that in what I’ve seen. It’s certainly not Doctor Who. It’s certainly different. Dare I say it? It might even be better than Who. :spock:

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