It’s inevitable, really, that a show that’s making as much money for the BBC as Doctor Who is right now should get its own spin-off. Torchwood actually seems much more up Russell T Davies’ street than Doctor Who, with its sex, lies and .. well, not much rock ‘n’ roll yet, but we’re only one season in.
The first episode, Everything Changes, has a lot to pack in. Introducing concept, characters and setting, we leap straight from the season finales of both seasons 1 and 2 of Doctor Who, catching up with breakout character Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) after his miracle resurrection at the end of The Parting of Ways (Doctor Who, s1 ep13), and with the Earth after the events of the season 2 finale, which saw – among other things – the destruction of Torchwood One, known to us mere mortals as Canary Wharf.
Our guide through this strange new world is PC Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), a humble uniformed policewoman with more curiosity than a sack full of very curious cats. Witnessing Captain Jack and his colleagues temporarily resurrecting a murder victim, Gwen investigates these strange “Torchwood” folks that no one seems to know anything about, eventually ending up in their base, knowing far, far too much about this top secret organisation and wondering just what they’ll do with her. And, as almost an after thought, who or what exactly is going about murdering people on the streets of Cardiff?
The main cast are introduced, with Jack and Gwen taking front and centre positions as he circles her, and she tries not to blink. Lying her way through the episode and into the base seems to impress, although given their very lax attitude to stealth, it wouldn’t surprise me if two or three curious Cardiffians turned up at the door each week wondering who these Torchwood people are that they heard about down the pub.
Plot-wise, it seems almost incidental, although there’s a lovely twist in terms of the identity and motivation of the murderer. Apparently I’m not the only one whose job drives them potty, although I’m glad to say I’ve never gone quite that far.
It’s also a clear induction into Torchwood territory, in conjuncture with our introduction to our cast of heroes, which shows each of them using and abusing their alien super-toys. By the end they appear to have learned their lesson, each handing their pilfered goodies back to Jack, and the suggestion seems to be that Gwen – pure of heart as she is – will mend their broken ways. It’s almost tragic to think that they’ve so easily given up the very complexity that makes them interesting, but trust me – stick with it through a few more episodes and it’ll all start to get fun again.
Getting a real sense of a show from just one episode it’s pretty tough, especially a first episode, which has so much to pack in, but this one does manage to give a very clear idea of what’s in store for the rest of the season. It’s a shame such a strong start is so let down by the following episode, which certainly made me switch off the first time round.
But it has three-dimensional, challenging characters who feel like they might be real people, quite different from the usual run-of-the-mill cardboard cut-outs you see so often, and while the writing can be rather hit-and-miss, it has its moments of brilliance, the “CSI:Cardiff” line being a particular favourite of mine. It’s also visually very impressive indeed, especially if you’re lucky enough to see it in high-definition.
Don’t just expect Doctor Who with swearing – Torchwood has a feel that’s entirely its own. But give it a chance. You might just like it.