Torchwood is the Doctor Who spinoff featuring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, set at some point after the first of the new Who series; the last episode of this series corresponds with the eleventh episode of the third series, apparently. Torchwood’s purpose is to investigate anything that may involve aliens or their technology and to keep the alien technology out of the public’s hands. I’m not sure if they are also supposed to be protecting the public from the aliens; if so, they’ve forgotten that part (and Gwen’s purpose is to remind them that there are people involved). I think there is more information about Torchwood’s history and mission in the second series, but I haven’t seen that yet. The group also includes Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper (ex-cop and new girl, replacing Suzie), Burn Gorman as Dr. Owen Harper (medic), Naoko Mori as Toshiko Sato (computer wizard), and Gareth David-Lloyd as Ianto Jones (general office staff), and briefly included Indira Varma as Suzie Costello.
I think I enjoyed this more now than I would have at the time that it aired; I heard enough about it that my expectations were very low. I treated it more as a mindless action sort of show than a drama with actual character development and consistency; I would have liked more action and less drama, though. It probably also helped that I watched the relevant Doctor Who episodes when Sci Fi first ran them a couple of years ago, and so didn’t really remember how Jack used to be. I tried to watch it when it first aired and only made it halfway through the second episode before giving up; I really don’t like the “watch the new girl screw up” sort of episode but couldn’t bring myself to skip it and continue. When I rented it, I watched most of that episode on fast forward (the subtitles were mostly readable) and continued on.
My biggest problem with the show is Gwen; I don’t like her and she’s too much of a major character to ignore. I kind of liked her in the episodes where she was more one of the group instead of the female lead, though. I did think that a few of the random episode characters would have been more interesting as a regular than Gwen; I would have liked to have seen more of Suzie, and either Diana (the pilot from “Out of Time”) or the cop from “They Keep Killing Suzie” could have filled her purpose better. I don’t like Owen either (and tended to fast forward through anything dealing with him alone), but as part of the group, he’s tolerable; Gwen was kind of whiny (not quite the right adjective, but I can’t think of a better one), while Owen was more snarky and sarcastic (and I liked Gwen best when she and Owen were being snarky at each other). I might have liked Owen better had he not been introduced as a rapist, and I’m kind of appalled by the number of people who don’t consider what he did to be rape (using a drug to get a woman who said NO into bed and using said drug on her boyfriend without giving him any sort of chance to say yes or no = rape. It doesn’t matter that he used it on himself (it was some sort of alien perfume/pheromone spray); there is no indication that the others had any sort of choice).
Looking back through the episodes, it looks like they used several generic plots that I really don’t like (first-day screwups due in part to lack of knowledge/training, fish out of water/adjusting to a new world, focus on outside characters instead of the main cast). I liked the more action-oriented episodes best; it was easier to turn off the brain and ignore plotholes and other problems when there was more action than character interaction. Several episodes showed the loneliness and alienation of working at a place like Torchwood and having to keep everything secret. There were also a whole lot of plots driven by the fact that the characters keep acting like they have no common sense and occasionally lapse into complete idiocy. I’m not sure how they managed to investigate anything before Gwen arrived; she spent a fair amount of time using basic police procedure with better results than the rest of the team had.
I’m using the list of Torchwood episodes on wikipedia as a reference; that page lists episodes for both series and has some vaguely spoilery information (mostly casting-related) for the following seasons below the episode lists. The main Torchwood wikipedia page has major spoilers. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here (except for Suzie; she’s mentioned in an episode title), but don’t know how successful I am.
- “Everything Changes” — Gwen sees a group of people able to temporarily resurrect a corpse and investigates further and is appalled that they don’t care that it could be used to help solve murders. She manages to get into the office by impersonating a pizza-delivery person, leading to Jack wondering who was stupid enough to order pizza under “Torchwood”. She eventually ends up as part of the group, with the purpose of reminding them that their cases involve human beings with feelings, not abstract beings. It also shows how well the Torchwood staff follow the rules (it was stated that no artifacts leave the office; that statement was followed by each of the members away from the office with an artifact).
- “Day One” — Gwen’s first day. They are investigating a meteorite, someone throws a tool at Gwen, she doesn’t catch it and something escapes, possesses people, and drains people’s life force during sex. Gwen gets to show off her investigative skills. I watched a lot of it on fast forward; too much Gwen.
- “Ghost Machine” — an artifact causes people to see past events at particular locations; Owen sees a murder and becomes obsessed with finding the killer. I watched a lot of it on fast forward; too much Owen, and it was depressing overall.
- “Cyberwoman” — Ianto’s episode; he’s been keeping his partially-converted (and inexplicably clothed) girlfriend in the basement; she gets loose, with predictable results. This was most notable for the Pterodactyl vs Cyberwoman fight. I liked this one well enough, except for Lisa’s inexplicable and impractical outfit; I do wonder how Ianto managed to keep her there for a while without anyone noticing.
- “Small Worlds” — fairies are not nice; we see a little of Jack’s past and his ruthlessness and some of the downsides of being essentially immortal.
- “Countrycide” — There are an abnormal number of missing people in a rural area; the entire team investigates. I think I’m the only person who liked this episode, but that was mostly because it was more action-oriented and treated the cast as more of an ensemble than some of the others. I did spend a lot of time wondering if the cast had ever seen a horror movie before; they made a lot of the stupid horror movie decisions.
- “Greeks Bearing Gifts” — Tosh’s episode. A woman (Mary, an alien) knows enough about Torchwood to gain Tosh’s trust and gives her an amulet that will let her hear other’s thoughts. Tosh is lonely, and the thoughts of the other staff do not help; she finds herself reacting to Mary’s sympathy, first in bed and eventually by helping her get into Torchwood. I was glad Tosh got an episode, and would liked to have seen more of her.
- “They Keep Killing Suzie” — Suzie’s episode, even though she died in the first one. Random killings that mention Torchwood are traced back to a member of a group that also had Suzie as a member; Gwen convinces Jack to try the resurrection glove on Suzie. I liked this episode for some reason, despite the fact that everyone seemed to have lost what few wits they had.
- “Random Shoes” — Torchwood from an outsider’s perspective. A guy (Eugene Jones) who had a crush on Gwen gets hit by a car; she thinks there’s something weird about it and investigates. The episode is from the point of view of the Eugene’s spirit, which is lingering and may be what Gwen is vaguely sensing. He regains his memory of what happened over the course of the episode. I don’t like this sort of episode; I don’t care about seeing things through an outsider’s eyes.
- “Out of Time” — a plane from 1953 containing a female pilot, and older man, and a technically-adult woman (18) ends up in the present; Torchwood attempts to help them adjust. It was a fairly realistic look at how people might react to the knowledge that they had been declared dead fifty years ago and that everyone they knew was somewhere between elderly and dead. I don’t really like this sort of plot and watched a good chunk of it on fast forward, but still cried at parts of it. I really liked Diana, despite her appalling taste in men, and would have liked to have seen more of her.
- “Combat” — There are a rising number of attacks that look like they were caused by Weevils; they investigate and see one being kidnapped and use their pet as bait. This seemed to show the worst of everyone but wasn’t really memorable; I watched it last week and still had to look up what it was about. I don’t quite understand Owen’s mood in this; some of it was due to Diana, but he didn’t know her long enough to have that strong of a reaction, and this episode gave me a concrete reason to dislike Gwen.
- “Captain Jack Harkness” — Jack and Tosh find themselves in the midst of World War II; they meet the original Captain Jack Harkness, and Jack tells Tosh a little bit of his story. Somewhat historically implausible, but nice otherwise; I was glad to see Tosh as a main character.
- “End of Days” — there were bad side effects related to bringing Jack and Tosh back to the present. Jack is an asshole, the rift is manipulating the others, and the group (especially and emphatically Owen) have some doubts about following orders from someone who doesn’t exist (and now I want to go back and look at Tosh’s part in that sequence again, since she knows a little more about him). Everyone was an asshole in this, but the imminent end of the world is a stressful event and could bring out the worst in everyone. At the end, everyone knows that Jack can’t be killed. I think the third season Doctor Who episode “Utopia” immediately follows this one (this episode ends with the sound of the Tardis; I haven’t made it through that season yet).