Binge TV: Torchwood

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Binge TV is exactly what it says on the tin. TV. That you can BINGE on. We all do it – admit it. And maybe now you’re looking for your next fix, right? Well this week I bring you Torchwood, a spinoff from the revival of Doctor Who. Airing four series between 2006 and 2011, Torchwood was met with a shaky start, reached its pinnacle in its 2009 stunning mini-series, and came to a lacklustre conclusion that didn’t really conclude much at all.

Series one

The first series of Torchwood premiered on BBC Three on October 22 2006. ‘Everything Changes’ lived up to its pre-broadcast hype. This was Doctor Who – only for adults. Featuring a brilliant cast consisting of Doctor Who’s Captain Jack Harkness (women want him, and so do men, really), Eve Myles’ emphatic Gwen Cooper, Naoko Mori’s shy but brilliant tech-expert Toshiko Sato, ladies-man Owen Harper (played with just the right amount of cockiness by Burn Gorman), and the seriously underused Ianto Jones (as played by Gareth David-Lloyd).  The first series alone featured sex, swearing and same-sex relationships, and a lot of the concepts paid off rather well. ‘Ghost Machine’ is genuinely creepy; ‘Cyberwoman’ brings about a new take on a 40-year-old monster; ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts’ features a tender short-lived lesbian relationship; and ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ gorgeously reveals more of Jack’s past life whilst showing Jack falling for the real Jack Harkness. Their kiss still induces gooseflesh.

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Series two

When the series returned in 2008 a lot of what the show was initially advertised as was toned down. Gone was the sex. But in its place came some brilliant storytelling, which showed that adult didn’t necessarily have to mean fucking and swearing. ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ was a brilliant reintroduction, although I do wish we had revisited James Marsters’ John Hart. Series two featured the first multi-episode story of the series, something which Torchwood utilised in its final two series. ‘Reset’ saw Freema Agyman’s Martha Jones pop-up from her turn on the parent show for a loosely-tied three episode stint. ‘Reset’ saw Owen Harper tragically and brutally murdered, before ‘Dead Man Walking’ reanimated him. It was a unique twist, and one which you knew would wear thin eventually. Owen’s undeath culminated in the brilliant ‘Exit Wounds’ which also saw the death of Toshiko. Their final conversation still brings tears to the eye.

Series three/Children of Earth

The third season saw a reduction in episodes, from thirteen to five. But Russell T Davies didn’t let this stop him in the slightest. If anything, the third series, known overall as Children of Earth, prospered. This mini-series is amongst the greatest television I’ve ever seen, and one which needs to be seen to be believed. Here the aliens and the science-fiction were lessened and the monstrosity of humanity came to the forefront. The Twelfth Doctor made his second appearance in the Whoniverse as John Frobisher, and it was this role that cemented him as a favourite for the big spot. His pitch was perfect: he was a man out of his depth, and Peter Capaldi was magnificent.

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Several other guest characters impressed this series, notably Cush Jumbo’s Lois Habiba, Liz May Brice’s Johnson and Paul Copley’s Clement McDonald. The 456 are a particularly chilling threat, and will draw goosebumps from their very first shrouded appearance. This mini-series ended with the tragic death of Ianto (his death scene in particular was stunningly written and performed) and Jack departing Earth. Seemingly forever.

The third series was a runaway success. Placed in a ‘graveyard slot’, airing over five consecutive days in the middle of summer, Children of Earth somehow managed to draw in 6.5 million viewers, up significantly from the second series. As such a fourth series was commissioned. The scope was larger, and an influx in American money, actors and locations, meant that this was sure to be a winner.

Series four/Miracle Day

Alas, it wasn’t. Miracle Day, ten episodes airing in 2011, wasn’t bad, but after following the beautifully harrowing Children of Earth, it paled in comparison. The show felt too ‘Americanised’ and very little of the Cardiff charm the show had become known for remained. The first four episodes were dreary and Miracle Day only came into its own in the brilliant ‘The Categories of Life’. ‘The Categories of Life’ and ‘Immortal Sins’ are perhaps the only brilliant episodes of the run. The first combines action, death, and jaw-dropping revelations; the latter delves once more into Jack’s past and introduces the beautiful relationship between Jack and Angelo.

So where did it all go wrong? Essentially a British show was Americanised into something that barely resembled what it started as. Miracle Day felt like a remake, and remakes generally fare terribly.

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The show was put on an indefinite hiatus in 2012 following personal difficulties for Davies, along with the desire to try something different. Torchwood could, and should, return one day. But only if the story is right, and if it’s set in Cardiff once more.

Maybe in ten or fifteen years we can see an aged Jack finally turn into the Face of Boe.

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