Torchwood: Adult Fun in the Whoniverse

It’s come to my attention that Doctor Who seems to gaining more and more new fans – which is, of course, excellent.  Most of the new fans I’ve seen have been American, perhaps due to the marketing blitzes of BBCAmerica (again, excellent).  If you’ve only been introduced to Doctor Who in the last year or so, you might be wondering why a good chunk of the internet is waiting with anticipation for the return of a little show called Torchwood.

Don’t worry; you have more than enough time to catch up.  And I’m here to tell you why you should.

Torchwood was created as a Doctor Who spinoff with a decidedly adult edge.  Though it features a character, Captain Jack Harkness, from Who, it’s actually more apt to remind first-time viewers of The X-Files or maybe Fringe.  Torchwood Institute is a top-secret British government institution, devoted to dealing with extraterrestrials and maybe whatever associated technology they can get their hands on.  They’re the men and women in (stylish) black who show up after the unexplainable has occurred – and they even have memory-wiping techniques.

Through most of the series, they’re based in Cardiff, Wales, on top of a rift in time and space that leads to more than your average amount of alien encounters.  Unlike Doctor Who, they don’t travel in time and space themselves; the aliens come to them.  As such, the show has a much more close, intimate feel than the epic romps a Who viewer might be accustomed to.  There’s also more time for the psychological ramifications of the stress and danger associated with being an alien-hunter.  Oh, and sex.  Definitely time to cover that.

I watched the majority of Torchwood long after it originally aired, through Netflix Instant.  Originally it aired in the US on BBCAmerica; I’ve heard it was edited, and not just to fit in commercials.  I’m not entirely surprised; I can recall some pretty racy moments, stuff that falls in the nebulous space between Family Viewing and Only Fit For Movie Channels, and I’ve heard tamer stuff was cut as well.  Even if you caught the show on its first airing, it might be worth getting the full experience before the next season.

Starz Saves the Day

After only three seasons (well, two seasons and miniseries) Torchwood sadly disappeared for a few years.  When showrunner Russell T Davies left Doctor Who and moved to the US, it seemed unlikely that Torchwood would ever be resurrected.

…Which shows what we know.  Not only is Torchwood finally seeing a fourth series, but they’ve teamed up with the Starz channel to do so.  Here’s why that’s a good thing, especially for those of us in the US.

First and foremost, there’s the money issue.  It’s not uncommon to hear about budget constraints on BBC shows; in fact, the reason Doctor Who was able to do an American-themed show was because BBCAmerica chipped in with support and cash.   With Starz backing Torchwood, this can only mean good things for the budget.  Meanwhile, Starz has had success with Spartacus, but they’re not yet as well-known for their original series as HBO or Showtime.  Torchwood is already well-loved, had good ratings at home and good reviews, too.  It’s a good match for the both of them.

Next, there’s the two major advantages of having a series on a movie channel: no overzealous editing, and no commercials, either.  I’m sure the showrunners will have to keep the requirements of the BBC in mind, but at least this time the US component won’t be holding them back.  I’ll be quite interested to see if Torchwood pushes even further into adult territory now that they’ll be aired on Starz.

The third point is something that, frankly, could be better, but it could be worse.  In the past, episodes of Starz’ original shows could be found on Netflix Instant the next day.  Sadly, the latest word is that there will now be a 90-day delay.  If you don’t already subscribe to Starz, you’ll still need to get it from iTunes or some similar service if you want to see it immediately; however, if you’re just a casual viewer and don’t mind waiting, you’ll be seeing Torchwood available much sooner than, say, an HBO show.  And the optimist in me still hopes that Starz will revise its policy.

The Future: Miracle Day

Of course, this new half-BBC, half-Starz Torchwood comes with its share of differences from the past seasons.  For one thing, it will be based in America, not Wales, and boasts an “international” cast (whether that means more than just the US and Wales remains to be seen).  The cast will include favorite characters Jack and Gwen, the people who will be the connective tissue between the old and new seasons.  New cast announced so far includes the American institutions Bill Pullman, Wayne Knight and Ernie Hudson, and TV vets Alexa Havins and Mekhi Phifer (who I just loved on Lie to Me).

While I’ve liked the smaller, “local” feel of Torchwood in the past, and I hope it doesn’t lose that entirely, I have to admit the latest trailer has much more of a big-screen feel (it has a rocket launcher, for crying out loud).  And… that’s kind of exciting.

Torchwood has done a pretty good job keeping the details of its new season under wraps – it’s just a month and a half away.  And I, for one, can’t wait.  If you haven’t tried out Torchwood yet, you absolutely should – it’s a smart show that manages to be both dark and witty, and reminds us that sf isn’t just for the kiddies.

What about you?  Do you think they should have ended with the last season, or will you be tuning in?  And what are you hoping to see in the new series?

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