Another guilty pleasure...or is it the newest sci-fi cult fave?
Spin off the science fiction mythology from the BBC's Dr. Who and amp it up with a bisexual hero and his band of Buffy the Vampire-like misfits and you have a show tackling contemporary political-morality issues like the environment, animal rights and immigration. The show is Torchwood now on BBC America. Torchwood is a secret organization "outside the government, beyond the police...tracking down alien life on earth and arming the human race against the future...the 21st Century is when everything changes and you've got to be ready." That's how the show's hero, Captain Jack Harkness, introduces the show each episode as Torchwood investigates, managing and containing extraterrestrial incursions and threats. All these threats also occur inside Great Britain where a rift in space and time washes up intergalactic monsters, gadgets and lost souls from around the universe. Captain Jack, an America character played by Chicago-born actor John Barrowman, is a time traveling immortal with an enigmatic past, who first appeared in the updated Dr. Who series. He knows the 21st Century is where human history is changed by alien encounters and he's drop out of the time traveling plot device to help humanity prepare for it.
Originating from the UK's BBC 3, this Dr. Who spin-off goes where the dear Doctor has only dabbled in innuendo. It's mix of action, irony, drama with a drizzle of camp. I spot storytelling elements picked from popular, mainstream American television like CSI. Torchwood is also part X-Files, but this show features a government sanctioned and supported X-Files team who's stories are punctuated with a steady stream of nudity, explicit sex scenes, violence and crude language. It's the kind of raw, grown up television you find on FX or Showtime and HBO. No wonder as the show's founder, Russell T. Davies, was one of the people behind Showtime's Queer as Folk. There's enough camp and cheesiness sprinkled in the drama and morality plays to connect you back to the Dr. Who days of the 1970s. However, production values, special effects and kick butt attitude make it fun viewing. Yet it falls short of the power of today's Battlestar Galactica while presenting a vast improvement over the worn out series like the Stargate franchise. Torchwood reminds me of my affinity for Farscape with the high energy and dark storylines and incredibly complex characters caught up in their conflicted lives.
I've only watched episodes from season one and two of Torchwood through various online sources-- the BBC restricts access to its site to users inside the UK. You would think NBC/Universal's Sci-Fi Channel would serve as the perfect conduit for the American audience, but it would also appear the show is too ambisexual for the Sci-Fi channel, a cable network that choses instead to closet such homoerotic tendencies behind the world of professional wrestling. You will need BBC America to watch it on cable or satellite in the U.S. However, the success at which I had in uncovering this guilty pleasure online gives me serious pause. I wonder if I were a younger, single sci-fi geek, would I even bother with the old model of television. It would seem more appropriate for a fan of the Torchwood crew to have the tech-savvy sense to nab all of one's media diet for free off the 'net. Below is my favorite episode of Torchwood, "Miscellaneous Footwear" for your consideration.