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Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them.
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Captain Jack Harkness, the former Time Agent and con man from the 51st century last seen traveling with the Doctor, ventures to early 21st century Cardiff. There, he becomes a member of Torchwood Institute, a renegade criminal investigation group founded by Queen Victoria to battle hostile extraterrestrial and supernatural threats. Written by
Captain Jack Harkness:
[voiceover during first season opening]
Torchwood: outside the government, beyond the police. Tracking down alien life on Earth, arming the human race against the future. The twenty-first century is when everything changes. And you gotta be ready.
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It's amazing how a high-quality production can sometimes draw reviews that would be more appropriate to low-grade syndicated filler. Torchwood is, at the very least, an imaginative, well-acted, well-photographed and, more than anything, totally idiosyncratic series.
Many seem put off by the sex. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem for the show's writers. This is a series that neither glories in nor shies away from sex. Characters have believable sex lives, that affect their actions in realistic ways. Some episodes are frankly *about* sex, in a brilliantly science-fictional way. (Bear in mind, the series is very definitely *not* aimed at kids. These characters are adults, and the show is written for adults. That in itself is pretty refreshing!)
Some of the interactions may border on soap opera... but that's the format. It works. It's an ensemble show, and it's about how the private lives of relatively normal humans are transformed by extraordinary events. No, these characters aren't as cute and lovable as, say, the crew of the Serenity. They're thorny, often irrational. I love that about them. Like real people, they often act in ways that even their best friends can't predict. And as with real people, one develops an affection for their faults as much as their virtues.
Stories are clever, but not cerebral. This isn't Twilight Zone. It's not 'hard' Science Fiction. It's a 'pulp' show for adults who want to feel like kids for an hour. It creates a world where the bizarre is commonplace. The viewpoint character is a 'normal' policewoman... she moves into this strange world, adapting to its superhuman challenges and becoming addicted to its heady rewards. It's a highly involving formula... if you're the sort of viewer who often finds our 'real' world far too dull and predictable.
Like Doctor Who, Torchwood is a show that, on paper, shouldn't really work. At every point in Doctor Who's long, long run, nay-sayers have proved with inescapable logic that it can't possibly work: it's too violent, it's too dark, it's too silly, it's too intellectual... it's too expensive. Many of the criticisms have been mutually contradictory! The same seems to be true of Torchwood... it's an odd, angular beast, that doesn't really follow any established paradigm. Saying it's "like Angel," or "like the X-Files" really isn't very revealing. In SOME ways, it's like Gunsmoke. Or Bless This House.
I won't give Torchwood a 10/10. Yet. It could be tighter... I have the feeling the first season meandered just a bit. But considering the oddly discordant tone it's trying to hit, that's hardly surprising. It would be even more surprising if the show was able to attract more than a cult following. What does seem ironic is that the cult followings of other, genetically-similar shows such as Doctor Who seem largely unable to appreciate this one. Sci-fi and fantasy used to be about shedding one's preconceptions... now they're cults with preconceptions of their own.
To me, that only adds to the attraction. Torchwood isn't 'like' Doctor Who, or any previous show, in tone, style, pace or perspective. But it has the same essence... the same willingness to take chances, to forge a new myth unlike any other that's gone before. Even if it stumbles a bit at the start, I can't wait to see where it's going.
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