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Torchwood 101: What You Need To Know Before Miracle Day

Torchwood: Miracle Day starts tonight on Starz, bringing the Doctor Who spin-off to a new world, a brand new channel and, everyone involved hopes, a wider audience. So, for all those discovering the show for the first time, what is Torchwood all about?

What Is Torchwood (The Series)?
A 2006 spinoff from Doctor Who, created by the man responsible for that show’s resurrection as something more clearly aimed at the adults in the audience, Torchwood‘s first two seasons are notable more for their uneven quality than anything else. There’s definitely a sense of the show finding its feet and dealing with its ambition outstripping its abilities in the first season and, I’d argue, the majority of the second, as well. For all that, if you can imagine a goofier, more horny X-Files, you’ve pretty much got the idea behind the first couple of years of Torchwood; for the show’s third season, everything changed, including the format of the series: Out went the goofiness (for the most part) and the horniness (again, for the most part), and in came something more in tune with Battlestar Galactica‘s grimness and seriousness, but what remained was the idea that the Doctor was far from the only person saving the world from the impossible — or, at least, trying to.

(And for those wondering why “Torchwood”: It’s an anagram of “Doctor Who.” No, really.)

What Is Torchwood (The Organization)?
Torchwood– or, to give it its full title, the Torchwood Institute — is a secret British governmental organization created in 1879 to defend the Earth from extraterrestrial threats, with a secondary mission to reverse-engineer alien technology in an attempt to give Britain a technological advantage that would return the British Empire to its former glory — a secondary mission that even some members of Torchwood don’t know about.

Established on the order of Queen Victoria, following a meeting with the Doctor in the 19th century, the organization works in secret for more than a century before failing to protect the world from an invasion from Cybermen from an alternate dimension and being closed down by royal decree in 2007. However, two satellite Torchwood hubs remained in operation for some time — Torchwood Two, based in Scotland, and Torchwood Three, the operation the series revolves around, in Wales. By the end of the third season, both of those hubs have essentially ceased operation.

Do I Need To Have Seen Doctor Who To Understand The Show?
Not at all. In fact, Torchwood probably works better if you’re not that into Doctor Who, because it removes the “Wait, why isn’t the Doctor appearing right now to save the day?” feeling from every episode (especially the third season, which also feels too nihilistic to really fit into the Who universe). Even without the series essentially rebooting itself with the move to America in this new season, it’s pretty much a plug-and-play show: “They’re an organization that keeps track of aliens on Earth. Go.”

What’s All This About Captain Jack, Anyway?
The central character of Torchwood — well, one of two; Gwen Cooper is the other, but her backstory is easily explained away as “Sensible cop who joins the team after getting mixed up with one of their cases” — Captain Jack Harkness came to the show from appearances on Doctor Who, where he continued to appear irregularly right up until showrunner (and Torchwood creator) Russell T Davies left the series. He has two particular characteristics: He is bisexual and he is immortal. These are not linked, but both tend to get mentioned a lot.

Where Do I Start?
Honestly, ignore the first season and just jump into the second; things are still trending towards the silly and melodramatic at times, but it’s not quite reached the depressing inevitability of the mini-series third season, Torchwood: Children of Earth, and there is something very appealing about the gleeful thinning of the ranks the show goes through as it decides who it’s going to keep around.


  • Atomic Kommie Comics

    Actually Captain Jack is “multi-sexual”.
    He’ll do it with males, females, androgynes, hermaphrodites, androids. robots, and/or any combination thereof if he thinks they’re cute.

  • Fac

    Hasn’t it started yet !?!

  • prigmutton

    Am I the only one who found the intended bleakness of Children of Earth so over the top as to almost feel like parody, like a 90’s comic trying so hard to be shocking that it ended up being almost unintentionally hilarious?

    That, combined with the absolute rush to capitulation (“Yes, take our children! Would you like us to feed them garlic, or roll them in butter for you?”) made CoE more of a giggle fest than I think that it was intended as

  • Jacob

    Anything that moves.

  • Jacob

    “Torchwood 101: What You Need To Know Before Miracle Day

    Absolutely nothing. The show is designed to be very accessible. There are actually two gateway characters. Esther and Rex, each serving different roles. Esther is looking into the history of Torchwood (The Cyberman/Dalek invasion of London, the Daleks stealing Earth, the 456), while Rex is more involved with the characters (Jack, Gwen, Rhys).

    Also, the new season isn’t in anyway a reboot. It very much picks up after the events of Children of Earth. I don’t see how you could think that, considering how much RTD and Barrowman stressed that fact while promoting the show.

  • unsean

    Come on.  Sure they said that, but if Capt. Jack was doing some snogging, it was with a guy 8.5 times out of 10.  I don’t personally mind, but the character was either homosexual–not that there’s anything wrong with that–or there just happened to NEVER be any aliens, women or anything else that attracted him.

    This isn’t surprising because the man who–for all intents and purposes–saved Dr. Who (showrunner and writer Russell P. Davies) is himself homosexual and appeared to throw in queer characters seeming whenever he found the chance.

    A tendency which I am not necessarily criticizing, though it became somewhat tiring.

  • Jacob

    Jack flirted quite frequently with Rose, Martha, and Donna (and at least once with Sarah Jane). He is also romantically interested in Gwen, having shown very obvious (but respectful, on account of Rhys) attraction to her over the course of the show.

  • unsean

    Still doesn’t change my point in the least.  Sure he flirted with women, but when he was shagging someone, they were men.

    As I said, Captain Jack Hartness was, for all intents and purposes, queer.

    It doesn’t really matter, though to call him bi, omni, pansexual, or anything else, is a bit disingenuous.

  • Kevin Melrose

    Jack also had a relationship, and child, with Lucia Moretti.

  • unsean

    Indeed (was that the character from “Children of Earth?”).  Now what about the rest of the series?  You have chosen one incident, yet how many times has he been making out with guys?

    An exception that’s outside the rule doesn’t necessarily invalidate the rule itself (for example, airplanes fly despite the constant pull of gravity. They do this oftentimes by generating enough force to counter the pull. This by no mean means that gravity is not still in force).  As I replied elsewhere, based upon the actions of the character himself–nothing that I have added, or taken away–he’s homosexual.

    Which doesn’t mean that he can’t have a relationship with a woman, btw, though it does mean that this whole “omnisexual” stuff is nonsense.

    More than anything else, I suspect that its use (the whole “omnisexual,” “pansexual,” or “bisexual” nonsense) is because if you were to say that the character is queer, it would be harder to sell not only to the network, but to advertisers.

  • Faust

    What are you talking about? I really enjoyed season 1! Sure it had some stinkers, but there was gold in there too!!  ;)

    Season 2 WAS great. But I didn’t enjoy the season 3 mini. I prefer the 1-2 episode storylines, and then an end of season blow out!

    I’ve watched part of episode 1 of Miracle Day – and it seems ok (spoilers – glad its got some scenes set in the UK with Gwen & Rhys at least!). How many episodes is it meant to be?

    Just hoping that if its a success – they got back to the regular format!!  

  • Faust

    There is a thing with Gwen going …. you can see they both have feeling for each other. Who knows if they will ever get together though. She is married at the moment. 

  • Faust

    He isn’t Homosexual if he occassionally sleeps with women! haha…

    With the way your going on about this – I’m guessing your straight. I’d assume you don’t sleep with men once in a while either – or we’d be calling you bi.

  • unsean

    Really?  Are you saying that a homosexual can’t sleep with women?

  • Faust

    Agreed – my least favorite ‘season’ so far.

  • Faust

    haha… thats a joke right? Good one!

  • unsean

    If there is, it’s on you, my friend.

  • Faust


    Let me teach you something.

    sleep with men – gay

    sleep with women – straight

    sleep with men and women – bi

  • Lin6552

    I watched last nights episode, 25th August 2011, we all know he is gay, but last night with him romping in bed with the other man was toooo much.  We do not want to see this on television, it spoilt a really good series.