So after loving four seasons of the new Doctor Who, I went ahead and got the first season of Torchwood for Christmas. (Thank you, Santa.) We’ve watched the first three episodes. I’m not sure how best to say this, but … well, if the show doesn’t improve, I guess I can always use the DVDs as backup air hockey pucks.
I knew going in that Torchwood was darker than Doctor Who. And I know it often takes a while for a new series to figure itself out (see Star Trek: TNG). So I’m going to keep watching. But it’s like someone took Doctor Who and sucked out everything that makes me love it, and I’m watching what was left over.
The very first episode introduces Torchwood, the super-secret agency dedicated to protecting London from aliens and alien technology. The Torchwood team is frankly unlikeable and annoying. Our standout asshole would be Owen, happily swiping and using alien date rape drugs. (This is one of the “good guys.”) But everyone on the team is blissfully ignoring the rules and swiping alien tech for their own purposes, and none of them strike me as particularly pleasant.[1. Random character note: I did like the twist in ep. 3 where Owen, who’s been set up as the vengeful one, immediately begins performing CPR and trying to save the life of the bad guy.]
And then there’s Captain Jack. Oh, Jack … I like you so much more when you’re not the leader babysitter. When you can be fun and sexy and impulsive.
Gwen is the most likeable, as the cop who first investigates and then joins Torchwood. But she’s not working for me either. I think it’s partly because she keeps screwing up, whether it’s breaking the alien rock with a chisel (who throws rock-piercing tools around at an alien landing site?), pressing random buttons on alien technology, or just sneaking that tech home with her — despite having seen what happened in the very first episode.
I have no idea why Jack keeps them around. Are these people really the best he could do? The Doctor picks up better partners just running down a street.
All of this I could forgive as the stumbling of a new show, but this is supposed to be a spinoff of Doctor Who, and it has none of the wonder of that show. Doctor Who can get pretty dark too, but it never loses that sense of wonder. And Torchwood, at least in the first three episodes, doesn’t have it.
I’m hoping it gets better, and I’ll continue watching. But so far, I am less than impressed.
March 23, 2011 @ 10:16 am
I think the biggest problem I had with Torchwood is it didn’t quite know what it wanted to do. The characters just seemed that there was no team chemistry at all and just thrown together. Children of Earth, the 3rd season was a bit better but overall I was rather disappointed with it.
March 23, 2011 @ 10:17 am
I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of Torchwood, watched out of order. My main issue with those episodes were that they were pitched to me as the best and they were highly predictible, by-the-numbers.
Jim C. Hines
March 23, 2011 @ 10:18 am
I do get that vibe that it’s trying to find a direction but isn’t there yet. A lot of folks on LJ have said that it does get better, so I’m going to keep going and see what happens throughout this season.
March 23, 2011 @ 10:18 am
It gets better. Much better. Got to the point where I like it better than Dr. Who. Hang in there!
Jim C. Hines
March 23, 2011 @ 10:19 am
Well that’s not terribly reassuring. Were these season one episodes, or random throughout the series?
Jim C. Hines
March 23, 2011 @ 10:19 am
That’s quite the recommendation! I’m going to hold out at least through season one, and we’ll see how I’m feeling then. A lot of shows start out rough, so that’s not by itself a deal-breaker for me.
March 23, 2011 @ 11:03 am
The first that I saw was in the second season. A friend thought that episode would win me as I enjoyed James Marsters on Buffy, so I would love his character on Torchwood.
The other episodes were two more second season and one first.
March 23, 2011 @ 11:07 am
I thought that it became much better and the episodes a lot less uneven as it went on. Calling Owen one of the “good” guys might be looking at his character a bit simplistically, though, and sells his character arc short before it’s really even begun. 😉 The thing to remember about Torchwood is that you shouldn’t assume they intend for you to like or root for every character (and even some of the characters who are likable make horrible, horrible mistakes). A dangerous choice because it risked alienating viewers, but one that really paid off when it came to character growth. At least, in my opinion. 🙂
March 23, 2011 @ 11:09 am
Basically it’s like this. Firstly, TORCHWOOD is decidedly bleak. Jack and Co. are dealing with the decisions, the hard decisions that affect mankind. The entirety of the first season is all about TRUST. No one, not even Gwen, really TRUST Jack because he is so secretive about his past….but that changes after the first season. The whole first season will feel like the litmus test that the team put Jack and themselves through to make sure they could do this. It feels disjointed and like “the show hasn’t found its feet” for a reason…because the show is not only finding its feet, but the characters are. Gwen is still hiding things from Rhys, Tosh is completely inept and in love with an ass, Owen may be a decent doctor but he’s a total prat and ass socially, Ianto is an island unto himself and is not forthcoming…about anything, and finally Jack won’t let anyone in, not really. The season is about Jack and Gwen….Gwen is “the Doctor” as influence to Jack. Without her he is completely cold and unyielding, with her, however, he is temprered by compassion.
Second season feels A LOT more cohesive and while it still tells rather bleak stories, it is still about making the choices no one else would WANT to make, but it is much better and feel like even the characters find their even keel.
Third season CHILDREN OF THE EARTH is (to me) quite possibly one of the most enthralling, well written, things I have ever seen on TV. It is short, one story only 6 eps long, but it is so well-crafted that I can’t even explain it.
The fourth season, forthcoming this year TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has a huge international cast and looks and sounds to be another exceptional season.
Keep watching. IMHO if you don’t like it by the end of Season 2, give it up then…however I’d recommend at least giving it to season 3 (simply cause season 3 is only 6 episodes). I found it was much more palatable in Season 2.
Make no mistake though, this is never going to be DOCTOR WHO. This is the dark end of the street on DW universe….the stuff that no one wants to look at but someone had to deal with.
March 23, 2011 @ 11:28 am
I both love and hate Torchwood. It starts off slow, gets better, and by the end… well I won’t spoil anything, but it’s not the same. Not bad, just… sort of not what I signed up for when I started watching.
My favorite part of Torchwood is the related media. Some of the novels (I say some, not most, because I’ve only read a sampling) are fantastic. In particular I love Almost Perfect and the way it integrates social media into the storytelling. The radio dramas are also rather good, especially Lost Souls which takes the team to the LHC. There’s also an audiobook “Everyone Says Hello” which has the same sort of delicious creepiness of the “Mommy? Are you my mommy?” episodes.
March 23, 2011 @ 11:40 am
Also. Just FYI. TORCHWOOD will never make you feel good…the way DW does….TORCHWOOD is good, but you should never expect to leave an episode feeling particularly sunshine-y, like you did at the end of Season 4 of DW….
If you can accept that as a show, then you’ll like it. It would be like if a cop came home every day and told his day to his family, most of it wouldn’t be particularly nice, but needed.
March 23, 2011 @ 3:24 pm
Torchwood = Doctor Who without the training wheels. Remember that, and you’ll have a better idea of what you’re in for.
As far as I’m concerned, if you’re watching the episodes in sequence, once you get past episode 6, you’ll pretty much *know* if this is something you want to stick with. Episode 6 was, for me, that “we’re not in Kansas anymore…” feeling which made me realize that although the characters and situations “lived” in the same universe as Doctor Who … this was *NOT* Doctor Who that I was watching.
Keep in mind also that the feeling of “disjointedness” that you’re getting from the first three episodes is, in a great many ways, quite deliberate. The viewer, like Gwen, is very much trying to find out “where the boundaries are” for the kind of world the characters live in, and for a good long while, there’s this feeling that no one (except *maybe* Jack) is on any kind of firm footing. That sense of uncomfortableness that you have allows you to identify very strongly with what Gwen is experiencing, which in turn is most closely aligned with the mindset of the viewer.
TORCHWOOD does things, and goes places, that would feel outright inappropriate if the Doctor were around. For one thing, whenever the Doctor is around, you’ve got a fairly secure sense that people are going to “make it” and things are going to get solved and resolved. You DON’T ever get that sort of sense of “security” about the characters in TORCHWOOD. Even with Captain Jack, although he can’t “stay dead” … you’ve always got in the back of your mind this nagging worry that there really are fates WORSE than death, which even Captain Jack wants to avoid, as best he can.
To quote Correander from The Neverending Story … “Your books, are SAFE.”
Doctor Who … is SAFE.
TORCHWOOD … isn’t …
March 23, 2011 @ 3:34 pm
I’d pretty much have to echo what Scott says above. Season 1 was bad. Disjointed, with no real continuity between each episode. Season 2 was better, but not much. Season 3…awesome. Season 3 was literally 1 episode spread out over 6 days. Basically a made for TV movie. If you hang on til Season 3 your faith will be restored.
March 24, 2011 @ 8:29 am
Totally agree with what others have said here. Season 1 was kinda lacking in cohesiveness, but it gets better after season 1.
Dr Who is shiny and about how awesome and fantastic and beautiful humanity can be.
Torchwood isn’t. It is dark and isn’t afraid to show you the horrible things we are capable of. Yes, there are moments of brightness but it is definitely not always going to have happy endings. But also, it has a realness to it that Dr Who lacks sometimes.
March 24, 2011 @ 12:14 pm
I liked Torchwood a lot. The standout for me is season 2, and as someone already mentioned, Owen has a lot more growing to do. Some of the episodes in the 2nd half of season 1 are good too. I was not a huge fan of Children of Earth, but it’s not bad. Not sure what to expect of the next one.
Full disclosure: I loved seasons 1-4 of new Who, but am not at all smitten with Matt Smith. Perhaps he’ll improve, but it just doesn’t work for me in the current configuration.
March 24, 2011 @ 5:06 pm
It does get better and there’s a lot more humor to it (and sex.) James Marsten comes and visits. Jack has interesting flashbacks. Excellent British character actors cycle through. The aliens are often more interesting than they are in Doctor Who. But unlike Jack (and Doctor Who,) all the other characters can die.
March 24, 2011 @ 6:56 pm
Whereas Matt Smith is “my doctor” now. I’ve been a fan since first catching the 4th Doctor on my local PBS station in the mid-80’s, and never thought anyone would replace Tom Baker for me. Matt Smith just somehow epitomizes the wonder and quirky fun or Dr. Who.
March 24, 2011 @ 6:59 pm
You know, I *want* to like him, I really do, and every once in a while I caught a glimpse of something more but it just didn’t work for me. We’ll see what happens from here.
And a lol, Tom Baker was the reason I didn’t bother watching new Who until dragged along to a viewing party at the beginning of 3rd season. It’s funny how we all like different Doctors.