I don't know how much (if any) Russell Davies was influenced by the CW and UPN American made shows of the mid and late 1990s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer when he decided to rejuvenate the long-running British sci-fi show Doctor Who, but the results he gained paid off dividends for the show, to the point where he was approached to product a spinoff show. And in Torchwood, the design to make a sci-fi/supernatural show for a more adult demographic, the results are interesting.
The show starts with Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), a police officer standing outside of a rainy crime scene in Wales with a fellow officer. She is dismissed when a group of four mysterious people, headed by a man named Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). She is curious to see what the group is as they do not claim to be police detectives or forensic investigators, and from a parking garage, she spies the group use a metal glove that brings the murder victim back to life and try to reconstruct the last moments of his life. Eve soon discovers that the abilities that Jack and his team have are far beyond normal procedures, in fact Torchwood (as they're called) is one sector of a larger group that finds aliens and prevents extraterrestrial invasion, without the help or acknowledgement of the police or government. And perhaps to coincide with the show's U.S. airing of its fourth series titled Miracle Day, BBC America has decided to package the series to this point into a boxed set to re-whet the appetite of fans.
One of the things that struck me while watching Torchwood is that there is a lot of narrative fat trimmed from the show that perhaps an American counterpart would see. Because it's in a cable-lengthish 13 episodes per series, there is more opportunity to get into the group's character development and individual plot arcs. Gwen's difficulty on balancing her more mysterious life within Torchwood with her evolving relationship with her boyfriend Rhys (Kai Owen) is one obvious choice, with the other being Jack. When he left Doctor Who, Jack was given the power of immortality, something we find out early on in the show. But past that, finding out more about Jack's family, friends and sexual interests proves to be interesting viewing. This rings true in one episode in the first series titled "Captain Jack Harkness," where Jack and the Torchwood technology whiz Tosh (Naoko Mori) are stuck in 1941 and meet an Air Force officer who as it turns out, is Jack, leaving the more familiar Jack with a personality crisis. We think had a good idea of Jack coming into the ep, afterwards we're left with no idea, and left a little misty-eyed at the end of the episode to boot. In fact, each of the interpersonal relationships between the Torchwood staff is handled rather well. They seem a little sensationalist at first (notably the one between Jack and Ianto, played by Gareth David-Lloyd), but after the initial surprise they are handled with surprising tenderness. For that matter, all of the dynamics within Torchwood's members are done well.
Along with the character development, what Torchwood also handles effectively are the multi-episode arcs. This is summed up best in Children of Earth, the five-part miniseries that followed the second. In it, a mysterious being came to Earth in 1965 and threatened to unless a lethal flu strain if it was not rewarded with 12 children. The being returned to earth more than 40 years later and ask for 10% of the children in the country or they will destroy the world. The series proves to be suspenseful, emotional and thrilling throughout all five episodes, and left on a note that would have seemed to put Torchwood in an area where it couldn't return, though ultimately it did.
If there was an area of the show that I thought could have used some improvement, it was in the standalone episodes where the crew was forced to face a new alien threat. There would be some minor character advancement, though nothing memorable or worthwhile. The tone that the actors gave off during these was that they almost wanted to get onto the meatier episodes where they could stretch out their acting chops. In episodes like "Small Worlds" and "Cyberwoman," the main antagonists in the episodes were somewhat silly and it was hard to really watch these with a straight face at times. Thankfully, episodes like this were few and far between through the series.
In the long run, Davies does a solid job at creating new ground in Torchwood while not spending too much time flirting with the Doctor Who world or any areas (Buffy star James Marsters' recurring role in Series Two notwithstanding). The show is entertaining and has its poignant human moments mixed in with the science fiction portions rather nicely, and with Miracle Day currently airing on the Starz cable channel, there is enough content available to dive into Torchwood head first and enjoy the water to boot.
The Blu-ray Discs:
The first and second seasons (as well as Children of Earth) are all presented in 1.78:1 high-definition and all employ the VC-1 encode. As stated several times in the episode commentaries in Season One, the show was shot on high definition cameras making for lots of vivid colors and solid black levels that present a solid contrast. There is minimal DNR to the material and image detail is solid both in the foreground and background. The show is presented in 1080i which is a minor qualm, but through the twelve discs one notes a Blu-ray experience that is better than most television shows that employ BD-50 discs, and well worth the time here.
All of the episodes come with a DTS-HD 5.1 High Resolution soundtrack that is strong over the course of the three components of the show. Dialogue is well-balanced through the show and the low-end fidelity the subwoofer provides is surprisingly ample. Channel panning and directional effects are present and effective through the listening experience. There is a lack of immersion that restricts this from being truly outstanding material, but as it stands, Torchwood is clear and convincing on Blu-ray.
This boxed set repackages the first and second season Blu-ray sets, along with the Children of Earth sets that are all already in existence, though redone in smaller and sturdier packaging that sits well on the shelf in a twelve-disc set.
The first season includes cast and crew commentaries on every episode, usually a mix of the writer, director and major star of each episode. The tracks range from the good (Davies, Director Brian Kelly and Executive Producer Julie Gardner) to the more subdued (Myles, composer Ben Foster and Director Alice Troughton). Each of the tracks gets into the story motivations for each respective episode and is quite detailed when it comes to recollection on the production itself. All of the cast get involved in their own tracks through the season and the tracks make for good listening for the devotee. Along with these tracks, you've got "Welcome to Torchwood," a two-part look at the making of the show and the cast and crew's and their thoughts about it (25:07). There is footage of "tone meetings" headed by Davies to discuss to directions of the show or a particular episode, and even the show's launch party gets some coverage. Deleted scenes on the first, fourth and sixth discs (41, 32:11) are entertaining though hardly revelatory. "Torchwood: Out of This World" is a series of visual effects breakdowns on some of the supernatural effects in the first series (25:25), and it's interesting to see how these were shot at the time and how they ultimately came together. "Torchwood: Declassified" is a series of eight to ten minute looks at each episode (2:09:40), including cast and crew opinions on them and discussing the elaborate nature of a particular sequence or two. They are almost webisodes in length and shouldn't be viewed unless you first view the episode they cover, but they are solid pieces on the story and production. "The Team and Their Troubles" looks at the Torchwood stars and how a particular character or event in an episode impacts their arcs (22:13). "Torchwood: Moments in the Making" (21:17) shows us the breakdown of a memorable sequence from particular episodes ("Out of Time" being a good one to look at) and on things like blowing up buildings. "Torchwood on The Scene" (15:40) includes more of the footage from the tone meetings that I alluded to earlier, and includes a more detailed look at the show's production design. "Sex, Violence, Blood and Gore" (15:41) shows us (and possibly hints at) the meaning of past storylines into future episodes, and the cast discusses the relationships they have either platonically or romantically with the others. The visual effects team comes in to discuss the latter three elements of violence, blood and gore in the show and how they're able to pull them off convincingly, while the set design gets some more attention in the piece. "The Captain's Log" (10:25) shows us Barrowman with a video camera on set, teasing crew members and actors, making others crack up or do silly dances. Funny stuff, to be sure. "Torchwood: On Time" (10:09) covers the work put in to make the sets, costumes and hair in "Captain Jack Harkness" as dedicated to the era as possible, and Barrowman gets to sing at the end of this piece, which is nice. A funnier than expected outtakes reel (5:37) closes out the bonuses on the first Series.
On the second series, the largest extra is the "Declassfied" featurettes for each episode (2:24:22). On it, Marsters recalls his interest in appearing on the show and the cast's thoughts (particularly Barrowman) on working with him, and the challenges in getting the production to match the aspirations of the story are touched upon. Some of the larger sequences are given the most time on these examinations, along with the obligatory thoughts on a story or episode by the cast and crew. The other extras are on the last disc of the second series (Disc 10), including "The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack" (22:05), which would appear to be a television special which examines the character and includes a lot of incorporation of Doctor Who into it. There are also interviews with the DW cast as to their thoughts on the character and Barrowman when he appeared with them, so this origin story of sorts is welcome to have here. Ten deleted scenes (17:19) are next but like the others are hardly entertaining, and the outtake reel here (8:40) is disappointing.
On the Children of Earth series, the only supplement is the "Declassified" making-of look at the series (31:46), which examines the thoughts of the returning cast as to this particular arc and shows some practically shot, pre-computer effects material, and the hassles of shooting in inclement weather. There are also thoughts about the series from the guest stars that appear in it too. It's a little more lighthearted than the other pieces that cover the same ground, but still worth checking out.
In the complete UK series of Torchwood, you get a show that looks and sounds better than expected on Blu-ray, packs a ton of bonus material over a dozen discs and has the added bonus of being a fun and involving show. While fans who might have bought the previous series on Blu-ray, new or curious fans of science-fiction (or the supernatural in general) should be encouraged to check this out as it will likely be enjoyable for them.