So what is Torchwood and why, to invoke Shelley, did this resurrection produce more of a monster than a man?
During its first weeks I did a partial review of this resuscitated series. I fully admit that I came to this with the baggage of the original UK version and that it presented me with some challenges. Up through episode 6, Starz audiences were being treated to something that really just wasn’t Torchwood. It may have worked for them, or not. The ratings haven’t been stellar and it isn’t renewed (again). Americanizing the show and pulling Jack and Gwen into the background was a huge mistake by the producers. Whether Davies fought this shift or not, I have no idea, but he should have.
So, let’s start with the effect on the man himself: Capt. Jack Harkness. Jack is one of the more intriguing characters in science fiction and on television period. A 51st century man who is omni-sexual; he’ll sleep with anything that catches his interest. We know this from his introduction on Doctor Who and throughout the original 3 series of Torchwood. Unfortunately, either for sensationalism or some other pressure, Jack has been moved pretty much just into Camp Gay. I’ve nothing against having a gay main character. In fact, I applaud it. But Jack was way more interesting when he and Gwen had serious tension between them and when every passing sentient could get a rise out of him. Removing or trimming down this element over-simplifies Jack and makes him more generally human and less alien (a human from the 51st century who’s attained immortality qualifies as alien in my book) at the expense of providing the viewer with a less predictable and multi-layered character.
The series could just as easily been told with Jack and Gwen in the foreground and the American and multi-nationals getting sucked into their world after the initial episode and introductions. Instead, we got a quasi-action, science fiction piece for 6 episodes of the 10. Starting with ep. 7, the glimmering of the real Torchwood began to shine. Interestingly, this was the third of Jane Espenson’s 6 episodes… of the two previous ones (the third) was the one that gave me hope they might pull this off. Espenson is able to hear the original show and adapt it to the new format. In some ways, I think she did this even better than Davies did, though I’m sure he had a hand in all the scripts to varying degrees as he tends to. That she was one of the main writers on two of the final three episodes of the series is probably a sign that Davies would agree with me. Presumptuous, I realize, but I’d be willing to bet on it.
Interestingly, and perhaps also tellingly, Episode 9 took a big leap in time. Now, why is this important? To me, this indicates that they lost control of the story that was pretty much being told in sequential days (minus some other short jumps). Or, perhaps better put, they spent too much dime screwing around in the first 8 episodes and so had to jump ahead in order to finish the plot.
The finale, really the last two episodes, 9 and 10, managed to pull together all the info and give us a good send-off with some wonderful moments and some real Torchwood danger. In fact, they were the closest to what I had hoped for and expected all along, minus the above mentioned episode 7. But still, it really wasn’t Torchwood. It was a prequel to a new Torchwood that we will likely never see. It was a bridging series from a wonderful show to a new unrealized potential as it has now been orphaned again.
I will probably buy the discs. I’m a completist. I will want them all, even with the annoying Mekhi Phifer, who just never got interesting for me. Transposing a series across cultures as well as across scope is never easy. I wish they’d done this as a 5 episode arc, rather than a 10. I think the compression of the action and story would have served it better, much as Children of Earth did. It still would not have been the Torchwood I loved, and wanted others to get to know, but it would have probably sustained a better viewership and gotten renewed for the chance to become that. If this was farewell to this moment in SF media history, so be it. At least we got a few series of something really different and fun. But, I do hope other successful shows take the lesson of how easy it is to lose that nugget of what makes a show special when you try to go too big or adjust for what you perceive as what the audiences want. A show is a success for a reason. It can evolve, it needs to evolve. But it cannot lose its heart and soul. In many ways, this series did, despite some great efforts to pull it all together before the final curtain.