Torchwood is Doctor Who’s post-watershed younger sister. It goes out and parties at night while Doctor Who reads books about space adventures to orphans. It brings strange men and women home with it and has loud, awkward sex in the next room. It giggles during church services while Doctor Who tries halfheartedly to shush it. It’s camp, it’s racy, it’s hilarious, it’s ridiculous, and it’s occasionally heartbreaking. It’s the best. And we’re going to watch it.
As Janey’s recaps of Doctor Who would have you assume, Torchwood picks up after Season 2 of DW, after the Battle of Canary Wharf in “Doomsday.” There are definite spoilers for Doctor Who seasons 1 and 2 in this season of Torchwood, so be warned! It’s a very well-tied-in spinoff, so it helps to already be familiar with what’s happened in the first two seasons of Doctor Who, as well as the third season, with which it runs parallel. But it isn’t strictly necessary. Where Doctor Who’s sweet, childish themes might not appeal to some people, Torchwood picks up the slack and runs off into the sunset with massive explosions and a few scenes you do not want to experience while sitting next to your elderly aunt. Or maybe you do! Maybe you’re into that! What I’m saying is, there were lots of viewers who forewent Doctor Who and dove right into Torchwood for its Shakespearean levels of blood and death and its lack of kid-friendly moral fiber.
So with all of that in mind, why don’t we start this thing off?
Torchwood 1.01: Everything Changes
Police Constables Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Andy Davidson (Tom Price), partners, stand on the edge of a crime scene in the pouring rain in Cardiff, South Wales, sipping coffee and casually discussing their plans for Friday, a few meters away from a dead man. They are so Welsh. “Who is it?” Gwen asks, gesturing at the body surrounded by floodlights. “Dunno, some bloke,” Andy answers. While they watch, the crime scene investigators start to hurry away from the body, herded by another PC, and Gwen stops one of them to ask what’s going on. He says it’s orders from above, they have to clear the site for Torchwood.
As if summoned by the utterance of the name, a soon-to-be-familiar black SUV pulls up to the scene in a sting of music, and four serious-looking people in dark coats get out and walk in their serious-looking group towards the body. Doctor Who fans will note that the biggest and most serious-looking guy is very familiar.
“Who’s Torchwood?” Gwen asks, and the CSI guy tells her that he doesn’t know, special ops or something, and also can he have her coffee? Gwen gives it to him, still unconvinced that they should be in there alone with a dead body that the police are responsible for. She notices a parking garage that overlooks the scene, and runs off to climb up and spy on whatever Torchwood thinks it’s doing.
Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), standing around in the rain and yammering to himself while everyone else ignores him and works kneeling next to the body, is looking just a little older than the Jack we knew from the first season of Doctor Who. “There you go – I can taste it. Oestrogen. Definitely oestrogen. You take the pill, flush it away, it enters the water cycle, feminizes the fish. Goes all the way up into the sky and falls all the way back down on me. Contraceptives in the rain. I love this planet.” He shrugs. “Still, at least I won’t get pregnant. Never doing that again.”
Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) is slipping a large metal glove onto her hand when Jack asks her how it’s going. She’s waiting for it to start working; Dr. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) is too cold and wet for this crap; Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori) is checking another piece of tech and doesn’t care about Owen’s problems; when the glove activates, everyone gets into position, with Suzie behind the body, slipping her gloved hand beneath his head. The rain stops. The lights brighten. The dead guy gasps, terrified, back to life.
Tosh explains what’s going on: that he’s dead, that they only have two minutes, and asks him who killed him. He didn’t see; they stabbed him from behind. They have thirty seconds to spare and nothing else to say. It’s fairly awkward. Jack steps in to make it worse. He asks what the guy saw when he died. “Nothing. I saw nothing. Oh my God, there’s nothing!” And then he dies again. Cheerful!
They bicker about the proper technique for doing this; they’ve apparently done it more than once, and it’s never gone very well. Jack looks up through the rain to where Gwen is staring down from the parking garage and calls out to her, “What do you think?”
Gwen, shocked and confused by what she just witnessed, runs away.
Still a little shaken, Gwen goes home at the end of her shift to find her adorable boyfriend, Rhys Williams (Kai Owen), sitting on their couch and watching a program about reuniting long-lost family members. Gwen and Rhys are suitably adorable together. He heard about the murder and asks if she was there, and she says that she wasn’t and goes to bed.
In the morning, Gwen asks a coworker to run a search on a Captain Jack Harkness, and hands coffee out to the detectives working on the case of the man who was murdered the night before. There have been three of these murders, with nothing linking them but the murder weapon: a big, weirdly-shaped knife. Mysterious.
Andy and Gwen start their day off with a nice bar brawl; approaching the pub, Gwen asks Andy if he knows what Torchwood is. “I bet you ten quid they’re DNA specialists. It’s all DNA these days, like that CSI bollocks. CSI: Cardiff, I’d like to see that. They’d be measuring the velocity of a kebab.” Inside, trying to break up the fight to the dulcet tones of The Pipettes, Gwen gets pushed back against a wall and hits her head.
At the hospital, after getting patched up, Gwen sees the familiar blue coat of Jack Harkness flying up a stairwell, and runs to follow. At the top of the stairs, she finds a sealed off hallway, and asks a passing porter what’s happening inside. He doesn’t know, so she steps through to investigate, and almost immediately comes face to face with an ugly mug that will become mighty familiar: a Weevil. No one has been able to adequately explain why all of these big, bipedal sewer-dwelling aliens wear boiler suits with the Torchwood logo on them, but they certainly do. Gwen thinks it’s a guy with a mask, so she questions it, and it looks quizzically back at her until the porter appears at the end of the hall to say he looked into why it’s sealed off, and no one else seems to know either. He notices the Weevil and exclaims over how great the costume is, getting closer, saying that even the teeth are convincing, and he promptly gets his throat ripped out.
Just past the nick of time, Torchwood appears in the hallway, and Jack grabs Gwen and runs her down the corridor while the rest of the team subdues the Weevil. Gwen runs down the stairs, out into the hospital lobby, and, quickly coming to her senses, she takes off for the parking lot to follow them. The SUV almost hits her, but she gets into her panda car and gives chase, leaving Andy standing alone, holding their lunch. She tails them, running their plates over the phone, and her coworker gets back to her with that search on Jack. The only record of a Captain Jack Harkness is an American volunteer for the Royal Airforce, but he disappeared in 1941. More mysterious! Or not, if you remember that in “The Doctor Dances,” Jack flies away in the TARDIS during the London Blitz!
She follows the SUV to Cardiff Bay, specifically to Roald Dahl Plass, in front of the Millennium Center, and gets out when they do to chase them on foot as they walk towards the Water Tower, the big metallic fountain at the head of the plass. She’s distracted by a security guard telling her she can’t park there, and in the ten seconds she’s not looking, Torchwood disappears.
Gwen sits in the patrol car, listening to a coworker explain on the phone that the plates she had him run for the SUV don’t exist. Also her boss is angry. Andy finally appears again and gets in. “I have walked,” he says. “I have bloody walked.” Gwen tries to explain what happened to Andy, pacing around the Water Tower, but he thinks she’s ill. All of the hospital staff is present and accounted for; she couldn’t possibly have seen that porter get mauled to death. He takes her home.
She finds Rhys cooking dinner for the two of them, and apologizes, saying that she has to work tonight. She goes immediately back to the plass to investigate further, and a passing pizza delivery motorbike gives her an idea. She goes to a nearby pizza place and asks the kid behind the counter whether they deliver to a Jack Harkness. No. J Harkness? No. Just Harkness? Nope. …Torchwood? “Oh aye! We do them all the time! They’re good customers.”
Enter Gwen, carrying pizza boxes, walking up to the little Tourist Information Center hidden along the edge of the bay. She steps inside and finds a vaguely shack-ish office stacked with pamphlets and rustic Welsh charm, and from out of the bead curtain hiding the Staff Only area steps a young man in a suit carrying a cup of coffee. Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) is eerily unsurprised to see her, and buzzes open a hidden door leading into a stone corridor with a too-friendly smile. She takes the lift down, down, down to the Hub.
The Hub is a cavernous underground base, ugly in that great science fiction way, full of metal and cement, with catwalks crisscrossing in the air to connect the different areas. Gwen stares around, taking it in: there’s a hand in a jar, a woman soldering something, the extended base of the Water Tower coming down through the center of the hideout, Jack walking out of a suspended conference room and down a catwalk, and the two others working at their workstations. Jack goes past her with a glance and walks into his office. She starts to follow him. Everyone is ignoring her.
Until Tosh starts giggling. Owen gives up, too, laughing, “I can’t do this, I’m sorry! I’m rubbish!” They totally had this planned. They’d been watching her wander around outside on CCTV. Jack bemoans the lost opportunity to try and be a cool undercover agency for once, and Gwen, feeling suitably mocked, says that she should go. They are way past that point now. (Owen, by the way, was the one who ordered pizza under the name Torchwood. “That would be me. Sorry, I’m a twat.”) Tosh explains that they covered up the murder of the porter, and Jack invites Gwen down to meet the Weevil. As Gwen goes to follow, a pteranodon swoops down out of nowhere under the high vaulted ceiling. “What was that?” Gwen shrieks.
“Pterodactyl,” Tosh says, bored. Offscreen, Jack calls, “Are you coming?”
That exchange is basically all you need to know about Torchwood.
Down in the cells, Jack introduces Gwen to the fact that Janet The Weevil is an alien, not a guy in a mask. He tells her to look into its eyes, in a very Ford Prefect way, as though she can tell exactly how far away from its home planet it is just from eye contact. Jack clearly didn’t think that one through.
When they surface again, Jack introduces the team: Owen is their medic, Toshiko is their tech expert, Suzie is his right-hand man, and Ianto is their butler of sorts. “Ianto cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time.” Jack makes it sound like they’re going to gala events, not crime scenes and abandoned warehouses. “And he looks good in a suit.” (“Careful,” Ianto says, smirking. “That’s harassment, sir.”)
Gwen knows that she shouldn’t be hearing any of that; she’s sure that they’re going to keep her quiet somehow, but Jack just shrugs it off and tells everyone that they can go home for the day. He takes Gwen out of the Hub via the scenic route: the invisible lift. It rises up out of the Hub and slots into place on the plass below the Water Tower. It has a perception filter so that passersby can’t see them standing on it. The perception filter is there, by the way, because the TARDIS has landed in that spot before.
Jack takes Gwen out for a drink and explains what Torchwood does. They catch aliens, and salvage their technology to arm the human race against the threat of invasion. The 21st century is when it all changes, and they have to be ready. Torchwood is outside of the government, beyond the United Nations, because if any one power got their hands on their technology, they could use for their own advantage. So, Gwen points out, could they. Jack poopoos such a notion; all of the toys stay on base!
How wrong you are, captain! This evening, we find out, Tosh took a bit of alien tech home with her. So did Owen, in the form of a glowing perfume bottle. Suzie took the glove. One can only imagine what Ianto has.
Jack explains that Torchwood One was London, which fell at the end of Doctor Who S2 with the Battle of Canary Wharf. Torchwood Two is a weird old dude in Glasgow. Cardiff is Torchwood Three. Torchwood Four is missing, but they’ll turn up. They chose Cardiff because there is a rift in time and space that runs through the city. Doctor Who fans, we know that! “The Unquiet Dead”! “Boomtown”! We’re well aware. Jack says that most of the stuff they find doesn’t crash-land; it washes in through the Rift. Sometimes things just fall through, and that’s why Torchwood is there. To collect it and use whatever comes. Their goal is just to collect and analyze, they aren’t around to help anyone. “We’re busy.” They weren’t investigating that murder victim Gwen watched them resurrect; they were just testing the glove. Gwen says that’s too bad; she wants to use what they know to help the case. Jack says, “If you remember. How’s your drink?”
In fabulously self-aware science fiction fashion, Jack has dosed Gwen’s drink with “retcon,” a pill that when taken will wipe the imbiber’s memory of all things either during a timeframe or pertaining to a certain subject. Fun fact: retroactive continuity. Jack has made sure that Gwen won’t remember any of what’s happened tonight, so Gwen runs home to try and type everything up before she forgets.
Then we have a nice little montage of Gwen typing things about members of Torchwood and those members doing things with their supposedly locked-away alien tech.
Owen tries chatting up a girl at a bar, and when he strikes out, he sprays himself in the face twice with his glowing perfume bottle, and suddenly he’s the most attractive thing the girl has ever seen. We’ll assume that this is pheromone spray. When the girl’s boyfriend finds them after she’s dragged Owen out into the street to take him home with her, he wants to fight. Owen says, “Well, if it makes it easier,” and sprays himself again. The boyfriend kisses the hell out of him. Owen, delighted, hails a taxi for the three of them.
Because Tosh is effectively me, she’s taken home a device that automatically scans the books on her shelves and puts them into her computer. This was before the advent of the Kindle, so it’s super cool for her. Keen watchers will note that the same device is used later as an alien lockpick. Very versatile.
Suzie has the glove. She brings a fly back to life. That has to be the most annoying of all tests for that particular item, because now she has a fly in her apartment.
Gwen’s typing continues as she begins to doze from the sedative in the drug. “TORCHWOOD READ THISA!!!!!! They mad eyou amnsia REMEMBER CAPTAIN JACK” is among her useful notes. Back at the Hub, still quietly working away, Ianto uses the Torchwood Mainframe computer to hack into Gwen’s desktop and delete her reminder. She nods off, blinks awake, and stares uncomprehendingly at her blank computer screen before falling asleep again.
In the morning, Jack is, for some reason, standing on a rooftop along the bay. He does that. Rhys wakes Gwen up at her desk with a cup of coffee, assuming that she went out and got drunk the night before and fell asleep there. Gwen doesn’t remember anything, so she guesses he’s right and goes to work. There is a drawing of the weapon connected to that string of murders hanging up, and Gwen feels like it’s familiar, but she can’t place it. She floats through her whole day thinking about it, ignoring Andy while he’s babbling, ignoring Rhys while he’s babbling, laying in bed at two in the morning. The memory of the knife includes sparks, like a welding torch. She gets up to sketch it, and that’s when she notices an event program for the Millennium Center with the word “Remember” written in her own handwriting. So she goes there.
Roald Dahl Plass is empty, and Gwen doesn’t understand, until a figure appears around the side of the Water Tower, and Gwen remembers more: a welding mask, Suzie’s face. Suzie, as though Gwen remembers everything, starts talking: she checked with the police, and found out that they had the sketch of the knife, which she pulls out of her bag, to Gwen’s surprise and fear. Suzie says that she thought Gwen might have seen it, and that can break the amnesia, just one specific image, if you’re clever. Suzie is flustered and panicky as she digs through her bag again and pulls out a gun to point at Gwen. She’ll shoot her, and then run away, because the others will know by morning that she was the one who killed those people. She needed to do it to test the glove. “I loved this job, I really loved it. It gets inside you. You do this job for long enough and you end up thinking – how come we get all the Weevils and bollocks and shit? Maybe there’s better stuff out there, beautiful stuff, just they don’t come here. This planet’s so dirty, that’s all we get, the shit.” She wants to use the glove enough to be able to resurrect permanently. “You’ve got to get inside this stuff. You have to surrender yourself to it. I did, with the knife and the glove.”
Jack has been slowly coming up on the invisible lift, but Suzie turns to him. “And that’s why the perception filter isn’t going to work on me.” And she shoots him in the head. To Gwen, he falls dead at her feet out of nowhere. Then Suzie steps towards Gwen, raises the gun and hesitates for a few seconds – just long enough for Jack to stand up behind her, the hole in his head healing itself with terrible 2007 BBC computer graphics. “Put down the gun. Suzie, it’s over. Come with me.”
Suzie looks at Jack, then at Gwen. Then, instead of dealing with the fallout from killing three people, she shoots herself in the head.
In that moment, Gwen breaks the retcon and remembers everything, then falls to her knees in horror.
In the Hub, Ianto locks the glove and knife away in a container marked “Not For Use,” then stores them in the secure archives in Jack’s office. Tosh and Owen shamefacedly return the tech that they took home with them. Jack stores Suzie’s body away in the Torchwood morgue.
On the roof of the Millenium Center, watching the sun come up, Gwen and Jack have a little talk about the fact that Jack is apparently immortal. “I can’t die.” In the vaguest possible terms, Jack explains that something happened to him a while back; he died, and came back, and now he can’t be killed. Doctor Who fans remember Jack dying on Satellite 5 when he was shot by a Dalek, and then being brought back to life when Rose swallowed the Time Vortex and played god for a few minutes. Ever since then, no matter what, he can’t die. “One day I’ll find a Doctor, the right sort of Doctor and maybe he can explain it, but until then…” Tosh and Owen don’t know, and he asks Gwen not to tell them. “It doesn’t matter anyway,” she says. “You’ll only wipe my memory again.”
“Why would I do that? Torchwood’s got a vacancy, a job going spare. Do you want it?” He says that maybe Gwen was right; they could do more to help people. “What do you think? You want to join up?”
Gwen thinks for about eight seconds. “Yeah. I do, yes.”
The camera pulls back and we see Myfanwy The Pteranodon flying benignly over Cardiff Bay.
And that, friends, is the story of how Gwen Cooper stepped onto a new career path. Join me next week for “Day One,” where they waste no time getting to the alien sex gas.