“Torchwood” is the BBC’s officially sanctioned, adult-oriented spin-off to “Doctor Who.” Originally launched in 1963 as a sci-fi-slanted kiddy show, “Doctor Who” got the latest in a long line of reboots in 2005 courtesy of head writer/executive producer Russell T. Davies. Having served previously as writer/producer on “Queer as Folk,” Davies brought a rather more mature style to the long-running BBC series. Thanks to the popularity of his work on “Doctor Who,” the BBC let Davies run wild with “Torchwood.”
If you’re not well-versed in the roughly 44 years worth of “Doctor Who” folklore, don’t sweat it. “Torchwood” stands on its own. The show spins off from the last couple season’s worth of “Doctor Who,” which concentrated largely on modern-day England. The main character here is Captain Jack Harkness (American actor John Barrowman), a time-traveling anti-hero from the 31st century. Having reformed his more roguish ways, Captain Jack has now settled into life in the early-21st century by taking over leadership of a clandestine organization known as Torchwood (an anagram of “Doctor Who,” don’t you know).
The purpose of Torchwood is to prepare mankind for the coming wave of alien contact--some of it good, some of it bad. The men and women of “Torchwood” not only fight off the odd alien invasion, they scavenge all the alien technology they can get their mitts on, arming mankind against the future. It’s basically like “X-Files”--if all of Mulder’s wet-dreams came true at once.
Aside from the mixture of sci-fi and gore, “Torchwood” gets credit for its surprisingly frank sexual content. Thanks to shows like “Footballers Wives” and “Hotel Babylon,” the BBC has recognized the international appeal of adult content. For starters, our man Captain Jack is bisexual. Being an enlightened 31st-century sybarite, Jack likes sex, and he isn’t too particular about which gender he gets it from--so long as they’re at least partially as good looking as he is. And trust me, you won’t have to wait too long for some human-on-alien action.
I do wish the premiere episode had been less timid. An awful lot of time was spent introducing a new character (an attractive Welsh police officer played by Eve Myles), leaving aliens all but excised from the frame. Hopefully, future episodes will boast more special effects and fewer explanations. Also somewhat frustratingly, the gadget-obsessed geeks of the Torchwood team seem prone to juvenile behavior. (A lack of sexual self-control and an obsession with misusing alien artifacts seem to infect the entire crew.) Still, this is a nonmilitary, nongovernment team and can be forgiven its occasional lapses in judgment. They do have a really cool secret base, and that’s the most important thing.
With its humor, sex appeal and liberal use of monsters, “Torchwood” plays a bit like a U.K. version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That’s more than enough to earn it a slot on my must-watch list.