Torchwood is a Doctor Who spin-off series that first aired in 2006. Could now be a good time to return to the most famous secret organisation in the world?
With Russell T Davies returning as Doctor Who‘s showrunner, there has been much talk about creating an expanded Doctor Who universe along the lines of the MCU. Indeed, Davies himself has pondered this idea, even suggesting that a TV series starring the Fifth Doctor’s companion Nyssa could work.
And yet there was a time, some 16 years ago, when such an expanded Doctor Who universe existed – albeit without Nyssa. Torchwood was part of it this, and was Doctor Who‘s first fully-fledged spin-off series starring the Doctor’s former companion Captain Jack Harkness who, from his secret base underneath Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff, led a crack of team of specialists as they purloined and fought against the flotsam and jetsam that fell through South Wales’ biggest breach in space and time, otherwise known as The Rift.
But Torchwood was markedly different from Doctor Who in that it was aimed exclusively at an adult audience. It existed in the same universe as Doctor Who, but it dealt with storylines and themes that a family-friendly show like Doctor Who would never touch, like sex-obsessed monsters and corrupt governments that donated children to hostile alien races to save their own skin. ‘Love & Monsters’ this wasn’t.
And whilst there’s currently no word as to whether Russell T Davies and his team will resurrect Torchwood anytime soon (which technically ended in 2011) could now be the time for Doctor Who fans to re-evaluate – or perhaps discover – this cult SF series?
Certainly, Torchwood is by no means “dead” when it comes to the audio world. The production company Big Finish still releases new Torchwood adventures on a monthly basis which star the original cast members like Eve Myles, Naoko Mori and so on. Indeed, some of the stories are even penned by Torchwood‘s own Gareth David Lloyd, who played the ever-faithful Ianto Jones.
And whilst it might be a bit confusing to jump into these adventures without some prior knowledge of the Torchwood universe, they are certainly worth your time, as fascinating pieces of standalone story-telling if nothing else. The monthly adventures may be relatively small in scale (opting for casts of two or three people) but they are highly effective because of their self-imposed restrictions. For instance, the episode ‘We Always Get Out Alive‘ is set entirely within a car, and sees the two Torchwood regulars Gwen and Rhys trying to find their way home in the dead of night – all the while wondering if an alien is trapped in the vehicle with them.
And if you are familiar with the original Torchwood series and are still lamenting its somewhat abrupt ending in 2011, it’s worth remembering that Big Finish also produced the official fifth season on audio. Launching in 2017, the range kicked off with three volumes of ‘Aliens Among Us,’ which were soon followed by the ‘God Among Us‘ trilogy. These reunited the characters of Gwen and Rhys with the legendary Captain Jack Harkness, as well as Tracy-Ann Oberman as Yyvonne Hartman, who featured in the Doctor Who episodes ‘Army of Ghosts’ and ‘Doomsday.’
But if you’re still wondering whether a more adult take on the Doctor Who universe is your kind of thing, it’s worth remembering that Torchwood added many extra layers to popular stories. For example, the Torchwood episode ‘Cyberwoman’ was a sequel of sorts to the aforementioned ‘Doomsday,’ which saw a mass invasion of Cybermen at Torchwood’s London branch. Its employees were upgraded en masse, but one survived (a woman called Lisa) who just so happened to be the girlfriend of Ianto Jones.
The problem, though, was that Lisa had been rescued whilst she was part-way through cyber conversion, leaving her in something of a half Cyberman / half human state. ‘Cyberwoman,’ therefore, dealt with Ianto’s desperation as he tried to find a way to restore the woman he once loved, all without Captain Jack and his other colleagues finding out. It was a more emotional (and altogether more traumatising) story that the main Doctor Who series was less likely to explore. But at the same time, it dealt with the very real consequences of the universe that the Doctor occupied; it explored what happens, exactly, to the people who are left behind after devastating invasions.
And then there is the political dimension which, again, is not something Doctor Who was ever likely to touch – not necessarily because it was inappropriate, but because it might not have been as interesting for younger viewers. But as Torchwood: Children of Earth proved in 2009, it made for very gripping television. This serial was all about an enigmatic alien force that was demanding a ‘tribute’ of children from the governments of Earth, and the serial dealt with the chess-like machinations of the politicians as they tried to find a way to cede to the invaders’ demands.
And the series that followed – Torchwood: Miracle Day – was darker still. This time, planet Earth was trying to deal with a world in which human death was no longer possible, and people just kept on living. The response from the world governments was harrowing to say the least, and all the while the viewer is left wondering how, exactly, these events might play out if they occurred in real life. As such, it could be argued that Torchwood: Miracle Day was something of a precursor to the likes of programmes such as Black Mirror. And it was not comfortable viewing.
On the flip side, the beautiful thing about Torchwood was that its events ran parallel to those in the main Doctor Who series, with Torchwood stories frequently blending into those from Doctor Who. Of course, one can’t enjoy the same synergy today, unless you choose to complement your Torchwood viewing with some of David Tennant’s Who. But it would certainly be fascinating if Torchwood returned under the leadership of Russell T Davies, and if its stories somehow dovetailed with those led by Ncuti Gatwa, the Fourteenth Doctor.
But tell us what you think. Would you like Torchwood to return as part of an MCU-style shared universe for Doctor Who? And if you’ve never seen it before, are you tempted to give it a try? Let us know in the comments below.
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