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Gwen: But those people, last night – the people in the car, who are they? What’s Torchwood?
PC Andy: I dunno. Special Ops?
Gwen: Yeah, but what does that mean?
Having reviewed Torchwood Season 2 in this review format, this blog returns to the thirteen episodes (weekly) of Torchwoord Season 1 – in preparation for Season 3 this year!
The first episode of any show has a complex set of tasks to perform.
Normally, it has to introduce the main characters, explain us to the central premise of the show, while having enough mystery and suspense to keep us tuning in for the next episode.
One of the intriguing things about this first episode is that while the characters are established and we definitely want to find out what happens next, one of the mysteries we will be tuning in for is to find out more about what the central premise actually is. What IS Torchwood? (If you think you know already from watching Doctor Who think again.)
The episode begins with a murder crime scene in Cardiff being cleared of police to allow a shadowy team to take over. When we first meet the Torchwood operatives, as Police Constable Gwen Cooper spies down upon them from a rain-lashed balcony, it appears they are using their fantastical technology to solve a murder. So far, so “CSI Cardiff”. Gwen gasps in disbelief as a man is brought back from the dead for two minutes using a mysterious metal glove. (She encounters Captain Jack and Torchwood again, this time up close, as they bundle a monstrous being away from her as she stumbles upon it in a hospital.) Gwen investigates further, finally tracking Captain Jack and company down to their secret base. When confronted they reveal that far from trying to solve the murder they are just testing the unearthly glove’s powers.
The monstrous being they show Gwen in their cells is described as an alien, and the Cardiff rift that allows these otherworldly things through is explained. Gwen is still trying, along with the viewer, to define what this organisation does: later with in a bar Captain Jack, she asks if he is some sort of “alien catcher”.
In this bar over drinks Captain Jack mentions Torchwood 1 (destroyed in “the battle of Canary Wharf” e.g. Doctor Who: Doomsday), Torchwood 2 in Glasgow, Cardiff being Torchwood 3, and Torchwood 4 which has gone missing. Jack explains that no government has control over Torchwood, to prevent them from using alien technology for their own purposes. Separate from the government, outside the police, beyond the United Nations. (If the viewer has seen The Christmas Invasion, Tooth and Claw or Army of Ghosts/Doomsday this does not quite tally with the “for Queen and Country” aspect of Torchwood that has been presented so far. Without Torchwood 1 out of the picture, have they gone rogue?)
So far from explaining what Torchwood is for the first episode, it intriguingly muddies the waters. The Wordbuilding of Torchwood has begun.
The shock ending nicely underlines the idea that they have lost their way somewhat: will the new girl give them some direction? Stylish, pacy – this episode is a great start.