Torchwood: The Complete First Season

(2006) *** Unrated
637 min. BBC Worldwide. Cast: John Barrowman, Burn Gorman.

/content/films/3259/1.jpg“Separate from the government, outside the police, beyond the United Nations": that's Torchwood. Though a spin-off from Doctor Who (and an anagram of that science-fiction perennial's title), the BBC's Torchwood owes more to modern science-fiction, fantasy, and procedural television, from The X-Files to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to CSI. Creator Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk) brought Doctor Who (1963-1989) back from the dead in 2005, with a sexy revamp produced by BBC Wales, and in the process, he created the character of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Like the Doctor, Harkness is mysterious and blessed with supernatural ability. And where Davies' Doctor hinted at going both ways sexually before settling into traditional heterosexual Romance with unattainable "Companions," the American-accented Harkness is openly...omnisexual.

Much of Torchwood's appeal owes to Barrowman's leading performance. The openly gay actor (seen opposite Kevin Kline in De-Lovely) is a quadruple-threat of sorts:  a singer-dancer-actor who's energetic and devilishly handsome in the manner of a British Tom Cruise (semi-British: he was born in Glasgow but raised in Illinois). Since Torchwood is an adult-oriented spin-off of the family-friendly Doctor Who, Davies has free rein to sex up the proceedings and detour into gore; he and his writing staff gleefully take full advantage. Harkness' Torchwood team--new recruit Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), Dr. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), Toshiko "Tosh" Sato (Naoko Mori), Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd)--hastily hook up in various combinations, both with each other and with all manner of persuasive aliens.

When they're not "getting busy," their business is to monitor and track (in a tricked-out black SUV) the aliens regularly making their way through a spatial rift in Cardiff, Wales. The Torchwood team usually finds the aliens hostile, necessitating their capture, banishment, or destruction. While those tasks may seem hard enough, they are frequently complicated not only by the human team's personal weaknesses but also by moral quandaries and even larger-looming concernse with consequences for the entire univers. As Captain jack puts it, "The 21st century is when everything changes. And you've got to be ready."

The hot-and-heavy dysfunctional workplace drama sometimes goes overboard (shouldn't these people have a tad more responsibility?), but the trappings are certainly cool (the team's hidden "Hub" serves as a kind of Batcave, complete with pterodactyl, beneath Milennium Square in Cardiff), and it's hard to dislike a show that cheerily builds an episode around an alien that feeds off orgasmic energy. The season's most disturbing outing turns out to have no alien cause at all, but rather reveals the evil that men do, at their worst. The show can be summed up in a single exchange between the flirty Captain Jack and audience surrogate Gwen. "I'm getting tired of following you," says Gwen. "No you're not," Jack replies. "And you never will."

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 6

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 9/16/2008

Distributor: BBC Warner

BBC Warner has put together a nice Blu-ray set for Torchwood: The Complete First Season, and since the Blu-ray edition can be had for essentially the same price as the DVD edition, it's a no-brainer purchase for Torchwood fans. Housed in a book-style package, the set's six discs host 13 episodes and a wealth of bonus material. The image, in 1080i high definition, accurately represents how the series appears on television. The 1.78:1 widescreen image has the slightly dull, slightly soft quality familiar to viewers of this series and the new Doctor Who, but it certainly looks its best here (Torchwood is shot on HD, but the final product looks roughly the same as Doctor Who, which isn't). The image is clean, unbothered by digital noise, and boasts an upgrade in detail in comparison to the DVD, so there's no cause for complaint here. And that's especially true of the audio, which comes in mightily impressive DTS-HD 5.1 tracks.

Every episode of the first season gets a chatty commentary track by various selections of the show's producers, directors, writers, and cast. Those familiar with the Doctor Who commentaries will know what to expect: good-natured confabs focusing on anecdotes about the production, with insights here and there about each show's intentions and themes.

The BBC has proven dedicated to also producing a ton of behind-the-scenes featurettes to surround Torchwood and Doctor Who on the air, online, and on home video. Spread across the 6 discs, the "Torchwood Declassified" series includes "Welcome To Torchwood" Parts One (14:30) and Two (10:37), “Bad Day at the Office” (9:05), “Girl Trouble” (10:06), “The Country Club” (10:25), “Beyond The Grave” (10:41), “Time Flies” (10:31), “Blast From The Past” (10:05), “Jack’s Back” (8:00), “Loving History” (9:04), “Away With The Fairies” (10:06), “There’s Something About Mary” (10:23), “Dead Man Walking” (10:18), “Weevil Fight Club” (10:23), and “To The End” (10:24), this supplementing every episode with extensive comments by the complete cast and guest cast, creator Russell T. Davies, producer Julie Gardner, and the various writers and directors. If you're in a hurry, single out "Bad Day at the Office" for a cool tour of the Hub.

But wait, there's more! This monumental effort spills over into additional featurettes, and while there's some overlap, the level of depth will be appreciated by fans. Disc one includes audio commentaries on “Everything Changes” and “Day One,” "Torchwood on the Scene" (15:40), the "Torchwood Out of This World" segments "Weevil (5:09) and "Sex Gas" (5:25), and "Deleted Scenes" (11:03). Disc two adds audio commentaries on “Ghost Machine," “Cyberwoman” and “Small Worlds," "Torchwood Out of This World" segments “Ghost Machine” (5:15), “Cyberwoman” (04:17) and “Fairies” (5:15). Disc three offers audio commentaries on “Countrycide” and “Greeks Bearing Gifts," as well as the featurette "Sex, Violence Blood and Gore" (15:40) and "The Team and Their Troubles" spots on "Ianto & Evan" (5:11) and "Toshiko & Mary" (5:17).

Disc four continues with audio commentaries on “They Keep Killing Suzie” and “Random Shoes,” "Torchwood on the Road" (9:07), "The Team and their Troubles" spots for "Owen & Suzie" (5:44) and "Gwen & Eugene" (6:01), and "Deleted Scenes" (6:50). Disc five serves up audio commentaries on “Out of Time” and “Combat,” John Barrowman's video diary "The Captain's Log" (10:25), and "Torchwood Moments in the Making" segments "A Wing and a Prayer" (5:16) and "Fight Night" (5:24). Disc six wraps up with audio commentaries on “Captain Jack Harkness” and “End Of Days,” "Torchwood Moments in the Making" segments "Officer and a Gentleman" (5:29) and "Bombing the Base" (5:09), "Torchwood on Time" (10:08), "Deleted Scenes" (14:17), and "Outtakes" (05:36). "The Captain's Log" is a must-see, especially for fans, but the jewel in the crown of all of these extras is "Torchwood on Time," because it captures Barrowman's full onset performance of "Anything Goes." Don't miss it!

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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