Torchwood definitely got off to a clunkier start than its sister spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures. In fact, the quality of the overall show is still debated.
And while there’s some episodes that should definitely be retconned from our minds, there’s a few episodes I think deserve a re-evaluation…
Okay, let’s get it out of the way. When most people think of Cyberwoman they immediately think of how the eponymous Cyberwoman looked and think “man, that episode was awful.” I’m not here to debate how bad the design was. (Spoiler: 10 years later the costume somehow looks even worse.) But I will say the actually story of the episode might be better than you remember.
One of the most memorable parts to me of the first episode of Torchwood is the scene where Jack is telling Gwen how secret all the information about aliens and alien technology is, and how it can only be trusted to a few people, and the scene is intercut with a montage of the rest of the Torchwood crew blatantly misusing their access to alien technology. It sets the tone of the show well, and shows that team are normal people with secrets. The only person not part of this montage is Ianto Jones. It’s not until four episodes in do we learn that when everyone, audience included, isn’t looking, Ianto’s hiding something in the depths of Torchwood Three.
The tragedy of Lisa Hallett accomplishes two things: it adds a lot of depth the the least developed member of the team, and it also adds a level of realism to the post-2005 Doctor Who universe. We know that once the day is saved, the Doctor flies off in his blue box, leaving the cleaning up to other people. It’s an idea touched upon in New Who a lot, most recently in Series 9’s The Woman Who Lived, the idea of “the Doctor’s leftovers.” Cyberwoman takes the idea of cleaning up after a Doctor Who episode and shows how serious a job that is, especially when it’s a finale like Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday.
2. Small Worlds
We’ve already discussed how Torchwood separated itself from Doctor Who by dealing with things the latter doesn’t normally address. The majority of Who episodes end with the Doctor being a hero and inevitably saving the day. Torchwood‘s first season was quick to establish that in reality, saving the day didn’t always mean you were a hero.
Peter J. Hammond’s Small Worlds contains an attempted child abduction and an ending where our protagonist Captain Jack Harkness willingly sacrifices a child (an act we’d later learn he’s familiar with). Small Worlds doesn’t paint Jack as a villain, or berate him for his actions – there was simply no other choice. There was no last minute plan, or clever subterfuge; it was simply a scenario where the Torchwood crew was out of its depth, and Jack had to make the tough call.
The episode’s bleak ending is unexpected, yet welcome. The moral grey areas introduced at the start of the season are reinforced here, and to me being allowed to do darker stories like this is what really separates Torchwood from Doctor Who.
Let’s be honest, most of the time when the Doctor Who universe has a story where humans are “the monster of the week” it’s normally about us being greedy, selfish, or some variant of this:
But sometimes like in Countrycide, written by upcoming Who showrunner Chris Chibnall, humans being the “monsters” is painted very differently.
We’re the monsters this time, but it’s not because of consumerism, or alien mind control: it’s “’cause it made me happy.” Countrycide‘s camping caper with cannibal cults makes no attempt to sugar coat its story, or pretend it’s about anything else other than showing the grimy primal underbelly of humans. Cheery.
4. Torchwood: Miracle Day – All of it
Torchwood: Miracle Day was always going to be a hard sell. American-ised versions of British shows don’t have the greatest track record (the less said about the US Inbetweeners the better). Although viewing figures managed to stay relatively steady for both the US and UK audiences, critically the response was lukewarm. Which stills confuses me.
The majority of Miracle Day‘s criticism stems from its length. While I agree that the 10 episode season could’ve been trimmed down, I disagree with the idea that it should’ve been a 5 episode event like Children of Earth. The story has enough meat, that in my opinion 8 episodes would’ve been enough time to build the thoroughly thought-out immortality scenario we were given. There’s enough fluff, like the Rendition‘s plane sequences, which while exciting take up most of the episode’s running time, and could’ve ultimately been cut to create an overall tighter narrative. The continuity is also a little clunky given how no one in Doctor Who, which at the time Miracle Day was going out was set in 2011, seemed to address the fact that no one was dying.
Bar these minor problems, I felt that Miracle Day still has a lot of personality, while also featuring great characterisation. Pushing Gwen and Jack’s relationship to the breaking point by really challenging their allegiance to one another, while also introducing characters that could only exist in the Torchwood part of the Doctor Who universe. Oswald Danes, acted brilliantly by Bill Pullman right up to the very end, where you find out that Oswald’s arc through the whole series is that he has no arc. Even after everything that happens we’re shown a man with no repentance or remorse for his horrific actions, and his last words in the finale still send chills down my spin as they did when I first watched it in 2011. Characters like Oswald Danes, built around adult and mature concepts, is exactly what Torchwood could accomplish when it used its access to adult content like sex for character studies as opposed to throwaway quirks like Sex Gas.
So, d’you disagree with me and still think these parts of Torchwood should be retconned from our collective memories? Any episodes I didn’t mention that you folks think deserve a re-evaluation? Debate below!