Shiny Shelf

Torchwood: Everything Changes/Day One

By Mark Clapham on 28 October 2006

The next wave of Russell T Davies’ ‘Doctor Who’ based takeover of the BBC is here, with his first ‘Who’ spin-off ‘Torchwood’. A major project for BBC3, but with same-week repeats on BBC2, ‘Torchwood’ was repeatedly referred to as a cross between ‘The X-Files and ‘This Life’, probably the two most influential TV shows on their respective sides of the Atlantic. The offspring of these mismatched parents seems, on the viewing of the first double bill, an obnoxious little brute with a nasty attitude. It has the attractive cast of slightly self-obsessed and over-sexed characters from ‘This Life’ and the urban monster-hunting of ‘The X-Files’, but also mixes in aspects of old British comic strips and fantasy shows of the 70s and 80s, as well as a big dose of its parent show and a touch of Joss Whedon. The central concept is simple and flexible – Torchwood are a group of secret operatives capturing, concealing and occasionally experimenting with alien technology, operating out of Cardiff.

The first episode, ‘Everything Changes’, is by Russell T Davies and repeats a lot of beats from his first ‘Who’ episode, introducing our down-to-Earth female lead to an otherworldly but attractive mad and his disturbing but intriguing world. As with the Doctor and Rose, Torchwood’s head Captain Jack and WPC Gwen go through a sort of courtship between of resistance, denial and finally acceptance before she joins his team. While echoing his previous script, Davies spends a lot of time demonstrating the differences between ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood’, with a colder, less excitable tone that won’t appeal to the kids who really shouldn’t be watching. The central mystery is pretty simple, but serves as a vehicle to introduce Torchwood, its members and the world they inhabit.

With the introductions out of the way, ‘Day One’ plunges Gwen straight into the way Torchwood goes about its business. For anyone who had managed not to notice the swearing, blood and innuendo in the first episode, the second hammers the point home with a favourite cliché of SF trying to be mature, the sex parasite. The freedoms of BBC3 allow writer Chris Chibnall to push a lot further than shows like ‘Angel’ have done with the same concept, both in terms of what it shows and the offhand manner the Torchwood team deal with the issues. This is by no means a sensible episode of television, with a lot of it either played for laughs or just very silly – a scene in a sperm donation clinic is particularly absurd, and the little piles of dust which the victims are reduced to resemble nothing more than the dehydrated diplomats from the Adam West ‘Batman’ film.

‘Torchwood’ is by no means high art, or serious drama, but it has a huge amount of pace and life to it. As well as solid writing and direction it has a fantastic regular cast, solid production values, and great design work with lovely attention to detail (favourite so far: the KITT strobing light strips in the 4×4). It’s a series that, thanks to modern digital effects, can be done on a BBC3 budget when ten years ago it would have bankrupted BBC1 with its aliens, meteorites and general glossiness. If this is the kind of thing that results from Russell T Davies and his ‘Doctor Who’ production buddies expanding into other areas of drama production, then the BBC should just surrender now and let him do what he wants.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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