Torchwood: The Complete Second Season (review)

Bloody Torchwood

(For my episode-by-episode commentary on Series 2, start here, with “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.” This is a spoiler-free look at the DVD package.)

Torchwood is about ka-boom!” says John Barrowman — who stars as Captain Jack Harkness in this Doctor Who spinoff — in one of the making-of Torchwood Declassified on this new DVD set, just out from BBC Video. John’s a doll, cute as hell, a talented actor, etc., etc…. but I’m not sure I agree with him here.

Yes, it’s true that this BBC series, which revolves around a secret agency that fights alien influence in modern-day Cardiff, is packed with action and things blowing up and way-cool science-fictional ideas that I promise you haven’t seen dealt with on other SF shows (and, yes, some that you have). But it’s primarily about how people deal with all that. Because if it isn’t, why should we bother?
And we like these Torchwood people, and are concerned about how they’re dealing with this stuff, even when we don’t like them, which is pretty frequently, actually, because they’re often not very likable. There’s ex-cop Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), who is awfully inconsiderate to her boyfriend, Rhys (Kai Owen), from whom she keeps lots of secrets… though it’s perhaps no better when she finally clues him in, as she does in these 13 episodes. There’s medical doctor Owen Harper (Burn Gorman: Penelope, Fred Claus), who’s a real son of a bitch… and gets worse when he passes a threshold in these 13 episodes that all of us pass over, though not quite in the same way. There’s scientist Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori: Topsy-Turvy), who’s brilliant when it comes to science and hopeless when it comes to people. There’s tea-boy/soldier Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), who’s just lost, though he puts on a good front.

And there’s Jack (Barrowman: The Producers, De-Lovely). Sorry, John, but Torchwood is all about Captain Jack Harkness, Time Agent from the 51st century, man about the universe, a lover and a fighter, and one of the most intriguing characters to come out of the 45-year history of Doctor Who. If there is an overarching theme to the second season of this extraordinary series, it is that we learn a helluva lot more about Jack… and are left with a helluva lot more questions and mysteries about him than we had before. For one: the incursion of one of Jack’s former associates — and former best friend — Captain John Hart, a rogue Time Agent, whose appearances bracket this season in episodes 1 and 13, raises more questions than it answers. And it doesn’t hurt that Hart is played by James Marsters, who ascended to geek godhood for playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ah, the Mobius strips of pop-culture references that fold in upon themselves with Torchwood

So, yes, over the course of these 13 episodes, we learn more about Jack’s past (some of which is in the future, and some of which is in the past), as he and the Torchwood gang confront some sticky situations. I won’t touch much on episodes till I get to my episode-by-episode blogging, but Episode 4, “Meat,” is truly one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen, and how this season ends is one of the more daring directions I’ve ever seen an ongoing series turn in. As long as Jack returns for next season — and it seems that he will — it’s all good.

The DVD: As with Season 1, this set is an exercise in frustration. Why aren’t the deleted scenes available with the episodes they’re deleted from, instead of shuffled onto a ghetto of their own on Disc 4? The outtakes (that is, flubs and bloopers and crackups) on that disc are amusing, though, but I’m not sure that “The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack,” a “handy guide” to Jack’s confusing timeline, which has crossed itself more than once, is any more enlightening that the episodes themselves. (Don’t watch this till after you finish this season, because it’s full of spoilers.) Disc 5 is given over to “Torchwood Declassified,” the series of making-of featurettes that, in England, air immediately after an episode — it seems that these would be better placed with the episodes they’re about, too.

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