‘Torchwood’ rewind: We revisit the ‘Doctor Who’ spin-off’s first season

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“It’s like Doctor Who… but in Cardiff… and there’s a bit more sex and swearing.”

When Torchwood first arrived on BBC Three in the autumn of 2006 it was met with something of a mixed reaction.

In its efforts to seem more adult than its family-oriented sister show, the first season comes across as decidedly juvenile in places and its central characters are often shallow and unlikable. Yet something about Torchwood worked, beginning a journey that lasted for a further three seasons and the show was revived last year in the form of full-cast audio plays from Big Finish.

Buy the Season 1 box set on Amazon here.


What was it about?

Torchwood was developed as a spin-off from Doctor Who following its successful revival by Russell T. Davies and the BBC Wales team.

Davies devised an Earth-based series centring around a mysterious government organisation who investigated and hunted down extraterrestrial events. Throughout 2006’s season of Doctor Who, Davies seeded the Torchwood Institute into the season arc and established it within the programme universe.

Its premise has been compared to that of The X-Files as well as Buffy and Angel and there are certainly some broad similarities. Fundamentally, however, Torchwood is a different beast with a different heartbeat at its core.

As with Doctor Who companions, Season 1 is shown largely through the eyes of Gwen Cooper as she finds herself drawn into this crazy and impossible world. This is Gwen’s journey and we’re invited to share it with her as she becomes accustomed to life as an employee of Torchwood.


Who was in it?

Heading up this team of investigators was John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness who had previously appeared as a companion to Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor in the final five episodes of 2005’s season. Filling out the rest of the cast were Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Indira Varma (Suzie Costello), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams) and Tom Price (PC Andy).

Each member of the Torchwood team gets at least one episode that focuses primarily on them, but it’s Jack, Gwen and Owen who have the most time devoted to them over a number of episodes.

Major storylines during Season 1 include Gwen and Owen’s affair, Gwen’s attempts to keep her job secret from her boyfriend, Rhys, and Owen’s emotional self-destruction following Diane’s departure.


Who were the villains and monsters?

A recurring monster throughout the first season were the Weevils; vicious animal-like aliens who mauled their victims.

Over the course of the 13 episodes we also saw an alien that lived off orgasmic energy, a Cyberman remnant, immortal and deadly fairies, an Arcateenian criminal and, perhaps the biggest monster of them all, the biblical demon Abaddon. There were villains aplenty too, including most notably the enigmatic Bilis Manger as well as the cannibalistic Evan Sherman, Mark Lynch and, in a superb plot twist, Suzie Costello.


Which episodes were the best?

There’s a lot to enjoy in this season, but the standout episodes are ‘Small Worlds’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Captain Jack Harkness’.

Sapphire & Steel creator, Peter J. Hammond penned ‘Small Worlds’ an episode which centres around ancient and mysterious fairies. What makes this episode so memorable is the hopelessness of it all. Despite their best efforts, the team are essentially powerless to stop what happens and Jack is faced with an impossible choice. Here we also learn a little more about Jack’s past in the guise of the vulnerable Estelle who meets a tragic and indignant end at the hands of the fairies.

‘Out of Time’ and ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ were both written by Catherine Tregenna and are two of the finest examples of pure character pieces.

In ‘Out of Time’, we’re introduced to Diane, John and Emma who’ve accidentally flown through the rift from 1953. As the episode develops we see how each of them copes with life in the modern world. Owen enters into a relationship with Diane but is left brokenhearted when she decides to fly her aircraft back through the rift whilst John eventually takes his own life because he cannot bear to live in a world where his son no longer recognises him. Ultimately, Emma is the only one who manages to forge a new life for herself.

‘Captain Jack Harkness’ is an altogether different episode which sees Jack and Toshiko become stranded at a dance hall in 1941. Toshiko leaves equations for the team to find in the present day in order for them to bring her and Jack back. Yet it is the touching and romantic story between Jack and the real Captain Jack Harkness which is the real heart of this episode. There’s a touch of the futility about it all as Jack knows the fate of the man he stole his name from and understands their relationship will always be a fleeting moment lost in time.



The name ‘Torchwood’ was originally used to disguise episodes of Doctor Who during production of the first revived season.

Torchwood began life as a science-fiction/crime drama called Excalibur.

The drug retcon used in several episodes is a reference to the term ‘retroactive continuity’.

Naoko Mori had previously portrayed Dr. Sato in 2005’s Doctor Who episode ‘Aliens of London’.

In ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ a Vote Saxon poster can be seen.

The Tenth Doctor’s hand is kept in a glass tank by Jack.

An earlier attempt at a Doctor Who spin-off was attempted in the 1980s with K9 and Company. However, Torchwood was the first to achieve a full series commission.

In ‘End of Days’ a script can be seen in Burn Gorman’s back pocket when Jack fires Owen.

Indira Varma was presented as a principal character during early promotion in order to hide the shock ending to ‘Everything Changes’.

Another Arcateenian later appears in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode ‘Invasion of the Bane.’


Best quotes

Jack: “Contraceptives in the rain. Love this planet. Still, at least I won’t get pregnant. Never doing that again.”

Owen: “I started looking into devil worship and stuff from that era, see if there’s anything about plucking out hearts, and would you believe it, there’s nothing! They ate eyeballs, they drank blood, they had sex with animals, but they did not pluck out each others’ hearts, because obviously, that would have been weird.”

Swanson: “At last, you must be Torchwood. My team bitch about you all the time.”

Ianto: “That’s the thing about gloves, sir. They come in pairs.”

Jack: “I went to war when I was a boy. I was with my best friend. We got caught crossing the border over enemy lines. They tortured him, not me, because he was weaker. They made me watch him die. And they let me go.”

Jack: “Under any other circumstances, an exuberant Roman soldier would be my idea of a perfect morning.”


The verdict

Season 1 is at times hugely enjoyable but often vastly uneven and it takes a few episodes to bed in.

The tone varies dramatically from the sex-focused ‘Day One’ to the heartfelt ‘Out of Time’ and some of the dialogue in early episodes comes across rather crass.

Yet there is enormous potential here, particularly in the second half, and the main cast are largely excellent. Each actor works well together but the characters are sadly underdeveloped in places making it difficult to care about them. Significantly underused is David-Lloyd as Ianto who would go on to be a major player and remains a fan-favourite to this day.

Perhaps most importantly, Season 1 not only establishes the world but also what worked and didn’t work, allowing the production to iron out the creases in future years.


Buy the Season 1 box set on Amazon here.

What did you think of Season 1? Let us know below…