Monday, January 21, 2008

Torch Song

"Torchwood" returns to BBCAmerica on 26 Jan 2008 (note the British date notation; cool huh?). This is an early review of the first episode of the show's second season.

"Torchwood" (Series 2)

When last we left the R-rated "Doctor Who" spin-off series "Torchwood," leader Captain Jack Harkness had abandoned his team to go gallivanting off with the Doctor and Martha to the end of time over on the parent series.

Well, he's back.

And so is the spin-off. One of the most enjoyable shows to crop up on BBCAmerica last year, "Torchwood" concerns the goings-on (or, in Britspeak, the "spooky-do's") of a paranormal investigation team based out of Cardiff, a small city in Wales. According to the show, Cardiff exists on top of a "dimensional rift" which allows all sorts of alien and time-displaced whatchamacallits to come seeping through. As an excuse for a sci-fi romp, it will do.

But the innovation here is with the fluid sexuality of the Torchwood band. During the first series (what we call "seasons," Brits call "series") each of the five main characters had at least one same-sex encounter -- even the straight ones. And occasionally they would take time away from their libidos to save the universe. It's a job.

The new series begins with "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," a restatement of the show's basics. A red blowfish wearing a lavender suit and yellow driving gloves motors through wet nighttime streets, pursued by the Torchwood bunch in a blue-black unmarked van. The blowfish confronts the team, picking out each of their functions and weaknesses before being shot in the fish head (fish body?) by the just-returned Captain Jack.

From there, the episode introduces a new character, Captain John Hart played by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" vet James Marsters. The former Spike storms into the show looking like one of Adam's Ants circa 1978, plants a big wet sloppy one on Captain Jack, then scraps with him for awhile. Once the dust clears, he involves the gang in a search for some radioactive gewgaws and just might have treachery on his mind.

Hart is even more omnisexual then Captain Jack, at one point even taking a shine to a passing poodle.

Captain Jack is played once again by the charismatic John Barrowman with an edgy combination of sexual hunger and sudden bursts of violence. The team stalwart is Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), down-to-earth and dependable. The first series was largely about her character, then a newbie on the Torchwood squad. Now, in Jack's absence, she has become a de facto leader. She also, over the break, seems to have developed an affection towards Jack that comes across as more than a little sudden and arbitrary.

"Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" is a solid re-introduction with a great guest turn by Marsters. I'm not entirely sure about Gwen's out-of-the-blue affection for Jack, but I suppose he just has that effect on everyone.

I know I'm glad to have him back.

3 1/2 stars

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