DVD Review: “Torchwood: The Complete Second Season”

Written by DVD Reviews, Television, The Three Strike Rule

I’m hooked on Torchwood, the BBC’s latest sci-fi drama (a spinoff from their cult hit, Dr. Who). The entire second season has just been released on a five-disc DVD box set. If you’re a fan of shows like The X-Files, Lost, and Heroes, then you should be watching this well-produced show. With humor, grace, and some very emotional moments, the second season of Torchwood is addictive and outstanding television that deserves a larger audience in the U.S.

Created by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk, Dr. Who), Torchwood¸ derives its name from the fictional Torchwood Institute in Cardiff, Wales. Working outside the boundaries of the government, this mostly top secret agency’s job is to track down extraterrestrials roaming loose on Earth. See, there is an intergalactic rift in the universe, allowing alien creatures from the far reaches of the universe to slip through time and space and end up in Wales. While this set up may sound a bit preposterous (shades of the Sci Fi Channel came to mind), Davies and company wisely chose to have one of the show’s main characters serve as the eyes of the viewer. She is Gwen, played by Eve Myles (pictured). In season one she joined the Torchwood team and had her eyes opened to the craziness out there in space. In season two, she continues to have a few of those “this can’t be real” moments. However she is also engaged and eventually reveals the secrets of Torchwood to her fiancé, Rhys (Kai Owen). Rhys has taken over the role of the person who most often exclaims “what the hell is that?”

Besides Myles, four other fine actors round out the rest of the Torchwood team. Those characters are: the bookish computer specialist Toshiko (Naoko Mori); womanizer/cynic Owen (Burn Gorman), the medical officer; and general support agent, Ianto (Gareth David-Jones). Lastly, the team is led by Captain Jack Harkness, an immortal man born in the 51st Century who was shot back in time by Dr. Who and has been living on Earth and working for Torchwood since the 1800s. Harkness is a complex character. He’s a man out of step with our time. Some of his actions and mannerisms seem like they’re not just from another time, but another planet. Harkness is played by John Barrowman (pictured). Barrowman portrays Harkness as an odd, heightened man who seems out of touch with the 21st Century. Indeed, Barrowman’s broad acting goes against the naturalism of the rest of the show. Yet, because Harkness is so far removed from our reality, having experienced so much and not being able to die, this odd style has its charm.

Besides the weekly dramatic structure of hunting down paranormal acticity in Cardiff, there is the interplay between the team that gives the show its human side. Let’s face it, if we can’t relate to the characters and care for them, then it’s harder to buy the extraordinary things they encounter. Without treading into 90210 territory, here’s a brief rundown. Harkness has a thing for Ianto (who used to be married), but he openly pines for Gwen. While Gwen does have feelings for Harkness, she’s committed to Rhys (whom she marries in an outrageous alien/shape shifter episode). Meanwhile, Owen and Toshiko have unrequited love for each other and then there’s the whole long lost love relationship that Harkness has with his old partner, a rogue named Captain John Hart (guest star James Marsters).  Trust me, it’s not as soapish as it sounds. In fact, there are some heartbreaking moments throughout the second season that will have you fighting back tears.

For those of you worried about having never seen this show before, trust me, you don’t have to have seen the 1st season to get caught up. I hadn’t, and I found myself excited for each new episode. Of the thirteen in season two, there was only one clunker. The rest, in particular “To the Last Man”, which features a love story between Toshiko and a WWI soldier who is cryogenically frozen and thawed out once a year, and “Adrift” in which Gwen searches for a missing teenager (featuring a brilliant guest starring performance by Ruth Jones) are all wonderful. Another standout is the penultimate episode, “Fragments,” reveals how the Torchwood team came together when a near death experience shows flashbacks of the character’s lives and how Harkness roped them into working for Torchwood.

Technically, the picture quality is crisp and the special effects are well done. There are a couple of cheesy CG moments, but they’re easily overlooked. The music by Ben Foster and Murray Gold is dramatic when it has to be and will make you sob without being overly manipulative. The entire collection comes in a nicely packaged box. The extra features are relegated to the last two discs, which is fine because some major plot points from the entire season are discussed in the informative featurette, “The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack.” I recommend waiting to watch it until after you’ve seen every episode.  The final disc is made up of short, behind the scene documentaries for each episode. The producers had the foresight to interview the cast and guest stars as they went through production. What they have done is give viewers a generous look at the television process, and how a series comes together.