!>/files/2006/11/_42229612_torchwoodbbc203300.jpg! I spent this weekend watching the first four episodes of _Torchwood_, the _Doctor Who_ spin-off series that debuted to record audience numbers last month, and I’m happy to report that it is just as much fun as its parent. The tone is darker, I would call it equal parts _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ and _X-Files_ (and creator Russell T. Davies acknowledges drawing inspiration from _Buffy_). The only way to watch the series in America currently is via BitTorrent or similar illicit distribution medium, but it may show up here eventually. Because the show is post-watershed in the UK, it is allowed to have more swearing and nudity and such, which could pose a problem for the American
censors Standards & Practices departments, but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
The story is set in the _Doctor Who_ universe, but in present day. The Torchwood Institute, independent of any government ministry or department, was established by Queen Victoria after an encounter with a werewolf in an episode of _Doctor Who_ titled “Tooth & Claw.” The organization’s mission is to investigate paranormal activity, collect alien technologies, and establish defenses against potential alien threats. Torchwood 3, the branch the series follows, is located in Cardiff, Wales, near a space-time rift previously established in _Who_. The team of five, headed by the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness, monitors paranormal activity in Cardiff, cleans up messes (and sometimes unwittingly causes them), neutralizes various threats, and collects alien gadgets and gizmos and tries to make sense of them (generally to no avail).
Captain Jack has _Who_ history, and no one quite knows where he comes from, how old he is, or what he knows. We do know that he is apparently unable to be killed, and keeps the severed hand of the Doctor in a jar. Gwen Cooper, a beat cop who stumbles upon Torchwood, is our window into their strange world; she serves to remind the other Torchwood team members of the human element of what they are doing and how their work impacts people, things they have forgotten in their very alien working environment.
So far we’ve had a glove that can awaken the dead, but only briefly, an alien being that traveled to Earth to feed off human orgasms (don’t ask), an artifact that can let its holder see the past — and possibly the future, and a half-machine “Cyberman” leftover from the invasion that knocked out Torchwood 1 in London at the end of _Who_’s second series. While there will be no direct _Doctor Who_ crossover into _Torchwood_, the shows do take place in parallel (to the extent that a time travel show can do so) and the universes are the same, which is very rewarding to _Who_ fans but may be a bit off-putting to new viewers.
_Torchwood_, like _Doctor Who_, is good, fun television with hidden depth. It may not be _Battlestar Galactica_ in scope and emotional impact, but it is definitely worth watching.
*Edit Jan 20 12:23am*: I wrote a follow-up post after watching a few more episodes.