OK, I’ve talked in general terms about the opening episodes of Torchwood, but now it’s time to go into a wee bit more detail. I’ve been dithering about how to approach this review, so bear with me if I digress a bit.
The Torchwood Institute was founded by Queen Victoria after the werewolf incident. Having met the Doctor, she realises that there are greater dangers to the Empire than anyone could have guessed. Torchwood’s mission is to deal with alien threats and to seize and adapt alien technology for the defence of Britain, and perhaps the rest of the world.
Over the years, Torchwood grew in power and was able to construct the Canary Wharf tower as its headquarters. And it was able to deploy a devastating weapon against the Sycrorax. But the headquarters was destroyed in the battle with the Cybermen and the Daleks. That much we know. But it seems there is a lot to learn.
Captain Jack is back
In much the same way that we were reintroduced to the Doctor through the eyes of Rose Tyler, we meet the Torchwood team through Gwen Cooper (played by Eve Myles, who appeared in the 2005 series of Doctor Who in another role), a young Cardiff police officer. When the forensic team and the rest of the police are ordered away from a murder scene because Torchwood are coming (Who? Special ops, she’s told), Gwen runs to the top of a nearby car park to see what’s going on.
Torchwood arrive in a modified Range Rover and led by a tall man in an old-style military coat, surround the dead man. We all recognise the man as Captain Jack Harkness, who we last saw on a space station in the far future, when he’d just been brought back to life by Rose Tyler after being exterminated by the Daleks. Quite how he got to 21st Century Cardiff, and more to the point, how he got his coat back, remains to be seen.
Gwen sees the strangers seem to bring the murder victim back to life and question him. Frustrated by the lack of useful information from the dead man, Jack looks up at Gwen and asks what she thinks. Gwen, stunned at what she sees, flees into the night. She returns to her normal life, but while in hospital after getting knocked on the head while trying to break up a bar fight, she sees a familiar figure running up the stairs. But when she gets to the top, she finds a floor sealed off, and nobody in sight. And nobody seems to know who did the sealing. She walks along the deserted corridor and sees a figure emerge…
And from there, the fun really begins. Gwen finds out where Torchwood is based, and attempts to trick her way in, only to find she’s expected. Jack introduces her to the team: Owen Harper – a doctor, Toshiko Sato – computer specialist, Ianto Jones – backup and transport and Suzie Costello – second in command. He also introduces her to an alien. On the way out, Jack takes her up the secret lift which comes up in front of the water sculpture (visible here). Anyone standing on the lift is invisible to passers-by. Jack explains this with some technobabble which reminds anyone who’s been paying attention that he’s been here before. He explains Torchwood’s mission and that the Cardiff base is Torchwood Three. Torchwood One was the Canary Wharf base, Torchwood Two is a man in Glasgow, and Torchwood Four is, well, somewhere. Obviously they can’t have people knowing all this stuff, so Jack slips Gwen an amnesia drug…
Back at work, Gwen sees a reconstruction of the weapon used in a number of recent murders. And it starts to trigger her memory. Going back to Cardiff Bay, she bumps into Suzie Costello. Gwen knows that she knows Suzie, but doesn’t know how. Suzie also seems confused, and pulls a knife – identical to the reconstruction. Suzie explains that she needed fresh bodies to test the alien glove Torchwood have been using to raise the dead. Suzie has clearly lost the plot and is about to run away, but first she needs to clear up some lose ends. Producing a gun, she’s just about to shoot Gwen when Jack rises up on the secret lift. Suzie isn’t fooled by the “perception field” and shoots Jack through the head. She turns to shoot Gwen, just as Jack stands up. We see the bullet wound disappear, which is all a bit too much for Suzie, who kills herself.
Gwen is overwhelmed by what she’s seen. Jack tells her that he can’t die because “something happened” to him. He doesn’t really understand it, but says
One day I’ll find a Doctor – the right kind of Doctor….
And so Gwen is recruited to join Torchwood.
First episodes are always a bit tricky. You’ve got to set up your characters and situations, make it interesting enough to make people want to come back for the next one and still try to tell a story. I think this opening episode did all that very nicely. OK, it is a bit, well, traditional – outsider joins existing organisation after investigating it, lots of silly technology, and an almost excessively cool hero. But it all fits together nicely, and it’s visually stunning.
We’re left with one key line from Captain Jack, which gives us some idea of why he’s where he is, and when he is:
The twenty-first century is when it all changes – you’ve got to be ready
And that is what it’s all about. Lots of fun, and lots of little details that may or may not prove to be significant.
 Cardiff Bay. Nice location, which seems to have changed a bit since my last visit
 The “invisible lift” is just there because it looks cool…