Monday, March 22, 2010

From the vault: I'm completely taken with "Torchwood"

[Tami's note: Last night, I finally watched the 2009 Torchwood miniseries "Children of the Earth" and I was reminded again why I find this show so enjoyable and groundbreaking. The miniseries gave all appearances of being the show's finale, but you can still find it on Netflix. And, who knows, they brought Dr. Who back. Maybe Torchwood will be similarly resurrected.

Anyhow, I think this series is one worth hunting down if you can. Here is a review from 2008, when I first discovered it.]

Why does the U.K. always get the best TV shows? Smart. Funny. Forward-thinking. Maybe I'm just a starry-eyed American, infatuated with exotic offerings from across the pond. Maybe British TV is chock full-o-crap like "According to Jim."

At any rate, I've found a new guilty pleasure on BBC America. It's called Torchwood and it is a spin-off of the Dr. Who series. Now, I'm not a big fan of sci fi, though I have fond memories of watching Dr. Who on PBS when I was a kid, and I had to watch the series when Christopher Eccleston resurrected the doctor a couple years back. But this show is so different from anything I've encountered that I am mesmerized.
The series is set in Cardiff and follows the Welsh branch of a covert agency called the Torchwood Institute which investigates extraterrestrial incidents on Earth and scavenges alien technology for its own use (its origins are outlined in the Doctor Who episode "Tooth and Claw"). To paraphrase Torchwood Three's commander-in-chief, Captain Jack Harkness, the organisation is separate from the government, outside the police, and beyond the United Nations. Their public perception is as merely a 'special ops' group. SOURCE
It's not Torchwood's storyline that is so captivating, it is the way the show eschews one-dimensional, stereotypically drawn characters and relationships. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered that the toothsome, manly-man series hero Captain Jack was carrying on an affair with his male assistant Ianto Jones, all while making eyes at police assistant and team member, Gwen Jones, a glamorous team member with a gap-toothed grin and a doughy fiance whom she dearly loves. Gay (or bisexual) heroes? Glamorous women with physical "flaws?" What kind of TV show is this? [Tami's note: Torchwood will also kill off a major character without blinking.]

I am also fond of the series' treatment of women of color. Dr. Toshiko Sato, played by Asian actress Naoko Mori, is a lead character and though she seems to be written into the usual lovelorn woman of color role, at least she is a lead character and they do seem to let her get some from time to time. Then there is the smart and beautiful medical student Martha Jones, a recurring cross-over character from Dr. Who, which featured an episode where Jones, a black woman, saved the world and the hero.

It is not just Torchwood’s novel treatment of main characters who are women of color, I am also impressed by the show’s treatment of guest characters. The episode “Sleeper” featured Beth, a black woman working to come to terms with a disturbing revelation. (She’s part of an alien sleeper cell. Hey, it’s sci fi. What do you want?) That the character was black was incidental to the plot, but significant to me because Beth was not drawn as sassy and strong, and she wasn’t blonded and beweaved. I was struck that not only is Nikki Amuka-Bird, the actress who portrayed Beth, an average black woman with African features, but her character was drawn as frightened, vulnerable and heroic. Beth was also involved in a loving relationship, incidentally with a white man. I cannot think of many occasions when I have seen a similar multi-dimensional portrayal of a black woman on American television.

What is most compelling about Torchwood is that all of the things I mentioned above—the fluid sexuality, interracial relationships, women of color in prominent roles, aren’t talked about in show plots. They aren’t part of “very special episodes.” These things just are. Torchwood seems to normalize groups that American television regularly marginalizes. And I say, “Bravo!” I’ll sit through cheesy episodes about alien invasions to be a part of this egalitarian world for an hour each week.

And to cap off my love of this show, on an episode I watched last night, I was introduced to a great song. Now you know I'm hooked. Moby's "One of These Mornings" was the soundtrack for another doomed Toshiko Sato love affair.

Just as a bonus, here is a You Tube video that features the Moby song:


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