Tiffany Vogt

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Who Killed TORCHWOOD? A Look At How The Popular Sci-Fi Show Has Lost Its Way

In * By Tiffany Vogt, * Opinion columns, * Sci-fi columns, * Showcases, * TV Addict, Torchwood on August 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm

After last week’s controversial episode of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, the question that haunted us was not whether it was okay to torture a man to death if he cannot die, but rather:  who killed TORCHWOOD?  For a show that fans had been clamoring for and which cheered when it was announced that it had risen from certain death and cancellation by the joint financial efforts of Starz and BBC America to resurrect it as an American television series, who knew that within such a short timeframe that one would be wishing it had never been raised from the dead.

The irony is that TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY tells the tale of what the world would look like if death ceased to exist.  Miracle Day was the day that people stopped dying.  Death had finally abandoned us and left the entire human race to rot for eternity.  The blessing soon became a curse and TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY sought to show how horrifying never-ending life can be.

But with only 10 episodes granted for this miraculous fourth season of TORCHWOOD, and seven episodes having aired to date, I found myself thinking something appalling:  I wish it had never come back.

When TORCHWOOD ended its third and final season as a British series with CHILDREN OF EARTH, it was heralded as its finest season and one worthy of accolades across the globe.  It was a taut thriller that tormented us with its question of what would you sacrifice to save the human race – was the life of a child a price too high to pay?

Coming off that glorious season, the news that the show was not being picked up due to financial issues left fans and critics stunned at its sudden demise.  But determined to not let his “baby” die, Russell T Davies took his series to America and secured the financing necessary to continue the TORCHWOOD saga. 

But like TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has so acutely shown:  dead is dead.  Death may elude for a time, but sooner or later it shall swoop back in.  So those who have been marked for death – who have sustained illnesses or injuries so catastrophic as to virtually render them dead – they are essentially dead.  They are dead men walking.  Zombies, if you will.  They arise conquering death only to slowly rot away.  It was no wonder that the module ovens were created to dispose of those who would simply not die, but were already dead and yet their bodies would not obey the natural order of life.

TORCHWOOD is the same.  It is a living -zombie of its former self.  It has risen from cancellation to be but a pale imitation of the show it once was.  It was not simply the Americanization of the show, nor the addition of prevalent American characters.  It just isn’t TORCHWOOD anymore. 

The TORCHWOOD we all knew and loved died.  We are now merely watching a caricature of a show that calls itself TORCHWOOD.  Captain Jack and Gwen may be there, with brief appearances by Rhys and a few other familiar faces, but the heart and soul of TORCHWOOD is gone.  Everyone is going through the motions, but it doesn’t feel the same and it is not the same.

Too much has been changed.  The show not only films in America, but it also takes place in America with virtually all the actors being American, letting the American tone and voice color the story and characters.  Worse yet, it seeks to cultivate and entice the American viewers who have been leery of embracing a British television series by incorporating some of the most crass elements of American television. 

This most recent episode is a good example.  In episode 7 “Immortal Sins,” the story sought to spotlight Captain Jack, a character who had been relegated to the sidelines for much of this season, only trotted out to remind us that he was there.  Having been afflicted in reverse, his immortality stripped and made mortal the moment everyone else on Earth became immortal, Jack was pushed aside as being too vulnerable to risk his life.  But in “Immortal Sins,” it was finally necessary to pull back the curtain and reveal why Miracle Day had been brought about.  It was, as suspected, invoked by someone from Jack’s past – a scorned and abandoned lover who had inadvertently turned Jack over to an alien species looking to extend their own lives – at Jack’s expense by killing him repeatedly, bleeding him dry and stealing his blood with its unique healing properties.  While the concept was cool, its execution was stomach-turning.  The entire episode felt like a cheap horror flick, combining gay porn with torture porn.  Not only was the character exploited, but the actor as well.  This was not the way to tell the story of how Jack’s blood brought about Miracle Day.

For fans of TORCHWOOD prior to this season, one of the more endearing aspects of Captain Jack was his faithfulness to those he loved.  Jack would always sacrifice himself for those he cared for, without hesitation.  This episode violated two of those basic principles.  One, Jack would have gladly given his life in exchange to save Gwen’s child and family. After all, that is why he returned to Earth — to protect Gwen.  Two, Jack loved Ianto.  The love story of Jack and Ianto was a beautiful relationship that fans embraced through the second and third seasons of TORCHWOOD.  While it may have not aired recently, fans acutely recall Ianto’s sacrifice in CHILDREN OF EARTH.  Even seeing Jack fall in love with and seduce another man in Jack’s past feels like a slap in the face.  It may have been decades before Jack met Ianto, but for the fans, it feels like yesterday.  Jack may not have cheated on Ianto, but it sure felt like it watching Jack portrayed as being in love so soon after such a huge love of his life had been killed.  For new fans, it is like yesterday.  I know I persuaded many to watch the prior seasons of TORCHWOOD before MIRACLE DAY began airing last month – and Ianto’s death is fresh on their minds as well.  So while it is helpful to know that Jack had inspired someone to love him to such a degree that such a man would come back to haunt him many years later, the explicit relationship did not need to be thrown in our faces.  It dishonors the memory of Ianto and the relationship that he and Jack shared.

Plus, the over emphasis of Jack’s relationship with the man who created Miracle Day did not serve to endear the character to the audience.  It just felt misplaced.

And don’t even get me started on the exploitive torture scene! Is that truly what the writers think American audiences are attracted to — explicit sex and explicit violence?  Speaking for myself, I have always loved TORCHWOOD because it was able to tell the darkest, most horrifying stories ever to grace the television screen without resorting to explicit sex or violence.  Both sex and violence have been a part of TORCHWOOD from the beginning, but it was never used to titillate and make us a party to its glorifying excess.  TORCHWOOD was about the dark side of human nature and what we will do when confronted with our darkest fears and the means to conquer them.  It was a psychological thriller challenging our perceptions and beliefs.  Instead, it has been resurrected in typical misconception with the strategy to simply “shock and awe.”  But there is no substance in that.

When Vera died within the fires of the module oven, did we weep?  No.  But we should have.  TORCHWOOD has always been magnificent at introducing characters in such a way that it is gut-wrenching when they die.  Even the traitorous Suzy left us with a haunting impression that sent ripple-effects throughout the subsequent seasons.  TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has been slapped together without finesse, insight or care.  It reeks of too much money, too much ambition and not enough craftsmanship.  I lay the blame squarely on two shoulders:  Jane Espenson, who has written 5 out of the 10 episodes (more than any other writer this season), who writes with such a broadstroke and lack of respect to the core of what made TORCHWOOD special; and Russell T Davies, who entrusted TORCHWOOD into the care of writers who could not deliver the quality necessary to invoke the true TORCHWOOD spirit.  Showrunning does not simply mean recruiting writers, it means keeping a watchful eye over them to ensure that due care and respect is given. 

Echoing the millions of TORCHWOOD fans across the globe, we expected so much more.  Now we can only pray the show gets a dignified death and is not cursed to live for eternity in its zombie state.  It is but a shell of the show we all know and loved.

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What’s Next on TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY – “End of the Road”

In * By Tiffany Vogt, * Press Announcements, Torchwood on August 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm

 “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” airing on STARZ on Friday, August 26 at 10pm ET/PT – the following are photos, clips and a trailer from episode eight.

In the original hour-long episode, entitled “End of the Road,”  Jack (John Barrowman) faces a showdown with a man he thought was long since dead, while Rex (Mekhi Phifer) takes extreme action to prevent the collapse of society. Wayne Knight (“Seinfeld,” and Jurassic Park) continues his guest appearances as Brian Friedkin, a powerful Section Chief wielding great power first of three within the CIA. John De Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Nana Visitor(Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) also guest star.


Episode 8 Preview:

Torchwood: Miracle Day – “God Help Great Britain”

Torchwood: Miracle Day – “What is Category Zero?”

“Torchwood: Miracle Day” begins with a day when nobody dies. All across the world, nobody dies. And then the next day, and the next, and the next, people keep aging — they get hurt and sick — but they never die. The result: a population boom, overnight. With all the extra people, resources are finite. It’s said that in four month’s time, the human race will cease to be viable. But this can’t be a natural occurrence – someone’s got to be behind it. It’s a race against time as C.I.A. agent Rex Matheson investigates a global conspiracy.  The answers lie within an old, secret British institute. As Rex keeps asking “What is Torchwood?,” he’s drawn into a world of adventure, and a threat to change what it means to be human, forever.

STARZ’ newest original series is a reimagining of the UK sensation, which originally debuted in 2006 on BBC One. The show’s original creator, writer/producer Russell T Davies, serves as executive producer along with BBC Worldwide Productions’ SVP Julie Gardner, with Davies also serving as show-runner. “Torchwood: Miracle Day” is produced by BBC Worldwide Productions for Starz, BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Worldwide.

(Information provided courtesy of Ferenn Comm.)

Every Adventure Has A Beginning – The World of TORCHWOOD

In * By Tiffany Vogt, * Showcases, * TV Addict, Torchwood on July 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm

As a spin-off from the globally popular sci-fi series DOCTOR WHO, it seemed impossible to conceive that Russell T Davies could create two addictive universes.  Yet upon the creation of Captain Jack Harkness in Series 1 of DOCTOR WHO, which starred Christopher Eccleston, that is exactly what happened.  Creating a character larger than the multi-episode arc could contain, Russell T Davies did the unthinkable and with a wave of his magical wand – the writing pen – he dazzled fans once again by creating TORCHWOOD.  Not only poaching one of the more flamboyant and captivating characters of the new series of DOCTOR WHO, Russell also chose to use an anagram of DOCTOR WHO and came up with the name TORCHWOOD.

Thus, one year after his successful debut as Captain Jack in DOCTOR WHO, John Barrowman debuted in his own television series as the infamous time-traveler now stuck on Earth.  Being an earthbound extraterrestrial was not the entirety of Jack’s claim to fame.  As viewers quickly found out, Jack is immortal.  Even a bullet to the head at point blank range did little to phase Jack’s regenerative powers.  Touched by the hand of god, or The Doctor in this case, Jack was not only abandoned on Earth, he had been cursed to live for eternity upon it.  But a resourceful and resilient man, Jack ingratiated himself with the British government and was bestowed with his own secret government branch called Torchwood.

As seen through the eyes of a new recruit Gwen Cooper (fantastically portrayed by Eve Myles), who stumbled upon Torchwood as the series began, the entirety of the first three season of TORCHWOOD followed the star-crossed adventures and many loves of Gwen and Jack.  Jack being an other-worldly being never felt constrained by our mere human relationship standards and continued to live his eternal life connecting romantically and physically with anyone and everything that struck his fancy.  Gwen was also soon caught up in the no boundaries type of lifestyle and found herself connecting on all levels with other beings and humans of both persuasions.

But as the first series of TORCHWOOD wrapped, Jack found his ticket off Earth and vanished – leaving Gwen and the rest of the Torchwood crew all on their own.  Fellow teammates Tosh, Owen and Ianto were just as hurt and chagrined by Jack’s abrupt departure.  The weight of the responsibility of Torchwood fell on Gwen’s shoulders as she helped the remaining team continue with their daily tasks of saving the world.  For who knew what would next fall through the cracks in the Rift – a wormhole in the existence of time itself which was allowing all kinds of alien life to be unleashed on Earth.  When Jack finally returned in Series 2, it was not without repercussions and recriminations.  No longer secure in knowing that Jack would always be there, the Torchwood team began to seek solace and security in themselves – and not relying on Jack who could live forever, but who would probably leave them again when given the chance.

So while Series 1 of TORCHWOOD introduced viewers into an amazing world of aliens, adventure and unexpected romance, Series 2 took a slightly darker turn as two of the team’s key members sacrificed their mortal lives.  It was a noble, yet heart-wrenching loss to the already diminutive Torchwood team.  A team of five suddenly became a team of three and their loss was understandably horrific.   Series 2 left viewers as lost as the Torchwood team felt after Series 1.  Whether by choice or by circumstance, the Torchwood team would never be whole again.

Then as Series 3 embraced the darkest hour ever known to the planet as its children were called upon to be sacrificed in order to save everyone else, a terrible choice had to be made.  No human could have made it.  But after sustaining yet another loss to their precious team, Captain Jack made the ultimate sacrifice – giving his son’s life in exchange for the rest of the children.  Unable to bear his own grief and the horror of the faces around him over the impossible choice he made, Jack abandoned his team yet again.  But this time, it was only Gwen that he left behind.  There was literally no one else left.  Fortunately for Gwen, she had already chosen her life path and her mate of choice stood steadfastly by her side.  Married and with a child on the way, Gwen chose to live in hiding as Jack escaped to the stars.

The incredible journey of TORCHWOOD seems to have only just begun.  With the financial backing of the American television network Starz, TORCHWOOD was picked up for a fourth season and debuted as TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY on July 8, 2011.  To date, three adrenaline-pumping episodes have aired reintroducing Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper as the last surviving members of Torchwood reluctantly recruited by the CIA to aid with an event known as Miracle Day – the day that all humans stopped dying. (To read more, check out: “The Secret Horror of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY”) With another seven episodes yet to air, the fate of the world hangs in the balance as Captain Jack now the last mortal man on Earth and Gwen and her family’s future remains uncertain.  What is known is that this next leg of their continuing journey will be breath-taking, spine-tingling, and just as hair-raising as ever.

For fans that have not yet had the opportunity to discover and enjoy TORCHWOOD prior to the current season, or for those who simply want to revisit those amazing adventures, the BBC just released the entire DVD box set containing Series 1-3.  Also included on the DVD set as a special treat are extras such as the “Torchwood Declassified” commentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes and other fun featurettes.  Available as of July 19th, it is a wonderful way to discover or enjoy all over again the world of TORCHWOOD from the beginning.

It is also helpful for new fans who wonder at the innuendos and hidden meanings behind the Jack and Gwen relationship; for surely, there must have once been something between them for each to risk their lives so willingly for each other unto death.  Not even Gwen’s darling daughter Anwen prevents her from being at Jack’s side the minute he needs her.  There is, as hinted, more than meets the eye.  The history of Jack, Gwen and Torchwood is a multi-layered story that was years in the making.  It is time to rediscover what made TORCHWOOD the phenomenon that captured not only DOCTOR WHO fans’ hearts, but fans of its own.  TORCHWOOD is a show now unto itself.  The interwoven history of Captain Jack, Gwen, her loyal husband Rhys, and the fallen comrades Ianto, Tosh and Owen still echo throughout our memories and are engraved on our hearts.

As you continue to watch TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, remember this:  TORCHWOOD is just beginning.  It is going to be a wild ride and you had better buckle up, it will be unlike anything you have experienced before.  Take a deep breath and enjoy every second of it!

Link to photos from Comic-Con of the cast of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY.


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