[pullquote align=right]Children will want to watch Torchwood because it is a spin-off from Doctor Who and features a much-loved companion.[/pullquote]Let me make this perfectly clear to begin with; I love Doctor Who. So much so that I spent half a year watching every single available episode, listened to more audios than I care to mention and read more words than you’d believe possible in half a year — all to write the ultimate guide to the Doctor’s companions. This uber project is what led me to this article; studying the life of Captain Jack Harkness made me see a few things I didn’t like about Torchwood.
Actually, no. It’s even worse than that.
This is not a case of personal tastes. There are some great Torchwood episodes; episodes that I love but others hate. Children of Earth was phenomenal. This is something much worse, something inherent in the show. Something rotten at its core. But before I explore this, let me backtrack and put things in context.
When Doctor Who made its triumphant return to TV in 2005 a lot of care was taken by those who made it; all kinds of things were considered in an effort to make it the best kind of show. A true family televisual event. There was even proper discussions about whether or not they should show people dying on-screen (the recent Golden Age documentary on The Tenth Planet DVD shows this clearly, when comparing the Auton attacks of Spearhead from Space and Rose).
Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson took this all very serious; they knew they were redefining a cultural icon. They could not get this wrong. And they didn’t. Regardless of personal taste (there are plenty who love the RTD era, and loads who heap derision upon it) it was a huge success — the biggest, most incredible comeback in the annals of television history. Still, nine years on, we’re riding the wave of success thanks to the hard work and commitment shown by these three people.
In 2006, the BBC were so impressed with the show they asked for a spin-off. Davies and Gardner were more than happy to oblige, and so while they spent time devising this new spin-off show, they used the second series of NuWho to path the way for it, with a mention of Torchwood in virtually every episode. Series 2 showed us how the Torchwood Institute was born, and the finale of that series fully introduced us to the institution. Only the Torchwood seen and heard about in Series 2 was a very different entity to the one that would form this new spin-off show. A decision was made to make an ‘adult’ show, something darker, more mature, than its parent show. As Davies said in an issue of SFX it was going to be “more visceral, more violent and more sexual,” and even claimed “it’s very teenage to indulge yourself in blood and gore. Torchwood is going to be smarter than that.”
Doctor Who can be mature, deal with real-world issues, and has done throughout its 50 years. Indeed, from 1991 to 2005 fans followed novels that were increasingly mature; Doctor Who grew with its audience (or readers in this case). Even the new series that we’ve all enjoyed for the last 9 years has approached some mature ground — and it’s fair to say it has, on occasion, crossed the line of what one can consider family entertainments; the ‘relationship with a paving slab’ scene at the end of Love & Monsters comes to mind, and nicely links to my main point…
Torchwood the entity, the secret organisation that fights alien threats, was established in Doctor Who, the family show that a new generation of children fell in love with. The lead star of Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness, was a companion of the Doctor, and children loved him. Two very good reasons for children to, therefore, want to watch Torchwood. And therein lies the problem.
Children will want to watch Torchwood because it is a spin-off from Doctor Who and features a much-loved companion. Further to that, it’s featured and referenced many elements from the parent show. It’s had a Cybermen story (well, a Cyberwoman at any rate), another companion guest starred in three episodes, three Torchwood characters guest starred in Doctor Who (in the latter case, even if children had not been aware of Torchwood, having Jack tell the Doctor about Torchwood in The Sound of Drums will certainly make the children want to learn more). So many reasons for children to watch. And watch they will… and did!
It’s all very well the producers saying this is an ‘adult’ show, and have it on at a later time, but it is still a spin-off from Doctor Who. This point cannot be expressed enough. This reason alone is enough for children all over to find ways to watch Torchwood; and there are so many ways for them to get access to it, ways that parents cannot control.
So, we have this ‘adult’ show that is a direct relation to the most popular family show on British television. The whole notion of an adult show spinning off from a family show is ludicrous at best, and irresponsible at worst. I’ve been trying to find a comparison, but I cannot think of another family show that has done this. Another show so loved by children that spawned a show that should never be watched by children.
[pullquote align=right]The BBC broadcast edited versions of Torchwood because they learned that the younger Doctor Who fans were watching the series. Like this was some kind of surprise?[/pullquote]Let’s me explain just a few of the reasons why.
Episode one, Everything Changes. They weren’t kidding with that title! In this episode we have people being shot in the head, mauled by monsters, blood spurting everywhere, and, worst of all, a joke about date rape in the guise of a pheromone spray. And that’s not even mentioning the puerile inclusion of swearing at every possible opportunity (except Jack, and latterly Martha, interestingly). This is not mature drama (neither is it clever, despite Davies’ claims of intent).
Episode two brings us an alien life form that feeds off orgasmic energies. Yes, feeds off people having sex. Again, this not mature drama.
That is merely how the series began. It continued throughout a very uneven first series. Series 2 toned it down a little, although the gore and swearing continued aplenty. They even started showing edited versions of the episodes because they learned that the younger Doctor Who fans were watching the series. Like this was some kind of surprise? Again, it makes one wonder just what they were thinking when they devised this series. Did they honestly believe children would not want to watch it? Even if the appearance of Jack in every episode was not enough of a pull, the continual reference to Doctor Who would be, and having a cliffhanger ending to Series 1 that leads directly into Doctor Who only added to the children’s desire to watch the series.
So, perhaps, they did learn their lesson a little for Series 2. Or did they? Martha Jones was brought into the series for a few episodes, thus the children followed. It seemed, on the surface, the producers realised that maybe they did have a responsibility to their audience after all (like this was some optional consideration when devising a spin-off from Doctor Who). Children of Earth was a vast improvement in every possible way — well, until the final moments when we see Jack, ex-companion of the Doctor and a man who is always trying to be Doctor-like, sacrifice his own grandson to stop the 456. The version shown was a lot less explicit than other filmed versions, but still it’s missing the point. Jack is a companion of the Doctor: he is a hero, a man who should, by definition, be the Doctor when the Doctor is not about. The Doctor has done some dodgy things in the past to defeat the monsters, but it is inconceivable that he would sacrifice the life of a child to save Earth. As a younger Doctor once said, ‘there should have been another way’.
And there really should have been.
Instead we see another example of the irresponsibility of the producers of Torchwood on display. Is this really something you’d want your child to watch? Because, you know, if they love Doctor Who they will almost certainly watch it. And the producers of Torchwood know this — they learned this after Series 1. But, hey, it gets worse…
We come to Miracle Day.
[pullquote align=right]It is inconceivable that the Doctor would sacrifice the life of a child to save Earth. As a younger Doctor once said, ‘there should have been another way’.
And there really should have been.[/pullquote]There’s been a lot said about this ten-part series; some good, some bad. There are some amazing ideas in this one, but once again I have to look beyond that and see what’s really on display. A convicted paedophile as a lead character; sex scenes (not overly explicit, but certainly gratuitous to the story); blood and gore all over the place; people being incinerated alive; swearing aplenty. All this produced by the same people who went to such great lengths to not show people dying on-screen in Doctor Who. Once again, let me stress this, children will be watching. Miracle Day has countless references to Doctor Who, not least a reference to the Trickster Brigade (a character from The Sarah Jane Adventures, an actual children’s show) in an episode that shows some explicit sexual encounters between Jack and his partner in 1927, after which Jack talks about the Doctor and how the Doctor has companions — suggesting that Jack is trying to be like the Doctor and is selecting his own companion (with whom he’s sexually involved). Is this really what the young fans of Doctor Who should be watching?
With each series it moves further and further from Doctor Who, which may well be the intention, but it’s a pointless exercise. Regardless of the intention, regardless of the distance the producers try to create between the shows, Torchwood is a Doctor Who spin-off, and it will always be so. It will always be of interest to the children who love Doctor Who.
This is the inherent problem with Torchwood. It was badly conceived, a so-called mature show, but in truth usually a puerile and irresponsible show. A series where the producers are, knowingly (despite protestations to the contrary, they know children will watch), exposing the younger Doctor Who fans to sex, drugs, gore, humour of an adult nature, and so much else.
Doctor Who is unlike any other television show out there. A true family show. One that has something for everybody. It is a fact that when children love something they will want to know everything about it, and watch everything related to it. If Torchwood were not connected to Doctor Who, it would be a good show (that is, if it ever made it past a first series, and I do feel that were it not connected to Doctor Who, Series 1 would have been the beginning and end of Torchwood), but it is connected to Doctor Who and is, thus, inherently a bad show.
It can no more be looked at as a separate entity than Deep Space Nine can be looked at as a separate entity to the original series of Star Trek. Both are part of the same fictional universe, and one will almost certainly attract the fans of the other. Torchwood is an intricate part of Doctor Who (although watching Miracle Day I sometimes found it hard to believe), and will appeal to the same core audience. And that core audience is, largely, children.
I, for one, will always feel uncomfortable when watching Torchwood because it will always be in the back of my mind—‘what the hell were they thinking when they made this?’ What about you?
About the Author
Andy Frankham-Allen. Editor of Untreed Reads’ ‘Space: 1889 & Beyond’ Victorian adventure series, and author of Candy Jar Books’ Companions: Fifty Years of Doctor Who Assistants. Andy is a long-time follower of Doctor Who, which is his second favourite show of all time. The first is Supernatural. Just in case you were wondering. Find him on Facebook.