John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen, Freema Agyeman
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All photos © BBC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
eason Two of “Torchwood” charges out of the gate, eager to seduce anyone left sitting on the fence at the close of its initial batch of episodes. If the freshman season displayed promise, then its sophomore outing delivers on that potential in a big way. Whereas Season One was an uneven mix of sci-fi and horror and sex and relationships, Season Two is a nearly ideal blend of those same components, and maybe even a few more. The show wants your viewership and is willing to go to whatever dramatic (and sometimes even comedic) lengths necessary to get it. Indeed, this season is so uniformly strong and yet diverse in its presentation, it’s tempting to recommend it to people who never even saw the first season. If this material doesn’t make you a fan, then nothing the series will ever do is likely to grab your attention.
The season begins with the amusingly titled “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” which is an apt description for the relationship between Torchwood leader Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and his old friend/lover/adversary Captain John Hart (James Marsters, Spike from “Buffy”). John – like Jack, a Time Agent from the 51st Century – shows up to cause rampant chaos and destruction for not only Torchwood, but for the city of Cardiff as well. Marsters swaggers onto “Torchwood” as if he was expected, taking no prisoners and injecting the narrative with jolt after jolt of adrenaline. The episode has action, humor and tension – pretty much everything needed to fill an engaging hour of TV. But it is also deceptive, because after “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” the season goes down a darker path.
It’s not that Season Two of “Torchwood” is darker, but it is mature compared to the often times juvenile antics of Season One. There’s less emphasis on sex, and more on relationships. “To the Last Man” is the moving story of young World War I solider, Tommy (Anthony Lewis), trapped in an endless loop of time. He’s kept frozen in Torchwood’s vaults only to find himself woken up once a year for a medical check up. Someday he will be needed, but nobody is sure when that will be. Over the years (or rather days) she has been dealing with him, Tosh (Naoko Mori) has fallen in love with the boy. But it turns out this may be the last time the team will ever revive when, as he is finally called to serve his purpose. “Sleeper” is the bleak tale of a woman who, unknown to her, is actually an alien sleeper agent. It’s somewhat “Blade Runner”-ish in its exploration of themes of identity. Further down the road is the story of “Adam.” Unquestionably a season highlight, the episode is a real mindfuck. Suddenly there’s a new member of the team, and he’s got control over the memories of them all. But Adam’s (Bryan Dick) mission is rushed, and holes start appearing in the fabric he has woven. “Adam” also sets up the beginning of the season finale, as we learn more about Jack’s past. Indeed, one of the strengths of the season is that we learn more about all the members of the Torchwood team, and the episode “Fragments” is a fascinating look back at how each member came to join the organization.
Around mid-season something happens to Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), but it is something that’s so unique and bold it cannot be discussed in this review. Needless to say, the doctor is changed forever and life takes on a whole new meaning for the man. There are many strong episodes in this season, but the strongest may be the one titled “Adrift.” When a teenage boy goes missing, his mother comes into contact with Gwen (Eve Myles) looking for help. What Gwen eventually discovers is so horrific and otherworldly that in the end, the mother wishes she’d never even found out the truth of what happened to her son. She’d have preferred living the rest of her life under the illusion of hope, rather than know the reality. “Something Borrowed” is one of the season’s few light spots. It’s practically a comedy about Gwen’s wedding day, and how on that morning she wakes up to unexpectedly find herself very pregnant. But Rhys (Kai Owen) has stood by her through thick and thin (literally, in this episode) and feels she has no choice but to go through with the ceremony, and much wackiness ensues.
There are two episodes here that didn’t really work for me. “Meat” isn’t necessarily bad, but it feels somewhat out of place – like a leftover from the first season. “From Out of the Rain” is the real tragedy in this otherwise near-perfect collection. It’s written by P.J. Hammond (“Sapphire & Steel”), who wrote last season’s far superior “Small Worlds.” It’s a tale of old film stock and a spooky carnival that on the surface looks as if it should be a season highlight, and then tragically ends up being the low point by amounting to being nothing more than a big snoozefest. Note to TV and movie writers: perhaps there should be a ban placed on creepy carnivals from here on out. It’s a concept that may well be exhausted. But by the time the season climaxes in the finale “Exit Wounds,” you’ll have forgiven the minor missteps of Season Two. The big finish is exactly that, and it offers up a shocking, devastating ending that’ll leave you wondering if maybe the show should just end right then and there, as it’s unlikely to ever reach such perfection again.
Although “Torchwood” remains a mostly standalone program, the lines between it and its parent series, “Doctor Who,” are becoming increasingly blurred; here most notably via the crossing over of the Doctor’s ex-companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) for a three episode arc. This season begins where Season Three of “Who” left off, rather than by directly addressing Jack’s sudden disappearance at the close of last season, a development that was actually a setup for the three-part finale of “Who’s” third season. Furthermore, completists would do well to view this material before partaking in Season Four of “Who.” If it sounds confusing, the amazing thing is that it’s not once you’re sucked into its universe.
Special Features: Here’s where the ball is somewhat dropped. The previous “Doctor Who” season sets, as well as Season One of “Torchwood,” have been packed with extras. What’s here is about what one would expect from a typical DVD set, but since the bar has been set so high by the previous releases, this a bit of a letdown. There are no commentary tracks at all, which is a huge bummer. Even if they couldn’t record a track for every episode, they really should have included one for the finale or for several other key episodes. It’s really bewildering as to why they didn’t. So what is on the set? Disc five is dedicated to showcasing all the episodes of the “Torchwood Declassified” series, which is of course good stuff, but it’s really the only highlight here. There’s also a collection deleted scenes and outtakes, as well as a featurette called “The Life and Deaths of Jack Harkness,” which discusses the evolution of character throughout both series, and that’s all folks!