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    Oct 2001
    Fredericksburg, VA

    BLU-RAY REVIEW: Torchwood - The Complete Original UK Series

    Who-spinoff takes sci-fi on TV to whole new realms...

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    Doctor Who’s successful reintroduction in 2005 didn’t just reinvigorate the one show, it also spawned several spinoffs. In Who’s first season back, the Doctor and his companion Rose travel to embattled WWII England. Hunting down a misplaced piece of alien technology, they run into another time traveler, the enigmatic Captain Jack Harkness. A roguish former Time Agent from the 51st Century, Jack befriends Rose and the Doctor and ultimately travels with them for the rest of the season. In that year’s finale Jack is resurrected after being killed by Daleks and left behind on a space station. Of course, that couldn’t be the end for such a fun character and the following year saw the return of Captain Jack in his spinoff Torchwood. Five years later, Torchwood has gone on to two regular seasons and two mini-series, the last of which was co-produced by the American Starz network. While the show is currently off the air and fans await news of its future, it’s the perfect time to catch up on old episodes with the recently released Torchwood The Complete Original UK Series on Blu-ray!

    While it’s a spinoff from Doctor Who, Torchwood is very different in both tone and the stories it tells. First of all, unlike in Who the action is mostly contained to Earth and specifically Cardiff, Wales where a rift in space and time acts as a magnet for strange occurrences. Secret heroes watching over the rift and taking care of alien menaces is the Torchwood “Three” Institute (others are located in other cities) led by Captain Jack (John Barrowman). His compatriots are former police officer Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), doctor Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), tech expert Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), and office manager Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Lots of strange things happen in and around Cardiff, from sex-crazed aliens to massive threats to Earth and all of humanity!

    The Torchwood Complete Original UK Series on Blu-ray has one of the best package presentations I’ve seen in a while. The sturdy outer cardboard box is decorated with a section of the Torchwood Institute logo in red, with a photo of the main five characters on the cover. The back of the box has a small photo of Jack, Ianto, and Gwen with tons of information about the series and the Blu-ray set. Inside the box is a substantial “book” disc holder that repeats the same background image and cast photo. Each page/sleeve has still images and a list of the disc’s contents.

    As advertised, this set collects all of the British airings of Torchwood: thirteen episodes in season one, thirteen episodes in season two, and five episodes in the “Children of Earth” mini-series. The epic story begins with Gwen catching a glimpse of the organization leading to Jack bringing her onto the team. As the rookie and an outsider, it’s Gwen that viewers can relate to the easiest. At first she can’t believe the things that are going on around her, and as the series progresses she never loses her strong sense of humanity and what’s really important. Series one sees threats like time travelers, Cybermen (as seen throughout Doctor Who), artifacts granting telepathy, reanimation, and animalistic Weevils infesting the city. The season ends with a shocking climax as Jack save the world from Abaddon, the Great Devourer, and then apparently leaves aboard the TARDIS!

    Season two of Torchwood finds Jack returning to the team but bringing with him the baggage of Captain John Hart (veteran genre actor James Marsters). Threats to humanity come fast and furious (not to mention close to home) with Torchwood mysteries solved, prophecies, alien infiltrators, shape-shifters, disappearances, and more. Along the way, the team is joined by Martha Jones, one of the Doctor’s companions, who breaks into a pharmaceutical company up to no good. This season also sees the death and return of Owen. The two-part finale “Fragments” and “Exit Wounds” is a rollercoaster of action and emotion with the return of Hart, the appearance of Jack’s long lost brother, and multiple deaths of main characters!

    2009’s Children of Earth brought a new format to Torchwood, a five episode mini-series spanning five days. At the same time all across the world, every single child speaks the same ominous warning, leading to a huge investigation and revelations of a terrible secret. In the past Jack and officials made a sacrifice to keep the Earth safe, and the same aliens have returned for more. And in the midst of all of that, Torchwood is blown up and its members on the lamb as they try to save the day. For fans of Torchwood this brief season held some of the most shocking moments in a show known for its extreme content. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s pretty incredible.

    Extras on the Complete Original UK Series set are a little uneven, with the bulk appearing on the season one discs. There you’ll find audio commentaries on every episode plus tons of featurettes (Declassifieds, Out of This Worlds, Team and Their Troubles, Moments in the Making, etc.), interviews, deleted scenes, and outtakes. The season two discs lack commentaries but still have “Torchwood Declassifieds” a featurette on the Lives and Deaths of Captain Jack Harkness as well as outtakes and deleted scenes. Finally, Children of Earth includes Declassifieds as well.

    If you’ve seen Doctor Who but not Torchwood, you might be in for a surprise. While Who is pretty much “all ages,” Torchwood is a much grittier, edgier show with plenty of sex, violence, and moral gray areas. The team is on the front lines of a war against the unknown and beyond, and the solutions aren’t always what you expect. Instead, Torchwood provides complicated characters and intriguing storylines with a big dose of sci-fi craziness. Most of the episodes in this set were only shown in the US in standard definition, so the Blu-rays are a huge step up in quality as well. Once you start you won’t be able to stop, but keep in mind that the only thing the Complete Original UK Series is lacking is the last chapter in the epic, Miracle Day, the recent mini-series on Starz. You can find Torchwood wherever DVDs and Blu-rays are sold, so get your copy now!

    Review by Scott Rubin

    Review Sample Courtesy of BBC America

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