Synopsis: The former time agent, omnipresent immortal, and omnisexual Jack Harkness leads an elite team of a slowly dying organization in this Doctor Who spin-off.
• The multifaceted Jack Harkness is played perfectly by John Barrowman, as he is supported by a strong cast.
• Often more daring and adult than its parent show.
• Willing to kill, resurrect, torture, and permanently kill off characters, leading to often unpredictable stories.
• The storylines can be reminiscent of Third Doctor UNIT story-arc.
• The writing quality can be variable, especially in the first season.
• Some characters’ arcs can be absurdly dark and unbelievable.
• Perhaps too willing to kill off characters.
Doctor Who (1963-present) is a somewhat monolithic franchise. In its over fifty-year history, only five spin-offs were attempted. K-9 and Company (1981), featuring former Fourth Doctor companions K-9 and Sarah-Jane Smith, was not picked up, but did become the seed of the very similar The Sarah-Jane Adventures (2007-2011) of the Rebirth Era. K-9 (2009-2010) was somewhat disconnected from the main show, not a BBC production, and did not continue past its first season. Class (2016) of the Moffat Era was much more intricately connected to the main show, but only lasted a single season. In that history, Torchwood was the first spin-off with at least one season, and was largely successful.
The show had narrative roots as far back as the first season of the revived show, which featured the omnisexual time agent “Captain Jack Harkness.” That was not his real name of course, and Torchwood discussed that in the most surreal way possible by having him fall in love with the real Harkness, both of which looking a lot a like. “Torchwood” itself first appeared in the second season of the revived show, with the secret royal proclamation of anything alien the organization can obtain being theirs to study and use to better protect the Earth. This was not dissimilar to the originally more military-minded UNIT, which continues as a major element of the show as a more science-based organization. They most certainly overlapped and subtly conflicted with each other, as referenced in Torchwood.
Regardless, Torchwood narratively mixed the Third Doctor UNIT-exile story-arc with the layered Jack Harkness. Agents of SHIELD (2013-present) is easily comparable; though, now former Director Phil Coulson was far less over the top as a leader. Torchwood’s narrative largely worked, but there did seem to be a lack of focus at times, other than them being the last Torchwood team. Indeed, the themes sometimes felt redundant narratively next to UNIT, even though the organizations had some synergy under Harkness’ leadership. The later seasons proved much more focused with “Children of Earth” and “Miracle Day,” which were quite daring storylines. They even referenced the fact that the Doctor was not always there to save Earth, leaving it to UNIT, Torchwood, Sarah-Jane Smith, or others to keep the world literally in one piece. The show arguably went into unofficial hiatus on a high note with Jack Harkness saving humanity with his own eternal blood.
Doctor Who Franchise
Rotten Tomatoes —
S1 – 89%
S2 – 100%
S3 (Children of Earth) — 100%
S4 (Miracle Day) – 83%