Doctor Who’s edgy, adult spin-off Torchwood first broadcast 13 years ago today, so let’s look back on some of the best moments of the show.
Torchwood began its life as a spin-off of Doctor Who, presented on BBC Three. With themes of sex, homosexuality and more blood and gore than you could shake a stick at, it was uncertain how popular it would become. However, with each subsequent season, Torchwood gained more traction, moving to BBC Two for its second season and BBC One for groundbreaking Children of Earth. Torchwood even managed to gain US financing for its fourth outing, entitled Miracle Day. Originally an episodic tale, Russell T Davies soon found the Torchwood format more appropriately for a dramatic story arc, as first trialled by Children of Earth, which is one of the best TV dramas in modern years.
The 22nd October 2019 marks 13 years since Torchwood first hit our screens with “Everything Changes”, so let’s have a look back on 13 iconic Torchwood moments over the years. Here are the 13 in chronological order:
1. Gwen meets a Weevil for the first Time (Everything Changes, Season 1)
Plucky Cardiff police officer Gwen Cooper happens upon the original Torchwood team at a murder scene, witnessing them reviving the victim to question them. The next day, she spies the leader of Torchwood, Jack Harkness, in the hospital and follows him. This is when she encounters a humanoid alien creature known as a Weevil. Originally thinking him to be a person in a mask, she starts questioning him as to whether he saw the man. The Weevil’s true nature is revealed, however, when he brutally kills a porter in front of Gwen. Quite the baptism of fire for both Gwen, and the audience.
2. The Harvest (Countrycide, Season 1)
We are so trained to believe that the evils must be aliens, that when visitors to a small town in the country are mysteriously going missing and turning up as dismembered body parts in fridge, we assume that some extra-terrestrial force is at play. The truth revealed in this episode, however, is Torchwood at its most chilling.
3. Jack meets the real Captain Jack Harkness (Captain Jack Harkness, Season 1)
Accidentally slipping back in time to 1941, Toshiko and Captain Jack find themselves encountering another man by the name of Captain Jack Harkness. The dance that happens at the culmination of this episode, as Jack prepares to return to the present, leaving Captain Harkness in the past to die, is incredibly touching and beautiful.
4. Toshiko must sacrifice Tommy (To the Last Man, Season 2)
In this delightfully touching Season 2 episode, Toshiko enjoys another romantic outing with cryogenically frozen World War I soldier Tommy, who is awoken every year due to intelligence Torchwood has that he will one day be responsible for saving the world from destruction. Meanwhile, in Cardiff, apparitions through time are occurring more and more frequently, necessitating Tommy needing to go back to 1918 to close them from the other side. Tommy is reluctant to go, and the only person who can convince him is Tosh, who knows he will be executed if he returns due to his shellshock. Truly heartbreaking scenes acted absolutely beautifully.
5. Owen dies (Reset, Season 2) and is resurrected (Dead Man Walking, Season 2)
We had previously lost Torchwood operative Suzie Costello in Season 1, though we had barely any affection towards her. Killing off Owen mid-season was a bold move, and resurrecting him even more shocking. When Owen was resurrected, this provided much more drama, as he became “King of the Weevils” and could no longer bleed, eat or drink. It was a tricky existence and provided much existential dread when he revealed that there was nothing waiting on the other side other than darkness.
6. Magical Flashbacks (Fragments, Season 2)
When Torchwood members Ianto, Owen, Toshiko and Jack are trapped in an explosion, their dilemma under the rubble is punctuated with flashbacks to how they first became Torchwood operatives. While we have gone through that journey with Gwen, it was a genuine joy to see these characters who have become so skilled and competent within Torchwood at the moment where their lives changed forever. Who doesn’t love a bit of backstory?
7. Toshiko & Owen Die (Exit Wounds, Season 2)
Forget about Game of Thrones, this is the most brutal TV that I have ever watched in my life. It came at a time where the likelihood of spoilers for TV shows being plastered across front pages were at a minimum and it came as a complete shock for those watching. The two-hander scene as the two long-term friends face death is absolutely soul destroying, especially as you witness Toshiko desperately trying to save Owen, even when she is bleeding to death herself. It set the tone that Torchwood was a show in which nobody is safe.
8. “We Are Coming” (Children of Earth, Day One)
Delightfully creepy, and a baffling “What the F***?” moment, the children speaking in an unearthly voice is the driving force at the beginning of Children of Earth.
9. There’s a bomb in Jack’s stomach (Children of Earth, Day One)
Seemingly on the brink of a conspiracy, the Torchwood team are shaken when a bomb is revealed in Jack’s stomach. Completely obliterating the Hub, it left the Torchwood team separated and on the run, without any of the technology that they had been using to solve extraterrestrial invasions so far. With not just aliens to fight, Gwen and Ianto have to rely upon their own minds and resources to escape from the government, while Jack’s own mortality is tested. An absolutely game changing moment which completely flipped the script on the Torchwood team where they were completely out of control.
10. Ianto dies (Children of Earth, Day Four)
Being aware that the government are willingly bargaining the lives of 10% of the children in the world forces Torchwood into action, as Captain Jack and Ianto storm Thames House to indicate to the 456 that they will not get a single child. In response, the 456 release a virus into Thames House, killing everybody inside, including Ianto, who begs Jack not to forget him as he dies in his arms.
11. Gwen tries to outrun the police (Children of Earth, Day Five)
Another hugely powerful moment. I have no words. Just watch.
Gwen takes matters into her own hands to protect the children of the world who are being gathered up to be handed over to the 456.
12. Jack makes an incredible sacrifice (Children of Earth, Day Five)
In one of the darkest sequences in its four seasons, Jack is faced with an impossible choice. Over the country, heartbreaking scenes are witnessed as the army wrestle children away from their parents, kicking and screaming. Even Gwen is desperately struggling to protect children. Families are turning against the government, and they are powerless to stop the alien threat. Jack is forced to use his own grandson Steven to transmit a signal to the 456 that will destroy them. Ultimately, however, it costs Steven his life. While tragic both for Steven and for his mother Alice, but also for Jack, who is forced to live with the repercussions of this decision, necessitating him leaving Torchwood once and for all.
13. Vera Juarez perishes (Miracle Day, The Categories of Life)
In Miracle Day, the governments of the world are faced with the consequences of a nation in which nobody will die. This leads to massive problems with resources stretched to full capacity and space at an absolute premium. Their solution to this problem, to arbitrarily categorise life, is truly chilling, and Torchwood ally Dr. Vera Juarez experiences what happens to “Category 1s”, while love interest (and new Torchwood member) Rex Matheson can only watch helplessly in horror.
So there we have it: 13 iconic moments from Torchwood. Most of them alarmingly macabre, this is a representation of just how much darker and grittier the spin-off was. While it continues in Big Finish audio productions, considering Russell T Davies’ recent success with dystopian Years & Years, here’s hoping that Torchwood finds a way back onto our screens soon – or at least that Russell T Davies continues producing thought provoking television drama.