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The impending 4th series of Torchwood

July 25, 2010

The news has broken that Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off for grown ups, is to return in 2011. As a Doctor Who and Torchwood fan and sometime-blog writer I feel it would be remiss of me not to share this information with the rest of you lovely people.

Torchwood, like the rejuvenated Doctor Who, began as a series of thirteen 45-minute episodes which were produced by BBC Wales on location in South Wales. It was set in Cardiff, in the middle of a rift in space and time that runs through Cardiff Bay, and followed the activities of the Torchwood team – led by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) – as they protected Earth from extraterrestrial threat, much of which emanated from the space-time rift. The Torchwood Institute itself was set up by Queen Victoria in 1879, as seen in the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw (click on the link for a very detailed wikipedia entry on the history of the Institute itself), and the Cardiff rift was first introduced in The Unquiet Dead where the Doctor, Rose and Charles Dickens (as you do) found themselves battling gaseous life-forms known as the Gelth who were coming through the rift, possessing corpses and trying to take over the planet. Interestingly, the maid Gwyneth who ultimately sacrifices herself to defeat the Gelth is played by Eve Myles, the same actress who plays Gwen in Torchwood. In Journey’s End the Doctor and Rose even recognise Gwen and reveal that Gwen and Gwyneth are related via what the Doctor calls “spatial genetic multiplicity”.

This sort of thing happens a lot in Doctor Who it seems. Before Karen Gillan and Freema Agyeman were cast as full time companions Amy Pond and Martha Jones respectively, both appeared in Doctor Who as minor characters. Karen was a face-painted sooth-sayer in The Fires of Pompeii and Freema was a Torchwood staff member who was killed in the Battle of Canary Wharf in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. In fact, at one point during Martha’s appearance in series 2 of Torchwood she refers to her cousin who used to work for Torchwood 1 before the Battle of Canary Wharf and it’s subsequent shutdown by order of Queen Elizabeth II (see the above link). The Torchwood organisation that we see in Torchwood itself is what used to be known as ‘Torchwood 3’. By the time Torchwood first hit our screens the Cardiff Bay hub was all that was left of the Torchwood Institute, Captain Jack having taken charge.

I said above that Torchwood was set in Cardiff, ‘was’ indicating past tense. This is because Torchwood‘s third series – Children of Earth – was a dramatic shake-up of the show’s format and styling. The series unfolded as one continuous story-line set over 5 1-hour episodes, which were broadcast on consecutive evenings on BBC One in July 2009. It was much darker than either of the previous 2 series, focusing on much more adult themes like child abduction and government conspiracy, and even saw the death of core character Ianto Jones, played by Gareth David-Lloyd. Ianto was not the first main character to die in Torchwood – Toshiko and Owen were both killed in series 2, reducing the 5 person team to just 3 by the time the Children of Earth storyline began – but his death was so unexpected and shocking that after it aired his fans created a shrine for him at the Torchwood hub’s fictional entrance in Cardiff Bay.

Children of Earth was very well received by the viewing public and attracted a wider audience than the show had previously enjoyed. It is partly because of the success of that series that the show is returning again in 2011. The official line from the BBC (which Russell T Davies has confirmed in interviews elsewhere) is that there will be a 10-episode series similar to the Children of Earth format but which takes place in several locations around the world, including the US. There will also be new characters, some of them American, who will join Gwen and Jack on their next outing, though there is no official mention yet of how Rhys (Gwen’s husband, played by Kai Owen) or their child (last seen as a sizeable baby bump at the end of Children of Earth) will fit into the next series. Expect this to be a complicated emotional plot point for Gwen if the past has been anything to go by.

All in all the next series looks to be shaping up very well. There should be enough of the old Torchwood there to keep the existing fans interested (if they lost Gwen then they’d probably lose almost all of the Welsh audience out of spite alone) along with enough new elements to attract new viewers, especially after the impact Children of Earth had on ratings. If series 4 can keep up the levels of pace and drama that were attained in Children of Earth then it’ll definitely be something to watch out for, and the fact that the BBC and Russell T Davies are working with production teams in the US is very promising in this respect, especially considering the high production values of American TV shows like CSI and LOST. Of course it also depends on there being a good plot, something that is being kept firmly under wraps at the moment, but with the way it’s all looking so far I’ve certainly got high hopes for Torchwood‘s next outing.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. HonestIago permalink
    August 1, 2010 10:10 pm

    I’m very ambivalent about this: on the one hand Children of Earth showed us just how good Torchwood could be when allowed to just go nuts, but on the other hand the ending was just so sad, seemed so final, that it should have just been left there with Torchwood as an institution gone, Jack wandering the stars and Gwen and Rhys as a happy family. It had closure and I’m terrified they might make the mistake of Heroes and undo a spectacular and satisfying finale.

    If the quality is as high as CoE, or even S2 (which I thought was terrific), then I’ll be delighted but it seems an awfully big risk to take given the change in setting, cast and (I believe) writing staff.

    • August 2, 2010 11:44 pm

      That’s what I thought about River Song though. The first time we saw her she was so perfect and her story so complete that I didn’t want to see any more of it or it’d ruin it. But then they brought her back and it was way better than I expected it to be. It just depends what they do with it, it could go badly but it could be brilliant.

  2. HonestIago permalink
    August 13, 2010 5:55 pm,2

    Jane Espenson has been announced as one of the writers for S4. My optimism is rising.

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