Who Killed TORCHWOOD? A Look At How The Popular Sci-Fi Show Has Lost Its Way

After last week’s controversial episode of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, the question that haunted us was not whether it was okay to torture a man to death if he cannot die, but rather:  who killed TORCHWOOD?  For a show that fans had been clamoring for and which cheered when it was announced that it had risen from certain death and cancellation by the joint financial efforts of Starz and BBC America to resurrect it as an American television series, who knew that within such a short timeframe that one would be wishing it had never been raised from the dead.

The irony is that TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY tells the tale of what the world would look like if death ceased to exist.  Miracle Day was the day that people stopped dying.  Death had finally abandoned us and left the entire human race to rot for eternity.  The blessing soon became a curse and TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY sought to show how horrifying never-ending life can be.
But with only 10 episodes granted for this miraculous fourth season of TORCHWOOD, and seven episodes having aired to date, I found myself thinking something appalling:  I wish it had never come back.
When TORCHWOOD ended its third and final season as a British series with CHILDREN OF EARTH, it was heralded as its finest season and one worthy of accolades across the globe.  It was a taut thriller that tormented us with its question of what would you sacrifice to save the human race – was the life of a child a price too high to pay?
Coming off that glorious season, the news that the show was not being picked up due to financial issues left fans and critics stunned at its sudden demise.  But determined to not let his “baby” die, Russell T Davies took his series to America and secured the financing necessary to continue the TORCHWOOD saga. 
But like TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has so acutely shown:  dead is dead.  Death may elude for a time, but sooner or later it shall swoop back in.  So those who have been marked for death – who have sustained illnesses or injuries so catastrophic as to virtually render them dead – they are essentially dead.  They are dead men walking.  Zombies, if you will.  They arise conquering death only to slowly rot away.  It was no wonder that the module ovens were created to dispose of those who would simply not die, but were already dead and yet their bodies would not obey the natural order of life.
TORCHWOOD is the same.  It is a living zombie of its former self.  It has risen from cancellation to be but a pale imitation of the show it once was.  It was not simply the Americanization of the show, nor the addition of prevalent American characters.  It just isn’t TORCHWOOD anymore. 
The TORCHWOOD we all knew and loved died.  We are now merely watching a caricature of a show that calls itself TORCHWOOD.  Captain Jack and Gwen may be there, with brief appearances by Rhys and a few other familiar faces, but the heart and soul of TORCHWOOD is gone.  Everyone is going through the motions, but it doesn’t feel the same and it is not the same.
Too much has been changed.  The show not only films in America, but it also takes place in America with virtually all the actors being American, letting the American tone and voice color the story and characters.  Worse yet, it seeks to cultivate and entice the American viewers who have been leery of embracing a British television series by incorporating some of the most crass elements of American television. 
This most recent episode is a good example.  In episode 7 “Immortal Sins,” the story sought to spotlight Captain Jack, a character who had been relegated to the sidelines for much of this season, only trotted out to remind us that he was there.  Having been afflicted in reverse, his immortality stripped and made mortal the moment everyone else on Earth became immortal, Jack was pushed aside as being too vulnerable to risk his life.  But in “Immortal Sins,” it was finally necessary to pull back the curtain and reveal why Miracle Day had been brought about.  It was, as suspected, invoked by someone from Jack’s past – a scorned and abandoned lover who had inadvertently turned Jack over to an alien species looking to extend their own lives – at Jack’s expense by killing him repeatedly, bleeding him dry and stealing his blood with its unique healing properties.  While the concept was cool, its execution was stomach-turning.  The entire episode felt like a cheap horror flick, combining gay porn with torture porn.  Not only was the character exploited, but the actor as well.  This was not the way to tell the story of how Jack’s blood brought about Miracle Day.
For fans of TORCHWOOD prior to this season, one of the more endearing aspects of Captain Jack was his faithfulness to those he loved.  Jack would always sacrifice himself for those he cared for, without hesitation.  This episode violated two of those basic principles.  One, Jack would have gladly given his life in exchange to save Gwen’s child and family. After all, that is why he returned to Earth — to protect Gwen.  Two, Jack loved Ianto.  The love story of Jack and Ianto was a beautiful relationship that fans embraced through the second and third seasons of TORCHWOOD.  While it may have not aired recently, fans acutely recall Ianto’s sacrifice in CHILDREN OF EARTH.  Even seeing Jack fall in love with and seduce another man in Jack’s past feels like a slap in the face.  It may have been decades before Jack met Ianto, but for the fans, it feels like yesterday.  Jack may not have cheated on Ianto, but it sure felt like it watching Jack portrayed as being in love so soon after such a huge love of his life had been killed.  For new fans, it is like yesterday.  I know I persuaded many to watch the prior seasons of TORCHWOOD before MIRACLE DAY began airing last month – and Ianto’s death is fresh on their minds as well.  So while it is helpful to know that Jack had inspired someone to love him to such a degree that such a man would come back to haunt him many years later, the explicit relationship did not need to be thrown in our faces.  It dishonors the memory of Ianto and the relationship that he and Jack shared.
Plus, the over emphasis of Jack’s relationship with the man who created Miracle Day did not serve to endear the character to the audience.  It just felt misplaced.
And don’t even get me started on the exploitive torture scene! Is that truly what the writers think American audiences are attracted to — explicit sex and explicit violence?  Speaking for myself, I have always loved TORCHWOOD because it was able to tell the darkest, most horrifying stories ever to grace the television screen without resorting to explicit sex or violence.  Both sex and violence have been a part of TORCHWOOD from the beginning, but it was never used to titillate and make us a party to its glorifying excess.  TORCHWOOD was about the dark side of human nature and what we will do when confronted with our darkest fears and the means to conquer them.  It was a psychological thriller challenging our perceptions and beliefs.  Instead, it has been resurrected in typical misconception with the strategy to simply “shock and awe.”  But there is no substance in that.
When Vera died within the fires of the module oven, did we weep?  No.  But we should have.  TORCHWOOD has always been magnificent at introducing characters in such a way that it is gut-wrenching when they die.  Even the traitorous Suzy left us with a haunting impression that sent ripple-effects throughout the subsequent seasons.  TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has been slapped together without finesse, insight or care.  It reeks of too much money, too much ambition and not enough craftsmanship.  I lay the blame squarely on two shoulders:  Jane Espenson, who has written 5 out of the 10 episodes (more than any other writer this season), who writes with such a broadstroke and lack of respect to the core of what made TORCHWOOD special; and Russell T Davies, who entrusted TORCHWOOD into the care of writers who could not deliver the quality necessary to invoke the true TORCHWOOD spirit.  Showrunning does not simply mean recruiting writers, it means keeping a watchful eye over them to ensure that due care and respect is given. 
Echoing the millions of TORCHWOOD fans across the globe, we expected so much more.  Now we can only pray the show gets a dignified death and is not cursed to live for eternity in its zombie state.  It is but a shell of the show we all know and loved.

New episodes of TORCHWOOD air Fridays at 10PM on Starz (Saturdays at 9PM on Space in Canada) and stars John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Kai Owen and Gareth David-Lloyd.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

  • Kaitlin Thomas

    I just think 10 episodes was too many for this show. I liked the first two seasons, but when they switched from their standard seasons to the abbreviated mini-season event of season 3, the show was even better. I think Children of Earth worked so well because there were only 5 episodes and they were jam-packed with so much action and danger and risks that it worked extremely well, it had you on the edge of your seat the entire time. But to have 10 episodes to essentially do the same thing (focus on one major event), it seems they need some filler for those extra episodes. I think last week’s episode could have worked if, say, only 20 minutes had been dedicated to the entire Jack backstory, especially because 10 minutes in to the flashback and you knew this man was going to be the man behind Miracle Day. Having an entire episode only to end with that reveal? That was ridiculous and not at all like Torchwood should be. Torchwood works better with the quick reveals, with less characters on screen (though I do miss Ianto and Tosh and Owen) and with tighter stories. I love this show, I still really do and I don’t want this to be the last season, but another season can’t be like this one. Not to mention Jack was extremely out of character in the entire car sequence. Jack has ALWAYS sacrificed himself, hell he sacrificed his own child last season to save the world. If Gwen had asked him he’d have gone willingly and with a plan. It was just sloppy writing. I really hope these last three episodes are rock solid with tighter writing, because I’m not ready to see the last of Gwen Cooper (and I do love John Barrowman).

  • Joe Bua

    Money killed Torchwood. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Only last week did it actually feel somewhat like Torchwood past.

    Biggest disappointment of the TV year.

  • I still adore the show. It’s different than it was and people who can’t let go were always going to dislike this new iteration of it no matter what. I’m looking forward to seeing it tonight. A lot of questions should be answered. 

  • Toona

    Jack did offer to give himself up to the bad guys duriing the car ride. They didn’t answer. I assume he then didn’t trust them so changed his mind

  • Elizabeth

    It’s not about ‘letting go’ of the old format. It’s about not wanting to sit through ten hours of badly-conceived, contrived, nonsensical, plotless wank.

  • Larry

    I have to agree with your assessment.  I am disapponted this year -despite that I am watching to find out what happens.  I am hoping this series redeems itself.  But it has meandered so much in it’s storytelling that it would had been better served to had been much shorter.  It lost itself trying to appeal to an American audience.  And I couldn’t believe the conversation between Gwen and Jack last episode -they didn’t even feel like the characters I have loved since the beginning.  I would have to blame Staz for some of this as well.  They wanted the shock and awe that accompanies their mature audiences -and I would had preferred the more subtle and romantice context of the earlier seasons.

  • Sammie

    I watched most of that episode from between my fingers. Not because I was grossed out by the torture, but because I was so embarrassed for John Barrowman. This entire season has done a huge disservice to everything he (and everyone else from the first three seasons) worked to build. From the atrocious casting (Mekhi is a terrible actor) to the ridiculous characters (Esther is so weepy and bumbling, she should have been killed – well “killed” – immediately). I think I’ll choose to remember the heartbreak of Children of Earth, and pretend Miracle Day never happened. 

  • OrangeCrush

    I so wanted to like this spinoff (they should stop calling it a 4th season), but it’s simply not been good.  Episode 7 really shows that Russell T. Davies doesn’t care about Torchwood.  Jane Espenson might be a fine writer, but her lack of understanding of the characters, their timelines, etc. is a disaster.  Her belief that having a character echo lines reminiscent to Ianto is a gift to fans is absurd.  I’m embarrassed that I convinced so many people to give this show a try.  Those who watched the previous shows are confused by Gwen’s sudden plethora of skills and those who didn’t don’t understand the Gwen/Jack dynamic (as apparently JE doesn’t) and ask me questions like ” Are they lovers?” and “Is that baby his?”  And, for the love of Rassilon, just admit you’ve made a mistake in Jack’s timeline rather than say “Jack’s timeline is more complicated than previous shown”!  (Yes, JE says Angelo’s Jack is a time traveling Jack from the future, not Torchwood Free Agent/waiting for the Doctor Jack.  I lost all respect for JE at that moment.  If I had any respect left for RTD I would have lost that, too.)

    I jokingly said to someone who said I was being too hard on the new show that I did like Vera so she they would probably find a way to kill her off in a world where nobody dies.  The next episode they made me like her less (Rex? seriously?) and killed her off.  Clearly her character was only created to kill in a cheap attempt at drama.  Fail.  We don’t know her well enough to have an emotional attachment and, honestly, Rex’s lack of likability contaminated her.  

    I still watch for Barrowman, but if RTD decides to do another show (Starz already said they’d love to if he had a good idea and clearly if they thought this was a good idea they have low standards) even Barrowman couldn’t make me watch it.  Truly sad.

  • Elly

    To be completely honest, I’m not a big fan of one of the main writers, Jane Espensen. She tries, she really does, and for that I give her a lot of credit. I feel like her light hearted “not taking itself seriously” style of writing just does not work for dramatic series. She bombed on Battlestar Galactica’s “The Plan” movie and now I see her quirks in writing pop up everywhere in Torchwood. I think Espensen has a lot of potential in certain types of shows but she is being hired to write the wrong ones.

    I don’t think TORCHWOOD is dead because it is TORCHWOOD. I think this was just not a great season and they need to tweak the writer’s room around a bit. The show could still have a chance.

    I agree with this article. I have only been watching TW:MD for John Barrowman. John is my favorite actor and I watch everything he does.I did not become interested in the show at all until last weeks episode
    Also Ianto was my favorite character. I didn’t have a problem with Angelo, It was the bartender I had a problem with. The way they wrote his character was a slap in the face to Ianto fans. They used the coat pick up lines and the same banter that Ianto would of had. I’m not blaming the actor I’m blaming the writer.
     I prefer Torchwood with each episode as its own Mini-story. They have a problem and fix it by the end of episode one. It did have a storyline that went all across season 2  and I didn’t mind. John Hart shows up first episode  and they made it last till the end.But they never really mentioned it until the last couple of episodes.
    To me Torchwood was dead when they Killed Ianto. It’s bad enough when they killed off 2 major characters in season 2, leaving them with only 3 people. Then they kill off  Ianto, Jack leaves earth and Gwen Is heavily pregnant. Once I saw that there was no way Torchwood Would be saved in 4th series without bringing back Ianto, or at least John,Owen, or Toshiko.
    Another thing I had a problem with was they didn’t use Owen’s character really well at the end of season 2. He had so much potential after he died the first time.

  • There are good points here. As a first time Torchwood watcher, and a 15-year-old who really isn’t fond of watching gay sex on TV, I feel kind of the same way about episode seven. I mean, yeah, we learned a lot about Jack’s past. Great. But seriously, there were other ways to have done it, weren’t there? And we need more Welsh! I liked this episode only because there was less America and more Gwen, because she is amazing. Give me more Gwen Cooper on a motorbike and less random CIA folk trying to be incognito and failing miserably.

  • For me It’s not the fact that Jacks in a relationship. I can get past that. It’s the fact they got an Ianto look alike to be in the relationship with Jack

  • NotAgain

    Why on earth would _anyone_ be embarrassed for John Barrowman?  A) he’s the most shameless human being alive, and B) he loves this stuff.

  • Thank you for writing such a well thought out explanation for why TW now sucks.  I stopped watching at the end of season 3, but i did see the ep in question as I was curious and so glad I did not invest myself in this travesty.   I watched for jack barrowman and cast, NOT American cast with a special guest appearance by Jack Barrowman.  Interesting that a show that purports to be headlined by an actor, actually isnt.  Its like false advertising.   Good job RTD, you managed to kill another one of your creations.  Bravo!!