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Torchwood: The Complete First Season(TV) (2006)
Separate from the government, outside the police, beyond the United Nations, Torchwood sets its own rules. Led by the enigmatic, ever watchful Captain Jack Harkness, the Torchwood team delves into the unknown and fights the impossible. From an underground base built on a rift in time and space, the team responds to any alien threat - a meteorite crash landing, sightings of extra-terrestrial technology, an unusual autopsy report, the spread of a deadly alien virus... Everyone who works for Torchwood is young. Some say that's because it's a new science. Others say it's because they die young.
For more about Torchwood: The Complete First Season and the Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review published by Lindsay Mayer on November 8, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Mekhi Phifer, Lauren Ambrose
» See full cast & crew
Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
An excellent science fiction spin-off series from the United Kingdom lands on Blu.
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, November 8, 2008
A television aficionado I am not, to the point that even celebrated international series like Doctor Who are familiar to me in name alone. The long-running series is something I do intend to view in its entirety "someday," though I know not when that day will come. So much out of the loop was I that until I began compiling information for this review, I was not even aware that Torchwood was a Doctor Who spin-off. This works very much in the series' favor, however - with little exception, Torchwood works extremely well as a standalone concept.
So much about this film is unique that even the title has an interesting history. When the latest production of the Doctor Who series was underway in 2004, "torchwood" - an anagram of "doctor who" - was used as a code name on dailies in order to prevent the footage from being spirited away by overzealous video pirates, eager to get a glimpse of the new Who. Writer and Torchwood creator Russell T Davies took a liking to the code name, however, and decided to use it as a title for his more adult-themed spin-off series... something that had been brewing in his mind even longer than the Who revival.
Following the enormous success of the new Doctor Who, making-ofs and spin-offs galore came in its wake. Utilizing some of the latter's characters and a sprinkling of recurring themes, Torchwood was brought to life soon after its parent series' revival, first airing in October 2006. It follows the story of Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), a police officer in Cardiff, Wales. Living a fairly humdrum existence in a mostly quiet city with her live-in boyfriend Rhys, Gwen's life is substantially altered one rainy night. Investigating a murder, she spies a mysterious group of "special forces" bring the victim's body back to life for barely two minutes, imploring him to tell them who killed him. Overcome with curiosity, Gwen manages to trace the group back to a lonely industrial pier, and soon discovers far more than she could imagine.
Led by the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), an apparently immortal U.S. native out of his own time, the entity known as Torchwood is "separate from the government, outside the police, and beyond the United Nations." Anything that covers heady concepts such as extraterrestrial life, supernatural forces, or rifts in the known time-space continuum, Torchwood is the go-to team. A very reclusive organization which jealously guards its secrets, Harkness and his crew are none-too-welcoming of the nosy Gwen. Though the captain attempts to dispose of Gwen by drugging her with an amnesia pill, odd flashbacks and her own dogged perseverance bring her back to Torchwood within days. Realizing her potential, the team relent and bring Gwen into the fold, though they hardly stop to let her catch her breath.
For the remainder of the season's 13 episodes, Gwen tags along and acts as the softer "soul," of the team, composed of the cynical smart-ass Dr. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), the somewhat insecure computer technician Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), and the long-suffering "butler" of the group, Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Although Torchwood follows a very loose serial format, especially in the characters' personal conflicts, the series by and far employs a "one-off" story format, with plots coming full circle by the end of a single 50-minutes episode. The writing is incredibly imaginative, deftly pulling together relationship drama and science fiction elements that could very quickly become campy if they were handled poorly. The dichotomy of Torchwood's worlds complement each other; one a fantastic, limitless landscape of creatures benevolent and vicious that the team must handle on the fly, and the other a very ordinary human world populated by unremarkable human individuals. All the pettiness and squabbling exist there, all the racking torment of lost loves, and all the pent-up trauma of not being able to discuss their extraordinary cases with anyone "outside" their circle... no friends, no lovers, no relatives. This creates core of characters that one cannot help but grow to care about, relating to their bizarre circumstances with very human plight. Many episodes feel like the very best of The X-Files, all with a uniquely U.K. flavor, and considerably more sexual content and expletives than would be allowed in the U.S. - again, making it all the better with such engrossing dialogue and character development. One can't help but flip to the next disc waiting to see what happens to Captain Harkness and company.
Torchwood has subsequently become both an audience and a critical darling, and not without reason. The series skillfully mixes shocking and sensational elements with plausible characterization and nuanced storytelling, creating an addictive concoction of good science fiction in a serial television style. Though it is a spin-off of Doctor Who, there is very little within the series that will leave a Who neophyte confused. As mentioned before, I watch very little television and thus am hardly an expert, but if the adept production and writing of Torchwood were a more widely-practiced standard, I would surely be a box addict in no time.
Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sporting a 1080i, VC-1 encoding that averages about 25 Mbps, Torchwood looks pretty darn good on this Blu-ray release. Converted to 60i from the BBC's original rate of 50i HDV, the series has a "live" look about it that makes its sci-fi drama stories all the more effective. Detail is well-captured in Torchwood's visually diverse settings, from the verdant countryside, to the organization's dank underground headquarters, to the lush, romantic palette of World War II Cardiff. Flesh tones were very well balanced, and the textures of everything from cloth, to silky hair, to crumbling stone walls are rendered in good relief, with plenty of nuance present throughout Torchwood's miseenscθne. Black levels are nicely deep and rich, while the white effects of alien light and torn rifts are bright without displaying bloom problems. No compression artifacts were noticeable, and aside from the slight softness displayed due to the interlaced picture, Torchwood looks smart in high definition.
Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Torchwood comes to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 track that is often quite impressive for a dialogue-heavy television series. The latter is clear and easily distinguishable; as a U.S. native, I had no trouble at all with the variety of U.K. accents, whether Welsh, Scottish, or anything in between. Mostly reserved to the center channel, the mix still follows characters nicely around a scene, using the left and right fronts accordingly when they are called for. The fronts are most often utilized for score playback; nicely rendered for the small screen by Ben Foster, musical cues can switch with ease from enchanting to creepy. Torchwood's subject matter makes for plenty of action and tense scenes, and a healthy amount of ambiance to enhance any given episode's mood is used often and effectively. I fully appreciated the lively and frequent use of the rears for residual sounds within a scene; the channels even picked up the odd bit of score here and there, as well. LFE was often more subtly mixed than booming, but it was well implemented and boosted the overall "feel" of the soundscape. Though not as fully uncompressed as its Master Audio cousin, the High Resolution mix on this first season of Torchwood was well-balanced and very effective, and I am relieved that the series was not relegated to a lossy Dolby Digital treatment.
Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Torchwood has employed an interesting layout of extra features for its Blu-ray debut. Rather than lumping all supplements into a single dedicated disc, episode-relevant featurettes and other materials (all of which are presented in standard definition and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound) are spread across all six of the box set's BDs. At first, one would think that the goodies offered up in this set are vast and exhaustive. They sure look good when completely listed out, after all. When viewing the myriad interviews and behind-the-scenes looks, however, it quickly becomes apparent that the supplements recycle the same clips frequently, almost to the point of making one indistinguishable from the other. Chapters from BBC's coinciding making-of series, "Torchwood Declassified," give a good overview of each episode, and almost would have been enough on their own. When separate featurettes are dedicated to character and story discussion on top of that, however, it feels like overkill. And if behind-the-scenes material were not enough, audio commentaries are provided for all 13 episodes of the series' initial season. Voracious fans of the series may love such a treatment, but the rest of us are left with a cynical attitude that there is only so much to discuss about filming Torchwood.
The aforementioned Audio Commentaries are provided for every one of the set's 13 episodes, featuring three cast and crew members in each. Torchwood Declassified is the common theme amongst all six discs. Usually hovering around 10 minutes each, the clips cover every episode individually, taking a mostly in-universe tone, discussing the story arcs, triumphs and challenges that any one particular character may have undergone. Torchwood Out Of This World focus on the special effects - both CGI and practical - used to bring various supernatural beings and alien creatures to life on the show. The six numeral-coded Nodes offer making-of materials with a bit of a personal diary feel to them, examining set activity and props in closer detail. It is also where one can find Deleted Scenes, lumped together in consecutive playback on three of the set's discs. The Team And Their Troubles are episode-specific featurettes that focus on a single Torchwood team member and the particular antagonist or annoyance they must face in the course of said episode. Torchwood Moments In The Making get even more nitty gritty, profiling a certain scene or climactic sequence within an episode. Finally, some standalone features like the two part Welcome to Torchwood, or Torchwood: Sex, Violence, Blood & Gore pop up occasionally; the latter being a look at the more adult themes of this post-watershed series. The former however, provided on the first disc, is a prime example of the sometimes heavily recycled material within the set's extra features; it is not so much a two-part piece as it is a full intro to the series (Part I), and its redundant, more annotated version (Part II).
Given the set's layout, provided below is a listing of each disc's supplements in detail, as well as runtime.
Torchwood: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It often takes a lot of will for me to sit through the grueling feat of many television shows, most especially if it is a marathon viewing of bland U.S. productions that delight in meandering subplots. That was thankfully not the case with Torchwood, a beguiling blend of science fiction and drama from the U.K. Covering everything from aliens to time travel to good old-fashioned cannibalism, the series draws you in with excellent writing, snappy pacing, and sensational content that simultaneously does not insult your intelligence. The Blu-ray comes with great picture filmed in 50i HDV, giving a more "live" impression than the frame rates used in the U.S. The well-mixed DTS-HD HR 5.1 track is also a pleasant surprise, given that most BBC Blu-rays are relegated to lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Though the supplements get redundant, employing recycled clips frequently, they are still quite exhaustively informative and sure to please the hardcore fan. With a well-rounded and impressive package, I thoroughly recommend this first season of Torchwood to all Blu-ray fans with an eye for a good story!
Torchwood: Other Seasons
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