Dancing queens

BBC America’s Torchwood
By JAMES PARKER  |  January 22, 2008

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CAPTAINS JACK AND JOHN: First we make out, then we fight.

I do like to see people enjoying themselves, and the second season of Torchwood, which kicks off this Saturday at 9 pm on BBC America, is a right old rave-up. Conceived as a spinoff from the vintage BBC kids’ show Doctor Who (of which its name — as crossword lovers among you will have at once realized — is a cunning anagram), Torchwood has since come into its own: a post-gay multiple-universe soap opera with one foot in the new Britain and the other in the giddiest pulp sci-fi. Located on some kind of temporal rift or fistula, Cardiff is having a bit of a problem with aliens. They’re everywhere, and having slipped into Wales through this hole in time, they do not hesitate to pursue the obscure imperatives of their beings: getting wrecked in clubs, eating people, and so on. Torchwood are the elite and galactically empowered crew charged with the containment of these aliens, and their head honcho is pansexual starship trooper Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, an Adonis visiting television from the neighboring planet of musical theater, it seems). As we ended the first season, Torchwood were leaderless — dead for a day or two after a battle with the demon Abaddon, Biblical eater of worlds, Captain Jack resurrected himself and then, in a manner of speaking, ascended into Heaven, whooshing invisibly away into the cosmos. “Something’s taken him,” lamented one Torchwood team member.

But no worries, Torchwood fans, because Captain Jack is back. Season 2 begins with a coked-up, blowfish-headed alien stealing a car (Captain Jack shoots him negligently in the head) and then, a short while thereafter, the appearance on Earth of Captain Jack’s ex-partner/lover, Captain John Hart (James Marsters). Captain John is boozy, unethical, an interstellar slut, but very dashing — he dresses like one of the drummers from Adam and the Ants. (He and Jack make out briefly and then have a tremendous fistfight.) Are you beginning to get the flavor of this excellent show? The Torchwood crew are also intact: gorgeous big-eyed Gwen (Eve Myles), with her smoky Welsh accent, brainy Tosh (Naoko Mori), coolly efficient Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd). And of course Owen, with his fleshless horny-monkey face, played by Burn Gorman, whom viewers of last year’s BBC Bleak House will recognize as the quivering and hopelessly impassioned Mr. Guppy.

Torchwood Season 2 looks more expensive than Season 1: glossier, with sharper editing and, when something explodes, less of those fat, slow-moving sparks that are the hallmark of an inhibited budget. Modern Wales — rained-on, overlit, CCTV-infested — is as poetic as ever, and the notes of 21st-century leisure hedonism are knowingly struck. “It’s a temporal displacement,” smirks Captain John after inducing a minor time spasm. “Makes your tongue tingle, eh? Lovely!”

Later in the season we’re promised “temptation, heartache, and a life-changing event.” What could that last one be? In a series as promiscuously imaginative as this, with these writers and this cast (and this money), anything is possible: a plot line that calls for chocolate submarines, or a mission to force Abba to re-form because if Captain Jack can’t dance, dance, dance to a live performance of “Dancing Queen,” then a black hole will spread like an umbrageous coffee stain across the Universe . . . “How can you stay tied to one planet,” Captain John naughtily asks Captain Jack, in what might be interpreted as a version of Torchwood’s æsthetic credo, “when there’s thousands of worlds, sparkling with wonder? The glitter of the galaxies! The mischief we could make!

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