The 21st century is when everything changes, and you gotta be ready.Torchwood
—Captain Jack Harkness
is a Spin-Off
of the British science fiction institution Doctor Who
, and set in the main canon Whoniverse
. It's Darker and Edgier
, Hotter and Sexier
, Bloodier and Gorier
, and very, very campy
.This page is for series 1 and 2 and the show in general. For tropes in the later seasons, please see their own trope pages:
The show follows a men in black
-esque group of government agents who collect the Applied Phlebotinum left over
from alien incursions and time-travel weirdness, and use it to defend Great Britain. They are not answerable to the elected government, or any other body (except, technically, the Queen herself).
The group's leader is the omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness, a former con man from the 51st century. In Doctor Who
, he Came Back Wrong
in the year 200100, unable to age (much), sleep or die. He subsequently traveled to the 19th century and, due to a broken time machine, got stuck on The Slow Path
. Jack hopes to be cured of his immortality by the Doctor, and patiently waits for him to turn up in Cardiff. Meanwhile, the series follows Na´ve Newcomer
PC Gwen Cooper as she meets Jack, joins Torchwood, and learns to live with the idea of Aliens in Cardiff
After the destruction of Torchwood London in Doctor Who
, Jack incorporates its remains into his significantly smaller Cardiff
branch. It's built on top of a spatio-temporal rift
(first seen in Doctor Who
) through which aliens regularly stumble. They have an Elaborate Underground Base
, complete with a pterodactyl
. Although ostensibly a secret organisation, they're infamous with the police as well as with the locals. And their idea of secrecy
involves driving around in a van with the word "Torchwood" in big yellow letters on it and ordering pizza under the name "Torchwood" to be delivered at their unlocked front door.
Before the series aired, "Torchwood" was frequently mentioned or alluded to in Doctor Who
. Tosh first shows up in "Aliens of London"
. The word "Torchwood" was subsequently an Arc Word
in (nearly) every episode of series 2. In the 2005 Christmas Special "The Christmas Invasion"
, Harriet Jones (Prime Minister) gives us our first look at Torchwood London, when she asks the organization to shoot down an alien spaceship. Torchwood is earlier/later
founded in the episode "Tooth and Claw"
, the secret organization's Victorian-era origin story. The two-part season finale "Army of Ghosts"
finally revealed the inside of Torchwood London, which was then immediately destroyed in the Battle of Canary Wharf. Series 1 of Torchwood
takes place not long after this.
Has a recap page
. Ho Yay
goes on Doctor Who
For a full list of novelizations and audio dramas, see this page
on The Other Wiki
- Giant Flyer: Myfanwy the pterodactyl.
- Going to Give It More Energy: The mere shadow of Abbadon instantly drains the life from anyone unlucky enough to be touched by it. The solution? Jack Harkness, the man who keeps resurrecting due to an "overabundance of life energy", forces Abbadon to gorge until it falls over dead.
- Good Thing You Can Heal:
- Jack's job title has gone from "captain" to "meat shield".
- Inverted in series 2 with Owen, after his return from the dead, who loses the ability to heal completely, making the slightest injury potentially crippling.
- Gone Horribly Right: Jack's immortality was caused when Rose brought him back using the full power of the time vortex, but "forgot" to make it so he could die.
- Guarding The Portal: The Cardiff Rift, that is.
- Head-Tiltingly Kinky:
- Jack, of course, and, even more so, Captain John Hart.
Hart: That's bloody gorgeous.
Gwen: That's a poodle.
- While not too kinky by Torchwood standards, in "Day One", Toshiko was doing a head tilt when the team were watching Gwen making out with the Monster of the Week.
- The Heart: Gwen's hired to fulfill this very purpose. Lampshaded very strongly in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang", when a doped-up alien blowfish is dishing out the Hannibal Lectures left, right and center:
Blowfish: [looks at Gwen] The Carer, with her oh-so-beating heart.
- Hellhole Prison: Run by UNIT.
- Hospital Hottie: Torchwood: Miracle Day's Dr. Vera Juarez. Walking down hospital corridors with her long legs, perfect hair, low-cut dress, and high heels, she looks like a model walking the runway.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Becomes a more prevalent theme as the series becomes progressively darker. By Children of Earth and Miracle Day it almost seems as if there is no level of cruelty humans will not stoop to if given a motivation.
- Hurting Hero: Jack.
- I'm a Humanitarian: "Countrycide".
- Iconic Item: Jack's greatcoat. Even when the Hub is collapsing around their ears, Ianto pauses in his escape to grab it for him; later he tracks down a replacement coat after the original is destroyed in "Day One", because Jack doesn't feel like the captain without it. Ianto's suits function similarly.
- Idiot Ball: So much so that most of the main characters are granted at least one idiot ball episode.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: That is NOT how you handle a gun, dang it.
- IKEA Weaponry: Jack and Ianto assemble a BFG from two suitcases in the back of their SUV when an alien proves Immune to Bullets.
- Informed Attribute: Jack's sex life. He talks about it all the time, but doesn't show much of it on camera.
- This is averted in Miracle Day, where his sexual activities are on full display.
- Interrogating the Dead: Done in "Everything Changes".
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Owen.
- Killed Off for Real: In just five episodes, we lost Tosh, Owen, and Ianto.
- Kiss of Life: Used twice by Jack. And once by Gwen.
- Large Ham: While not entirely devoid of them, John Barrowman isn't known for his subtle moments.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The chemical "Retcon" which Torchwood uses on their witnesses and ex-members.
- Leitmotif: All the characters, but especially powerful is Owen Harper's; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2RnT1KrvBE
- Jack's theme also contains noticeable riffs and variations on "The Doctor's Theme" and "This is Gallifrey" at the 1:07 and 2:00 minute mark respectively, echoing that Jack has come to strongly resemble the Time Lord himself.
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Pretty much everyone at Torchwood at one point or another, but mostly Jack.
- Love Makes You Dumb: This trope is basically Ianto's way of life.
- Love Theme: Although only heard once in its entirety, fragments of "Jack's Love Theme" appear in other romantic scenes, notably Jack/Ianto ones.
- Love Triangle: Every single member of the main cast is involved in at least one to varying degrees and with mixed results.
- Magical Abortion: Torchwood has a lot of Applied Phlebotinum that can be used for different occasions, including this one.
- Mainlining the Monster:
- Inverted in Children of Earth, in which the 456 want our children so that they can get high off them.
- In an episode a small group of humans exploit a Space Whale with a Healing Factor stranded on Earth; they use it for a cheap source of meat to wholesale.
- Mars Needs Women: Gwen's pregnancy in "Something Borrowed".
- The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life
- Mayfly-December Romance: Jack and most of his love interests. To make matters worse, most of the people he falls for are tragic heroes who die young.
- Lampshaded pretty painfully by Ianto's death.
"Don't forget me."
- Meaningful Background Event: During the episode "Captain Jack Harkness", Vote Saxon signs can be seen hung on the door of the dance hall.
- The Men in Black: Torchwood itself.
- Metallicar Syndrome: The Torchwood van: a large black van with the organization's name on it.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Happens to Toshiko in the episode "Greeks Bearing Gifts".
- Monster of the Week: ...At least, the first two series. After the successful switch to "mini-series focused on a single threat" of Children of Earth, RTD decided to drop the MOTW format altogether.
- Motive Decay: So they're trying to restore British supremacy...or prepare humanity for aliens...or hide the existence of aliens...or build a cool alien tech collection. Somewhat justified by the fact that the government can't tell Torchwood what to do, and all the people who can order them around were killed before the show started, leaving them to pretty much do whatever they feel like. Like have sex.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Jack and his lust, as well as his brashness.
- Muggle-and-Magical Love Triangle: Gwen is caught between Jack (magical) and Rhys (muggle). It never goes anywhere, though—she only gives Jack a few friendly snogs. The trope is played a bit straighter with Gwen's affair with Owen, since she can't share her experiences with Rhys and sees Owen as someone who understands about aliens and monsters.
- Mundanger: A Cannibal Clan in "Countrycide".
- In the first episode, Gwen wonders why no one falls into the secret lift in the middle of Roald Dahl Plass. Jack rolls his eyes at her Welshness.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: Jack is told off by Gwen that everyone on his staff has feelings, even Owen.
- The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Ianto Jones first introduces himself to Jack in this way. The Tie In Novels establish him as a Bond fan who watches movie marathons on slow days.
- Negative Space Wedgie: For the Doctor, it's a convenient petrol station for his TARDIS. For Torchwood, it provides a steady stream of Applied Phlebotinum, as well as a reason for their continued employment. For the general population of Cardiff, it is the unknown cause for their city's somewhat-elevated rate of random missing persons.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
- Owen's decision to open the rift in order to save Jack and Tosh leads to mass chaos and a number of deaths.
- The entire team (except for Jack) is collectively responsible for releasing Abaddon in the first season finale.
- No Badge? No Problem!: Though they do have authorization to be at crime scenes under the Masquerade of "special ops", and one of their group is a trained police officer, the rest of Torchwood Three consist of a pathologist, a computer expert/hacker, and...the guy who gets everyone everywhere on time and looks good in a suit. In one episode, Jack has to call the police, who are not happy with this arrangement, for help when everyone but Gwen winds up locked in the base with no power; the officer who takes the call puts it on speaker and calls the entire station over to mock them.
- Noodle Implements: Jack and Ianto know there's lots of things you can do with a stopwatch...
- Noodle Incident: How Jack and Ianto got involved in the first place—we get to see every part of their growing relationship apart from that. The two also love to revel in the trope:
Jack: [nonchalant] We could've used you half an hour ago for naked hide-and-seek.
Ianto: [doing up his pants] He cheats. He always cheats.
- The Nothing After Death: Comes up several times throughout the series. The general consensus is that there is nothing but a black void or even a Cessation of Existence, however, several people have claimed that there is something moving in the void and that it's coming for Jack. Death itself is revealed to be there, but it was more connected to Owen then Jack, this is never mentioned again.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Post-Series 2, the whole format of the show has changed. The "monster of the week"-style storytelling has been abandoned in favor of single-story serials. Cardiff is no longer the fixed setting, and only two of the original cast of five remains.
- Not So Different:
- John Hart. Who is essentially as amoral as Jack was in his first appearance.
- Jack is repeatedly showing traits of the Doctor. Like the Doctor, he seems to be partially aware that he needs someone with him to keep him grounded and to stop succumbing to his darker impulses.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Jack can ramble at length about where he's been and who he slept with while there. This isn't always because he's the Handsome Lech.
- Oddly Small Organization: The Torchwood Three Hub is a massive underground complex, several stories high, which is somehow maintained by a team of five or fewer people. It is also expanded periodically. Sometime during Jack's months of absence between series 1 and 2, the remaining four members of the team performed extensive renovations in the Hub, including adding a large new conference room. The entire complex is apparently cleaned and maintained by Ianto, who also somehow finds time to make coffee, do various administrative work and staff the tourist office that conceals the Hub's other entrance—when he's not out Weevil hunting or playing "naked hide-and-seek" with Jack.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Jack, despite being very very sexually active.
- Older Than They Look: Jack. At the start of the series, he's been stranded on Earth since 1869. After the events of "Exit Wounds", he's at least 2,000 years old.
- One-Woman Wail: Gray's theme.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Justified with Jack (and even Lampshaded), not so much with everyone else. The people of Cardiff really like to shoot each other in the shoulder.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
- James Marsters, who plays Fake Brit Captain John Hart, has a come-and-go American trace (despite his years as Spike).
- And while John Barrowman's American accent (though Jack's not born on Earth) is mostly flawless (he did grow up in the US for quite some time), he does have a British pronunciation to some of his words which reveals his spending most of his working life in Britain.
- Which is completely realistic, considering how much time the character has spent in Britain.
- Our Zombies Are Different: In "Bay of the Dead". They may look, act, and smell like shambling reanimated corpses, but they're little more than malfunctioning protein-based search drones based on a human's memories from watching a zombie flick.
- Out with a Bang: In "Sleeper", when the The End of the World as We Know It seems imminent, Owen suggests that he, Tosh, and Ianto evoke this trope. The reply:
Ianto: And I thought the end of the world couldn't get any worse.
- Pizza Boy Special Delivery: In the first episode, Gwen "sneaks" into the Hub by delivering pizza, but the team just can't restrain the giggles. Jack recites both halves of the script of this trope, stopping just before the bow-chicka-wow-wow.
- Power Perversion Potential: Among other things mentioned in the first series, such as bottled pheromones.
- Railing Kill: John Hart does this to Jack in "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang."
- Rape as Drama: In "Ghost Machine", when Owen experiences the feelings of a girl getting raped through telepathy, and does a total Heel-Face Turn on the topic.
- Reckless Gun Usage:
- A shooting lesson scene showed Gwen playfully pointing a loaded gun at Jack's face. Admittedly, he can get better, but as an ex-soldier he should have reacted more than "Target's that way!", if only to save her next target.
- And in "Day One" (the series one episode), Owen points his gun at a gaseous lifeform...which is directly between him and Gwen.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: According to John Barrowman's autobiography, Ianto's head wound in "Countrycide" was not make-up, but the result of Gareth David-Lloyd cracking his head open when the whole cast got very drunk the night before filming. In fact, the make-up artist tried and failed to cover up the cut, so they ended up just showing the character get hit in the head instead.
- Remember the New Guy: The show deconstructs this trope. Gwen enters the hub one day to find a New Guy working like he's been there all along. She's never seen him bef—oh, wait, of course she has. She was just kidding! The New Guy is actually an alien that implanted himself into everyone's memories because he has to be remembered to exist.
- Retcon: In Doctor Who's "Aliens of London", Toshiko's job was as the doctor, rather than her usual job of computer specialist. This was resolved when she mentions in "Exit Wounds" that she was covering for Owen, who was hungover during the "space pig" case.
- Revolvers Are Just Better: Despite the vast collection of modern Earth firearms and quite a few alien weapons available, Jack tends to stick with his officer's Webley unless the situation calls for something special.
- Servile Snarker: Ianto.
- Sewer Gator: The online Bonus Material for season one (no longer available) strongly implied that the "alligators" in the New York sewers are actually Weevils.
- Sex Is Interesting: This works out better than most because sex is usually interesting for the sake of comedy, at least when Captain Jack is involved.
- Shoot the Hostage Taker: In the series 2 premiere Jack Harkness makes his re-introduction by shooting a "blowfish" who was using a human shield.
- In the episode "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang", James Marsters, Spike of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, shows up as Captain John Hart, Captain Jack Harkness's Evil Counterpart, and essentially plays Spike to Jack's Angel. When Jack introduces him to the Torchwood 3 team, he asks if they have a team name, and then after Jack says, "Torchwood!", he says, "What, not Excalibur? Alright, Torchwood." This is a Shout-Out to a fifth season episode of Angel where Spike asks Angel if he and his gang have a name.
- He also thinks there should be a blonde.
- Also, a few minutes after that scene, back in the Torchwood hub, Gwen asks if she should call him "John" or "Captain", and Captain John smoothly replies, "Love, with eyes like yours, you can call me Vera;" a Shout-Out to another cult hit created by Joss Whedon.
- Also a shout-out to Torchwood itself, as "Excalibur" was the original name under which Russell T Davies developed the series idea.
- When Captain John appears in a hologram on Jack's wrist-strap, he says: "Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
- Also in Captain John's appearance, after clearing out a bar through weapons intimidation and drinking his way through the alcohol lineup, he says "bored now" a la Dark Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- In the later episode "Dead Man Walking", an alien being seeking to enter the world through Owen's animated corpse speaks a phrase in an alien language, over and over. This phrase is eventually translated as "I shall walk the Earth and my hunger shall know no bounds." However, the actual words are "Melenkurion abatha, duroc minas mill khabaal"—the seven words of Earthpower used in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
- The Torchwood novel Bay of the Dead contains a Shout-Out to Shaun of the Dead:
Ianto: It's crazy, Jack. It's horror-movie hokum. You know it is.
Jack: And you know what we're up against here, don't you?
Ianto: No, I don't. Don't say it, Jack. Don't use the—
Ianto: —zed word.
- There are shout-outs to other series and mediums, such as in the Torchwood Online Mission game...
Gwen: Oh, my god. Ianto, do you realize everything just got broadcast right across Cardiff?
- John Hart playing "Starship Trooper" when Jack comes to confront him at the end of series two. The same song was used for a funeral in Queer as Folk, Russell T Davies' breakout series
- The notorious "Cyberwoman" costume was a blatant Shout-Out to the work of the Japanese cyberfetish and BDSM erotic artist Hajime Sorayama.
- Gwen's old partner, Andy, has a habit of calling Jack "Mulder".
- Significant Anagram: "Torchwood" is an anagram of "Doctor Who".
- Sinister Surveillance
- Sleeps with Everyone but You: Owen will shag anything that moves, but spurns Tosh, who is madly in love with him.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Towards the cynical end, Children of Earth and Miracle Day even more so.
- Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration
- The Slow Path:
- The only one available to Jack. There's a possibility that Jack will live for another five BILLION years.
- Inverted in the case of Tommy, a doughboy Torchwood has kept in suspended animation since 1918. He's woken up for one day every year to check his health. To him WWI ended less than four months ago. He's a little bitter that, from his point of view, WWII rolled around about three weeks after "the war to end all wars".
- Spiritual Successor: PJ Hammond's two episodes, "Small Worlds" and "From Out of the Rain", are quite distinct in atmosphere from the rest of Torchwood, but are strongly reminiscent of his late-70s-early-80s TV horror series Sapphire And Steel.
- Strange Secret Entrance: The Hub could be entered by a lift next to the fountain in Roald Dahl Plass that was concealed by a perception filter. There was also a more mundane secret entrance in a tourism office.
- Superman Stays out of Gotham: Lampshaded/Justified when Gwen wonders if the Doctor is looking down on Earth in shame as the events of Children of Earth unfold.
- Word of God says that the Doctor will never appear in Torchwood, as it might encourage children to watch a show that really isn't aimed at them.
- Take the Wheel: Owen makes Gwen do it in the opener of "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang".
- There Are No Therapists:
- In fact, Torchwood seems to thrive on damaged people.
- According to the online material for the first series, Ianto Jones has a therapist, with whom he discusses losing his job and having "problems with his girlfriend". Unfortunately, he only does one session of therapy and never goes back, despite really needing it.
- Took a Level in Badass: Gwen, Tosh, Owen, and Ianto all take levels in the different series.
- Too Spicy for Yog Sothoth: Owen during Series 2 proves to be unpalatable to various hungry aliens. On several occasions they sniff at him and turn away in disgust, leaving Owen looking unsure whether to be relieved or insulted.
- Toyless Toyline Character: There have been weevils and blowfish and even two versions of Jack, but Owen is still the only member of the team to not have an action figure. Although there was a rumor of a briefly-displayed prototype sculpture...
- Ultimate Job Security:
- Ianto, whose main function in the base appears to be making coffee, was allowed to keep his job after they discovered he was keeping a partially converted Cyber(wo)man in the Torchwood basement, which led to two deaths and directly endangered the entire planet. He showed little contrition over this, and after Jack insisted that she be destroyed threatened he would watch Jack die. Couldn't they just make their own coffee?
- The entire group mutinies against Jack which results in him getting shot dead and an unholy demon being released to feast on the citizens of Cardiff.
- Undeath Always Ends: Owen.
- Unguided Lab Tour:
- The episode "Everything Changes" used this, after Gwen bluffs her way into the Torchwood base, with the subversion that all the other characters did notice her, they were just pretending to not see her until they couldn't keep it up anymore and burst out laughing.
- The episode "Random Shoes" does it again with Eugene, although this time they honestly don't notice him because he's a ghost.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Scattered in various places. Jack and Gwen are a nice example.
- Unwitting Pawn: Gwen to series one's Suzie Costello.
- Wham Episode: "Exit Wounds".
- What, Exactly, Is His Job?: Ianto, who is introduced by Jack to Gwen as being the person who "cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time...and he looks good in a suit".
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Outside of a flashback in "Fragments" (set before the first episode), the pterodactyl hasn't been seen since "Meat". Currently it's not known if it survived the events of Children of Earth.
- Wham Line: "That's the thing about gloves...they come in pairs."
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Jack.
- Writer on Board: The show tends to come off as aggressively atheist. Jack refers to religion as "superstition" and rants about how primitive cultures cling to anything that denies the randomness of existence. It's repeatedly stated that there is no afterlife, and anyone with a belief in some form of deity is shot down as either na´ve or just plain wrong.
- Part of this, however, is likely the product of Jack's immortality-induced bitterness hidden under his Stepford Smiler fašade and his frustration with the generally-primitive nature of the 21st century, compared to the times and civilizations that he's used to.
- Yaoi Guys: Jack and Ianto.
- Your Head A Splode: Apparently, the mind probe in "Sleeper" once caused this offscreen, though the user did have high blood pressure.