The show follows a men in black-esque group of government agents who collect the Applied Phlebotinumleft 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 travelled 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 inDoctor 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 organisation 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"/"Doomsday" 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. Its Ho Yay goes under Doctor Who's page.For a full list of novelisations and audio dramas, see this page on The Other Wiki.
Advertised Extra: Suzie was featured prominently in promo material, and was even listed in the opening credits, but she dies at the end of the first episode.
Alas, Poor Villain: Suzie. She breaks down in her second appearance, tearfully telling Jack over the phone that she simply doesn't want to die, and admits that Gwen is a better team member than she ever was.
All Love Is Un Requited: Let's see. We have Gwen, who does love Rhys, but not in the same way she loves Jack. Jack loves her, but stays away because she's taken, and he's also infatuated with the Doctor. He starts sleeping with, then seriously dating, Ianto, who is in love with him, but Jack has a tendency to avoid the subject of love until Torchwood: The Lost Files. Tosh is in love with Owen, who won't give her the time of day. (There is an episode when he does due to mind-altering aliens, but then she has no interest in him due to same.) Tosh also falls for a frozen soldier from 1918 named Tommy who has to return to his time to stop the Rift from tearing open. Owen and Gwen had fling for most of season 1, and one episode gives us glimpses that show they might actually really like each other. This gets screwed up when Owen falls in love with Diane, a pilot from 1953 who fell through the Rift and moved in with him before deciding to head back home. Finally, to top it all off, Andy used to date Gwen and would like her to stop being so happy with Rhys.
All Therapists Are Muggles: Suzie exploits this trope as part of a plan for her own resurrection. Under cover of talking through her work-related issues, she attends a support group regularly armed with the drug Torchwood uses to maintain The Masquerade. To her colleagues, this initially appears to be a reasonable solution to the lack of therapists who know about Torchwood and aliens but they soon piece together that she was actually using the drug and the support group sessions to secretly turn her confidant into an Ax-Crazy serial killer and living backdoor to the Torchwood security system.
Also, Owen to Tosh while they're brainwashed, and Tosh to Owen as Owen is briefly revived after dying. Which quickly turns embarrassing for everyone involved when their new revival method has unexpected side effects, and Owen can't go back to being dead.
Early on, it's mentioned that except for Jack, everyone at Torchwood is relatively young; due to the extremely dangerous nature of their work, few Torchwood employees live to see 35. Although many shows about troubleshooting elite teams make this sort of "everyone on our team dies young" claim, Torchwood is notable for actually making good on it.
Lampshaded in Children of Earth when Agent Johnson comments that for Alice Carter's mother, a former operative, to have died of old age was rare for Torchwood.
There's an engineered instance: the guy Suzie has been messing with will go into a ten-second Unstoppable Rage when the titular organization is mentioned.
Do *NOT* touch Jack's Hand-In-A-Jar.
Hurting any of his team.
Rhys is shlubbish, out of shape, even a little dim sometimes. He's not in Jack's league, and he knows it. Gwen loves him anyway. Don't hurt her, or the secret conspiracy keeping Britain safe from alien invasion? It won't have the resources or ability to save you.
Also do not hurt Jack. It doesn't matter that he's immortal and near-indestructible. Meek and quiet Ianto Jones will stop at nothing to keep his lover safe!
Almost resulted in a Broken Base before the series had even started. Apparently audiences respond poorly if a character's establishing shot is him double date raping innocent people. A subsequent episode immediately proceeded to let Owen telepathically experience what being raped feels like, entirely Played for Drama and triggering his first bout of Character Development (of many).
Break the Cutie: Happens to Ianto in "Adam", happens to Tosh in "Greeks Bearing Gifts", happens to Gwen in "End of Days"...they all get more than their fair share of these moments, really.
Any shreds of secrecy probably evaporated somewhere between the episode where a psycho started writing TORCHWOOD in blood on walls and the episode where an Eldritch Abomination stomped around the Millennium Centre.
"Have you seen a blowfish driving a sports car?"
Ask for Torchwood and people will point you in the right direction. They order pizza deliveries under the name.
The fact they drive around in large vehicles with flashing blue lights and "Torchwood" written along the side doesn't help much, either.
But Not Too Bi: Played to the hilt. While it's frequently mentioned that Jack likes men and women, and once in a blue moon he'll drop one or two flirtatious lines with women, all of his major relationships, and every shown sexual encounter have been with men.
Cain and Abel: Captain Jack and his (in this case younger) brother Gray. Gray is evil because he wants vengeance on Jack for accidentally letting go of him when fleeing from evil torturous creatures when he was little and letting him grow up being constantly tortured by them.
Came Back Wrong: Several characters, including Suzie and Owen, thanks to the Resurrection Gauntlet and its twin. This is also notably the reason behind Jack's immortality.
Chekhov's Gun: Myfanwy, who appeared in the background several times, fights off the Cyberwoman. The Risen Mitten's lost other half becomes this after Owen dies. The camera eye contacts eventually become this.
Continuity Snarl: Given the multiple writers, mediums and moods between seasons, it's not much of a surprise. Among the lighter contradictions we have the one concerning whether Jack sleeps or not that came up in series one.
Couldn't Find a Pen: Tosh uses her own blood to send a message in "Captain Jack Harkness". She could easily have borrowed a pen, but the message needed to last for about sixty years. Ink fades faster than blood.
Series 2 ends with Toshiko and Owen dying."Small Worlds", "Out of Time", "Sleeper", "Greeks Bearing Gifts" and "Cyberwoman" also had downer endings.
Jack's entire existence. No matter what he does, the people he loves will eventually die, while he remains exactly the same. Although "Gridlock" potentially gives him an awesome ending, if he indeed is the Face of Boe.
When a guy ends up sleeping with the man who killed his girlfriend and a girl pines after an undead man after dating a killer alien chick and a frozen WWI soldier, you know you've arrived safely at this trope.
It gets so bad in Children of Earth, that if you plan to watch all the episodes together, at least mix in something mildly uplifting between episodes or after viewing. Otherwise, prepare for a week of depression.
In "Cyberwoman", we find out Ianto's been hiding his girlfriend Lisa (turned into a dangerous Cyberman) in the basement. He endangers the whole planet, tells Jack he wants him dead after Jack kills Lisa, but is forgiven by the end of the episode. ... and starts sleeping with Jack.
Captain Jack is shot dead by Owen. Despite the fact Owen was unaware that Jack would resurrect, Jack easily forgives him.
In that same episode, the team mutinies against Jack and unintentionally releases a giant monster that steals the life force of anyone its giant shadow falls upon. Jack manages to destroy it by letting it feed of him. However, the effort leaves him dead for three days, which is the longest to date that he's ever stayed dead. He still forgives the team, minutes after reviving. It might be subverted, given that he ran off to find the Doctor a few scenes later.
In "Exit Wounds", Captain Jack forgives his brother, Grey, for burying him alive for almost exactly 1900 years. By 'alive' we mean that he suffocated to death and then revived every couple of minutes for nineteen centuries as the city of Cardiff is established above him. Mind you, this is after Grey has John Hart systematically blow up Cardiff, in addition to stabbing Jack in the back (literally!) when they're first reunited. To be fair, though, Jack blames his own failure to protect his brother for being the root cause of all this. And he didn't know what had happened to Owen and Tosh until after the forgiving.
Torchwood, secret agency that everyone knows about.
Series 2 opener: "Bloody Torchwood!"
"Ask about Torchwood, and most people point towards the bay."
Also, the team would regularly order pizza deliveries to the shop that acted as a disguised entrance to their hidden base. These were charged to an account named "Torchwood" that one of the agents had set up with the pizza company. And they leave the front door open. At least one pizza delivery girl ends up dead this way.
Everyone Is Bi: Or thereabouts. Every member of Torchwood has gotten a same-sex kiss in the show. Of the main cast, Jack, Tosh, and Owen are openly bi, Ianto is either just bi for Jack or lying about not being attracted to other males, Suzie is seen snogging Gwen, and Gwen doesn't comment on what aspect of being snogged by various female villains weirds her out (although Word of God indicates that she is also bisexual). A flashback involving two female members of Torchwood 3 in the 19th century (Alice and Emily) shows that they are a lesbian couple. At least one of them may be bi, given that she finds Jack to be pretty, but that may simply require the possession of sight. Given that this is a Russell T Davies show, none of this should come as a surprise - Davies has been quite vocal about his lack of belief in rigidly defined sexuality.
Evil Counterpart: Captain John Hart to Captain Jack Harkness. Subverted, but he sure is much more reckless.
Davies seems to have brought in a lot of influences from earlier works. Gwen bears a resemblance to Rose in her role. Captain Jack comes across as a hybrid of the Doctor and Stuart from Queer as Folk, while Ianto became more and more like Vince, especially in his relationship to Jack, as the series progressed.
Exposition of Immortality: Jack Harkness displays his immortality in anyway he can, baby. Between his Word War I meeting with faeries, a series of photos showing how much he hasn't aged over the years and him keeping around mementos from past times like his Webley revolver and his RAF greatcoat, the only he doesn't do is talk with accent from the past.
Extra-Strength Masquerade: The city of Cardiff has a permanent Negative Space Wedgie running through it, which causes aliens to appear and people to disappear on a regular basis. The sewers are infested by monstrous humanoid "Weevils". Basically the entire city is a Weirdness Magnet. Just to top it all off, Torchwood takes place in the Whoniverse wherein the existence of aliens has become extremely public (due to multiple alien invasions). Yet in spite of this the populace of Cardiff seems to be in an amazingly deep state of denial about all the extraterrestrial goings on in their city, at least early on in the series.
Jack. In fact, John Barrowman apparently once said Jack would do anything that's got a hole. Later, on a Doctor Who special edition of The Weakest Link, Barrowman said that Jack likes "anything with a postcode".
It's played VERY smooth in the case of Adam. Watch the intro sequence for that episode. Some of the otherwise "previously on"-style footage includes various shots of Adam. That don't happen in this episode. Or ever.
Fetus Terrible: Several kinds of alien implants. The one carried by Gwen is a subversion: the unborn wasn't really the deadly part, it was the unborn's mother coming to rip it out of her.
First Day from Hell: Gwen Cooper's first day at Torchwood starts with a meteor hitting Cardiff, moves on to Gwen accidentally releasing an alien being, and progresses to serial murder and alien possession. Because it's Torchwood, the job never gets easier.
Suzie's turn to the dark side and ensuing death also counts, since the promo material (very deliberately) made it look like she was to be a sixth main protagonist.
Fix Fic: Many, many Torchwood fics, which undo (from the end of series 2) Tosh and Owen's deaths. And an even larger raft of post-series 3 fics which address Ianto's death and Jack's actions regarding his grandson. One large and vocal subset of these fans have even created a campaign and a website to coordinate efforts to petition The Powers That Be to bring Ianto back. Unlike the series creators or one main actor's comments in interviews, there are well over a thousand registered members — with more joining daily.
Flashback Echo: Gwen in the first episode, triggered by an odd-looking knife she was sure she'd seen before...
Gambit Roulette: In "They Kept Killing Suzie", Suzie brainwashes a man into killing people and writing 'TORCHWOOD' in their blood — and, when captured, repeating a phrase that she had programmed months earlier to cause a full base lock-down. She knew that Torchwood would revive her to get information, that specifically Gwen Cooper would use the alien glove and alien knife to revive her, and that the process would drain Gwen's life energy.
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.
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.
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.
Jack's theme also contains noticable 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.
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.
Lampshaded in a second-series episode, when the team goes to save a stranded alien.
Owen: "Tell me how exactly we're going to use it to arm ourselves against the future?"
"We could hide behind it."
Subverted in Series 3, as when Aliens finally do come to Earth, and Torchwood finally has a chance to carry out its job, the government sees fit to try and destroy them. And succeeds, for the most part.
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.
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.
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 everywhere to work 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 favour of single-story serials. Cardiff is no longer the fixed setting, and only two of the original cast of five remains.
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.
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.
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.
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 had a job of a 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.
In the episode "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang", James Marsters, Spike of Buffy 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.
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 realise everything just got broadcast right across Cardiff?
The only one available to Jack. There's a possibility that Jack is destined to 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: P J 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.
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 rumor of a briefly displayed prototype sculpture...
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.
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.
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."
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 naive or just plain wrong.