Follow TV Tropes


Series / Torchwood

Go To

The 21st century is when everything changes, and you gotta be ready.
Jack Harkness

Torchwood is a Spin-Off of the long-running British science fiction TV series Doctor Who, and set in the main canon Whoniverse. It's Darker and Edgier, Hotter and Sexier, and Bloodier and Gorier — In many ways the antithesis of Doctor Who, apart from the camp.

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 Extreme 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 Naïve 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)note  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"/"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. Ho Yay goes on Doctor Who's page.

For a full list of novelizations and audio dramas, see this page on Wikipedia. For tropes pertaining to the series' Big Finish audio range, starting in 2015, see Big Finish Doctor Who.

On May 6th, 2017, Big Finish announced a Sequel in Another Medium, an audio drama series entitled Torchwood: Aliens Among Us (having already had success with stories set during the TV series for which all the regular cast had reprised their roles); the 12-episode drama, set to be released in three parts between 2017 and 2018, features Russell T. Davies' "enthusiastic back-seat driving" (according to producer James Goss) and is considered the official Series 5 after Miracle Day. In June 2018, an official Series 6, "God Among Us", was announced, to follow a similar release schedule beginning in October 2018.

Tropes associated with this series:

  • 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. However, Suzie had a plan to resurrect that plays out seven episodes later, dies again, then comes back a third time in a novel, once again killed.
  • Agents Dating: Captain Jack Harkness has been known to create sexual tension with anyone he so much as says "hello" to, but it's even worse with his Torchwood agents. His gun-use demonstration with Gwen was full cuddling, he makes innuendo out of just about everything they come across, he officially asks out Ianto while they're on a mission, Ianto's recruitment involved getting very turned on after the two erotically fall all over each other while attempting to catch the eventual Team Pet, Gwen's caught them playing "naked hide-and-seek" in the hub at least once, Martha kissed him at a missions' end just because "everyone else has had a go", and Jack's fond of handing out overly-sexual kisses of life on the job. And that's not even scratching the surface....
  • 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.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: The Trope Namer. Justified due to a space-time rift, making it a hubbub of otherworldly activity.
  • An Alien Named "Bob": Janet, a sewer-dwelling alien with gigantic fangs that the team captured. Captain Jack named it as such because "Barbara just never seemed right."
  • All Love Is Unrequited: 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 (because he's been traumatized from the inhuman death of his fiancee, later exacerbated by his scornful mother and dying, then coming back only halfway alive). (There is an episode when he does but then she has no interest, due to mind-altering aliens.) 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 a 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.
  • Angelic Aliens: The Mary are a telepathic Energy Being with the ability to take human form. She turns out to be hostile, killing humans in order to maintain her disguise, making her a malicious example of a Space Angel.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love:
    • 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.
  • Anticipatory Breath Spray
  • Anti-Hero: Nearly everyone who isn't an Anti-Villain or a villain.
  • Anyone Can Die: 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.
    • By the end of season 2, Tosh and Owen have died. By the end of "Children of Earth" Ianto's dead too.
    • 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.
  • Artifact Collection Agency: Torchwood. Among other things.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Toshiko.
  • Asshole Victim: Several. A man who was really mean to his daughter was killed by some fairies who took a liking to the little girl.
  • Author Appeal: For Russell T. Davies—Wales, aliens, and hot guys making out.
  • Back from the Dead: Jack Harkness. It's a law of the universe. It happens to others as well, with mixed results.
    • Owen dies and is resurrected halfway through season 2, although he lacks any biological functions and is still kind of dead.
  • Backstory Invader:
    • 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.
    • The expanded universe novel Border Princes ended up having an almost identical concept to "Adam", except that it's a Reality Warper rather than a memory-changer, and he isn't aware that he's doing it.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "Small Worlds".
  • Belated Love Epiphany: Deconstructed. As Owen is dying Tosh tells him she loves him. After he's dead (but not gone), she tries to talk to him about it but he interrupts her.
    Tosh: Well, when I told you I...
    Owen: Yeah, you didn't mean it. I know.
    Tosh: You do?
    Owen: Yes, uh ... I mean, you didn't say anything before, and then, suddenly I'm dying, and it's like, "I love you." That's not love, Tosh. That's grief. You're losing something, so suddenly you desperately desire it, textbook response.
  • Berserk Button:
    • 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.
    • Don't withhold information from Jack when members of his team have gone missing. He used to be pretty good at torture.
    • Do *NOT* touch Jack's Hand-In-A-Jar.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Jack saves the day in "Countrycide".
  • Black Comedy Rape: Owen's Establishing Character Moment in episode one includes him drugging a girl and her boyfriend for sex purposes.
    • 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.
  • Broken Masquerade:
    • 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?"
      "...Bloody Torchwood."
    • 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.
  • Bury Your Gays: Parodied/played with. Jack's ability to die and be resurrected allows him to invoke and subvert this trope over and over.
  • 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 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.
  • Cannibal Clan: "Countrycide".
  • Cannibal Larder: The Cannibal Clan in "Countrycide" maintain one.
  • 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.
  • Cannot Kill Their Loved Ones:
    • In "Cyberwoman", Ianto absolutely cannot bring himself to kill his partly Cyberman-converted girlfriend Lisa even when she's presenting an active danger to his friends and to humanity at large.
    • In Children of Earth, the government officials when they start coming around to the idea of acquiescing to the 456's demand to be given 1/10 of the population's children are emphatic about ensuring their own children and grandchildren (and brother's children in one case) are strictly exempt from the 10% however they select the children. This provides a harrowing contrast to Captain Jack, who sacrifices the life of his own grandson to save millions of other people's children.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A comic strip based on the series was published in the UK in Titan Magazine's Torchwood Magazine for a couple of years. Titan's US branch republished the strips in comic book form for North America. A couple of online comics were also released.
  • Commitment Issues: Jack has stated on occasion that he is afraid of commitment due to the fact he will outlive anyone he begins a relationship with (the Doctor has expressed similar sentiment).
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Of course, there are plenty of these to Doctor Who, particularly when Martha shows up in series 2.
      Jack: I had a bad experience with a politician recently.
      Jack: It's just a Mind Probe.
  • 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 or not Jack sleeps that came up in series one.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Tosh uses her own blood to send a message to the rest of the team through time 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.
  • Crapsack World:
    • The series in general, gets much worse in the follow-ups.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Toshiko, after being unable to find a pen in "Captain Jack Harkness", hand-waves her wound as falling over.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Owen. Although he starts the series as a kind of a Jerkass and gradually becomes nicer , it is not until the penultimate episode of Series 2 that it's revealed that he was once actually a really nice guy - and then the love of his life is killed by an alien parasite.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • "Day One", "Something Borrowed" and "Adrift" focus on Gwen.
    • "Ghost Machine", "Combat", "Dead Man Walking" and "A Day in the Death" focus on Owen.
    • "Greeks Bearing Gifts" and "To the Last Man" focus on Tosh.
    • "Cyberwoman" focuses on Ianto.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Usually Owen and Ianto, but everyone on the original team gives it a go at some point.
    • Though, typically, Owen uses more of a bitter sarcasm while Ianto covers the "deadpan" angle.
    • Even outside of the team members, this seems to be a staple of the series.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Captain Jack Harkness, who assumed the identity of a deceased American pilot while working as a con man during World War II (and still uses the name as his own).
  • Dead Star Walking: Suzie Costello, played by Indira Varma, is the second-in-command of Torchwood Three...for most of episode one. Then she explains how she can't live without the job but is going to get fired when they find out she's been killing people for Resurrection Gauntlet test subjects and puts a bullet in her skull. She comes back, though, and is revealed to have had a goddamn amazing Gambit Roulette going which planned for her death and resurrection as a crucial stage, in "They Keep Killing Suzie". She was also featured heavily in the promotional material.
  • Downer Ending:
    • 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 is indeed the Face of Boe.
  • Driven to Suicide: Suzie.
  • Drugged Lipstick: Why you shouldn't kiss Captain John Hart.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma:
    • Jack does this to Ianto in a very unprofessional Kiss of Life fashion in "Cyberwoman".
    • Played with in "End of Days" when Gwen kisses Jack's three-day-old dead body to say goodbye (though he then proceeds to revive).
  • Dungeon Masters Girlfriend: Boyfriend/husband, actually—Rhys.
  • Dysfunction Junction:
    • 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.
  • Easily Forgiven: Let's count 'em...
    • 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. Might be subverted, given that he ran off to find the Doctor a few scenes later. Possibly justified when we consider that time that Jack unintentionally endangered the entire planet in rather a similar fashion and was forgiven after he nearly sacrificed his life trying to make it right. Considering the way he models himself off of the Doctor, to do otherwise in somewhat similar circumstances might seem a tad hypocritical.
    • 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 was 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.
  • Enigmatic Institute: The version on the show, though it's much smaller and less powerful, is even more secretive than the original.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Admit it, you want to kiss Captain Jack. It's okay. It's not all guys, just Jack...
  • Everybody Knew Already:
    • 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 regularly ordered 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.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex
  • 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 if 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 be because she possesses 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.
  • Expy:
  • Exposition of Immortality: Jack Harkness displays his immortality in any way he can, baby. Between his World 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 an 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.
  • Extreme Omnisexual:
    • 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".
    • John Hart takes this (and many of Jack's other traits) up to eleven, showing attraction to a poodle.
  • The Fair Folk: In "Small Worlds", a very creepy episode, the fairies are depicted as unstoppable horrors.
  • Fake Memories: "Adam" and the Dan Abnett novel "Border Princes".
    • 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.
  • Fanservice Pack: Toshiko Sato grew more beautiful during her run on the show.
  • Fast-Killing Radiation: The somewhat zombiefied Owen is permanently killed when a flood of radioactive water from a nuclear reactor disintegrates him.
  • Fantastic Drug: In Children of Earth, the 456 want our children so that they can get high off them.
  • 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.
  • First-Episode Twist: 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 Torchwood member.
  • 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....
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Janet, the man-eating resident Weevil.
  • Free-Love Future:
    • The 51st century.
      Jack: You people and your quaint little categories.
    • Taken even further by John Hart. He admits to finding a poodle attractive.
  • A Friend in Need
  • Gambit Roulette: In "They Keep 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.
  • 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.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Ianto is not gay. Definitely not. Unless it's for Jack.
    Ianto: It's not all men. It's just him.
  • 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, Tosh, Owen, and Ianto died permanently.
  • 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;
    • 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.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Jask has a literally endless amount of time for sex, and it also comes in handy in his line of work.
  • 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.
  • Made of Bologna: In the episode "Meat," a giant space whale beached on Earth is harvested for its meat. No blood vessels or bones or anything like that are seen, just nice slabs of steak.
  • Magical Abortion: Torchwood has a lot of Applied Phlebotinum that can be used for different occasions, including this one.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Mostly because there are absolutely no extras working at Torchwood Three. In theory, Ianto constitutes the entirety of their support staff. But in practice he is just as skilled of an agent as any of the others, having formerly worked at Torchwood One. Owen and Tosh, their doctor and technologist respectively, are also prone to drop what they are doing, grab some guns and go off after aliens.
  • Monster Organ Trafficking: 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: One of the first things that Gwen notices is that nobody on the team has a steady love interest. She soon learns why, as the strain of concealing her real job from Rhys leads to increasing tension in their relationship, and her cheating on with him Owen. Relationships within the team don't tend to fare any better due to the problem of their tendency to die.
  • 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.
  • Memory Wipe Exploitation: Invoked when Gwen gives her boyfriend a dose of an amnesia-inducing sedative right before she reveals to him that she's been having an affair with one of her colleagues at her new job. She tries to get him to forgive her as the sedative takes hold, but he passes out before she gets him to say it.
  • 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".
  • Mind Rape: Any number of alien devices or influences, including the Laser-Guided Amnesia inducing drug Retcon, the pheromones that Owen uses to get some score and most especially the memory-altering alien Adam.
  • 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.
    • According to Russell T Davies in publicity for series 4, this trope has now been completed, due to the fact there are only Jack and Gwen left and in hiding, their HQ is gone, and the Rift in time and space, their primary reason for being based in Cardiff, has been fixed and closed thanks to a certain Time Lord who also happened to be closing cracks in the fabric of reality and restarting the Universe (though other accounts say the ghost of Ianto closed the rift instead). This is probably why the 4th series had a more international setting.
  • 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—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 to Gwen] 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.
  • 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).
    • John Barrowman's American accent is mostly flawless, due to his having moved to the US at the age of 8 and having adopted the accent to fit in, but his original Scottish accent slips in sometimes on particular vowel sounds. Additionally, he does have a British pronunciation to some of his words, like "schedule" and "oestrogen", which reveals his spending most of his working life in Britain. Which is completely realistic for the character, considering how much time Jack 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.
  • Percussive Shutdown: On both occasions where resurrection gauntlets are used to bring characters back to life, they end up going out of control and sucking the life out of hosts with no way of being turned off. So Jack just shoots them.
  • Pheromones: Owen Harper controversially (with the viewers, as the effect was depicted as so strong that it approached a drug-rape metaphor) used alien pheromones to make people of both sexes want to have sex with him.
  • Pink Is Erotic: In Day One, there is a pink gas that has the ability to possess living beings and increase their beauty, their sex drive, and their libido. While the host develops a mastery of sex and seduction, the Sex Gas would slowly kill its host by increasing the size of their brains and hearts while also shrinking their lungs. The Sex Gas would also kill the host's partner by disintegrating them and absorbing the ashes once the victim has climaxed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: A biplane containing passengers from the 1950s gets displaced in time and ends up in the present. One passenger wants to track down his son, who would now be an elderly man. Turns out he's in a nursing home with Alzheimer's and while he can remember random bits of his past, he isn't nearly lucid enough to know what any of his memories mean and doesn't recognize his own father. Seeing his son in that state is what convinces him there's nothing left for him, and he is Driven to Suicide.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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 (Buffy is 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.
    • Owen's notes on the Torchwood website about specimens stored in stasis in the Torchwood cells include the 'Invincible Vampire', which he says reconstitutes itself when "dusted". "Dusting" is a term Buffy and Angel characters would use for killing a vampire.
    • 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" ala 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—
      Jack: Zombies!
      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?
      Ianto: Meh. No one will believe it's real. In 1938 the government convinced the entire world that an alien attack on New Jersey was just a radio play. Relax.
    • 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 (UK), 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 secretly or not-so-secretly 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".
  • Stumbled Into the Plot: Gwen Cooper was investigating a police case while Torchwood happened to be investigating the same case, piquing her curiosity and prompting her to investigate the titular mysterious organisation.
  • 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.
  • West Coast Team: Features elements of the Whoniverse (including a main character and some secondary characters in common) though set in Wales.
  • With Lyrics: Thanks to Jack's Big Damn Heroes moment in Countrycide where he rams his way through a barn door with farming vehicle, the string riff that forms his Leitmotif was given the lyrics "Here comes Jack in his bloody great tractor!" by fans.
  • 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."
  • 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 naïve or just plain wrong.
    • Part of this, however, is likely the product of Jack's immortality-induced bitterness hidden under his Stepford Smiler façade and his frustration with the generally-primitive nature of the 21st century, compared to the times and civilizations that he's used to.
  • You Can't Kill What's Already Dead: Subverted in the second season after Owen is reanimated. True, blood loss or damage to vital organs can't kill him anymore, but he doesn't heal either and doesn't feel any pain to prevent him accidentally damaging himself. As demonstrated when he accidentally slices his hand open with a scalpel and has to sew it back together.
  • Your Head A-Splode: Apparently, the mind probe in "Sleeper" once caused this offscreen, though the user did have high blood pressure.