When his revival of Doctor Who launched in 2005, writer-producer Russell T Davies (creator of the original Queer as Folk) said he hoped the series would serve as a British response to the work of Joss Whedon. Since the new Doctor Who displayed more raw imagination than anything the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator has produced in several years, one could argue that Davies failed. The spin-off Torchwood is closer to the mark insofar as its tone echoes that of Angel so closely, some Whedonites might be more peeved than pleased.
John Barrowman stars as “Captain” Jack Harkness, a bisexual Han Solo type from the distant future, who leads the Welsh branch of a task force that uses scavenged alien technology to battle assorted extraterrestrial and/or supernatural threats. In the first episode, his backstory (and that of the Torchwood Institute, chartered by Queen Victoria on Doctor Who) is glossed over in favor of introducing the team from the POV of Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), a Cardiff cop who stumbles into the middle of a Torchwood investigation. At first, Gwen’s a classic “Mary Sue” character—an audience stand-in whisked away from her boring daily life—and the use of such a trope, like the snarky banter between medic Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) and tech babe Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), feels like overly deliberate catering to the geek demographic. Ironically, the series becomes more accessible (and more original) as successive episodes build tighter connections between Torchwood and the deliriously inventive Doctor Who mythos. Barrowman’s enthusiastic tweaking of square-jawed archetypes keeps Torchwood highly watchable while it’s still getting up to speed, even though his resemblance to Tom Cruise (from the nose down) and Mark Harmon (from the eyes up) is almost distracting and eerie enough to qualify as a visual effect.