By: +David Herron; Date: 2011-07-14 08:42
The history of the Torchwood Institute, stems from a late 1800's visit by The Doctor to rural Scotland where he had an encounter with British Royalty. The visit did not go well and the Queen decided to form an organization to defend England against the dangerous Doctor. That led to creating the Torchwood Institute to investigate off-world threats to England, and we saw in seasons 1 and 2 that the Cardiff branch of Torchwood was active in the late 1800's where they first met Captain Jack Harkness.
As a creation of the English Crown it's rather unlikely for Torchwood to emigrate to America, as they're doing in Season 4. But, that would be getting ahead of ourselves.
Oh, and "Torchwood" is an anagram for "Doctor Who".
The history of Captain Jack is itself pretty darn interesting. We first met him with an invisible space ship parked next to Big Ben (that clock in downtown London) during the London Blitz (1940ish). We learned he was a former "Time Agent", meaning he was a time traveler from 3 thousand years in the future, born on another planet somewhere, and hanging out in World War II because of some space gizmo he'd located and hoped to sell to the Time Agents.
Over several episodes of hanging out with The Doctor he developed became immortal and for example later met "The Face of Bo" 5 billion years in the future, who we even later learned was the 5 billion year version of Captain Jack. Jacks immortality came into being when Rose (then the Doctor's companion) absorbed the heart of the Tardis into herself, deleted the Daleks from history, and declared Captain Jack to never die, at which point Jack got this form of immortality.
During both Doctor Who and Torchwood episodes we saw him several times get shot or dismembered or even blown up into tiny little bits, and come back to life. In one Torchwood episode he was taken 2000 years into the past on the location of what would become Cardiff, and then buried, so that he would continually die and be resurrected while buried. He survived 1900 years of this until Torchwood Cardiff found him.
With a character like this in Torchwood, it made Life and Death and Immortality the main theme of Torchwood.
For example, season 1 episode 1 opens with the Torchwood team using a "Resurrection Glove" to bring to life a recent murder victim so they could interrogate the deceased to learn who had murdered him. Except that makes for a difficult conversation along the lines of "(fear fear) where am I" .. "You're dead" .. "How can I be talking to you if I'm dead" .. "Focus, who killed you" .. "I'm dead? How can I be dead" ..
That episode ended with the suicide of the team-member whose job was to use the Resurrection Glove. Except, in a later episode they brought her back to life with the glove, and she refused to go back to death after her resurrection. That was resolved after destroying the glove.
In a season 2 episode they killed one of the main characters, Owen Harper, only to bring him back to life after finding another Resurrection Glove. He then spent the rest of the season unable to return to death, but not being alive, not having a heart beat, unable to eat or have other normal body functions, etc.
Besides life & death the another Torchwood theme is the hidden stuff we don't see but exists anyway. What that means is, most of what they did was investigation of extraterrestrial activity in Cardiff. But modern society ignores proof of extraterrestrial activity. The Torchwood team ran around Cardiff supposedly in secret, resolving extraterrestrial activity and then covering it up including the use of RETCON (an amnesia drug). But the way they did it (a flashy black Land Rover, labeled with "TORCHWOOD" in bold letters on the side, and always announcing themselves as "Torchwood" whenever coming to a crime scene) makes it head scratching to wonder how they could possibly get away with this.
One Torchwood episode concerns a lady who has secret Faerie friends that nobody but her can see. The Faeries claimed they've always been in the shadows and have been guiding Human History for millennia from the shadows. On re-watching the episode I exclaimed "The Silence", the current villains in Doctor Who, who also live in the shadows, who are also unseen, and who also have been guiding Human History for millennia from the shadows. This theme, "hidden stuff we don't see but exists anyway", has been a major part of the last several seasons of Doctor Who.
Torchwood in a way was also a kind of homage to the comic book style of super-hero. You have an immortal with a great barely acknowledged origin story, living in a secret base underneath Cardiff's main square, in which they had a dizzying array of extraterrestrial technology, fantastical computer systems, and uber-genius's developing super software able to hack into any computer system and do anything.
With the new season in America I recently re-watched Torchwood seasons 1 and 2. It's better than I remembered. There is plenty of needless sexual innuendo, which turned me off before. Really, does it add anything to the story line? Nope. But, still, most of the episodes are exciting stories, with enough deep exploration of life and death and shadow themes to make the philosopher in me happy.