I recently began a quest to catch up on some of the geeky TV shows I missed the first time around. I began with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, and before I was even halfway finished, I had begun to notice some parallels between this show and a more recent favorite: the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. And once I made the initial connection, I kept finding more and more similarities between the shows — so much so that I knew I had an article on my hands. Here is what I came up with:
Places as Plot Devices (or, Where You Really Don’t Want to Live)
The first similarity between the shows that caught my attention and started me looking for other parallels had to do with the importance of the setting to the plot — not the town specifically, but the supernatural feature that the town plays host to. In Buffy, Sunnydale, California is where Buffy, Xander, Willow, and the rest of the gang live and go to school. It’s also the location of the Hellmouth, the portal through which vampires and other assorted demonic entities enter this universe and give Buffy something to do in each episode. Torchwood is set in Cardiff, Wales, which is home to a rift in time and space that allows aliens and alien technology to make contact with our world, thus providing plenty of things to keep Jack and the gang occupied.
Casts of Characters (or, Stereotypes, Anyone?)
Both shows seem to share a great number of character types and/or noticeable character features, some important and others merely superficial. (In the following list, the first character is from Buffy and the second is from Torchwood.)
The New Kid on the Block (by which the viewers are introduced to the basic premise of the show) — Buffy Summers and Gwen Cooper
The Dapper Brit (or Welshman) (always impeccably dressed no matter the occasion) — Rupert Giles and Ianto Jones
The Nerdy Computer Chick — Willow Rosenberg/Toshiko Sato
The Leader with Powers — Buffy (super strength and butt-kickage) and Jack Harkness (immortality)
The Mentor to the New Kid — Giles and Jack
The Recurring Baddies (that look remarkably similar) — Vampires and Weevils
The Loyal Team Member — Xander Harris and Owen Harper
The Bad Boy/Possible Good Guy/at any rate, someone the main character is attracted to — Angel and John Hart (who is, coincidentally, played by James Marsters, also appearing as Spike in later seasons of Buffy)
The Clueless Loved One — Buffy’s Mom, Mrs. Summers and Gwen’s Boyfriend/Fiancé/Husband Rhys Williams (until sometime in the second season, anyway)
The One with a Foreign Accent (compared to the rest of the team) — Giles and Jack
Relationships (or, Angst: It’s Not Just For Teens)
Dating relationships in both shows are difficult to maintain to begin with, and mostly consist of various characters pining after the one other person who’s completely not interested in them. In Buffy, it’s mostly what you’d consider typical high school stuff: Willow wants badly to be noticed by Xander, but he only has eyes for Buffy, who in turn has the hots for centuries-old vampire Angel. Torchwood‘s characters are all adults, but on some level they’re not a whole lot different from the teens of Sunnydale, really. Tosh really likes Owen, but she doesn’t get a chance to express her feelings until it’s too late for both of them. Jack will shag anyone, human or alien, who looks at him the right way, and let’s not get started on Ianto and his hidden cyber-girlfriend Lisa. Only Gwen and Rhys seem to have a normal relationship, until you think about the secrets she keeps from him, the times she’s Retconned him, the alien baby she wakes up suddenly pregnant with on their wedding day, and all the other seriously weird stuff they get into once he does know the truth about her job.
Headquarters (or, If You Have to Meet Somewhere, It Might As Well Be Cool)
A central meeting place is important. It’s where the characters go not just to hang out but to research, study, problem-solve, and prepare for the next mission to save the world from the bad things they don’t even know exist. For Buffy, Xander, and Willow it’s the library at Sunnydale High, presided over by Giles, the mild-mannered librarian who helps students find sources for term papers by day and who teaches Buffy how to vanquish vampires and other ancient evils by night. What makes this place remarkable, however, are the luxurious appointments like wooden railings and carpeted stairs to the upper level, enormous shelves full of old books, subdued lighting, and the general feel of being in an English manor house rather than a suburban American high school. It’s also accessible at all hours of the day or night to Buffy and her friends, even when the rest of the school is locked up tight (which may be because Giles practically lives there — we certainly rarely see him outside of his book-filled domain). Torchwood’s headquarters are completely opposite in looks, but not in effect. The high tech, computer-filled space is exactly what you’d expect to find when dealing with an organization that is “outside the government and beyond the police” and that has all manner of futuristic and alien gadgets at its disposal. It also has a distinct steampunk vibe going on as well that lends a bit of mystery to the scene. And Jack lives there, too (which we know for a fact, not idle speculation on my part).
Conclusions/Disclaimers (or, Be Kind When You Comment!)
There ends my list of parallels between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Torchwood. It’s not exhaustive, so feel free to add to it in the comments if you can think of other interesting and significant (or not-so-significant) similarities. If you do so, however, please be careful not to post spoilers for me and others who may not have seen all seven seasons of Buffy yet (or Torchwood, for that matter, although I’m caught up on it). Also remember that everything related to Buffy in this article is based on season one episodes only, because those are the only ones I have seen so far. I am aware that there are significant character developments in later seasons that may be different from what I have written here, particularly in the relationship and group dynamics department, but this was how things stood at the end of the team’s first year together.
Since watching Buffy season one and making all these connections, I have also learned about its influence on Russell T. Davies as he was developing Torchwood, and that many of the similarities I noticed just might have been purposeful. I don’t know how common this knowledge is — it may be that I just completely missed the boat and need to have my Torchwood fan card revoked, or I may be like a majority of people in just discovering this information (especially since I am so new to Buffy). Regardless, I know I am not the only one who is just beginning to put two and two together so please, keep any condescension to yourself and only post kind, helpful information for those of us who might be experiencing the awesomeness of one or both of these sci fi universes for the first time. Thanks!