When Torchwood: Miracle Day debuted in July, the BBC unveiled a brand new Blu-ray release that collects the entire first three series of the show in Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series. After checking out the presentation, the quality of the episodes, and the abundance of bonus features, I feel safe in asserting that this is one set you have to have in your collection if you’re a fan of the adventures of Captain Jack Harkness and his crew.
Torchwood‘s origins are rooted in the 2005 Doctor Who revival. Showrunner Russell T. Davies had been toying with ideas for a science fiction show in the vein of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and he got the opportunity to actually make the show after he’d been hard at work on Doctor Who for a year. Torchwood would be a more mature and darker series than Doctor Who, but it would be set in the same universe. As such, Davies seeded the word “Torchwood,” which is itself an anagram of “Doctor Who,” throughout his second season at the helm of Who. Ultimately this lead to stories within Doctor Who describing the Victorian origins of the Torchwood Institute, as well as a look at the group’s modern incarnation.
By the time Torchwood premiered as its own series in October of 2006, the organization had become something much different and more intimate than what had been portrayed on Who. Now under the stewardship of the immortal and time traveling Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Torchwood is a small group of specialists working from a secret base beneath Cardiff, Wales, to protect humanity from alien threats. Police Constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) becomes entangled in the group’s operations in the first episode, leading to her becoming the audience’s view into this strange new world. Other members of the clandestine team include a doctor, Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), a computer specialist, Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), and the heart of the group, Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd).
The first series consists of mostly standalone episodes that establish the Torchwood team as a group of competent but flawed specialists who create nearly as many world threatening problems as they fix. Several of the thirteen episodes in this initial run show sparks of brilliance, but the show’s great potential doesn’t really show through until Torchwood hits its stride in the second season, also included in this box set. Season two is far more connected than season one, and at times it even feels serial in the manner of Joss Whedon’s cult hits. The second season also is the point at which we really begin to care for the characters we’ve grown to know, just before they are struck with tragedies that would make Whedon proud. In fact, James Marsters (Spike from Buffy and Angel) even guest stars in the second season in a very memorable recurring role.
The final Torchwood series included in the next box set is Children of Earth, the brilliant five part miniseries that ran in 2009. Quite possibly the darkest show I’ve ever watched on TV, this third Torchwood season also is one of the most emotional and engaging collections of episodes to hit television in a long, long time. Eschewing the standalone format, Children of Earth delivers an excruciatingly intense global story in an entirely serial format. Children of Earth takes many gutsy chances and in the end is painfully and memorably successful. Torchwood: Miracle Day is not included in this box set, but that’s all for the better, given the abysmal turn the series took when the BBC teamed up with Starz to produce the fourth season in America. As far as I’m concerned, Torchwood is a three season series, all of which is assembled in this essential Blu-ray set.
In addition to every hour from the first three seasons, the Blu-ray set also includes the Torchwood Declassified making-of specials for each and every episode. The first season episodes also get loads of bonus featurettes, as well as audio commentaries for all the episodes. The bonus features for the rest of the series are a bit sparser, delivering just the Declassifieds and a few smaller featurettes for the second season episodes and one overall Declassified feature covering all of Children of Earth. Still, that makes around ten hours of bonus content to pore through once you’ve finished the twenty-six hours of episodic content.
The box set itself looks and feels gorgeous. The Blu-rays come in a hardback book that is encased in a sturdy cardboard housing. The book features thirteen thick pages of images from the series, and each page actually is a sleeve that holds one of the twelve Blu-ray discs. It’s one of the most attractive Blu-ray set designs I’ve seen, and it makes for a fantastic way for Torchwood fans to showcase their collection. It can be tough to remove a disc from its sleeve without getting fingerprints all over the Blu-ray itself, but that’s a small price to pay for such an awesome layout and presentation.
Though Torchwood is bookended with an uneven first season and the abysmal Miracle Day, the second season and Children of Earth are nothing short of brilliant and brave TV. As a spinoff from Doctor Who, the series manages to find its footing and stand as its own entity while earning a legion of fans eager to follow the strange and occasionally terrifying adventures of this small band of friends and colleagues. It’s a must-watch series for fans of edgy science fiction, and this new box set is the definitive way to enjoy the best years of the series.