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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 31, 2007

Finally, a sci-fi show with queerfolk


BBC’s new series is set in a society where bisexuality is commonplace

There is an organization out there with two items on their agenda: tracking down alien life on Earth and arming the human race for the future.

And they’re run by the man who created Queer as Folk.

There has always been an interesting relationship between the LGBT community and science fiction, from openly gay science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany to scribe David Gerrold’s iconic Star Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

Executive producer Russell T. Davies has all but created a new universe, one in which sexual orientation is less an issue than whether you want to eat your neighbor’s brains or transport their cat back to the planet Ceti Tau Alpha.

Davies is responsible for giving new life to the classic British sci-fi series Doctor Who, which made its return in 2005 after having been off the air for 16 years. The original series ran for 26 seasons.

During his first season, Davies introduced Captain Jack Harkness, a “time agent” trapped in London during the Blitz. He was unabashedly, unapologetically bisexual, which, Dr. Who says, is pretty common among the more advanced species in time and space.

After he left the doctor’s company, Captain Jack apparently made his way to Cardiff. There he heads the Welsh capital’s branch of Torchwood, a government agency charged with protecting British interests from intergalactic threats. Torchwood was also introduced in Doctor Who.

BBC America will start playing the series Torchwood, following the adventures of Captain Jack and his team, on September 8.

The first episode begins with Captain Jack (openly gay actor John Barrowman) and his team visiting a crime scene. Police officer Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) spies on the Torchwood team as they use a seemingly mystical gauntlet to bring a murder victim back to life for a couple of minutes, trying to get a description of his murderer.

Cooper starts trying to research Harkness and Torchwood, only to come across dead ends at every turn before Captain Jack himself shows her around his base, underneath Millennium Square in Cardiff. Apparently, there is a rift in time and space around Cardiff, and a lot of weird things happen there.

Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sunnydale and the Hellmouth, only with a mostly competent government black ops team instead of a group of high schoolers, and aliens instead of the undead, and that’s about the size of it.

The Welsh Torchwood team consists of Owen (Burn Gorman), the medical expert; Toshiko (Absolutely Fabulous’ Naoki Mori), the techie; Suzie (Indira Varma), an expert on alien artifacts, and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd), who seems to function as their receptionist.

Following the trail of a series of murders, the team comes upon a dark secret: the killer may be one of their own.

Gwen Cooper is faced with a choice by the end of the episode. She can either have her memories of Torchwood erased and go back to her quiet life as a police officer, or she can join the organization, knowing that she will see things that she can never talk about with anyone outside of the group.

It’s obviously not a difficult decision.

Along the course of the season, the show delves into some dark recesses of the human soul, as well dealing with aliens, evil fairies from the beginning of time and a creepy caretaker who wants to bring about the end of the world.

Seemingly as often as they face danger, the Torchwood team also seems to get into sexual situations with members of the same sex. Davies has done an excellent job of representing his own in this entirely different milieu.

In the second episode, for instance, a gaseous alien life form that feeds off orgasmic energy inhabits the body of a young woman. The team captures her, but she exudes such strong pheromones that she and Gwen wind up smooching passionately in her holding cell.

According to Myles in a behind-the-scenes featurette that ran on BBC, she imagined her co-star as Johnny Depp, while she was imagining Myles as Brad Pitt, so in their minds, it was Johnny Depp kissing Brad Pitt.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem to make it any more heterosexual.

Toshiko spends another episode in an affair with a female alien who gives her a pendant that allows Toshi to hear other people’s thoughts. That’s an interesting story, especially if the viewer flashes back to Naoki Mori portraying Saffron’s nerdy friend Sarah (to whom Edina referred as “Hiawatha”) in bed with the sultry seductress from the stars.

It’s not done just for the titillation of horny teenaged geeks, either. While an earlier reference is made to Ianto being Captain Jack’s “mercy fuck,” the two share a tender kiss in the season finale, and the penultimate episode of the season shows Harkness budding, yet doomed, relationship with . . . Captain Jack Harkness.

Even Owen has his brief bisexual moment, although that’s in the series première. A later episode that mimics the film Fight Club has some odd sexual tension between the doctor and a suspect he has befriended to get information from.

Barrowman as Harkness is an interesting character. He’s a man of many moods, often charming and beguiling, but just beneath the surface lurks a certain ruthlessness. The 21st Century, he claims, is when everything changes and humanity must be ready for it. However, when something tragic happens, he is the first one in tears and his mouth seems always ready to reflect the tragedy of the situation.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Gorman’s Owen is, in Davies’ words, “a bit of a geezer,” the typical jack-the-lad meathead, but with vast hidden depths.

Ianto is a character that at first glance seems to always be at the periphery, unflappable, impassive. However, as they say, still waters run deep, and deep waters often have dangers in them.

Suzie is an odd one, perhaps the most malevolent of the group. Varma’s performance, however, shows that there is no real maliciousness behind her actions, just self-interest.

Mori is interesting at Toshiko, seldom grabbing the spotlight but making the most of her chances to shine.

The one who truly connects to the viewers, however, is Myles as the distaff everyman who adds that human connection to the group. They’ve all been playing with bug-eyed monsters for so long, they’ve forgotten the human side of the equation, and she grounds them in that.

After years of never-materializing rumors of gay romance on Star Trek, rampaging heterosexuality on Battlestar Galactica and other series, Torchwood finally gives audiences a look at what science fiction can be with a budget and a gay executive producer. As Martha Stewart says, it’s a good thing.



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