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Feature: Torchwood

Saving the Earth…

The first full-series Doctor Who spin-off will soon make its small-scree début. Producer Richard Stokes breaks the secrecy…

Back in the 1960s, Doctor Who was on the air for as long as 45 weeks a year. Given the show’s current high ratings, awards triumphs and critical acclaim, you get the impression the BBC almost wishes it could match that output today – if it weren’t for the fact that more sophisticated production techniques and effects make it impossible.

So welcome to Torchwood, Doctor Who’s first fully-fledged spin-off series, which airs on BBC Three for 13 weeks starting at the end of October. Created by Russell T Davies (who also serves as executive producer), it takes elements and characters from the parent programme then firmly forges its own path. The man responsible for the day- to-day running of the show is producer Richard Stokes, who has the enormous challenge of keeping it on schedule and within budget, while ensuring it meets its full potential.

“I met Julie Gardner and Russell T Davies a couple of years ago when they were setting up Doctor Who,” he tells TV Zone. “We had a great conversation about all our favourite television shows and since then Julie and I have wanted to work together. Then, quite out the blue, she called me in January and asked if I wanted to produce Torchwood. How could I say no?”

Stokes is of the right age to have enjoyed Doctor Who the first time around.

“I grew up in the Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker years,” he reveals, “and grew out of the Peter Davison period. I was always a fan of the genre and was convinced Doctor Who would return in some form or other on British television. I think the ‘new’ Doctor Who is a triumph. Billie Piper – amazing.”

The idea of Torchwood itself has been seeded through the past season (and a bit) of Doctor Who: a top secret organization investigating extra-terrestrial and Human crimes, which has collected advanced alien technology. There’s no sign of Canary Wharf or Tracy-Ann Oberman in the forthcoming series, however, which is based in Cardiff, and headed by John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, the renegade Time Agent who once travelled with the ninth Doctor and Rose. Opening episode Flotsam and Jetsam starts with Welsh police officer (Eve Myles) investigating events she cannot explain, disguising herself as a pizza delivery girl, and eventually discovering the astonishing truth that’s hidden beneath Cardiff Bay.

The team also includes Naoko Mori as Toshiko Sato (a character briefly seen in last year’s Doctor Who episode Aliens of London, when she examined the ‘dead’ space pig) and Burn Gorman as medic Owen Harper.

“It’s an ensemble series,” Stokes defines. “Each of the characters comes to the foreground in certain episodes. It’s a really good mix across the series. Captain Jack’s the glue that holds them together… although I’m sure there’s a sexier metaphor than that.”

So what are the differences between Torchwood and its parent show?

Torchwood is more adult and darker in tone. It deals with different aspects of the Human condition. A team of people are trying to protect us from alien threats rather than an adventure with someone you’d like to be your best mate.

by David Richardson

Read the full interview and more about upcoming new series in
TV Zone Special #72

Photo © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone Special #72
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