Green Guide Spotlight

Here is an article I wrote for the Green Guide in The Melbourne Age (Published Thursday, July 12, 2007)

Green Guide SpotlightCarrying a torch for the Doctor
Adam Richard

I used to think Doctor Who was gay. My people, the homosexual community, will frequently claim people to be gay for the most spurious of reasons, but I thought I had the Doctor pegged (so to speak). Despite the parade of scantily clad ladies traipsing around his Tardis, he never leaned in for a kiss. Also, I distinctly remember an episode in which the Brigadier got quite flustered watching a belly dancer, while the Doctor rolled his eyes in contempt. Proof enough, I thought, that Doctor Who was batting for my team. Well, until he went ga-ga over Billie Piper and pashed Madame de Pompadour last year. Next you'll be telling me Darth Vader isn't a transvestite. I was sure all that leather and cape-wearing meant his helmet was hiding eyelashes and lipstick.

When Doctor Who returned in 2005, Billie Piper eyelash fluttering aside, alternative sexuality managed to creep aboard the Tardis in the form of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), an omnisexual rogue time agent. Now Captain Jack's character has been spun-off into his own series, kind of like action-Frasier, and he reappears in the new sci-fi/horror/ fantasy series, Torchwood.

Torchwood begins by following plucky Welsh police constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) as she investigates the investigators of the paranormal and extraterrestrial. Through her, we meet the mysterious Torchwood team, who lay claim to being "outside the government, beyond the police". Headed by Captain Jack, who has developed a fetish for dressing in World War II army gear, the team consists of the sulky ugly/sexy Owen (Bleak House's Burn Gorman), the nerdy/sexy Toshiko (Ab Fab's Naoko Mori) and the blandly sexy lanto (Gareth David-Lloyd).

They are all, in some way, sexy. The show tries desperately to be sexy. It's populated with sexy aliens that suck the life out of you; a purple smoke alien that makes you have sex until you explode; a sexy woman from the past who wants to have sex; and a Cyberwoman who seems not to have finished getting dressed before going on a killing spree. On top of all this alien sex, all the main characters experience at least one same-sex encounter before the end of the first series. (Oh yeah, nerdy pants here has seen them all).

Having discovered Torchwood through my love of Doctor Who, I found the visceral depiction of gory, violent horror to be a shock at first because nobody bleeds in Doctor Who. Having said that, nothing on-screen is any more or less confronting than the splatter in Heroes. The graphic violence is not all that differentiates Torchwood from its progenitor, however; it's the sex. Nobody ever had sex in the Tardis, but everybody has sex in Torchwood, almost all the time. It's a wonder they ever get around to investigating anything paranormal or extraterrestrial. Even with all the sex and violence, Torchwood is a lot of fun, if only because it is borrowing from some very fun sources, and not just Doctor Who. The city of Cardiff in Wales, where Torchwood is set, sits on a rift in time and space, and all sorts of oogly-boogly business falls through the rift into the middle of town, which is not unlike the town of Sunnydale in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, built on top of something known as The Hellmouth. The investigation into matters unknown harks back to '90s zeitgeist series The X-Files, except they've taken the sexual tension between Scully and Mulder and consummated it five ways.

Don't go into Torchwood expecting "grown-up Doctor Who". In some respects it is, but not grown-up enough. Torchwood is only on the cusp of adulthood. Like a 17-year-old, it's capable of inflicting pain and eliciting pleasure; it's just not exactly sure how.

As the series trundled along, the characters annoyed me, confused me and then began to charm me. By the end of 13 episodes, I was dreading their departure. I started the show in lust with the cheesy Captain Jack, but within weeks my attention turned to the brooding Owen. (How I became infatuated with the grotesque Mr Guppy from Bleak House, I'll never know.)

Torchwood is a bit of spooky sexy sci-fi fun. Like all British drama, it still has a bit of tongue lodged in its cheek, so it's not as overwrought as Supernatural or Lost Plus it features scads of girlon-girl action for the boys, boyon-boy action for the girls and boy-on-girl-on-purple-smokecreature action for the exhaust fans that might be watching.

While Adam Richard is an employee of Channel Ten, he in no way feels compelled to be nice about it. He will tell you, until your eyes bleed, no doubt, how much he is loathing this year's ham-fisted attempt at Big Brother, and that no matter how pretty the boys on Supernatural are, he just can't bring himself to care about their allegedly scary plight.

Torchwood screens on Mondays at 9.4Opm on Ten. Doctor Who screens on Saturdays at 7.30pm on the ABC.