I like the series, overall. It's got an interesting premise, I enjoy the characters and the fact that it focuses on a team, I unsurprisingly adore the fact that it's centred on Captain Jack Harkness who is possibly my favourite Whoverse character, and I like that it takes place in Cardiff rather than London or some other usual Big Place Where Everything Usually Happens. There are some terrific episodes and moments, and I'm curious to see what they come up with next.
Still, S1 was an awfully shaky first season. While some episodes were great, most were just okay, and I feel like they often didn't know where they were going and what they were doing. They didn't build up a lot for the ending before it was almost there. The characterization of Jack seemed to vary a lot from episode to episode, depending on who was writing him. There also was a lot more they could have done with him considering he's one of the two main characters. Sometimes, with him, they kept making the same point over and over again – there was a point where I was about to shout "OK, I get it already, he's capable of cruelty and hard decisions, tell me something new!" Towards the end of the season things got really interesting, though.
I think Gwen was the only character who really got a proper and consistent treatment throughout. Owen was sometimes super-annoying and sometimes had interesting character arcs, especially towards the end of the season. I like that the show is about a team, but it seems like the writers often forgot that, and only focused on one or two characters at a time. Tosh and Ianto stayed mostly on the sidelines, which annoyed me, because they were my favourites besides Jack. I have a fondness for the quiet smart bystanders who are capable of more than you think at a first glance. They've both got a lot of interesting potential, but mostly the writers weren't using it. But I liked what was there. It was really funny, in a way, how suddenly, in the last episodes, they were like "Wait, we have this Ianto Jones character, too! Should we start giving him scenes? Relevance in the plot?"
I partly like it that it's darker than Doctor Who, able to treat different topics and themes because it doesn't have to be family-friendly (not that all DW episodes are, either! I'd have had nightmares if I'd seen some of them as a kid!). But I don't like it that it's so gory, especially since most of it seems to be for shock value, rather than necessity. You know, I was promised that this was going to have sex and violence, but so far I've mainly seen the violence. *pouts* There was a lot in Cyberwoman I didn't see, because I was hiding behind my hands and waiting to hear clues that the view would have changed. I actually skipped Countrycide, and I still don't know when I'm going to watch it. My friend had warned me that it's gruesome, and when I got to that point, after the goriness of Cyberwoman and the depressingness of Small Worlds, and my current mood at the time, I didn't know what I'd be able to handle. So I decided to read the synopsis before watching it. Well, after reading the synopsis I already felt so nauseous I decided I would skip watching the episode for now. Maybe I'll go back for it later.
But there is also much I do like. For example the fact that the show is so totally not heteronormative. We already know Jack isn't limited by gender, but everyone kisses/makes out with a member of the same sex at some point. Besides Jack, well, Ianto clearly has had a relationship with Lisa and now begins to be having one with Jack; Tosh fancies Owen but has a relationship with a woman as well - I probably squealed out loud when the Mary thing happened. Sure, Mary was a villain, but she was a particularly compelling one I thought - it was easy to see why Tosh would be attracted to her. I confess I liked her quite a lot despite the fact that she was evil. (And she was hot, too.) Damn, it makes me glad to see a smart geeky bi woman in an interesting TV show. Give me more!
Well, Jack – I've loved him since The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances two-parter where he first appears in Doctor Who. I initially worried how well he'd work as a main character in Torchwood when he starts out as a side-kick in DW, but I actually loved it. Because the show is so different from Doctor Who, it gives a chance to explore the darker sides of his character more, and I like that. I've seen people say that they don't like Torchwood Jack as much as Doctor Who Jack, but I guess those people liked him in Doctor Who for different reasons than I did. Of course I love all the fun bits, the exuberance, the flirtations etc. (and the naked scene, too, who could forget that?). But I was also always attracted to the darker sides I sensed underneath, even in S1. It wasn't a surprise to me that Jack could be angsty and bitter and desperate in circumstances like this, or that he could be cruel and wouldn't be a perfect leader. Of course it helps I'd already seen Doctor Who S3, with Jack darker and angry at the Doctor, and knowing what happened to him. But anyway, Jack always struck me he's someone who does best when he's got someone like the Doctor (and Rose, Martha etc.) to give him moral direction and remind him of a sense of wonder. I get the feeling that's why he likes Gwen so much - she's got some of that and he needs it.
Speaking of Gwen, there seems to be a lot of Gwen hate in the fandom, or at least some parts of it. I'm not sure why. I like her well enough. I don't know if she becomes somehow more annoying later on, or if some characteristic of her rubs people the wrong way but doesn't happen to bother me. So far I'm tempted to chalk it up to shipping jealousy, since Jack/Ianto is obviously a big ship in the fandom, and they might not like Gwen having a special connection with Jack. Now, I am fond of Jack/Ianto myself. But well, that isn't keeping me from continuing to be a huge Jack/Doctor shipper or from enjoying Jack's connection with Gwen, or his connection with the original Captain Jack Harkness either… Come on, it's Jack, it's not like he will mind having several ships.
Thought I'd give some thoughts of individual episodes.
The first few episodes, I was more enjoying watching the characters and their relationships than particularly interested in the episodes, though Ghost Town had some chillingly emotional moments I liked. Cyberwoman was the first that glued me to the screen a bit more. I didn't like everything about the episode, especially not the extreme goriness, and also not the way they made Lisa look. I mean, this is supposed to be in the same universe as Doctor Who, referencing events that took place in the S2 finale. Well, I watched Army of Ghosts and Doomsday quite recently, and didn't see anyone else getting turned into a Cybersexbot. And it doesn't seem in character for Ianto to show her like that to strangers. Wouldn't he at least give her some clothes?
But apart from that, it was nice to see a darker view of the consequences of Canary Wharf, and a surprising look at the character of Ianto. I had no idea he'd be capable of such deviousness he needed to hide her like that in the basement for goodness knows how long. I mean, Jack lives in the damn Hub, and he's not stupid. Well, perhaps he is easily distracted by pretty young men in suits… But nevertheless, it's rather chilling how Ianto was capable of that, even if he did it because he loved her and wanted to believe she was still human. I loved the intensity of the confrontantion between Jack and Ianto. Jack sure doesn't take betrayal lightly – which is both in character and understandable, though it was scary to see him threaten to kill Ianto. The episode also made me wonder: I know they're going to be an item eventually, how on earth they get to that from yelling to each other they're going to kill each other?
Too bad the show didn't really care to show us that. Very little interaction between them, to show how they become okay and more than okay with each other, or how Ianto would get over Lisa and start thinking differently about Jack and everything… Suddenly, a few episodes later there's innuendo about stopwatches. And in the end of the series Jack is kissing Ianto in front of everyone. Which I loved and watched several times, of course. But a few of the parts in between would have been nice to see on screen. Not even for shippy reasons; simply because of character development, you know. I'm all for letting viewers work out some things on their own, but you really shouldn't leave that kind of things out of the story, it makes no freaking sense. A lot to do for the fanfic writers…
With Tosh it's sporadic how much attention she gets, too. But at least her story got pretty well resolved during Greeks Bearing Gifts, and she got to be awesome in the last few episodes, especially Captain Jack Harkness. Greeks Bearing Gifts was probably the first episode I really adored. Tosh-centric, f/f pairing, awesome Mary, and an interesting, well-written story where the alien thing was strongly connected to characters and their relationships.
They Keep Killing Suzie was weird and disturbing but good. Random Shoes was… random. It wasn't a bad episode as such, but an episode like that has no place on a first season when your main characters' arcs are still all over the place and could use some development, too. Out of Time I already mentioned earlier. A terrific, heartbreaking story that nicely explored the effects of unexpected time travel, how lost such people would feel, how hard it can be to cope when the culture around you has suddenly changed and you've been cut off from your loved ones, and tying that to Jack's character development and his darkness.
I liked Combat better than expected, considering an episode centred on Owen and Weevils didn't sound like an interesting premise (sorry, Owen, you mostly didn't get written very interestingly in S1, except the last few episodes). A well-plotted story, everyone in the team got to do something, and I liked how Jack was written there.
Captain Jack Harkness then – a really, really wonderful episode, and one of those I'll definitely watch again. Talk about another heartbreaking time travel story. In fanfic, I'd seen the idea that Jack isn't really Captain Jack Harkness but just took that name from a dead soldier, but of course you can't be sure what in fanfics is based on canon and what isn't, before you've seen the canon. Found this episode very well written and plotted, well balanced between the different characters, achingly beautiful and tragic. I loved the exploration of Jack's past and pain and the anguish that has been breaking out to the surface every now and then, but is finally starting to be better explored here; the sense of the time period, loss mixed with joy as people try to live their lives knowing they might lose everything any time; the character and tragedy of the original!Jack, and his beautiful, fragile connection with our Jack; and the fact that Tosh got an important part in the story. I also enjoyed the Ianto-Owen conflict, and it was nice to see Ianto finally have a role in the storyline.
The End of Days - emotional and intense and full-packed of things, a little too full, though. Abbaddon both came and went with little explanation. There'd been too little buildup for the big bad and the climax of the season, just some hints. Though obviously Jack's immortality played an important part in the story, after being explored throughout the season, but still, the plot came a bit out of nowhere. However, I enjoyed the team dynamics, the tensions and everything, the heartbreaking moment when they all turned against Jack because they had been tempted by the visions of their loved ones. I love it when I can understand both sides in a conflict – Jack is understandably furious to have been betrayed by his own team, and betrayal is clearly one thing Jack has a hard time dealing with. At the same time, the others have been hurt and they've lost much and they're easy prey for those visions, and think they're doing what they must. Jack forgiving them in the end was heartbreaking, and I did watch the Jack/Ianto kiss at least three times right away. ;-) Loved the ending, though what was odd about it was that it seemed like the TARDIS had come for him, and it didn't really, I knew that from Utopia.
I am a little baffled by the occasional Kiss of Life in the series, though. In Cyberwoman, that kiss Jack gave Ianto to save him didn't look like any CPR I know of; and in the end Gwen literally brings Jack back from dead by kissing him on the lips. How about some explanation? I thought this is Torchwood, not Snow White. Though that makes me tempted to write a strange crossover… (Bet that's been done, though. Seems like everything else has been, too, and I haven't browsed that much fic yet.)
So… All in all, shaky season but loved the last few episodes and some others in between, love the characters and their dynamics and the whole team concept thing, and look eagerly forward to continuing. Wish it was less gory, though. Does anyone want to tell me what are the goriest episodes in S2, so I know to be a bit careful when choosing when to watch them? I've watched the first few episodes already, and so far Sleeper was the only one where the gore got kind of disturbing, but if any other episode is particularly gory, might be nice to know in advance. No spoilers, please, though.
S2 seems a lot better so far: they seem to know what they're doing, there are good scripts, and they're making it properly about the team. But I'll write up separate thoughts about that.