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Torchwood: The New World – Creator Russell T Davies on his and the shows Americanisation

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Torchwood Season 3 - John Barrowman
Captian Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) © BBC

After helming the revival of Doctor Who , starring Christopher Eccleston and later David Tennant, Russell T Davies is now taking his Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, to the USA. Starz and the BBC are bringing a whole new approach to the franchise for its fourth season, Torchwood: The New World, which begins shooting in January, and will premiere the summer of 2011 on Starz.

In the miniseries, CIA agent Rex Matheson is investigating a global conspiracy, and finds a threat which challenges the entire human race. The only answer seems to lie within an old, secret British institute, known only as Torchwood, and the keys to the institute are held by its only two survivors – former Police Officer Gwen Cooper, who has long since disappeared with her husband and child, and the mysterious Captain Jack Harness, a man whose history seems to stretch back centuries.

Russell T Davies spoke with the TV Critics in Los Angeles about his new and stimulating project.

Russell T Davies
Russell T Davies © Film Review Online

Can we take it that John Barrowman is back?

Yes, absolutely.

At the end of Children of Earth, Captain Jack was very dispirited, so how much of this is he going to hit the ground running, or how much of this is going to be about him coming back around to being part of Torchwood?

It’s partly a new series in that it’s hitting Starz and has a new title, with Torchwood: The New World.  So it’s very keen to move on. But at the same time, we’re going to be absolutely faithful to people who followed Captain Jack’s story and to John Barrowman’s career.  So we do acknowledge the past stories while at the same time moving on to new stuff.

Torchwood Season 3 - Eve Myles
Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) © BBC

He was left very dispirited, as you said, and almost defeated at the end of the last series, which we acknowledge and we deal with in a language that will both satisfy old fans and also will move forward into the future. It’s not just John who’s back, of course. Gwen Cooper, played by Eve Myles, is also back. She’s one of the stars of it as well. So our two surviving team members will be fighting the fight.

Children of the Earth was such an overwhelming experience for viewers, and it seemed like it was for you because when we asked you would there be any more Torchwood, I think at that point you didn’t seem sure if there ever would be any more Torchwood.  So tell us what, from there, made you decide yes, you did want to do more Torchwood.

The last series of Torchwood coincided with my decision to leave the U.K. and come and work over here to learn all that you can learn from the industry here. So it was a tipping point. It could have ended where it did. We have quite a definite ending. What changed my mind or what inspired me was the response to “Children of Earth,” which got phenomenal figures in Britain. It did beautifully over here on BBC America. And there was just a buzz about it.

Russell T Davies
Russell T Davies © BBC

Children of Earth was a new form of Torchwood, and something clicked. Thank God, we got it right. So it was just inspired really. The story of the new Torchwood, Torchwood: The New World, is something that’s been ticking away in the back of my head for a long while. I would’ve written this story, no matter what. And suddenly you think, “Well, there’s a popular show. There’s a great story. Let’s put the two together.” And thank God, we were lucky to be here. And Starz just welcomed us with open arms.

In the series description it sounds like the entree for new viewers is going to be a CIA agent named Rex. Can you talk about that character, any other new characters, and how he incorporates into the familiar Torchwood?

Yeah, Rex Matheson has yet to be cast because we don’t film until January. But you’re right. That character is an entrance into the new story. He’s a CIA agent. There’s a massive, great big story that comes along that becomes a global issue.

The fact that Torchwood has been off air for a while, and is also brand new to a lot of people, is actually being used as part of the story, in that Rex has no idea what Torchwood is and has to investigate Torchwood.

Torchwood was destroyed, disbanded. It’s like a legend now. It’s like something that ceased to exist a long time ago that’s spoken of only in whispers. You can start a brand-new story this way, in the way that Mulder’s X-files had been sitting there as a mystery and a legend to be uncovered before the series even started.

So Rex has no choice but to be drawn into this through complications that you will see in the story. We also have a watch analyst at the CIA called Esther, who is not friends with Rex, but works with a colleague of Rex’s.

Russell T Davies
Russell T Davies © BBC

The two of them become embroiled in the Torchwood legend and investigate what Torchwood is or was and then find themselves on the run from that moment onwards, and having to meet Captain Jack and Gwen and decide whether they’re friends, whether they’re enemies, a decision that takes a long time to be decided.

Part of the ten episodes, is the two teams coming together. Is that a new Torchwood team, or is the CIA in charge, or are they friends? Are they enemies? There’s a lot of sparks, a lot of excitement.

Having spoken not only to viewers, but also to some of your actors who have felt that the Welsh setting of Torchwood is one of the things that made it special and different, can you talk a little bit about the challenges of having it as a base but kind of leaving that behind, how does this not become just another sci-fi show in terms of losing the  magic of the original Welsh setting?

In the end it simply follows the story. The story demands that we take these paths with it. And I think an audience will follow that. And as you said, there’s always been Wales there for you to latch onto, but the most exciting thing now is the new horizons or the new vistas ahead of us.

Update: The title of the Starz series went on to be called Torchwood: Miracle Day.