After the success of his revival of Doctor Who, Russell T. Davies set out to make a sexy adult-themed spin-off that would star the Captain Jack Harkness character. The result was Torchwood. Since its debut in 2006, the series -- about a secret organization's attempts to protect Earth from otherworldly threats -- has undergone several format and cast changes. (The only consistent main characters are John Barrowman's Jack and Eve Myles' Gwen Cooper). Depending on your point of view, these production shakeups have either hindered or heightened the show's appeal. Yet just as Captain Jack bounces back after every death, Torchwood also endures. As even casual fans will tell you, the most frustrating thing about the show is its inconsistency. Until the excellent Children of Earth mini-series rolled around, it was unclear whether or not you'd get good or lousy Torchwood from week to week. With that in mind, today's Daily List will look at the five best -- and the worst -- episodes from the series. Just remember, if you disagree with the choices here you can always take some Retcon when you finish.
5) Random Shoes
The Plot: One of the most atypical episodes of the series to date, "Random Shoes" was the story of Eugene Jones, a nerdy teen obsessed with aliens and the Torchwood team. After he is killed in a hit-and-run accident, he becomes invisible and stuck between this world and the next while a troubled Gwen Cooper investigates his death. Think of it as a twee sci-fi take on Ghost that swaps out the Righteous Brothers for Anthony and the Johnsons on the soundtrack.
Why It's So Good: Given how unrelentingly bleak Torchwood tends to be, this life-affirming episode came as something of a welcome surprise. The installment's admittedly clichéd message to make every moment count could have played out embarrassingly in the hands of a less capable writer. Instead, Jacquetta May's script is peppered with moments of beauty that breathe new life into the tired "carpe diem" trope. (Just check out the devastating "Hope There's Someone" sequence). With Jack and most of the main cast only making brief appearances, this was Gwen's chance to shine. Yet it's the one-off Eugene character who steals the episode away. Playing most of his scenes with a never-better Eve Myles, Paul Chequer's performance is genuinely effective. Perhaps even more for certain members of the viewing audience. His take on Eugene is an understated one of a damaged soul whose geeky obsessions kept him from participating in life. Hmm, I wonder if there's some subtext here?
4) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
The Plot: The second season premiere has James Marsters blasting onto the series as Captain John Hart, a time agent with a serious Adam Ant fetish who happens to be Captain Jack's ex. (Not to mention something of a complete and utter bastard). But when he fucks with the Torchwood gang, he discovers that Cardiff is a long way from Sunnydale.
Why It's So Good: Between Torchwood's first and second season, Captain Jack made a few appearances on Doctor Who that allowed him to get some closure on why he was immortal. This plot development paved the way for the lusty Cap'n to lighten up a bit and have some fun in this episode. From his dispatching of an alien fish creature (see above) to a memorable makeout session-turned-brawl with Captain John, Jack is not so much chewing the scenery as devouring it here. Part of the criticism about the series' first year is that it often took itself way too seriously when goofy shit was going down. That's not a problem this time out. Episodes like this and "Something Borrowed" strive to be nothing more than big dumb romps. This is Torchwood at the peak of its campy stage. Cherish it.
The Plot: After Captain John causes an explosion that leaves Jack, Ianto, Tosh and Owen for dead, they each reflect on how they initially became involved with Torchwood.
Why It's So Good: Employing Lost-influenced flashbacks, "Fragments" is a fascinating info dump that finally clues us in to why these characters work for an organization that constantly puts them in danger. Of course, after providing significant insight into Owen and Tosh's personalities, (four-year-old spoiler alert) the series goes and kills them in the very next episode. Man, those Torchwood producers are absolute sadists.
The Plot: Thinking that aliens that emerged from the Rift are responsible for a string of disappearances in the Welsh countryside, our heroes begin an investigation -- unaware that cannibals are actually to blame.
Why It's So Good: This exercise in misdirection from writer Chris Chibnell proves that sometimes the biggest threats are homegrown. Viewers assumed that the culprit would be the same sort of weird E.T. that was Torchwood's calling card up to this point. So to have deranged humans be the culprits was a welcome turn of events. The top-notch storytelling on display here illustrated how the then-nascent series was capable of more than just horny aliens. There are some genuinely creepy moments here worth mentioning too, such as Ianto's discovery of the refrigerator packed with human flesh and the reveal that the seemingly helpful policeman is himself a cannibal. Further heightening the suspense is the direction by regular Doctor Who helmer Andy Goddard, who helps flesh out the episode's claustrophobic feel (pun quite definitely intended).
1) The Entirety of Children of Earth
The Plot: In 1965, the British government -- aided by Jack Harkness --secretly exchanged 12 children for a powerful flu cure with an alien race known as the 456. When the beings return to the UK in 2009, they threaten to wipe out mankind unless the human race sacrifices 10% of their offspring for them to use as a drug. In order to destroy any evidence of their previous encounter with the 456, the British government sets out to put an end to Torchwood. After the Hub is destroyed, Jack, Gwen, Ianto and Rhys go on the run and try to figure out how to avoid a global catastrophe. Much death and sadness follows. Seriously, this one is the TV equivalent of Debbie Downer.
Why It's So Good: After the events of the second season finale "Exit Wounds" it was clear that when Torchwood returned it would be a much different show. But with the possible exception of Russell T. Davies, no one expected that the series could remake itself so completely. Replacing the gratuitous sex and weird tonal shifts of the first two seasons was a mature rumination on redemption and sacrifice that was previously unseen on Torchwood. Or Doctor Who for that matter. In Children of Earth we truly witness the consequences of Jack's actions. By the time the credits rolled on the final installment he had lost his lover/co-worker, sacrificed his grandson for the sake of the world's children and utterly destroyed his relationship with his daughter. His experiences here leave him a broken man who takes the drastic action of leaving Torchwood -- and Earth itself -- behind in an effort to escape from his pain. This mini-series marked the moment when Torchwood surpassed its genre roots and became an example of something much greater: the artistic power of television. When it concluded, it left audiences breathless with anticipation for what the future of the series held. As you'll soon see, this goodwill didn't last long.
Hit the jump for the worst Torchwood episodes ever made.