Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series Release Date: Available now Studio: BBC America Year: 2007-2009 Rating: NR Running Time: ~ 26 hours MSRP: $129.98 THE EPISODES SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080i high definition 1.78:1 Standard definition Audio DTS-HD High Resolution: English 5.1 Stereo Subtitles English English The Series: 3/5 Spun off from a concept introduced in an episode of 2005's "Dr. Who," which starred David Tennant as the titular time traveler, "Torchwood" follows the Cardiff, Wales-based branch of a super-secret British agency responsible for investigating and defending against extraterrestrial and supernatural threats. Led by the mysterious and inexhaustible Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the agency is self-described as "outside the government and beyond the police" and makes full use of its seemingly limitless resources and mythological status to fulfill its mission. Making up the small-but-dedicated team is physician Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), computer expert Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), caretaker Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), and second-in-command Suzie Costello (Indira Varma). With Cardiff being the epicenter of a dimensional rift, allowing all manner of creature and phenomena to find their way into the world, the team has its work cut out for it. So when, in the series' first episode, Cardiff police constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) happens across the group's latest investigation, and proves more than able to handle its curiosities and excesses, it makes perfect sense for her to be added to the team. As the series progresses, she will prove to be not only a capable investigator and leader, but also the emotional center of an operation that has worked for too long without one. Currently in its fourth season (now set in the United States), "Torchwood" has proved to be a popular, if rather uneven, program. Though it never suffers from comparison to anything that has come before it (despite having some obvious influences from "Buffy" and "The X-Files"), it tends to play a bit too fast and loose with its narrative elements. Particularly in the first season, writers seem to throw together characters with a "see what sticks" mentality, and too often character actions are propelled by the needs of the episode than what's been established for the individuals (or as common sense). Consequently, much of the first season lacks credibility, especially when things take a more emotional turn. The characters' external anguish and trauma simply lack the necessary internal support much of the time. Though it would be easy to label the problem as "bad acting," the issue ultimately lies much deeper than that. Not surprisingly, the second season fares much better with the core characters having more or less sorted themselves out. The stories still have a tendency to feel contrived, but at this point it can be excused as the nature of the beast, take it or leave it. It certainly helps that the show never takes itself too seriously, and has never really asked its audience to either. So for those freewheeling types willing to stick it out, the second season provides a number of highlights, most notably Captain Jack's time-spanning back story, as well as a glimpse at what the team was doing prior to joining Torchwood. The addition of "Buffy" and "Angel" alum James Marsters in a recurring guest role also gives the season a nice shot in the arm. He doesn't change the show's inherent nature, but he certainly ups its entertainment factor. By the third season, a five-episode mini-series sub-titled "Children of Earth," the show finally hits its stride. The writing is obviously tighter given its singular story arc, but the technical side of the production also shows an improvement. The prior seasons were often overlit, and in combination with the revealing nature of high definition video capture, makeup and creature effects never quite had the necessary creep or "ick" factor. Though obviously well done, they never became more than a prosthetic or makeup application. In "Children of Earth," the primary creature effect is kept obscured by mist and shadow, becoming all the more powerful for it. Combined with an often chilling premise - the sacrifice of the planet's children in deference to an invading alien presence - the mini-series garnered its strongest critical and audience response, and deservedly so. So where to start for someone looking to get into "Torchwood" for the first time? Fittingly enough, towards the end. If "Children of Earth" doesn't sell you on the premise and the characters, the first two seasons certainly won't. If the mini-series proves to be a compelling introduction, then the earlier seasons will serve as testaments to how far the show has come, rather than stumbling blocks to seeing where it all eventually goes. "Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series" on Blu-ray includes all 31 episodes from the three seasons that aired between 2007 and 2009 on BBC's affiliates. All 12 Blu-ray discs are neatly packaged in a bound volume with a slipcover. Individual Blu-ray sets were previously released for each season in 2008 and 2009. Video Quality: 4/5 The series is accurately framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080i with the VC-1 codec. Though the image is impressive for its crispness and clarity, its high definition video roots are always rather obvious, manifesting in higher frame rates in all three seasons but also a hard, "digital" quality, particularly in the first season when the budget was more limited. With the second season contrast range shows a noticeable improvement, due in large part, I imagine, to improvements in the cinematography - scenes show more dynamic range and place a greater emphasis on color. The third season looks the most like film, though there are still the cut aways that can feel a bit jarring because of the frame rate. Black levels seem consistent across all the episodes - looking decent for the most part but obviously struggling when a scene is dark across the board. In addition to the limited depth of blacks in those instances, noise also crops up, which tends to be largely unnoticeable in the more brightly lit footage. Moiré in tight patterns and subtle aliasing along diagonal lines also pop up here and there, but don't linger long enough to be a problem. Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution audio track is consistently clear, detailed and intelligible, though some may need subtitles engaged to understand the thicker British accents. Surround activity can be aggressive, but not mixed particularly well, with things like too-loud dripping water effects or music cues becoming a distraction. LFE can also be similarly over-strong at times, though the track exhibits consistent depth and fullness. Special Features: 4/5 The extras include episode synopses and behind the scenes material for almost every episode, with audio commentaries for the first season, deleted scenes and outtakes rounding out the package. Though the quantity of items noticeably drops after the first season, the information provided remains thorough and comprehensive. [Season One, Disc One] Welcome to Torchwood Part One (14:30, SD) provides an overview of the show's concept, introduces the major characters, and provides some behind the scenes. Welcome to Torchwood Part Two (10:37, SD) repeats much of the same content of the previous featurette, making it largely unnecessary. Torchwood on the Scene (15:40, SD) shows the table read, intercut with final production footage, of when Gwen Cooper first enters the Torchwood Institute. The piece also includes analysis of the scene and an overview of the set by the show creators. Deleted Scenes (11:03, SD) includes 11 excised scenes from the first four episodes. The Weevil (5:03, SD) provides an overview of the concept and design for the ape-like alien species. Sex Gas (5:25, SD) provides an overview of the concept and design for the sex-crazed alien species. Jack's Back (8:00, SD) provides an overview of Episode One, "Everything Changes." Bad Day at the Office (9:05, SD) provides an overview of the Episode Two, "Day One." Audio Commentaries Episode 1: Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner, Brian Kelley Episode 2: Richard Stokes, Chris Chibnall, Eve Myles [Season One, Disc Two] Torchwood Out of this World: Ghost Machine (5:16, SD) provides a story synopsis and behind-the-scenes for Episode Three, "Ghost Machine." Torchwood Out of this World: Cyberwoman (4:20, SD) provides a story synopsis and behind-the-scenes for Episode Four, "Cyberwoman." Torchwood Out of this World: Fairies (5:15, SD) provides a story synopsis and behind-the-scenes for Episode Five, "Small Worlds." Torchwood Declassified: Living History (9:04, SD) provides additional overview of the third episode, looking specifically at the character of Owen. Torchwood Declassified: Girl Trouble (10:07, SD) provides additional overview of the fourth episode, looking specifically at the character of Ianto and the Cyberman mythology. Torchwood Declassified: Away with the Fairies (10:06, SD) provides additional overview of the fifth episode and its themes. Audio Commentaries Episode 3: Colin Teague, Helen Raynor, Burn Gorman Episode 4: Chris Chibnall, James Strong, Gareth David-Lloyd Episode 5: Alice Troughton, Ben Foster, Eve Myles [Season One, Disc Three] Torchwood: Sex, Violence, Blood and Gore (15:41, SD) explores the show's more risqué content that was afforded by its later broadcast time. The Team and their Troubles: Ianto and Evan (5:11, SD) looks at the development of the Torchwood member and his nemesis in the sixth episode. The Team and their Troubles: Toshiko and Mary (5:17, SD) looks at the development of the Torchwood member and her nemesis in the seventh episode. Torchwood Declassified: The Country Club (10:26, SD) provides additional overview of the fifth episode, looking specifically at developing relationship between Gwen and Owen and the special effects. Torchwood Declassified: There's Something About Mary (10:24, SD) provides additional overview of the sixth episode, looking specifically at the character development for Toshiko. Audio Commentaries Episode 6: Chris Chibnall, Andy Goddard, Gareth David-Lloyd Episode 7: Richard Stokes, Colin Teague, Toby Whithouse [Season One, Disc Four] Torchwood on the Road (9:08, SD) takes a look at the team's SUV and its features. Deleted Scenes (6:50, SD) includes nine scenes from episodes six to nine. The Team and their Troubles: Owen and Suzie (5:44, SD) looks at the development of the characters in the eighth episode. The Team and their Troubles: Gwen and Eugene (6:01, SD) looks at the development of the characters in the ninth episode. Torchwood Declassified: Beyond the Grave (10:41, SD) provides additional overview of the eighth episode, looking specifically at its themes and plot developments. Torchwood Declassified: Dead Man Walking (10:18) provides additional overview of the ninth episode, looking specifically at its themes and inspiration. Audio Commentaries Episode 8: Chris Chibnall, James Strong, Brian Minchin Episode 9: Richard Stokes, James Erskine, Paul Chequer [Season One, Disc Five] The Captain's Log (10:25, SD) is John Barrowman's video diary showing antics from a day of shooting, intercut with a few too many compliments from his castmates. Moments in the Making: A Wing and a Prayer (5:16, SD) provides an overview and behind the scenes of the tenth episode. Moments in the Making: Fight Night (5:24, SD) provides an overview and behind the scenes of the eleventh episode. Torchwood Declassified: Time Flies (10:31, SD) provides additional overview of the tenth episode, looking specifically at its themes and the development of the Owen character. Torchwood Declassified: Weevil Fight Club (10:23, SD) provides additional overview of the eleventh episode, looking at the further character development for Owen. Audio Commentaries Episode 10: Alice Troughton, Ben Foster, Eve Myles Episode 11: Chris Chibnall, Andy Goddard, Burn Gorman [Season One, Disc Six] Torchwood On Time (10:09, SD) takes a closer look at the 1940s sets and costumes for the twelfth episode, along with behind-the-scenes of John Barrowman's un-aired musical number. Deleted Scenes (14:18, SD) includes 21 excised scenes from the tenth and thirteenth episodes. Outtakes (5:37, SD) includes various performance gaffes and on-set antics. Moments in the Making: Officer and a Gentleman (5:29, SD) provides an overview and behind the scenes of the twelfth episode. Moments in the Making: Bombing the Base (5:08, SD) provides an overview and behind the scenes of the thirteenth and final episode of the first season. Torchwood Declassified: Blast from the Past (10:05, SD) provides additional overview of the twelfth episode, looking specifically at its themes and the story behind the Captain Jack character. Torchwood Declassified: To the End (10:24, SD) provides additional overview of the final Season One episode, looking specifically at its themes and the development of the Captain Jack character. Audio Commentaries Episode 12: Richard Stokes, Ashley Way, John Barrowman Episode 13: Richard Stokes, Ashley Way, John Barrowman [Season Two, Disc One] Torchwood Declassified provides an overview of the season's episodes, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Episode One (13:05, SD) Episode Two (10:34, SD) Episode Three (8:29, SD) [Season Two, Disc Two] Torchwood Declassified provides an overview of each the season's episodes, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Episode Four (9:34, SD) Episode Five (10:02, SD) Episode Six (12:33, SD) Episode Seven (11:10, SD) [Season Two, Disc Three] Torchwood Declassified provides an overview of the season's episodes, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Episode Eight (13:14, SD) Episode Nine (11:14, SD) Episode Ten (13:05, SD) [Season Two, Disc Four] Torchwood Declassified provides an overview of the season's episodes, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Episode Eleven (9:50, SD) Episode Twelve (10:29, SD) Episode Thirteen (11:03, SD) The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack (22:05, SD) provides a comprehensive history of the Harkness character, from how he became immortal to his various exploits through time. Outtakes (8:40, SD) includes various performance gaffes and on-set antics. Deleted Scenes (17:19, SD) includes 10 excised scenes from various episodes. [Season Three, Disc Two] Children of Earth Declassified (31:46, SD) provides an overview of the season, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Recap The Series: 3/5 Video Quality: 4/5 Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Special Features: 4.5/5 Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5 BBC America turns in a respectable presentation for the first three seasons of the British science fiction series "Torchwood." Special features provide a significant glimpse behind-the-scenes, though the number of items decreases significantly by the third season. Given the uneven quality of the series as a whole, the collection is meant for those fully acquainted with the program already and are willing to overlook its flaws. Anyone else is better off renting the third season to see how the concept and characters appeal to their sensibilities.