Back to the Hub – Torchwood Revisited (The VH Interview)

Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood, may have left our screens back in 2011, but, as the masses of fans who queued for hours to meet their alien-hunting heroes at this years Heroes and Villains Fan Fest can attest, it still holds a very special place in the hearts of audiences across the globe.

We were very lucky to sit down with Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Burn Gorman (Dr. Owen Harper), Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato) and Kai Owen (Rhys Williams) to discuss the show’s ongoing legacy.

Why do you think still, all these years on, Torchwood still has such a special place in our hearts?

Kai: I think there’s something quite culty about it now…

Gareth: Sorry???

Kai: CuLLLty. It was so different when it came on, and it was part of that big Doctor Who world, and that’s a big part of people’s lives. Sarah Jane was a big success as well, so any sort of splinter off that “Whoniverse”, they like it. I think the charm of it was Cardiff, and this gang of people, this team. It was exciting. The story in season one and two… When things get stopped suddenly it always leaves people wanting more. It didn’t run its course. It didn’t outstay its welcome. For me it ended at series three really, so it hung there leaving people wanting more. It had three very good years, and one bigger budget year that did well, but Torchwood was best when it was in Cardiff.

Burn: We were out of London. We were in Cardiff, which was just becoming a hub of production, and it felt like the BBC sort of left us alone. And because of that Russell and Julie were able to push boundaries without making a big deal of it…

Naoko: It was quite out there!

Burn: Certainly for anything associated with Doctor Who… A pansexual character, but it’s not an issue… Some episodes, let’s be honest, are not that good. We had things like Abaddon with that crap CGI… But maybe that’s why; nowadays if you commission something, it’ll have nine hundred script editors, they need to know exactly the tone of what it was. But then, it was more like “let’s mix it up and see!”

Naoko: But it also had charm. It had humour. It catered for a very wide demographic. It wasn’t just sci-fi, it was all sorts of things under one umbrella. Sci-fi has become so mainstream now.

Burn: Ten years ago, there was no Marvel Universe. There was just Iron Man. So that sort of post-modern wink to the camera of “you’re in on it too” wasn’t mainstream. So when an alien drives up to Torchwood, we’re all in on the joke. That wasn’t so much done back then. The Risen Mitten is, in actual fact, a bit stupid…

And then you’ve got that with Thanos now…

Naoko: Well he nicked that from us!

Owen was always a bit of an arsehole, and Tosh was far from that. What do you think it was that drew her to him throughout the first two seasons?

Naoko: I think that maybe there was a part of her that felt safe, in a way…

Burn: Because it would never happen…

Naoko: Yeah… Deep down, she knew it would never work. She was such a late bloomer and had such terrible luck with her love-life.

Burn: She did have a love-life though! That’s what I love about the show as well; she wasn’t just a trope of the techie who never has anything. She did have relationships.

Naoko: With frozen soldiers… Or weird Adam…

Burn: Oh, he was sexy…

Naoko: Yeah…

Burn: There was something about him…

Naoko: I think it’s that ideal thing… But also, there’s always that guy who’s really annoying at school… The bad boy or whatever, and that’s part of the attraction. First and foremost, they were friends anyway, and I don’t think she had many male friends…

Burn: One of them’s a pansexual time-traveller and the other’s a coffee boy…

Naoko: Exactly!

Talking of ice monsters and time-travellers, were there ever any times when Russell would come to you with a script and you just thought “this is never gonna work!”?

Burn: No, when we got the script, it was like “there’s the script”. Done. Presumably, if we had problems with it, we could always go to him.

Gareth: There were maybe two or three episodes from season one that were from external writers, and you could tell they weren’t from Russell, so you were sceptical. But nothing from Russell.

Kai: Russell’s the master. Any Russell T. Davis script, he knows exactly what’s going on. He knows all the answers. Even if you asked him where they all are now, he could tell you each and every one. His mind is that vast with it all.

Gareth, I recently went back to Cardiff, and I have to ask about the back door of Torchwood…

Naoko: OUR shrine

The Ianto shrine…

Gareth: Yeah, I maintain it!

Do you really?

Burn: He tends it…

Gareth: I laminate everything… Yeah, it’s weird…

Why do you think people have latched on to Ianto so strongly? Tosh and Owen died and it was horrific…

Naoko: We didn’t get a shrine!

Why do you think Ianto, specifically, gets so much love?

Gareth: I think it’s more to do with what Ianto and that relationship stood for. It was a turning point in mainstream sci-fi, having same-sex relationships in the forefront. It meant a lot to the gay community, and it helped them invest into the relationship and they felt it more sorely when he was… well… wiped off the face of the planet…

Burn: By an alien fart…

Gareth: By an alien fart.

Burn: It’s weird though! Because most people who go down there don’t know what the fuck it is. Somebody’s passed away there…

Naoko: They’ve got a plaque…

Burn: (laughs) They’ve got a plaque???

Naoko: Saying it’s a fictional character.

Gareth: I think they kind of had to…

Burn: (almost crying with laughter now) They’ve got an actual plaque! That is brilliant…

Gareth: It says “This is a memorial to a fictional character who gave his life saving the children of Earth”. (Burn is literally in tears now) Not some poor wanker who has thrown himself off a waterbus.

Laughter all round.

Burn: (as the laughter dies down) Fucking hell… That is weird… But then again, doesn’t that go back to the kind of British-ness… That kind of thing just wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world…

Did you always know that Ianto would become a love-interest for Jack, because, of course, back at the beginning of the show we had the Cyberwoman…

Naoko: (whispers) Lisa… LISA!!!

Burn: Oh, she’s terrible…

Gareth: It’s Chibnall’s first one… And then he did “Countrycide”

Burn: But to read it, it was fucking amazing… And then when we saw her… (laughs)

Naoko: It’s a little bit like when that tractor comes in to save us…

Gareth: Well that was the thing! Chibnall’s scripts were fucking brilliant! Like the end of Countrycide was supposed to be John ploughing into the side of the barn in a combine harvester through a rain of bullets, and then it’s just this lawnmower! Those things look great in the script, but the reality is, when it comes down to budget…

Naoko: Maybe that was part of the charm as well.

Do you think that’s maybe why season four didn’t work quite as well?

Naoko: Well, obviously it’s because we’re not in it!

Gareth: My thing with season four is that I think it lost its most vital character, and that’s Cardiff. That backdrop is what gave Torchwood its charm. Season four is wonderful; it’s glossy and slick and Americanised, but we had this wonderful backdrop of Cardiff with these peripheral Welsh characters that gave it a quirk and a charm that helped with its originality. When they shifted most of it to America for season four, it lost that.

How was that final season for you, Kai?

Kai: It was brilliant! From a selfish point of view, they took us over to bloody L.A. for five months! Relocated us, my wife and my kids, and filmed it at Warner Brothers around Hollywood! But there was something missing, and what was missing was a) these guys, and b) Wales. It lost its heart. Other than the fact that John, Eve and myself were there, there was nothing. There wasn’t an SUV, there wasn’t the Hub. It wasn’t Torchwood. It was Gwen, Rhys and Captain Jack in a completely different show. And that’s a shame.

I have to say Kai, my favourite episode, apart from “Cyberwoman”, of course, is “Meat”. That was such a great character episode for Rhys…

Kai: Yeah, that was a great one. It’s where he finds out about it all. That was Russell’s idea. I remember speaking at the end of season one, he told me that he wanted me to come back for season two, but the first thing they were going to do was make sure Rhys knows. I’d played the whole “in the dark”, but now it was “what the hell is all this?”. It was brilliant. And I got to be with these guys a lot more then.

With you two not having been in season three, and Gareth not in season four, Russell said back in 2012 that the show is on “indefinite hiatus”, would you return if it ever did come back?

Burn: We do the audio books. We did two seasons, and this is a feasible way of saying “this is the extended universe, perhaps we can explore stories in that.”

Naoko: I don’t know how they would…

Well Burn came back to life. Suzie kept coming back to life…

Gareth: They’ve just brought Tracy -Ann Oberman’s character back in the fifth season, which is an audio thing. They’ve opened up this parallel universe. It’s sci-fi… They haven’t said anything to us though.

Burn: I think the BBC like to keep moving forward though. Unless Russell was absolutely like “let’s do it!” He’s just so busy…