Captain Jack (the main character in Torchwood) was introduced in the first season of Doctor Who and was a ride along for several episodes (and it was alluded to that there were many more adventures that were not seen on the screen). He was handsome, funny, charming, a bit more rough and tumble than the Doctor and ambiguous (both sexually and as a character). He was a great addition to the cast, in 2006 we got our first Doctor Who spinoff (well first one to stick since Sarah Jane’s first spinoff didn’t make it past the pilot). Positioned to air after the 9:00 “Watershed” time slot when programming could get a bit more adult on British Television it was programmed as a Who program for adults. While the first season was rather dark at times (look at the second episode in Dalek or the entire Bad Wolf story line) on the whole there were a lot more farting aliens (the Slitheen are a sin for which RTD can never be forgiven) than any time before or since in the history of Who.
Torchwood in this era is a multi-branch organization with a headquarters in London and operatives around the globe dealing with Alien incursions as well as time anomalies. The Cardiff branch office is run by Captain Jack and has a crew of variously socially dysfunctional individuals. They monitor a time rift running through Cardiff which has aliens and dinosaurs popping out of it occasionally. Their base is TARDIS-like in many ways with a Pterodactyl just hanging around as a security measure/pet. The team has access to all sorts of alien and time displaced technology as well as locales if they explored the rift but this is very seldom used to any real extent. Like Joss Whedon’s work and later Marvel’s Agents of Shield to which it most closely resembles this is structured to be an ensemble cast counter to the one man show that is Doctor Who.
The team is made up of a mix of new comers and experienced Torchwood operatives. Experienced members like Suzie, Torchwood Three’s second in command to Jack, Ianto of the London branch and Owen a long time Torchwood agent who has a chip on his shoulder big enough to land a plane on. Others like Gwen a Cardiff police officer and Toshiko a hacker brought in for finding out too much are our entry points to the show. The show is intended to have a much darker tone imparting the danger of the universe, Jack who is functionally immortal (well at least very long lived since we later see him as the Face of Boe pass away in an episode of Doctor Who. In the first series we see Suzie die, the second ends with Owen and Toshiko dying (well in Owen’s case dying a second time since by this point he was undead and not particularly happy about it) and in series three we lose Ianto.
This is where it falls apart, if Jack was the character that we saw first saving Rose from his invisible flying ship near Big Ben during the Blitz or taking his shirt off for killer makeover robots on Satellite 5 this would have been fine. Unfortunately, somewhere during the change over from 8:59 to 9:00 the character became a not very nice person. We have a group of interesting characters but Jack keeps stealing the show, we have them trying to do good things but Jack seemingly compromises this time and time again, and from a sci-fi point of view we have this terrific plot device (the time rift) that’s very VERY rarely even acknowledged let alone used as a plot device to explore this greater world of Doctor Who.
The character of Jack though is fairly ambiguous and in many ways is as much a plot device as a character, we first see him with a stealth time ship pretending to be an American airman during the Blitz in London. He has a Vortex Manipulator a device used by Time Agents to travel and police time and space (a role I guess humans moved in to fill with the disappearance of the Time Lords) though his tenure as a Time Agent is shrouded in some controversy. He is the survivor of an attack on a humanoid colony from the far future (where everyone is “omnisexual” and has very strong pheromones that can overwhelm contemporary humans). His brother disappeared during this attack and this is later used as a plot point, during his time with the Doctor during the Bad Wolf incident he died the first time and is resurrected by Rose/Bad Wolf imbuing him with a slice of the power of the Tardis making him functionally immortal, it is not that he cannot die, it’s simply that every time he does his body reconstitutes itself (think Wolverine just taller, more handsome and without the claws). Dumped back in Victorian era England he is press ganged in to the service of Torchwood and over this time develops a HUGE resentment towards the Doctor. I’m guessing his service as a Time Agent allowed him to realize he should keep out of London for fear of causing a temporal anomaly because this left huge plot holes where he could have resolved his grudge with the Doctor but he always appears to show up “just too late” as the TARDIS dematerializes.
Jack is Torchwood Three’s leader; he’s the man they look to for answers and for tactical decisions. There are so many failings with Jack it’s hard to know where to start. First there’s the romantic aspect, there’s a reason why Captain Kirk never slept with a crew member (he may have loved Yeoman Rand but the ship came first). When you start having romantic entanglements with the people under your command it makes things messy. He basically seduces pretty much every person in that team at one level or another and when Ianto’s former girlfriend is gunned down by the Torchwood team because she was compromised by a Cyberman attack he then turns around and uses his pharamones to seduce Ianto and make him fall in love with Jack. It can be argued that this is because Jack cared for him too but this is hard to believe when he was giving “meaningful glances” to Gwen every time she entered the room, or Ianto entered the room or Gwen’s fiancée and later husband entered the room, or when she got pregnant, or when the wind blew a particular direction. It’s hard to take his relationship with Ianto seriously when he is basically kind of emotionally abusive to Ianto.
After Ianto’s death he goes through some grieving and there appears to be a bit of an arc at this point that shows growth. That it took the death of this guy, and basically destroying the relationship with his own daughter and killing his own grandson to get it to this point where he starts showing some grief and growing up a bit is pretty disheartening but in Miracle Day we basically have him even worse than he was before, he’s back on Earth and back working for Torchwood and basically screwing anything that moves to the point he compromises their cover by going to a bar to pick up a stranger. Add to this he frequently made bad tactical decisions that placed his agents in harm’s way which lead to the death of multiple people under his command. This guy shouldn’t be leading a conga line let alone a group of agents.
Aside from the fact that Jack is basically the terrible 80s stereotype of a flamboyant sex crazed amoral homosexual (oddly enough written by a gay man and played by a gay man) he is simply a bad person and the core (if not the heart that would be Gwen) of the series. Every story revolves around him, even the ones where he is not the direct cause of the threat the team face he is stealing the show or somehow tied in to this threat from another time, dimension, or planet. Captain Kirk’s chair may have been painted in the blood of innumerable dead, Obi Wan may have been a general that led troops to their doom, and the Doctor may have consigned his planet to being wiped from existence (though we later find out that was a switcharoo) but each of these leaders seemed to have a redeeming quality that allowed them to transcend the flawed hero archetype they all fell in to. In short I hate Captain Jack and I think because of him Torchwood is an absolute failure…
And here’s why absolutely none of that matters! Davies revived Doctor Who from the dead, a series that towards the end of its initial run was so burdened with contradictions and a lack of focus despite having an exceptional cast it didn’t know what it was. The initial attempt at reviving the show even once again an exceptional cast failed once again to capture even the most diehard of fans so when Davies pulled it off it was nothing short of a miracle, he started with a strong conflicted lead with Eccleston’s PTSD Doctor and an unlikely companion, the deceptively Chavish Rose. The world was broader and scarier than it had been in a long time but not afraid of humor or remembering its roots as a kid’s show. Davies was not afraid to cater to both the adults (Torchwood) or the kids (The Sarah Jane Adventures) and expanded the universe so the entire gamut of fans from small kids to grown adults could find something they could identify with. Unfortunately with the passing of Elisabeth Sladen at the tragically young age of 65 we lost The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood’s migration to the United States and transfer to the Starz network didn’t help keep the series alive but it didn’t change what Davies did, he made sure we all knew there was something for everyone in the Doctor Who universe.
Torchwood itself had a multi-ethnic cast that included characters of different sexualities with no judgment and while Jack was a terrible stereotype Ianto was a solid caring individual who had eyes for no one else but Jack. He wasn’t overly flamboyant or some kind of counter stereotype he was simply a man who loved another man and nothing was made of it. In fact that was Torchwood’s greatest achievement, we had a Caucasian zombie in a relationship with an Asian living person , a future man in a relationship with a government agent and a couple of welsh people in love with each other and there was no comment, there was no circumstance or pomp, it simply was what it was and that right there makes it worth it because the day we all are what we are and it is what it is, that's the day we as a species have grown up.