For far too long, science fiction on television and at the movies has been a genre devoid of any gay or lesbian characters, especially ones that aren't villains (even then usually only coded as gay to heighten their evilness). For years, gay and lesbian fans of Star Trek have protested the fact that despite having aired five different series and eleven movies, the franchise, which has been the very epitome of diversity and tolerance, has yet to feature a gay character.
Well, get ready for something completely different and welcome on the science fiction frontlines. On September 8th, BBC America premieres Torchwood, a spin-off of Britain's long running and hugely popular Doctor Who. The dashing leading character on the series with the chiseled features and piercing eyes just happens to be openly bisexual and the actor portraying him just happens to be openly gay.
Must such a groundbreaking step come from outside the US mainstream? Stop and think for a moment about the boom in genre-based programs in American television over the last few years — Battlestar Galactica, The 4400, Lost — just to name a few. Almost none of them have featured openly gay or bisexual characters, especially leading ones.
Even a show such as Heroes on NBC, which seems to be the very model of diversity in it's multi-ethnic casting, has yet to put a gay or lesbian character in the storyline.
Fortunately, the sexuality of the characters on Torchwood is not a concern for BBC America. In a recent interview with AfterElton.com, Richard de Croce, Vice President of programming, said, “It's not an issue for us. We're only editing out really small bits to fit it into our clock, but we're not editing anything that would change the tone or the narrative in any way.”
Croce also considers Torchwood a great original program with nothing to compare it to on US television. He feels that British TV is always working to find the next new thing, whereas US television is somewhat stagnant in the way it creates new shows.
“What we do is reflect the fabric of UK culture and a European sensibility on top of it, while in America they won't take any kind of risks with subject matter,” he explains. “What the UK does that is great is to bring out the next show, and what the US does is try to replicate the success of last season.”
Many U.S. viewers are likely unfamiliar with either Torchwood or Doctor Who, the latter having been more of a cult hit stateside rather than a widely watched hit such as Star Trek. To help get those interested ready to watch, here is a bit of history about both the new series and its lead character, Captain Jack Harkness.
Captain Jack, as he is known, is played by Scottish-American actor John Barrowman and first came to the attention of science fiction fans in series one of the new Doctor Who created by Russell T. Davies. Davies is best known as the creator of the British Queer as Folk. This is the second series of Doctor Who; the first began in 1963 and ran until 1989.
It's not essential to have seen all of Doctor Who to understand Torchwood and vice versa, but it doesn't hurt to have a working knowledge of both series to enjoy them.