Bisexual Women Are Alien to “Torchwood”


"Day One" set a poor precedent for lesbian content on Torchwood, but the writers dabbled in lesbian sexuality one more time in the show’s seventh episode, "Greeks Bearing Gifts," which aired Nov. 26, 2006.

At the center of the episode is Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), Torchwood’s computer expert. She has a crush on co-worker Dr. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), but suspects that he and Gwen are having a secret affair. Feeling upset, Toshiko meets a woman named Mary (Daniela Denby-Ashe) at a local pub, and the two quickly become friends. Mary finds out all about Torchwood and gives Toshiko an alien necklace that gives her telepathic powers.

The pendant allows Toshiko to hear Gwen and Owen’s thoughts about their affair; that discovery leads Toshiko back to Mary, who is thinking about having sex with her. After some hesitation, Toshiko kisses Mary and the two wind up in bed together, beginning a brief but intense relationship.

As Mary becomes more ensconced in Toshiko’s life, she begins to push her away from her affiliation with Torchwood. Torn between her new lover and — as she sees it — her backstabbing co-workers, Toshiko no longer knows where her loyalties lie.

Eventually, Mary uses Toshiko to get into the Torchwood Institute where Captain Jack confronts her. He reveals that she is not the poor exile she claims to be but rather is a 19th-century prostitute who was overcome by an alien and has been feeding on people for the past 200 years. Mary quickly turns on Toshiko and holds her hostage, but quick-thinking Captain Jack uses a transporter device to send Mary into the center of the sun and certain alien death.

"Greeks Bearing Gifts" is not as obviously negative as "Day One," but still has plenty of faults. Toshiko, despite her crush on Owen, is bisexual, so her relationship with Mary is not out of character. Unfortunately, even though many of the characters are described as bisexual by the show’s producers, even bisexual behavior does not automatically connote a positive portrayal of queer female sexuality.

In both episodes, lesbian sexuality is used as a manipulative tool. In "Greeks Bearing Gifts," in particular, Mary uses her intimate relationship with Toshiko in order to win her trust and distance Toshiko from the rest of the Torchwood team. It is likely that Mary’s thoughts about wanting to sleep with Toshiko were not genuine but were instead a ploy because she knew Toshiko would be reading her mind.

Both lesbian-themed episodes also use queer sexuality as a throwaway tactic. In "Day One," Gwen’s attraction to another woman is quickly explained away by alien pheromones, and although that is a decidedly new take on an old stereotype, it is no more positive. Gwen has since had several relationships in the show, all with men, and has never again mentioned her lesbian encounter.

Similarly, Toshiko — although she is openly bisexual — still lusts after Owen following her encounter with Mary, and her character has not seemed to have an interest in women since. However, content on the Torchwood website suggests that this is the fault of the show’s writing and editing more so than Toshiko’s character, who under different circumstances would seem to be open to dating women. Nonetheless, if her bisexuality is still there, we don’t get to see it.

It is not altogether surprising for any mainstream show to have minimal lesbian content — save the occasional intoxicated kiss — but it is surprising on a show like Torchwood. Sexual tension between the male characters, particularly Captain Jack and Ianto, is standard fare, whereas the women have very few sexual interactions that aren’t quickly explained away by alien circumstances.

In a lot of ways, Torchwood, though not an explicitly gay show, is falling into the Queer as Folk mold. Gay and bisexual men are allowed to have fully developed social lives, while lesbian and bisexual women are added only as supporting cast members at best, and as mere afterthoughts at worst. That is somewhat expected given that Russell T. Davies is the creator of both shows, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

For a man who openly describes Torchwood as "very bisexual," so far, it seems, he has only delivered that for his male audience.

Originally conceptualized as a one-time spin-off, Torchwood was BBC Three’s most-watched program last year and has already been renewed for a second season, so there is hope that the content for lesbian and bisexual women, particularly Toshiko, will be developed further when filming begins this spring. But if this truly is the BBC’s campy, sci-fi answer to Queer as Folk, a real, honest portrayal of lesbian sexuality from Davies may prove to be an alien concept after all.

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