The Whoniverse has a long, complicated relationship with feminism. Most of Doctor Who’s earliest companions were dim-witted, leather-clad tag-alongs, whose primary role was to entertain the dads of the kids watching at home. Sarah Jane* was breath of fresh air in the ‘70s, for sure, but even her feminist posturing can look like token pandering in retrospect.
Things have gotten better for Whovian ladies over the years, especially after the show relaunched in 2005, but Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, and even the ultimate badass River Song, are often forced into traditional gender roles. And their motivation is never really clear. Are they drawn to the TARDIS by wanderlust, heroism and a quest for glory, or can they just not get enough of that charming devil, The Doctor?
(*To be fair to Sarah Jane, every episode of her wonderful spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, passed The Bechdel Test, even if her reunion with the Doctor in 2006 proved that she’d been pining away for him for most of her life.)
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Doctor Who. It is one of my all-time favorite series and I have designs to marry River Song. I don’t think the show is bad for women; I just don’t think it always portrays women in a particularly progressive light.
Torchwood, however, is a completely different story. The Who spin-off has had its feminist issues in the past, but in Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), it has found a heroine who doesn’t answer to any man. In the Children of Earth mini-series, she jumped out of a moving vehicle, double-fisting automatic pistols, while her husband stood by holding her purse. Gwen’s motivation was cloudy in early series of the show, but it’s now clear that she’s in it to save the world. She thrives on it. And she has never been more badass than in Starz forthcoming relaunch, Torchwood: Miracle Day.
By now we all know the premise of Miracle Day: One day, people stop dying. What seems like a blessing is quickly revealed as a curse. Emergency room patients can’t be accommodated; grocery store patrons can’t be satiated; convicted child rapists can’t be executed. And when the scope of a potential catastrophe reaches farther than the arm of any national government, who ya’ gonna call? The Torchwood Institute.
Well, what’s left of The Torchwood Institute after the bloodbaths that ended series two and three. And what’s left of Torchwood is Gwen Cooper and Jack Harkness.
When Miracle Day kicks off, Gwen and her husband, Rhys, are living with their new baby in self-imposed Welsh exile — and Gwen is bored out of her mind. A visit from some hikers has her running for her stockpile of weaponry, and by the time Jack shows up and puts a rocket launcher into her hand, she is just itching to blow some s–t up. Gwen is the uncontested heroine of the first three episodes of Miracle Day: barking orders, saving lives, flattening baddies with kung-fu and good ol’ punches to the head. She was a badass in Cardiff, but she’s an even bigger badass on this side of the pond.
If you’re new to Torchwood (or the Whoniverse), Miracle Day is a perfect hopping-on point. And if you’re a longtime fan, you’re sure to be pleased with the sleek production value of the new mini-series.
Torchwood is nothing if not a cocktail of creepiness and camp, and when Gwen grabs some ear muffs so she can fire off a pistol while holding her baby, you can just hear the third wave feminists cheer: “We really can have it all!” Gwen Cooper is a wife and a mother and badass motherf–ker.
Torchwood: Miracle Day airs on Starz Friday nights at 10 PM starting tomorrow. I’ll be recapping it for AfterEllen and AfterElton. Join me, won’t you?