Torchwood: Border Princes
by Dan Abnett
Edited by Steve Tribe
Cover Artist: Lee Binding
Review by Ernest Lilley
BBC Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0563486546
Date: 11 January, 2007 List Price $13.74 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Wikipedia Torchwood Entry / Show Official Info /
Here in the US we've hardly a clue that the new Doctor Who series had spun off a bit called "Torchwood," named for the fictional institute founded (by Queen Victoria) in the Doctor Who episode "Tooth and Claw", which takes place in 1879. While the show is still stuck overseas, we can at least order the three tie-in novels that have just been released...both here and in the UK.
Though we're suffering from serious time-lord-lag over here in the US rumors do manage to make it stateside from time to time, and I was delighted to hear that the BBC had spun off a series from the current Dr. Who called Torchwood after the institute that Queen Victoria establishes at the end of one of the first season episodes.
One of the themes of the new Dr. Who series is that we (we being folks in the UK) are a little bit tired of his jumping in to save us or not as he best sees fit. A bit of self defense capability is what we'd like. So, the Torchwood Institute. We've seen its humble beginnings after the Queen faces down a werewolf (or gets bitten by one) and its massed might as it shoots an alien armada out of the sky on command from the prime minister, much to the doctor's dismay. But here in the US we haven't a clue about the series. Well, not much more than a clue. Fortunately, even we can order the novel tie-ins that BBC Books has released. Unfortunately, they're less than stunning.
It turns out that the Torchwood Institute has several locations, one of which happens to be missing, to no one's apparent horror. The branch the series, and hence the books, focuses on is in an underground lair under Cardif, and is headed by none other than Captain Jack Harkness, whom you may remember as the time traveling Yank that the Dr. and Rose took up with in the first season. That they abandoned him on a space station in the future doesn't explain how he got to present day London or got this assignment, but we're used to head scratching WTF moments from this crew.
Also along from the series are: Gwen Cooper, a policewoman who found out too much about the secret organization, and wound up being recruited. Dr. Owen Harper, their medic, Dr. Toshiko Sato, their chief cyber whiz, and Ianto Jones. Ianto is sort of a cross between Batman's Alfred and Buffy's Giles...and he fuels the team with lots of hot, lifesaving coffee. Oddly enough, there's another member with the team that everyone depends on, Gwen falls in love with, and who peppers the book with quips and cryptic comments for his friends to puzzle over. He goes by the somewhat painful moniker of "Captain Analogy" and is forever coming up with similes to express himself.
If you're up on the series his presence is glaringly unusual, but if you're not, you assume he's a long standing character. That being said, he isn't in any previous book or episode, and you'll have to make what you will of it.
The Torchwood Hub, as their base is known, sits next to a particularly dodgy piece of space time where a rift lets all manner of odd things through. It's the team's job to contain those things piece by piece, collect the useful bits, and keep the public both safe and none the wiser.
While the small unit dynamics make for good camaraderie and action, it all seems a bit underfunded for the importance of the job at hand. indeed, the recurrent theme here is that the team (including Jack) is dealing with threats that are well beyond their understanding, that they are, at best, amateurs.
The web-buzz is that the books (there are two more: Torchwood: Slow Decay by Andrew Lane and Torchwood: Another Life by Peter Anghelides) were based on early episodes and that the characters have fleshed out far more in the series than the books let on. Captain Jack has certainly acquired more gravitas since his cavalier travels with the Doctor and Rose, but maybe hanging out with the Doctor does that to you.
I shouldn't complain, as these books were intended for a Who hungry UK audience, but a bit more backstory would have been handy, especially since the plot hinges on who James actually is. Still, it's fun, if not quite brilliant.