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Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero

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From the moment he swashbuckled into the reimagined "Doctor Who" universe in 2005, Capt. Jack Harkness has been an immensely appealing character.

Part of that appeal stems from the retro good looks of Harkness, a mysterious space adventurer clad in the sweeping greatcoat of a World War II hero. This is just my two cents, but the blue-eyed, square-jawed, energetic Capt. Jack makes Tom Cruise look like a tired old hag.

Harkness, who's played by John Barrowman, now has his own show, "Torchwood" (8 p.m. Saturday, BBC America), and you don't need to know a thing about "Doctor Who" to enjoy this cheeky, sexy sci-fi romp. If you like brisk, escapist alien adventures mixed with a bit of wisecracking and some surprising forays into emotionally charged terrain, this is the show for you.

The winning yet enigmatic Harkness leads a team of young, flirty operatives who investigate alien incursions on Earth (many of these incursions just happen to take place in or near Cardiff, Wales, where the show is set). And he's played with verve and humor by Barrowman, who hails from the Chicago area -- sort of.

The family of Barrowman moved from Scotland to the Joliet area when he was 8. When he wasn't watching "Doctor Who" on WTTW-Ch. 11 on Sunday nights, he attended Joliet West High School. It was there that Barrowman, who speaks with an American accent, fell in love with performing.

Barrowman was the well-known star of many musicals in London's West End before he was tapped to play Harkness on "Doctor Who" a few years ago. The wisecracking adventurer was an instant hit with fans. Russell T. Davies, the creator of the reimagined "Doctor Who" series, soon spun off Capt. Jack for "Torchwood," which has a more adult tone than the kid-friendly "Doctor Who."

The new show was a hit in Britain , and one newspaper declared Barrowman "a national treasure."

"I was gobsmacked by that," Barrowman said. "I can't believe it, but I love it. I'm totally enjoying it. Because I'm a fan, a sci-fi fan, they have made a young boy's dreams come true."

Stopping alien threats and "Doctor Who" foes such as the Cybermen is usual fare on "Torchwood," which depicts a young Welsh police officer (played by Eve Myles) who quits the force to help Capt. Jack and his crew. What doesn't get much attention in the first season -- but is treated with matter-of-fact acceptance -- is his bisexuality (well, his omnisexuality, considering that he's sometimes attracted to hot aliens). One future story line for the second season, Barrowman said, has Capt. Jack in a sexy scene with a character played by "Buffy's" James Marsters.

"I think Jack has come across so well with the [British] public is because he doesn't judge on that," Barrowman said. "And he doesn't let people judge him on that. Because he is a hero, a sexy hero with an ambition and a mission. The sexuality is completely secondary."

Also secondary, in Barrowman's view, is the fact the actor himself is gay. But "Torchwood" may represent a first on American television screens, according to Michael Jensen, the editor of, a Web site that examines the treatment of gay and bisexual men in the media.

"The out Barrowman being cast as the bisexual Capt. Jack is a huge leap forward," Jensen said. "To have an actor who happens to be gay playing a bisexual action hero and romantic lead on television finally gets us past those tired stereotypes of gay men as catty office assistants, hairstylists and confidants of female heroines. It's about time."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Ryan, Maureen (2007-09-07). Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero. Chicago Tribune p. sec. 5, p. 5.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Ryan, Maureen. "Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero." Chicago Tribune [add city] 2007-09-07, sec. 5, p. 5. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Ryan, Maureen. "Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero." Chicago Tribune, edition, sec., 2007-09-07
  • Turabian: Ryan, Maureen. "Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero." Chicago Tribune, 2007-09-07, section, sec. 5, p. 5 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero | url= | work=Chicago Tribune | pages=sec. 5, p. 5 | date=2007-09-07 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Torchwood celebrates a new kind of hero | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>