“Torchwood. Outside the government, beyond the police. Tracking down alien life and arming the human race against the future. The 21st century is when everything changes. And you gotta be ready.”

In this spin-off from the new Doctor Who, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), born in the 51st century – last seen traveling with the good Doctor – joined the Torchwood Institute in 21st century Cardiff. It’s apparently a little known secret that of all the cities in England, Cardiff happens to be on a rift in time and space. Founded by Queen Victoria to deal with extra-terrestrial and supernatural threats, a new merry band of misfits and loners surround Captain Jack: Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Ironically, I thought Barrowman played Captain Jack too over-the-top on Doctor Who, yet on Torchwood, he seems too restrained. The rest of the crew’s acting chops lie on just this side of soap opera-esque. Yet, for all of their stiff recitations, the stories are compelling enough to sweep us along.

“That’s all we are in the end, a pile of boxes.” –Gwen

The answer to the question “what is Torchwood?” is reality. When we truly are what’s going on around us, behind the scenes of our built in perception filters: how we engage and interpret the world, what’s convenient to believe, what we’d rather deny because we don’t want to believe it to terrible fantastic or childish to believe.

The show systematically removes God from the equation of life, choosing to look for its answers in logic, science, and mankind’s potential. “I spent my life believing in stupid stories. I’ve wasted my life,” former Torchwood member, Suzy (Indira Varma) says. Once you do that, everything seems like rubbish.

Which means that in addition to an underlying fear of the alien, the central conceit of the show tends to revolve around what happens after death. To look at life for what it is, to reflect on its meaning and our significance. The take home lesson being that we’re to appreciate the now, the little things, in order to make a difference and prepare ourselves.

“There’s something in the dark. And its moving.” –Suzy

Despite its strident professed atheism, the show can’t help but meditate on spiritual matters. After death, there is nothing, the resurrected Suzy explains to the ever skeptical Gwen. Which leads them to speculate what the point of “it all” is. “This is: driving through the dark. All the stupid tiny stuff. We’re just animals howling in the night because it’s better than silence.” We cling to what is important in life, relationships and community, because we’re little more than “creatures clinging together in the cold” in light of some existential terror.

We often sense, if not experience, an existential terror. A gnawing emptiness that claws at our souls. A darkness, the deep, that threatens to suck the joy for all aspects of our lives, that can lead to a spiraling sourness to life that makes us want to crawl into bed and never get out. Some philosophers call this a “God-sized hole” that we try to fill with all manner of distraction, from the pursuit of materialism and the trappings of success to family and relationships. “Do you think knowing the answers would make you feel better?” Captain Jack asks, knowing that we fear the alien we don’t understand. The truth is, God is a dangerous (alien) terror. We want a God we can control and understand. By losing the idea of what it means to have a fear of the Lord, we end up trivializing God. And there is a fearful element to holiness.

We see all the crap of life and wonder if that’s all there is. However, there is more to life, “brilliant stuff”, that once we’re aware of, we can’t go back to any other life because reality gets inside you. With humanity created in the image of God and declared “good”. As image-bearers, we have inherent worth. The Fall becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. This impacts our view of the Gospel, as it attains a more holistic dimension. It becomes about seeking wholeness, humans to be restored in all the dimensions of humanity, being fully human.

In this X-Files meets Doctor Who, Torchwood is rife with thought provoking themes as well as frank language and sexual charge. It maintains an air of mystery and walks the line of being fun without falling into campiness. What do you think? Want to join up?