It’s only slightly less likely that an actual time-space rift forming in Cardiff that the first wave of Torchwood figures not only exists, but is compatible – more or less – with the Doctor Who action figures. Two different companies handle the two different ranges of products, and the audience is wildly different: Character Options’ Doctor Who figures aim for playability first and collectability second, while Scificollector.co.uk was clearly aiming at the collector’s market with Torchwood: neither the show nor its gun-toting toys are really meant for the kids, but rather for adult collectors who want the characters from their other favorite show to grace the same shelf space as their Doctor Who toys.
The problem, of course, is that there’s some character overlap, and we’re not talking minor characters here, either. Torchwood leader Captain Jack Harkness has already been committed to plastic in the Doctor Who range in two distinct guises: the Air Force uniform he sported in his first-season debut, and the later, more familiar casual outfit topped off with his RAF greatcoat. The latter of these proved to be enormously popular, and left Scificollector.co.uk with a distinct problem: how else can the character be portrayed? In the end, the Torchwood figure of Captain Jack depicts the character in slacks, shirt, and suspenders (or, as they say in the UK, braces) with no coat or jacket. The face sculpt looks a little less like John Barrowman than it does like Dirty Dancing-era Patrick Swayze, and the figure is also unusually tall; Barrowman as Captain Jack may be tall and square-jawed handsome, but he’s not that tall. The coat-wearing Captain Jack from the Doctor Who range remains the definitive action figure for that character – this one is simply no competition.
The other major “hero” character represented in the first wave is Gwen Cooper, a character not represented in the Doctor Who range because she didn’t appear in that series until season 4’s The Stolen Earth. In this case, while the action figure of Gwen still makes her slightly taller than the actress seems to be, the sculpt is much closer to home – the likeness is more subtle than striking, but it works well. Included with Gwen is a surprisingly detailed miniature replica of the standard-issue Torchwood handgun – detailed enough that “Torchwood” is stamped down one side of the barrel in tiny lettering.
The remaining two figures in the first wave of Torchwood figures give Jack and Gwen a couple of enemies to fight. These two may well be the highlights of the wave: Lisa the Cyberwoman, from the Cyberwoman episode, is a very accurate representation of the character, along with her decidedly skimpy web of metallic armor and her Cyberman half-headpiece. The one drawback is that her Cyberman “jug handle ears” are prone to being bent out of shape, either forward or backward, but as this is a common malaise for nearly any Cyberman figure, it’s pretty well known that just the right application of both force and TLC will get things back into shape.
The other enemy is distinctly generic, but has gotten far more screen time in the series to date than the one-off Cyberwoman. The Weevil is dressed in a grimy jumpsuit, and is jointed and balanced to allow for the typical almost-hunchbacked Weevil posture. With shoulder joints that allow the arms to be positioned in a wider “grabbing” stance, the Weevil is unusually versatile, and a dandy army-builder (see the second season finale of Torchwood for an example of multi-Weevil mayhem).
Oddly enough, the “hero” characters are sculpted by Designworks Windsor, the same design house employed by Character Options for the Doctor Who toy line, while the villain characters, at least in the first wave, were sculpted by another designer. This means that those characters who demand a very specific likeness are done to the same high standard as the Doctor Who figures. The villains have a less specific likeness to stick to, but they’re not exactly a major drop in quality. Each figure has a rather tall hexagonal stand with the Torchwood “T” logo embossed into it and painted red; as legend would have it, Scificollector.co.uk was able to land the license for 6″ action figures based on Torchwood, but wanted to make them compatible with the 5″ Doctor Who range – hence the oddly tall display stands and the “hero” characters’ slightly exaggerated height, adding up to roughly 6 inches.
Scificollector.co.uk is already deep into the manufacturing and packaging stage on a second wave, due to be release around the time that this review is published, which is set to include Ianto Jones and Toshiko Sato (the latter of which who was, despite major character status, killed off at the end of season two), as well as rogue time traveler Captain John Hart (played by Buffy’s James Marsters) and the humanoid Blowfish character seen in the second season premiere. The first wave proved to be enough of a success to guarantee a second wave, but any prospective third wave of figures faces the same challenge as the series itself: Torchwood’s running out of heroes. The also killed-off Owen Harper would seem to be a no-brainer for the third wave, but who else will fill out the other hero slot? Gwen’s husband Rhys? A Torchwood version of Doctor Who crossover character Martha Jones? And who will the villains be? Granted, the third season – a tightly-compressed, five-hour story titled Children Of Earth – introduces new allies and enemies, but as a general rule, Torchwood eschews complex alien makeup jobs and all-CGI characters in favor of earthier human drama. Great for viewing, but maybe not for populating the old action figure shelf (one of the big bads in Children Of Earth is the Prime Minister, for crying out loud – a nice dramatic twist, but perhaps not an eagerly awaited action figure). Canny choices – and keeping a careful ear tuned to feedback from the customers – could help Scificollector continue to make the Torchwood action figures a success. The products are solid, but when the best alien enemy that can be represented from season two is a bipedal, business-suited blowfish (a character that I frankly have no interest in collecting), I worry a bit.
Torchwood action figures are available from Scificollector.co.uk, and are distributed in North America by Underground Toys (who also handle the Doctor Who range for Canada and the U.S.); it’s worth pointing out that Scificollector also happily ships directly to the U.S. and Canada at not-unreasonable shipping rates.