Ballroom 20 housed one of the most popular panels at Comic-Con International – “BBC America: Being Human/Torchwood.” Rich Sands, editor of “TV Guide” magazine moderated a split session, with the first half devoted to BBCA’s newest addition, “Being Human,” a supernatural drama about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost living together in Bristol; and the second half focused on “Torchwood,” the highly successful spin-off of “Doctor Who.”
An enthusiastic crowd welcomed the writer of “Being Human,” Toby Whithouse, and his actors Lenora Chrichlow, Russell Tovey and Aidan Turner. Sands asked Whithouse to speak a little about the original premise of the show that, surprisingly, had nothing to do with the supernatural. “Annie was an agoraphobic, Mitchell was a recovering sex addict and George was someone who had anger issues,” he said, “We were getting nowhere with it and so we decided to have one last meeting and then if nothing came of that we’d just call it a day. And it struck me in this meeting, that George, the way that he suppresses his anger all the time, is kind of like a werewolf.”
The rest of the allegory fell into place naturally. “It’s more than a supernatural show. It’s steeped in humanity and realism and naturalism and it tackles issues I think that we deal with all the time,” said Turner.
Russell Tovey, who plays George the werewolf, seemed overjoyed to be at Comic-Con and had a bit of fun with the San Diego crowd, asking them to do the “Mexican wave.” “You’ve just fulfilled a dream for me, thank you,” he said. He was incredibly gracious with the fans, thanking them several times for coming and watching the show. It was obvious most of the audience had already seen the six-episode series via the internet even though the first episode premiered on BBC America just the week before. “So you’ve all seen my bum then,” asked Tovey. They had.
Three short clips of each character were viewed and Whithouse took the opportunity to give a brief description of them. “[Annie] wants to discover why and how she died, which she does about halfway through the series, because she feels when she’s done that she’ll be able to move on and complete her journey,” he said, although she finds out there’s more keeping her here.
“[George has] always been somebody who compartmentalizes his life, everything is very rigid and structured, everything is kept separate. The werewolf condition is something that happens to him once a month and that’s it. The moment it stops he never thinks about it again, or tries not to.” He struggles to accept his condition through the course of the series.
“Mitchell has a constant battle both with himself and also with the other vampires who are exerting pressure to kind of bring him back into the fold. They feel an enormous sense of betrayal that he’s left them,” Whithouse said. “Mitchell must come to terms with his vampirism and his relationship to humanity.”
The floor was opened to questions and one fan wondered what Annie whispered to Owen in a key scene. When it seemed as if everyone on the panel but Tovey knew the answer, he exclaimed, “Why do I not know!?”
Whithouse said he was reluctant to ever reveal the answer. “The thing that she told him was the scariest thing in the world and my scariest thing in the world is going to be different from yours and to everyone else’s,” he said. “So I think it’s probably best left undefined.”
The original pilot for the series, which neither Chrichlow nor Turner were part of, was eventually brought up. “I was aware that there was a pilot out there but I didn’t want to watch it. First of all, because YouTube didn’t work for me, it just completely crashed so that was a nightmare,” Chirchlow joked. “Then six weeks went by and I hadn’t seen it so I said I don’t want to ruin a good thing and go watch it now but I’ve subsequently watched it.”
A fan was curious about the technical aspects of the vampires in the “Being Human” universe, since they don’t necessarily need to drink blood to live. Whithouse pointed out there are different versions in just about every vampire story. “It meant that we could cherry-pick which bits of the mythology we wanted and the bottom line always had to be what gave us the best story,” he said. “My feeling was the addiction, to make the story work really, the addiction had to be a mental and emotional addiction. So in theory it’s possible for vampires to come off the blood” but most don’t because drinking keeps at bay the memories of all the awful things they’ve done.
Chrichlow told the audience they hadn’t started filming “Being Human’s” second series yet. “We start when we get back,” she said. Whithouse said it would air January 2010 and would be eight episodes long.
The “Torchwood” portion of the panel got off to a rowdy start. After executive producer Julie Gardner, director Eros Lyn and writer/executive producer Russel T. Davies were introduced, three fans stood up and shouted, “We. We want. We want Ianto!” in the style of the recent “Children of Earth” miniseries. Once star John Barrowman was introduced, he jumped right into the sexual innuendos. “I like being in the middle,” said Barrowman of his position on the panel.
Moderator Rich Sands asked the group why they decided to go with a five-night special instead of a full season. “It was moving onto primetime, BBC1, the mainstream channel in the UK. Part of the discussion about that move was how to make it feel like a really big event,” said Gardner.
“We had to make it bigger, we had to make it stronger,” said Davies. Little did they know doing so would triple the show’s ratings.
Asked about the American response to “Torchwood,” Barrowman said he found a second home. “I do both countries, in a sense. And there was no pun intended either,” he added when the audience got a little excited. “The American audiences have taken to us like a duck to water, in a sense. We always wanted it to happen but didn’t expect it to happen in the way that it did. It’s been like a massive title wave that’s just overwhelmed us all a little bit. All I can say is from the bottom of my heart, and I know these guys feel the same, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Barrowman had nothing but praise to give director Euros Lyn for his work on both “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood.” “It’s a learning process for everybody but you did an absolute amazing job,” he said. “And he’s also very cute isn’t he? A day never went by when I tried my hardest to embarrass him.”
Once again the audience took Barrowman’s comments the wrong way. “No, no! I’m trying to be really good here today! I’m trying to not have the double entendre because it says here, ‘please be aware that many of our members may be under 18 years of age.’ Well you know ‘Torchwood’ is a little more adult so get out if you are, or stay and learn something!”
When Sands looked to be at a loss for words Barrowman decided to pick on him as well. “You know you can laugh too,” he said. “You don’t have to be so serious, ’cause you’re also quite hot too.” Sands’ cheeks went flush.
The subject turned to the alien beings from “Children of Earth,” referred to only as the 456, and why they were never shown on the series. “How many monsters and creatures, how many wonderful prosthetics out there and there are CGI creatures and you know, there are millions of films and television programs with these creatures. We weren’t going to top what George Lucas is doing or what Peter Jackson is doing,” Davies confessed. “Lets imagine it’s the 1960s and we can’t afford something.”
“It’s just more scary,” said Gardner. “The real horror in that tank is the child. There was no prosthetic monster that’s going to be more horrible than that.”
Barrowman was anxious about a fan’s reaction to his character Jack’s involvement with the 456. “There was a concern, and I remember I said to Julie [Gardner], I’m just worried that they’re not going to like him anymore,” he said. “He makes some really tough decisions in the five episodes but it’s decisions to save humanity. It was hard filming those scenes knowing what the outcome would be.”
The most controversial topic of the afternoon was the death of the fan-favorite character Ianto. “We always said in the beginning when ‘Torchwood’ started, people die young in ‘Torchwood’ because they make a lot of sacrifices. I know, I know it’s a very sad thing,” said Barrowman. “We’re all sad but life has to go on and you know, he was hot really.”
Barrowman’s attempt at keeping things light didn’t last long as Gardner explained her own logic. “It’s the right thing for the story because Captain Jack has to suffer. He’s about to do something absolutely dark and difficult and heartbreaking at the end of episode four and to take him to that place he has to have suffered personally,” she said.
Another hot-button item was the rumor that Davies has been feeling negatively about the show’s fandom as a consequence of the Ianto death reaction. “There are no statements that are critical and if so, they’ve been willfully misread. I was very nice about it or I might have been misreported from what I’ve seen,” he said. “I’m immensely sorry if people are sad but I’m not changing my mind and some people were vicious and need to learn a lesson but we’re talking about very few people there.”
Davies said that a small minority does not represent the fans as a whole. “There was a campaign to send packets of coffee to BBC Wales, because Ianto was the coffee boy, to bring him back to life,” the writer revealed. BBC Wales only received nine packages of coffee.
Others took a more generous approach. “They’ve raised $2,700 for Children in Need for the BBC and you know a fun way to kind of mourn Ianto, which is great,” said Barrowman, “That’s the kind of thing that’s really appreciated.”
Back to the lighter discussions, a fan wanted to know what the panelists thought of Comic-Con itself. Barrowman, an admitted sci-fi fan, said it was great to be there. “I learned a new word this year. Fangasm,” he said.
“Coming to a Comic-Con like this and getting all your feedback and your warmth and your enthusiasm for the show, it’s a fantastic experience,” said Lyn.
Someone in the audience dressed as the new Doctor Who was able to take the spotlight for a moment, prompting Barrowman to mention Ray Holman, who dressed Captain Jack and designed the new Doctor’s costume. And speaking of costumes or lack thereof, Barrowman added, “I’ve been naked in ‘Torchwood!'”
“BBC America blurred your bum,” said Davies.
Barrowman countered, “My bum was too hot for the TV over here.”
All the talk of costumes brought up a rumor from earlier in the year, and Davies told Barrowman he thought it was time he played a superhero. “Well you know the one that I want to play. Captain America,” he said. “It’s so not going to happen, but I would love to be in lycra.”
Taking into consideration Barrowman’s musical background, would there ever be a musical episode of “Torchwood?” Barrowman said he could speak for Davies on this one and simply replied, “No.”
Davies explained a bit further, “Do you know what I think? I think when ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ did that, you could not do better. Couldn’t even try to touch that.”
One of the last questions centered on the “Children of Earth” character John Frobisher, played by Peter Capaldi. Davies pointed out that Frobisher was in the “Doctor Who” episode “The Fires of Pompeii” and that he doesn’t mind reusing actors. In fact, he got a kick out of it. “In my mind he escaped the destruction of Pompeii so time took 2000 years to catch up with him to end the family line,” he said. “I really believe that. I do.”
There was no talk about the future of “Torchwood,” but “Children of Earth” is now available on DVD.