Torchwood's John Barrowman reveals Children of Earth details and why the show may not be done yet

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

It's been a long, long wait for the return of Torchwood, but star John Barrowman, who plays Capt. Jack Harkness, promises it will be worth the wait when the series returns on July 20 for consecutive nights on BBC America in a five-episode mini-season called Torchwood: Children of Earth. And if it does well, we could expect more (more on that later).

"If I were to describe the progression since series one, I'd say [season] one we were like a toddler who was learning how to crawl," Barrowman said in an exclusive interview. "And [season] two we were walking, and now [season] three we're running. We have totally found our feet. ...

"The story, without giving any inkling of what happened, the story is incredible," Barrowman added. "It's darker. It's filled with a lot more action. There's revelations about Jack that are just going to make people, ... let's say, ... crap themselves because they're so shocking. There's things that happen to each and every one of the team that will just blow your mind. It is a huge, big roller coaster, and there's one thing ... [producer] Russell [T. Davies] said this the other day in the panel, so I'm not saying, I think, anything that is out of line. But he said, 'It shows you how things in our life can disposable.' And he's not just talking about trash. He's talking about individuals."

In the story, all the children on the Earth suddenly stop, and Torchwood discovers an alien threat is behind things. Harkness, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd), Rhys (Kai Owen) and PC Andy (Tom Price) return for the third season. Torchwood: Children of Earth will be the first series on BBC America to be simulcast in HD.

Following is an edited version of our interview with Barrowman. Barrowman will also appear at Comic-Con International in San Diego next month to talk about Torchwood.

How do you feel this fits in with the whole series?

Barrowman: I've seen episodes one through 3, and I'm getting four and five just so I can see what the final product is, really. The series itself is a comment on—as Russell is brilliant at doing with all of this—there's a social comment in there. How when we sit back in our lovely back gardens with our manicured lawns and see things on the news. For instance, this revolution that's starting to build in Iran or things that happen to children in Africa, we sit back and go, "Oh, that's awful! But it will never happen to us." Well, this is a situation where it makes you realize you're just one step away from that kind of thing happening and how we need to be aware and on our guard.

And it is creepy [laughs]. It is so creepy. Anytime you have children doing weird things, it is creepy. ...

It must have been kind of a shock of the evolution of Jack.

Barrowman: I don't know if it was [so much] a shock as it was a surprise, because at first when Jack was created in Doctor Who, ... I didn't want him to be liked. And then as more episodes came up, and they're like, "You are in this episode and this episode." The writing was so brilliant, he had this journey where he was going to change, and you had this anti-hero become a hero. It was a wonderful progression to watch, and in the media, it first happened over here in the U.K., to see that change and that thing happened.

And also there is no character like him on television. He's so up-front about who he is. He does things for the greater good. He doesn't care if somebody argues with him, [if] he thinks he's right, he'll do it, because he knows he's right, because he's lived it, if that makes any sense for those people read and know that he's been in the future and the past. He's somebody whose decision-making qualifies him, really. He's a groundbreaking character for television on both sides of the Atlantic.

In more than one way, because of his sexuality?

Barrowman: We've seen it on television, but we've seen it in a stereotypical way. We've never had a gay hero. How marvelous it is that we do have a gay hero and that it's not about a guy who's running around wanting to dress up in women's clothes or talks, and there's nothing wrong with that, because that's a specific type of gay man also. But it's nice to have the other type represented on television. Brothers and Sisters are doing that kind of same thing, because I was asked to do a role on there, but I couldn't fit in my schedule to play, I think, Rob Lowe's gay brother. Things are starting to change, and I like to think that maybe Jack was a catalyst for some of that change. ....

What's the biggest challenge about playing Captain Jack?

Barrowman: The biggest challenge about playing Captain Jack—it's nothing kind of internal, because I'm not one of those kind of actors. I just get up and I do it. I'd say one of the biggest challenges is running in that damn coat [laughs]. I guess, if you want a deeper kind of answer, the challenge to keep him fresh [is] that he represents all people, and that's why people have connected to him. And also the challenge is to make him honest and make him truthful rather than being a stereotype.

While running in that damn coat.

Barrowman: I call it the flick. I have to do a special flick, and [Doctor Who star] David Tennant has the same problem in his coat, and when we're together, we look like two really flouncy men flicking our coat before we start a run. And they never show that in the edit. ...

My biggest upset is that you are only going to have five episodes. I want three events.

Barrowman: That could happen. In fact, I had a discussion the other day with Russell. We were doing a panel, ... showed the first episode at the National Film Theater here in London with an audience of viewers and what we call punters, and we did a panel question thing afterwards. One of the things we came up with, we said, "If this does well, we could come back for [season] four," which I would love and hope that we do. I said—and as Russell said—it could be two events, three events, but done in what we find the stories work over this five-day period as a one-off thing, but we could do maybe two events or three. So then you would get the full amount of episodes.