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Gwen Cooper is a fictional character portrayed by Welsh actress Eve Myles in the BBC science-fiction television programme Torchwood, a spin-off of the long-running series Doctor Who. The lead female character, Gwen has featured in every episode of the show to date as well as two crossover episodes of Doctor Who. Gwen appears in Expanded Universe material such as the Torchwood novels and audiobooks, comic books and radio plays. Portraying Gwen increased Eve Myles’ profile as an actress and has been cited as effective in promoting her native Wales.
Gwen is introduced as an audience surrogate, much like the perennial “companion” character in Doctor Who. Within the series narrative, Gwen is a South Wales Police officer who discovers the mysterious Torchwood Institute, into which she is recruited by Captain Jack Harkness. Gwen operates as a field agent on Torchwood missions and brings a humane and rounded approach to her team’s investigations of extraterrestrial cases through her police procedural training. Despite promoting her as empathetic and conscientious the creative team have also stressed Gwen’s moral ambiguity by having her ethically compromised by her line of work.
Gwen starts off in the mould of the “girl next door”, and becomes more militant as the series progresses. As the character has developed as an action heroine the production team have also sought to keep the character grounded through her on screen family. The relationship dynamics between Gwen, her boss Jack and her boyfriend-cum-husband Rhys typify the character’s conflict between her domestic world and her extraordinary life with Torchwood. Reviewers have generally responded positively to the conflicting elements of Gwen’s characterisation and Eve Myles’ portrayal. Eve Myles received a Welsh BAFTA for the first series of the show and has been nominated for several other acting awards across each of Torchwood’s four series’.
Gwen is introduced in the first episode of Torchwood, in which she—a Cardiff police officer partnered with Andy Davidson (Tom Price)— witnesses Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and his team interrogating a dead man in an alley. After subsequently investigating the Torchwood team, she locates the Torchwood Institute’s Cardiff branch, home to a team of alien hunters. Though Jack wipes her memories of this discovery, they are later triggered by reports of murders committed with exotic weaponry. Torchwood’s own Suzie Costello (Indira Varma) is the serial killer. Gwen is present at Suzie’s attempt to kill Jack, and Suzie’s ensuing suicide. Jack reveals that he cannot die and offers Gwen a job in Torchwood. Jack and Gwen’s relationship takes on a romantic hue, despite her long-standing relationship with boyfriend Rhys (Kai Owen). Gwen falls into a short-lived destructive affair with colleague Owen (Burn Gorman), after a particularly traumatic experience with cannibals, which she cannot share with Rhys. Confused and wracked with guilt, Gwen confesses the affair after it ends in “Combat”, but she drugs Rhys with an amnesia pill so he will not remember her confession. In the series one finale, her desire to resurrect a murdered Rhys at any cost motivates her to mutiny against Jack, and open the rift in time and space which Torchwood monitors. After Jack sacrifices himself to the released supernatural demon, Gwen maintains that he will come back to life and keeps watch over his body. Accepting that Jack is dead, she gives him a parting kiss. As she leaves, Jack awakens and thanks her. Not long after his revival, Jack abandons Torchwood to reunite with the mysterious “Doctor” from his past.
In 2008, as series two begins, Gwen has replaced Jack as team leader. When Jack returns to lead Torchwood, Gwen displays anger towards him for abandoning the team, and surprises him with the news she has become engaged in his absence. In a later episode she is forced to confess to Rhys the nature of her job at Torchwood when he assumes she is having an affair with Jack. After Rhys takes a bullet for her Gwen defies Jack by refusing to wipe Rhys’ memories, because she feels humbled by her fiancees loyalty and bravery. In “Something Borrowed“, despite being pregnant to an alien Nostrovite, Gwen refuses to postpone the wedding to Rhys. Her marriage makes Jack remember an earlier marriage of his own. In the series finale, Gwen’s leadership skills allow her to co-ordinate Cardiff during the chaos caused by Captain John Hart (James Marsters) and Jack’s younger brother Gray (Lachlan Nieboer). When Gray kills Gwen’s teammates Toshiko (Naoko Mori) and Owen, Gwen is desolate. The character makes her first crossover appearance in Doctor Who alongside Jack and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) in its 2008 series’ two-part finale, in which Torchwood is called on to help contact the Doctor (David Tennant) during a Dalek invasion. The Doctor suggests a connection between Gwen and the character of Gwyneth, also portrayed by Eve Myles in the 2005 Doctor Who episode “The Unquiet Dead“, after he and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) recognise a physical similarity between the pair.
In Children of Earth, a five-part serial broadcast in 2009, Gwen is a more militant heroine shaped by the increased responsibilities and pressures of her job. In part one, aliens called the 4-5-6 communicate to the world by taking possession of its children and a middle-aged man, Clem McDonald (Paul Copley). Gwen investigates by visiting Clem, who—being possessed of psychic abilities—announces to her she is pregnant, which she later confirms using technology At The Hub. Gwen is forced to defend herself from government assassins after the Hub is destroyed, taking Rhys on the run with her, and re-establishing Torchwood Three in a London warehouse. By making contact with government PA Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo), Gwen discovers her fugitive status and is able to survey government dealings. When Ianto is killed fighting the 4-5-6, Gwen and Rhys return to Cardiff to protect his sister Rhiannon (Katy Wix) and her son and daughter from the government’s plans, while Jack handles the alien threat. In the dénouement of the final part, Gwen is six months pregnant when she returns Jack’s vortex manipulator to him. She insists he stay with her; he leaves her behind and abandons Earth.
The fourth series Miracle Day (2011), an American co-production, establishes that Gwen, Rhys and their daughter Anwen went into hiding after the events of Children of Earth; Torchwood no longer exists. Gwen is called out of hiding when CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) renditions her to the United States, believing that a worldwide phenomenon wherein no one can die is connected to Torchwood. Once in the United States, Gwen joins a new Torchwood team with Jack, Rex and former CIA analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins). Gwen’s father Geraint (William Thomas) initially survives because of the so-called ‘miracle’; later Gwen rescues him from a facility where the severely injured are burned alive. When her family are kidnapped in “Immortal Sins” to make her to hand over Jack Harkness, Gwen tells him that she will allow him to die, if it can save her daughter. In the concluding episode, Gwen declares a willingness to sacrifice her father, and the entire Torchwood team, to restore order to the world. To spare Jack committing suicide, Gwen shoots him. Jack’s blood prompts a supernatural phenomenon called “the Blessing”, which ends the miracle. Jack’s immortality is restored. Gwen is later shocked to discover, at Esther’s funeral, that Rex has become immortal as well (The Blood Line)
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