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Rhys Alun Williams, portrayed by Kai Owen, is a fictional character in the BBC television programme Torchwood, a spin-off from the long-running series Doctor Who. The character is introduced in the premiere episode as the co-habiting boyfriend of principal character Gwen Cooper. Initially a recurring character, Rhys’ role is increased after the second series; actor Kai Owen is given star billing from the show’s third series — a five-part serial subtitled Torchwood: Children of Earth— onwards. The character has gone on to appear in expanded universe material such as the Torchwood novels and audiobooks, comic books and radio plays.
Throughout the first series (2006), Rhys is initially unaware of Gwen’s vocation as a Torchwood agent, believing her to work in generic special forces. Gwen’s relationship with Rhys languishes while she is unable to communicate fully with him, but in the early part of series two (2008) he discovers the truth, and from thereon in their relationship is revitalised; the two enter a marriage based on honesty later in the series. In the third series (2009) Rhys becomes directly involved in assisting the Torchwood team in lieu of a fourth team member. In the show’s fourth series — a 2011 BBC/Starz co-production — Rhys again finds himself having to assist Torchwood, though he would rather live a domestic life with Gwen and their daughter Anwen.
The original intention of the writers had been to kill off Rhys at the end of the first series, but series creator Russell T Davies found it necessary to keep the show grounded through Rhys as Gwen evolved as a character. Producer Richard Stokes stated that “without him, it simply becomes a sci-fi show about sci-fi people, running around and hunting aliens.” Following from the first series the production team decided to make Rhys less of a “sap” whilst continuing to use him as a contrast to Torchwood’s activities and its charismatic leader Jack Harkness. Whilst early response to the character was mixed — the character was parodied as “Barry Backstory” — subsequent reviews praised the character’s larger role in later episodes.
Rhys is introduced in the first episode of the series (2006) as the unspectacular boyfriend of police constable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles). When Gwen takes a new job with the Torchwood Institute’s Cardiff branch as an alien hunter, she is forced to keep it a secret. Over the course of the first series Rhys shows increasing irritation with Gwen’s evasiveness and long hours, and her ease and readiness to lie to him. Unknown to Rhys, Gwen establishes a sexual relationship with Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) to help herself deal with her secret double-life. She confesses the affair after it ends in “Combat” but drugs Rhys with an amnesia pill so he will not remember her confession. Rhys is murdered by Bilis Manger (Murray Melvin) in “End of Days”, but this event is erased from history after the Torchwood team reset time by opening the space-time rift located in Cardiff.
The series two premiere (2008) establishes that Rhys became engaged to Gwen between the first and second series. After Rhys becomes suspicious of her behaviour and her friendship with her boss Captain Jack (John Barrowman) in “Meat”, Gwen reveals to him the truth about her responsibilities with Torchwood. Rhys then becomes involved in a mission to uncover and destroy an alien meat-trading racket, and ends up taking a bullet to protect Gwen’s life. Because she enjoys finally being able to be honest with Rhys, Gwen cannot bring herself to drug him for a second time, and so demands that Jack allow Rhys keep his memories of Torchwood. Rhys and Gwen marry in the episode “Something Borrowed“. Following the wedding, in the episode “Adrift”, Rhys brings up the issue of starting a family with Gwen, though she dismisses the idea, arguing that it would be impossible to have children with her job. During the events of “Fragments” and series finale “Exit Wounds“, Rhys plays a particular role in the team’s campaign against the returned Captain John Hart (James Marsters) and the insane Gray (Lachlan Nieboer), helping Gwen rescue the others after they are caught in an exploding building and subsequently working with Gwen’s former coworker Andy Davidson (Tom Price) to help keep the attacking alien Weevils out of the police station.
Rhys is referenced, but does not appear onscreen, in the Doctor Who crossover episode “The Stolen Earth” (2008); Gwen speaks to him over the phone during a global emergency. Rhys becomes a main character in the third series of Torchwood, a five-part miniseries called Children of Earth airing in 2009. When aliens called the 456 announce their plans to visit to Earth, the government attempts to assassinate Torchwood to cover up a conspiracy. Rhys becomes a fugitive from the government because of his marriage to Gwen. The pair flee to London via cargo lorry and Rhys is delighted to discover Gwen is pregnant. He is with the Torchwood team when they relocate to a London warehouse and takes a role in their mission, hiding with the recordings showing corruption within Downing Street. In the last episode of the series he returns to Cardiff with Gwen, and helps Gwen do one last favour for her deceased coworker Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) by helping his niece and nephew evade capture, and with them many other neighbourhood children. The series’ dénouement, set six months later, shows Rhys still at Gwen’s side, awaiting the arrival of their child.
Series four, Miracle Day (2011), begins by showing Rhys living in seclusion alongside Gwen and their daughter, Anwen. His rural idyll is shattered when CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) extradites Jack and Gwen to America—believing them to be connected to a phenomenon where humans can no longer die—whilst forcing Rhys to stay in Wales. With the aid of computer expert Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), Gwen is able to establish communications with Rhys in the episode “Dead of Night“. Whilst on a mission in Los Angeles, Gwen asks Rhys to remove her father Geraint (William Thomas) from a hospital which she believes to be unsafe. Rhys subsequently has Geraint sent to an “overflow camp”, unaware that it contains a facility for burning the severely injured alive, and in “The Categories of Life” and “The Middle Men” has to go undercover to help rescue his father-in-law. After escaping from the facility with Geraint, Rhys is briefly held hostage in an attempt to force Gwen to surrender Jack Harkness, but is rescued by Andy and his team. In “The Gathering“, Rhys figures out the antipodal connection between Buenos Aires and Shanghai, which directs the Torchwood team to their final mission. Because of Rhys’ violent disposition towards murderer-paedophile Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), Gwen fears that he may enact vigilante justice and so takes the latter to Shanghai to protect her husband. In the series finale, Rhys gains entry to the overflow camp where Geraint has been recaptured in order to sit by his side as “Miracle Day” ends and death is restored. After Esther’s funeral, he is hopeful that Jack will not reform Torchwood.
Rhys appears in all three Torchwood novels in the first wave published by BBC Books in January 2007, set between episodes of Torchwood series one. These novels expand on the difficult period in Gwen and Rhys’ relationship — whilst his appearances in Another Life, and Border Princess, are relatively minor, he has a more significant role in Slow Decay, where he unwittingly brings himself into danger by taking an alien diet pill. Reviewer Patrick Holm feels that the success of these novels lies in the fact that they help readers empathise with characters such as Rhys. Rhys makes cameo appearances in Something in the Water (set between “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Meat“) and Trace Memory, and has a significant role in The Twilight Streets, (released March 2008) which depicts an alternate future where Gwen and Rhys start a new Torchwood to make a safe world for their son after the Torchwood Team are destroyed fighting sentient particles known as the dark. Three more Torchwood books were released in October 2008 in which Rhys has an involved role. In Pack Animals Rhys assists Gwen in her investigation and becomes part of a car chase, SkyPoint sees them inadvertently discover an alien presence whilst flathunting and Almost Perfect, the first novel set after “Exit Wounds”, depicts Rhys speed dating undercover. Rhys makes further appearances in later Torchwood novels Bay of the Dead, The House that Jack Built, and Consequences, all set between “Exit Wounds” and Children of Earth.
Rhys appeared occasionally in the Torchwood Magazine comic strip during its publication between January 2008 and December 2010. In part three of the serialised ten part comic Rift War he aids Gwen in her Torchwood duties by helping care for an infant alien left stranded in Cardiff. A scene in Gareth David-Lloyd’s comic “Shrouded”, published in May 2010, includes a scene set after Children in Earth which shows Gwen cradling her young child; as Gwen is busy, Rhys is required to team up with Captain John Hart to save the timeline. Non-fiction tie-in The Torchwood Archives gives an “insider’s look” into the Torchwood world, including Gwen’s domestic life with Rhys. The book includes unpublished photographs of Gwen and Rhys used as set dressing in the TV series and also provides some background information on Rhys’ friends and his working life.
Rhys makes an appearance in the Torchwood radio play “The Dead Line” (2009), where he assists Gwen with her investigations into the phone-line induced comas. He also has a central role investigating a mystery in the audio book Ghost Train (2011), read by Kai Owen. With Gwen dead and Jack missing Rhys is left alone to figure out the strange goings on involving cargo trains. Rhys also appears in “The Devil and Miss Carew” (2011), one of three additional radio plays set between “Exit Wounds” and Children of Earth, which shows his reaction to the death of his elderly Uncle Bryn. In this play Rhys rescues Gwen from a woman under the influence of a malevolent devil like entity.
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