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Cardiff Rift

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The Cardiff Rift is a fictional wormhole in the science fiction television series Doctor Who and its spin-off series Torchwood. One end is located in Cardiff Bay, Wales; the other end is apparently floating freely through spacetime. Matter and radiation can pass through the Rift, allowing extraterrestrial and extratemporal artifacts to arrive in Cardiff.[1] It is described as "Unpredictable and elusive, it’s a gateway for alien creatures, alien weapons, all manner of alien technology and time anomalies to enter our world" and the "flotsam and jetsam of the universe since the dawn of time."[2]

The Rift has been featured in episodes of Doctor Who and is central to Torchwood; the Torchwood Institute was created to monitor activity around the Rift. The Rift acts as a plot generator, providing a wide and potentially unlimited array of possible plots for the series, much like the Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Bajoran wormhole in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Appearances in the Doctor Who universe[edit]

Doctor Who[edit]

From "Boom Town" — The extrapolator and the TARDIS begin to rip open the Rift


From "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" — the Rift before Captain John emerges.

The Rift features regularly in Torchwood, with almost every episode involving material or life forms passed through the Rift. The Torchwood Institute website suggests that Torchwood Three was formed in Cardiff when the Torchwood Institute became aware of the Rift's presence. Torchwood Three has also been described as merely a "monitoring station" for the Rift. The website lists among the items in the Rift "3 new Weevil clusters... items of unknown provenance... 2 weapons... 2 EBEs". However, the Rift appears to be one-way; craft sent through the Rift have been unable to either return or send a signal.

In "Out of Time" the Rift facilitates the misplacement of people from 1953 to the show's present day.

In "Captain Jack Harkness", the Rift is responsible for sending Jack and Toshiko Sato back to 1941. In the present day, Owen uses a "Rift machine" designed by Toshiko to open the Rift and bring them back.

Owen's actions have consequences in the next episode, the first series finale "End of Days". Opening the Rift has allowed more things to come through, including a Roman soldier, and a group of mediaeval plague sufferers, and even a giant UFO. Bilis Manger convinces Gwen to open the Rift even wider to reverse the damage already done. When this happens, the entity known as Abaddon rises from "beneath the Rift". Jack sacrifices himself to destroy Abaddon, and the Rift immediately closes.

A year later, in "Exit Wounds", Jack's brother Gray has Captain John Hart widen the Rift again to cause chaos across Cardiff by unleashing monsters from distant times and places.

In "Adrift", it is revealed that as well as depositing creatures and items in Cardiff, the Rift also takes people, depositing them anywhere in space or time.

When asked in an interview with SFX magazine, Russel T. Davies said: "I like to think that when (subsequent Doctor Who executive producer) Steven Moffat so thoughtfully closed all those cracks in the universe, the Rift in Cardiff closed up simultaneously. I used to wonder what the hell happened to that Rift, and now it's all solved. When I watched those cracks seal up, I was like, 'Oh, thank you.'" [volume & issue needed] This refers to the events of the 2010 Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang" written by Steven Moffat. However, Torchwood Media in 2011 provided a direct explanation for the Rift. In the radio drama "The House of the Dead", Jack visits a haunted location where the Rift allows ghosts, including the deceased Ianto Jones, to enter the living world. To close the Rift forever and seal an ancient evil on the other side of it, Jack creates a device designed to fill the Rift. The device will also provide Jack with an end to his cycle of resurrections. However, Ianto's spirit tricks Jack into leaving and detonates the instrument, closing the Rift "forever" and, with it, the barrier between the living and the dead.[5]

Other media[edit]

In the Torchwood novel Border Princes by Dan Abnett, it is revealed that several other planets border permanent points where the Rift has anchored. One such planet has a similar organization to Torchwood entitled The First Senior, whose title for the Rift translates as The Stumble, The Misstep or The Border. When The First Senior heard of Torchwood, they inserted a Principal, a spy who could observe how they handle the Rift, purely for research into how other "Rift guardians" operate. Like all Doctor Who and Torchwood spin-off media, its place in canon is unclear.

Attributes and effects[edit]

The Rift has facilitated an underground Weevil infestation[clarification needed] and allows alien technology to wash up in Cardiff, which are sometimes acquired by Torchwood Three. Creatures have passed through time because of the Rift, including a pterodactyl. It can be used as a source of power for the TARDIS. The landing of the TARDIS near the fountain in Roald Dahl Plass resulted in the ship's "perception properties" being welded to the Rift, creating a "perception filter" which prevents anyone outside that spot from noticing anything inside. In 19th-century Cardiff, Gwyneth developed telepathic powers as a result of lifelong exposure to the Rift. "Out of Time" suggests that the Rift can act as an unpredictable window through time in certain weather conditions. Much as the Rift deposits all things alien in Cardiff, it also takes; as a result of this Cardiff has an unusually high missing persons rate owing to humans scattered throughout space and time by the Rift. The destruction of a hospital in Cardiff caused the psychic energy of all the lives spent and lost there, in conjunction with the Rift, to cause 1918 and 2008 to begin to overlap in "To the Last Man".

In April 1913, "preshocks" of the Rift's opening in "End of Days" manifested as ground tremors.[3] Before the dawn of time, as with the Beast, Biblical demon Abaddon had been sealed away in Earth, using the Rift as a means for his imprisonment. This suggests that it happened "before the universe's creation" as with the Beast, and that the Beast's captors, the "Disciples of Light" may have had a hand in the formation of the Rift as they did with the gravity field in "The Impossible Planet". The Rift is not dependent on Abaddon, however; in fact, Jack warns that it will be more violent than ever following his release.

Similar anomalies[edit]

The Cardiff Rift was "the first of several phenomena or technologies in the new Dr.Who associated with the interface between different places, dimensions, or states of being."[4] In "Boom Town", the Ninth Doctor refers to the Rift in the plural, indicating that there are others elsewhere. In series 3 episode "The Sound of Drums" (2007), the Master (John Simm) also refers to the Doctor sealing the rift at the heart of the Medusa Cascade, deep in space. The Daleks later planned to make use of this rift to spreading their Reality Bomb ("Journey's End", 2008). When explaining the prevalence of foresight abilities in Pompeii, the Doctor explains that Mount Vesuvius temporarily opened a Rift in time and space, which accounts for this, in the episode "The Fires of Pompeii" (2008).[4][additional citation(s) needed] In the series 6 episode "The Doctor's Wife" (2011), the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) travels through a time rift to a location "outside" the universe. He comments that his TARDIS should refuel by virtue of being exposed, as with the Cardiff rift, to temporal energies.

Similar phenomena are encountered in other stories, including from the classic era. For example, in Image of the Fendahl (1977), the Fourth Doctor encounters a "time fissure"[4] in Fetch Borough in the West Country of England. Another "time fissure" appears in The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith (2008). A "scar in time and space" featured in the 1999 Eighth Doctor novel Unnatural History. One was created by the TARDIS malfunctioning at the end of the eighth Doctor's only television adventure).

In the Torchwood comic story "Shrouded" by Gareth David-Lloyd, John Hart reveals that he moved to Mexico to buy and sell alien artefacts because a "small rift" is located near the Gulf.

Reception and analysis[edit]

Lee Barron considered the Rift "the main crux (sic) of the Torchwood narrative". Its ability to bring in or shift objects, creatures and persons establishes "the idea of boundary slippage [as] central" to the series, including with regard to "the boundaries of sexual preference".[5] Paul Winters identified several functions of the Rift: It is the tool to introduce alien and time-shifted characters and artifacts as plot seeds for the series' episodes. By reaching through time it "raises practical, pseudoscientific, and philosophical questions about the nature of time and memory, some of which also contain a very strong emontional component". And it is a "Sword of Damocles" which provides threats to the team of protagonists, "the stability of Cardiff, and by extension, the entire world". This danger may act on a physical but also a social level, and includes the risk "of losing their subjectivity" for the Torchwood employees. In the view of Winters, the rift encapsulated one major theme of the Torchwood series, "the potential for irrationality, dissolution, and loss". It is countered by the theme of "technology, which represents the potential for reason, wholeness, and integration."[6]

The Rift plot device has attracted some critical commentary. In Under Torch Wood, a one-off Torchwood parody for The Register (a dialogue in the style of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' radio play Under Milk Wood), columnist Verity Stob derides the device as lazy writing on the part of Davies and his writing team, and comments on its large indebtedness to the Hellmouth from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Gwen asks "What is the Rift?"; the narrative voice describes it as "a kind of hellmouth that is sucking on a transcendental, transdimensional gobstopper. It is a double-egg MacGuffin served with large fries. It is [...] an easy way for lazy writers to generate indulgence-straining plots, without ever troubling to think up anything new, or plausible, or to know or look up any science."[7]

ScreenRant contributor Matt Morrison considered the Cardiff Rift "a key point in the mythology of Doctor Who during the Tenth Doctor era."[8]

In the view of Elspeth Kydd, the Cardiff Rift does not only provide a narrative justification to locate Torchwood in a peripheral city of Great Britain. But through Cardiff's nature as a port city, its ""rift in time and space" becomes metonymic for an urban space of access for intrusions through the national borders and threats to the imagined purity of the nation."[9]

Linnie Blake noted that the transition through the "interstitial border crossing" that is the Cardiff Rift is usually "horrific to those catapulted" to its other side, no matter the direction: Aliens may slaughter the "good people of Cardiff", while those may likewise torture the arrivals like in the episode "Meat". And humans passing it "have returned so hopelessly damaged from their experiences on the other side of the rift that they are unable to rejoin the human race."[10][11]

Ivan Phillips asserted that "a rift is a gap, slit, fracture: it imples damage". He linked the Cardiff Rift with its time displacing effect both to "Hamlet's diagnosis of temporal dislocation" related to his father's death, as Jacques Derrida saw William Shakespeare's famous character, and to earlier "ghostly activities" in the classic era of Doctor Who, where holes in time appear as "haunted technology": In "The House of the Dead" the Cardiff Rift is closed through the actions of a ghost, Ianto Jones.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Torchwood Institute: The Rift". 14 December 2006. Archived from the original on 14 December 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2006.
  2. ^ "Torchwood Institute: What is the Rift?". 19 December 2006. Archived from the original on 19 December 2006. Retrieved 31 October 2006.
  3. ^ Rift Memo, 1913 Archived 16 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c d Phillips, Ivan (2020). Once Upon a Time Lord – The Myths and Stories of Doctor Who. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 129–130. ISBN 9781788316453.
  5. ^ Barron, Lee (2010). "Out in Space: Masculinity, Sexuality and the Science Fiction Heroics of Captain Jack". In Ireland, Andrew (ed.). Illuminating Torchwood. McFarland & Company. pp. 219–220. ISBN 978-0-7864-4570-7.
  6. ^ Winters, Paul (2010). ""Loving the Alien": The Erotics of Technology". In Ireland, Andrew (ed.). Illuminating Torchwood. McFarland & Company. pp. 183–184. ISBN 978-0-7864-4570-7.
  7. ^ Stob, Verity (6 November 2006). "Under Torch Wood". The Register. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
  8. ^ Morrison, Matt (29 January 2018). "Doctor Who: David Tennant Brings Back Tenth Doctor For Special Video". ScreenRant. Retrieved 3 May 2024.
  9. ^ Kydd, Elspeth (2010). "Cyberwoman and Sleepers: Rereading the mulatta Cyborg and the Black Woman's Body". In Ireland, Andrew (ed.). Illuminating Torchwood. McFarland & Company. pp. 193–194. ISBN 978-0-7864-4570-7.
  10. ^ Blake, Linnie (2009). ""You guys and your cute little categories": Torchwood, the space-time rift and Cardiff's postmodern, postcolonial and (avowedly) pansexual gothic" (PDF). The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies. 7: 16–22. Retrieved 10 May 2024.
  11. ^ Levy, Michael M.; Mendlesohn, Farah, eds. (2019). "Torchwood". Aliens in Popular Culture. Greenwood. pp. 275–276. ISBN 978-1-4408-3832-3.

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