Torchwood goes international and … Wow.

When last we saw Torchwood it was … well, no more.  Their headquarters were destroyed, most of the team were dead and Capt. Jack had sacrificed his own grandson to save the rest of The Children of Earth.  Wracked with guilt, he became an interstellar hobo and the pregnant Gwen went off the grid with her fella, Rhys.

But, if you don’t know or don’t remember any of that, it’s okay, because this is a new beginning for Torchwood.  Relocating production to America gives creator Russell T. Davies the chance to start work on a whole new, much bigger, canvas!  Most of what you need to know will be told you as we go along.

And so we begin - with a celebrity.  Bill Pullman (who you probably last saw as the fighter-plane flying President in Independence Day) is, here, Oswald Deans, a convicted paedophile and murderer spending what are intended to be his last few moments on this Earth before receiving the death sentence.  Things do not go according to plan and this – 6am Kentucky time – is our introduction to Miracle Day, a day when nobody dies.

Pullman is creepy and twitchy and quite compelling as he argues he should be free because his sentence has been committed and he was executed.  It isn’t his fault nobody can die.  This is obviously a plot thread which will become increasingly central as Miracle Day’s ten episodes unfurl.

Bill Pullman auditioning for the remake of Birdy?  No, getting ready to be nasty in Torchwood!
Russell T. is very good at taking conventions and turning them on their heads and here he has hatched a brilliant variation on the old fable – what if something everybody wishes for actually came to pass.  The terms and conditions on such deals, of course, always read: “Be careful what you wish for!”

You know those films – like Firefox, The Hunted and Shooter - that begin with a grizzled, battle-weary veteran living the quiet life in the wilds, before a call to adventures comes a-knocking?  Here, the grizzled, battle-weary veteran is Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) living in a lovely little cottage with Rhys and their daughter, Anwen, in the arse-end of “God’s own” Wales.

Meanwhile, a curious CIA agent – Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) - is worrying about ‘Torchwood’, inspired by an email which mysteriously appears out of nowhere.  When she begins to dig she is surprised to find there is no reference to ‘Torchwood’ anywhere.  Apart from this blog post, obviously.

Mekhi Phifer is Rex Matheson, another CIA agent, who was in an accident, should have died but, thanks to ‘The Miracle’, didn’t; giving doctors time to repair him.  Not unreasonably, he worries what will happen when ‘The Miracle’ ends and is determined to learn how it all ties in with the mysterious Torchwood.  

Mekhi Phifer, mistaking rural Wales for urban New Jersey.
But what of Captain Jack (John Barrowman)?  No Captain Jack, no Torchwood.  As always, he and his trusty greatcoat reappear with nary a glance backward at the misery he has left in his wake.  He has been drawn back to Earth by that mysterious email.

Of course, one of his USPs is that he is immortal.  On one occasion, I seem to recall, he spent a couple of thousand years buried in a hole; on another he was buried in liquid concrete. He’s one tough hombre.  Now everyone else is “undying” and he, curiously, isn’t as hard-wearing as he used to be.

This suggests that there is some connection between him and Miracle Day, and the email was his invitation back home.  By whom and why will, no doubt, become clearer as we proceed.

Say hello Captain Jack.  There's no talking in the library ... But shooting, that's fine.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him travelling the stars, but then, Torchwood has never been about the sexy, space-travelly bits of science fiction adventuring, it’s always been about the more grounded, grimy consequences.  Rhys is, in many ways, the most Torchwoodian character, because he’s the one who has both feet in the real world.  When Gwen decides she wants to break cover and help, his is the voice of common sense and reason, pointing out that people not dying is really not a problem.

If only that were true.  There are almost off-hand revelations that 300,000 people usually people die a day and another 500,000 are born and, if the not dying continues, it’ll be four months before the Earth is overwhelmed.  Can’t help but feel that’s going to become increasingly a problem!

I’m glad to confirm that Davies’ two years off have not blunted his pen.  There is some excellent writing here.  He can still turn out a deceptively simple but incredibly powerful line, such as one doctor’s assertion that “Miracles got easy”.

He is also good at creating memorable set-pieces.  There’s a really icky scene involving a burned victim which zombie movie fans will be talking about that for some time to come, I imagine!

The last ten minutes of the episode are the fulfilment of what every Torchwood and Doctor Who fan has been hoping for – the same old action/adventure but with a bigger budget and a more glamorous American twist.  Yet Davies still approaches his material with his tongue in his cheek – there being a lovely visual gag involving ear-muffs amidst the gunfire.

Introducing the new, improved Torchwood team.  I think they should ALL be wearing greatcoats!
But what of the tone?  Well, it’s certainly lighter than Children of Earth, but then so is your average Lars Von Trier film.  There was also a Biblical subtext to that series (pillars of fire, voices from the Heavens demanding we sacrifice our children) and I expect there to be a developing subtext here dealing with death and our troubling relationship to it. 

There is no mention (yet) of Jack’s rapacious and polymorphous sexuality.  I was wondering if that might be eliminated from the Americanised version but, since it’s co-produced with Starz and they make the absolutely-anything-goes Spartacus, I don’t think we need fear.

This episode is gently easing you in to Davies’ world and getting all the chess-pieces in place.  Next week is when, all being well, the game will begin in earnest.

Torchwood airs on Friday on Stars in the US and the following Thursday on BBC1.  But don't take my word for it, here's the Radio Times, for goodness sake:

So, what are you more excited about, Torchwood or Rich Stein's Taste of Spain.  Hm ... It's a close one ...

1 comment:

  1. So was it really just me who didn't particularly like the whole bigger-budget thing? The zombie was pretty cool to look at and everything, but I thought the helicopter chase was just a bit...blahhh. Almost too much.

    Don't get me wrong. I liked the transitions between Wales and the USA - it was good fun seeing the differences. So far, the plot seems to be going exciting places as well, so I will persevere. I was just a bit disappointed that it so far seems to have abandoned (aside, as you say, from maybe Rhys) the previous series in favour of a weird hybrid internationality. Children of Earth couldn't have been more different than the first two series, but it was still recognisably the same. I'm just not feeling that with Miracle Day yet.

    Also, you know a programme has truly migrated across the pond when the text on screen has to clarify that yes, Wales is in the UK. Just so you know. Not that I'm bitter in the slightest.