Tomorrow night, Torchwood returns to BBC One with the first episode of Miracle Day, the new ten-part series co-produced with American cable network Starz. The series started in 2006 as a BBC Three spin-off of Doctor Who, starring John Barrowman as “omnisexual” Captain Jack Harkness, leading a team countering alien invasions in South Wales. It was supposed to be “adult sci-fi”, but at first wasn’t grown-up in the same way as, say, Being Human, instead crowbarring in gratuitous crudity at the expense of some interesting stories. The second series saw a massive improvement, culminating in a fantastic run of final episodes which brought depth to its characters and an emotional pay-off. This continued with 2009’s Children of Earth, which ditched the monster-of-the-week format for a single story played out over five nights on BBC One.
Let’s have a look at that on the Barrowmeter. I make no apologies.
The concept this time around is a really interesting one which, with ten episodes, it seems will be explored in some depth. One day, people suddenly stop dying. It sounds wonderful until you realise the population boom it would cause, with food supplies set to be exhausted in months. And , as one particularly grisly scene explains, even those who suffer the most horrific of injuries survive and must endure their pain. Of course, Captain Jack himself was made immortal by Rose Tyler, so does the “miracle” have any effect on him…?
With the American funding, Torchwood: Miracle Day does feel like an American show with about 70% of the first episode taking place in the US and some scenes shot in Wales. There are a few moments early on where it almost starts to feel like Paul McGann’s ill-fated turn as the Doctor, an Americanised version of something that was very British, but it does start to find its feet as the episode goes on. There’s certainly a higher budget, which gives everything a glossier look and means a lot more of this sort of thing:
If you’re a Torchwood fan already, then be prepared for something that at times is very much the series you watched before but at others resembles a run of the mill US TV procedural. If you’re new to the show, it’s a good point to jump in as you’ll need to know very little about what’s gone before.
While the episode works as an introduction to the show for audiences who have never seen it before, there are nods to previous series and the few surviving characters all make appearances, including Gwen’s policeman friend Andy. Events pick up a year or so on from where Children of Earth left off, with the then-pregnant Gwen in hiding with husband Rhys and her baby daughter, while Jack was last seen heading for space and an encounter with Russell Tovey. But much of the episode is seen through the eyes of CIA agents Esther and Rex, as they try to work out what might be behind the miraculous events and also try to uncover just what Torchwood was. Bill Pullman’s menacing portrayal of reviled murderer Oswald Danes left the greatest impact, even if it felt a little too clumsily obvious that it was being drummed into the audience that he’s a really nasty person who even the most liberal of us wouldn’t want to survive execution.
The script is pure Russell T Davies, he must have enjoyed having the freedom to write some overblown action sequences and pseudo-scientific dialogue. If you’re a Torchwood fan already, then be prepared for something that at times is very much the series you watched before but at others resembles a run of the mill US TV procedural. If you’re new to the show, it’s a good point to jump in as you’ll need to know very little about what’s gone before.
After a slow and stuttering start, the opening episode builds to a confident, if at times quite silly, final act, enough to get me hooked and want to know how the story continues. Above all, the premise of “the death of death” asks some very interesting questions and it’ll be interesting to see how they’re dealt with over the coming weeks. Do give it a watch.