Torchwood: Miracle Day - Episode 1 Review
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*SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN: READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL*
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For a start there is no Ianto Jones, while Owen and Toshiko died (Owen twice) while saving the world in the second series. This was perhaps the greatest upset for fans of what is now the "old" Torchwood: quiet but useful Ianto, with his love for Jack, was a side-plot many appreciated. But there was something awkward; something uneasy about this sidetracking, and it produced a somewhat love-or-hate effect around it. Still, where Series Three's 'Children of Earth' seemed to be more about killing off what might be recognised as Torchwood's early days than creating space for it to flourish, this new series, 'Miracle Day', finally answers our questions about the two-person team 'Children of Earth' left: two new characters are looking to fill the spaces - more by circumstance than by choice - left by previous deaths, and they are in the CIA-trained Rex Matheson (played by Mekhi Phifer; otherwise known as Dr Gregory Pratt of ER) and Esther Drummond (played by Alexa Havins, known for roles in CSI and the 2008 film '27 Dresses'). Might we see Torchwood flourish again? The first episode is certainly keeping me guessing. Here's why...
It's another great script from Russel T Davies which is bringing Torchwood back to our screens: it's another morality dilemna for the human species; that side of science fiction which is both fascinating and chilling; one where we take a good look at ourselves and ask 'if that happened, would we really be like that?' 'Miracle Day' is when the world stops dying. They hurt and they injure and their scars, burns or mutilations remain; they can bleed inside and have an open wound which should have left them dead - but they remain totally alive and concious. But this is no miracle: the Earth's population is set to balloon in a matter of months; with a birth rate but no death rate there is not enough food and not enough medication on the Earth to keep the world healthy. How do the humans react and deal with the situation? We'll find out. Changed from Torchwood's early themes on sexed-up aliens and then Jack's past this morality dilemna large corner of science fiction is one thing which remains the same as the 'Children of Earth' spectacle that Series Three was. But there's more changes in store this season which brings the Marmite business back into my mind.
For those who didn't pick up on the new CIA characters - that's right - Torchwood this year packs its bags and heads over to the US, for some hefty action shots (including a spectacular one of the Torchwood team with newcomer Rex on a Cardiff beach, chased by a helicopter) and rather more space to roam around than Cardiff bay.
US subscription-based network 'Starz' is behind the major cash injection which fuels those action shots. Of course it's also behind the British Torchwood Institute being taken over by America and effectively manhandled by it. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily, but opinion is divided. The concern on several plates is that Torchwood will lose its "Welshness" - although some of us might question the continued reference in the first episode to Torchwood being a 'British administration', when the two remaining members of this organisation are Welsh and American. To that extent the repeated use of Rex as a tour guide for American audiences -
"And what the hell is this bridge?"
Esther - "It connects England to Wales"
Rex - "What, you mean Wales is separate? Urgh. It's like the British equivalent of New Jersey."
- is somewhat justified.
But might Torchwood this series - or "season", as the Americans call it - become just another CIA-based Sci-Fi drama, bound for a massive cash-injected opener and then pulled off air, alongside the likes of what was a promising 'Flash Forward' and others of its type? The Torchwood series - and its fans - are used to following the show around: originally aired on BBC Three in its first series, it then moved to BBC Two, then to BBC One - and is now a joint American-British production. But it begs the question: when will Torchwood find its home ground? If the BBC refuse to take it into production on its own, and Starz don't take it up again, what will happen to any future series?
The BBC informed us in June of last year that we could expect a new 10-part series, but there were few spoilers abound for fans visiting the BBC Torchwood website until last month. In fact, it was Starz which had the press releases and the previews up first, as is the usual way when those who pay, get. There is certainly some anger abound with UK fans about having to wait six days longer than the US to view the episodes.
'No, neither's ideal,' says executive producer Julie Gardener when asked by Den of the Geek which production system is better - the American or the UK one. 'An ideal would be some kind of hybrid, which I'd hope we've kind of almost got with Torchwood.' But to prove that we're not losing out, according to the magazine the UK versions 'will be slightly longer' - in other words, sit back and enjoy the ride, because this year has been worth the wait.
Torchwood this series has everything: a global script - like Children of Earth - but also a global show (since it is filmed across two continents); apparently we won't find out just how 'global' it is until Episode 9 of 10. It also has high-budget action shots that have gone out with the CGI and in with the 'real' (blank) bullets, the same chase and assassination attempts that were central to last series, our two front characters - Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) - which really keep the spirit of Torchwood alive, despite their changes, and a new adventure in the USA, paired - of course - with the genious of Russel T Davies' writing. 'There's a Welshness that runs straight through this,' said Kai Owen (who plays Rhys Williams), ahead of the premiere (BBC spoiler interview). 'It will look slick; it will look American, because the locations are American, and there's an American cast - but there's still a Welsh cast.' The new series even has humour in it, particularly around Gwen's extrovertish hissing at Rhys when apparent tourists are at their door, and Rex's crticsms of the UK, saying: 'that administration is like kindegarton.'
So then why does it seem that the view on forums and social networking sites is so divided, reviewers aside?
I suppose the difference in view is in part because there are now three separate audiences which Starz, the BBC, the shows writers - lead by Russel T Davies - and the show's producer Julie Gardener are trying to amalgamate into one: there's the UK fan-base audience, which has followed Torchwood through at least one prior series, then there's the new US audience, who must be familiarised with Torchwood and its UK roots, and then there are those in the UK who haven't seen Torchwood before, who have an awful lot of catching-up to do after the going-ons of last series. In avoiding one of those irritating 'previously on Torchwood' five-minute time-wasters the show attempts to explain through the mixture of characters in its grasp. The problem is that some of these hints may not have been obvious to people. Why, for example, did Jack use RedCon, the smart drug, to wipe the memory of someone he could have probably trusted? 'Just in case'? Those new to Torchwood do not already know that this is a practice Jack used to use - for quitting team members as well as the public - nor do they know about Jack's past and the numerous 456 references. Why take the practice of RedCon up again? It certainly takes a second watch to pick up on.
And that is the problem: I had to watch it twice; three times, in fact. I wasn't satisfied the first time. I enjoyed it, sure, but I wasn't satisfied. The episode risks confusing people, no doubt because of excessive edits. For example I found myself asking why Oswald Danes, the convicted paedophile, rapist and murderer, spoke so broken and so slowly, his face so stationary; his body so stiff. Are we to presume that this is the result of the execution gone wrong? Or was he always like this, presumably a useful character trait to raise his evil appearance? Whatever the reason is, it was not explained.
In saying this, it is indeed some of these questions which will keep me tuned to the series (not just, then, because I am somewhat of a sci-fi nerd and a Torchwood fan). Who is behind the assassination attempts on Torchwood now? In 'Children of Earth' the seemingly all-guns boss Johnson (played by Liz May Brice) turned over to the Torchwood side; the British government was found to be corrupt and international forces stepped in; large amounts of 456 details were made public; and first-day-on-the-job in the government Lois Habiba (played by Cush Jumbo) was thrown into jail for treason and - so far as we know - not smuggled out by Johnson or Torchwood as were Jack and his family. Does Lois have some useful information about the two remaining Torchwood survivors and is seeking revenge? Unlikely. So why are the British government still trying to cover their tracks when all those involved with the 456 events either died or turned over to Torchwood's side, or at least strayed from the government's side? By the look of the previews for the rest of the series, we are going to find some answers in the coming weeks.
That preview is rather worrying for fans already upset by Ianto's death: some quite serious turns for the 'heart of the group'-turned 'female Rambo' (John Barrowman BBC interview) appear to be in order. And a suddenly mortal Jack lying in agony in a hospital bed is yet more chilling. I have read some highly interesting theories surrounding Jack's near future but the majority of those have been gained from the 'Doctor Who' episodes in which the character of Captain Jack was born. I will leave you to theorise.
Captain Jack, despite being somewhat more serious to the early Torchwood series, is a fair amount away from the Jack who killed his grandson for the sake of saving the world. Instead he is intent on keeping those close to him safe, although it looks like others will force his hand to action; he is, in John Barrowman's words, 'a little more mysterious...he's become darker'. The same can be said for Gwen, who has at first dropped her old curiosity for the sake of looking after her family, but when events roll forward the rising leader of Torchwood steps forth again, and this time she's even more feisty. 'I don't think I'm allowed back in Wales: I've blown Wales up,' (BBC spoiler interview), Eve Myles comments, in a very Welsh accent. We don't get to see much of Jack in this first episode though - he's up to his old tricks of jumping in to save the day, just when the time's right, and landing all the short but snappy lines. I would love to see the out-takes for the 'turn off your phone' scene.
Essentially this is a highly interesting plot line with Eve Myles fronting the Torchwood swelling of memories in this first episode, and the much talked about red-carpet adjusted Bill Pullman promising to question human morality in perfect science-fiction style. There are some key moments which are too confusing, and the episode spends too much time doing 'catch-ups' and helping out all three potentially confounded audiences, plus the potential story line for the characters is chilling for the fans - but that just keeps us watching, 'just in case.' I recommend you watch it twice, and I also recommend you allow any niggling irritants about the show's new format, characters and sponsors to hold out for a few more episodes, but I do also recommend you don't turn that television off, or close that iPlayer window, or go and do something else, because this year's Torchwood is what everybody's talking about, and for good reason.