It’s certainly getting bigger, but is it getting better?
Series one: BBC3. Series two: BBC2. Series three: BBC1. Series four: US/UK co-production. And the most miraculous thing of all, is that the bigger Torchwood gets, the better it gets. Wait until we get the movie version…
And, no, before the internet rumour machine goes into meltdown: there was no discussion about a Torchwood film during the Q&A session following the preview screening of Torchwood: Miracle Day at the National Film Theatre last night. You just can’t help getting the feeling, though, that that’s where the show’s trajectory is inexorably heading. Whatever else you think of this new transatlantic Torchwood , you can’t deny it’s glossier, more cinematic and more global than ever before. It’s also hugely entertaining, and a definite shift in tone from Children Of Earth .
Indeed, anybody expecting Children Of Earth 2 may be disappointed. That series was very much in the tradition of classic “adult” BBC science fiction, with a huge, clear debt to Quatermass . It was an intense, intelligent, thought-provoking, harrowing piece that addressed moral issues and big questions within a sci-fi framework. There was action, sure, but it felt more of a cerebral series. It was a great, great piece of television that only really faltered at the final hurdle with a technobabble solution and a clunkily-contrived sacrifice, when it would have been more interesting to see Jack outsmart the evil aliens with his wits.
Miracle Day retains the exploration of big moral questions but it marries them to a far more pacy, action-orientated structure. It’s a little bit Bond, a little bit 24 , a little bit Die Hard . While it opens with a scene every bit as overwrought as anything from Children Of Earth , soon Captain Jack arrives and the explosions start. Literally and figuratively. It’s a combination that should clash as much as the Welsh and US cultures, but all these aspects mesh with nary a crunching gear. Sure, there is a discordance between the Cambrian and the Stateside scenes, but, well… there would be, wouldn’t there? It actually all adds to the fun (and certainly leads to some of the funniest lines).
For a while it looks like the (remaining) old Torchwood regulars are being sidelined by the new characters, but no fear – pretty soon Jack, Gwen and Rhys are front and centre in the action, and all three of them are on top form. And they have to be, to make sure new characters Rex (Mekhi Phifer), Esther (Alexa Havins) and bad guy Oswald Danes (Bil Pullman) don’t steal all the limelight. Pullman is chilling as the child molester who escapes execution, with a low key performance that makes a twitch of a cheek muscle look sinister.
There’s a new title sequence and revamped theme arrangement that set the tone perfectly, and Murray Gold’s grungy music is very different from the lush orchestral cues we’ve come to expect in Who . There are some deliciously gory moments, a whole slew of in-jokes, a flash of Barrownipples, a couple of fan-pleasing references and lots and lots of guns. Blimey, Gwen’s baby’s ear mufflers certainly work well…
But as slick and entertaining as Miracle Day is, episode one, “The New World”, doesn’t quite have that immediate emotion wallop that “Day One” of Children Of Earth did. Possibly this is because it’s almost a pilot episode, setting up a whole new format for the show, which Children Of Earth didn’t have to do. Possibly it’s because it’s the first of ten episodes instead of five, so it can be more leisurely. Possibly the return to a slightly more adventure series format – with a couple of unashamedly silly stunts – means it feels slightly less "grown up" and worthy. Or maybe it’s because this time (so far) we are not being shown how world leaders are reacting to the crisis (the story is told from “street level”, or through news reports). It's clearly a good idea not to repeat the Children Of Earth format (where the UK government was a key part of the plot) but the full potential horror of the situation – while alluded to – never quite has the same impact as the threat in Children . On the other hand, the clips we were shown of the rest of the series suggest that this will be rectified. Big time. And there also seem to be some very unexpected developments.
The best thing we can say about Miracle Day “The New World”, though, is that it definitely leaves you wanting more.
Oh, and special Anti-Atwood award to Russell T Davies in the Q&A afterwards, when the interviewer asked him, “What do you call it? It’s not really sci-fi, is it?” and Russell replied, “Yes it is.” Quick, someone tell the BBC PR department…