Death? Get over it
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Bharat Nalluri
THE ONE WHERE: Everyone – including a child murderer in mid-execution – stops dying, and so the CIA goes in search of Torchwood.
VERDICT: Series one: BBC3. Series two: BBC Two. Series three: BBC One. Series four: It goes global. Welcome at last to a Torchwood menace that doesn’t just affect Blighty and stock footage of the rest of the world. Welcome to international Torchwood . With exploding helicopters.
Sure there’s a bit of culture clash – between PC Andy and CIA agent Rex, and Welsh holiday cottages and LA backstreets – but, well, there would be, wouldn’t there? As opposed to giving the show a chalk and cheese feel, it actually helps bridge the gap between old Torchwood and new Torchwood . It means this doesn’t feel like a whole new show ignoring its roots. Russell T Davies wisely plays up the incongruity of a gun-toting US spook forced to go a-huntin’ in the Gower rather than trying to paper over cracks. In fact, the cracks are what give this series its unique feel. Although the oddest thing just may be how “British telly” Captain Jack feels when transposed back into a US setting – all those Saturday night, BBC light entertainment shows have obviously had an affect on Barrowman, who looks more ready to play Dan Dare than Indiana Jones.
In another way, too, Miracle Day “The New World” feels like old Torchwood meets new Torchwood . It’s like a combination of the dark, gritty, issues-led Children Of Earth and the more gung-ho action adventure of earlier series. But hey, if you’ve got it flaunt it. No point in spending that all the extra money on hairstyling if you can have a few explosions. And you also get the feeling that that issues are going to be more thoroughly explored in future episodes, so no need to rush straight into heavy discussions just yet.
On the other hand, it is those very issues – although only lightly touched upon for now – that make sure this opening episode comes across as something a little richer and more thought-provoking than yet just another alien invasion mini-series – a Falling Skies or The Taken with added lava bread. You have to admire the balls of a show that opens with the failed execution of a child murderer, who then goes on to abuse the American constitution for his own advantage. Oswald Danes is impeccably played by Bill Pullman; unlike Hannibal Lecter he’s a charisma free zone, but shares a similar warped intelligence. It’ll be interesting to see how somebody so unashamedly loathsome transforms into the character we’ve seen in the trailers (I won’t specify in case you’re avoiding spoilers).
Exponential overpopulation is also addressed, but on a fairly pragmatic level. Again you feel there’s going to be much more exploration of the ethical dilemmas involved in future episodes. There’s an interesting little moment here, though, when Captain Jack casually wonders if severing the mauled terrorist’s head from his body will kill him. A doctor objects – clearly remembering her Hippocratic oath – but Jack doesn’t seem to care. After the climactic events in Children Of Earth he’s still clearly a “bigger picture” man.
However, while the concept and ramifications of “no-one dies” has as much dramatic potential and mind-melting ramifications as the harrowing choice of deciding who should die in Children Of Earth , the lack of any insight into how Earth’s political leaders are reacting to the situation does make Miracle Day (or this first episode, at least) feel slightly less meaty than its predecessor. You can understand Davies not wanting to rehash the formula completely, but concentrating on the CIA reaction rather than the world’s governments’ reactions doesn’t make the threat feel quite so scary, close to home or believable. For the moment at least, the threat feels rather “theoretical”.
But as an hour’s worth of gripping entertainment, Miracle Day “The New World” is hard to beat. It’s funny, it’s action packed, it’s shocking and it’s full of surprises and twists. Eve Myles has never come across better as an action heroine, even when she’s carrying a baby (the episode at it silliest). The blustering Rex and the sweetly naive Esther both look very promising additions, with Rex getting some of the best lines (not just his casual cursing about Wales, but his parting shot to his housekeeper at the airport: “Don’t let your husband into my house!”). It’s glossily shot with some great stunts, and the mangled terrorist scene is a piece of inspired body horror Cronenberg would have loved to have directed in his enfant terrible days.
There are a couple of creaky moments. The stuff in the hospital with Gwen’s dad feels laboured and Rhys’s subsequent argument with Gwen about not getting involved doesn’t sound like it’d convince her for a second. And why is Captain Jack so disappointingly restrained? He’s probably missing Ianto… aw!
Many of the minor problems seem like those inherent in any pilot, and have to do with “setting things up”. Strictly speaking, of course, it isn’t a pilot, but in many ways it operates in exactly the same way. Looked at in that respect, you’d have to say, it certainly a series worth sticking with, because you get the feeling the best is yet to come.
INJOKE: Captain Jack uses the nom de plume Owen Harper.
DID YOU SPOT? The 456 protocol has clearly been created as a result of the event in Children Of Earth , in which the aliens were Species 456.
Rex: “Wait a minute, I’ve gotta pay for this bridge? Goddamn Wales.”