This review contains spoilers.
1. The New World
Already a far slower burning drama than Children Of Earth, the first episode of the fourth Torchwood season, Miracle Day, has a lot more on its initial plate. Whereas Children Of Earth could kick straight off with its dramatic plot of all the children on the planet being put in danger, Miracle Day has to juggle far more balls in its opening episode.
It basically splits the episode into two bits so that it can do this. In the one half, we get the story of Rhys and Gwen in their Welsh retreat, and hiding deep, deep away. At least for a little bit. They’re the ones who are holding the original fans of Torchwood in place, even if, by the end of episode one, it’s clear that Miracle Day is a far evolved beast from the Torchwood we first saw on BBC Three all those years ago.
Then there’s Mekhi Phifer as Rex Matheson, a CIA agent on a mission. Matheson is the way in for new viewers, and the weight on his shoulders is to give the fresh, target American audience a way into the show. As such, the action here flits between two sides of the channel, arguably giving neither the full attention that we’d ideally have liked to have seen.
In the middle, though, is the mighty Captain Jack Harkness, gluing it all together. And it’s when John Barrowman and Eve Myles are reunited on the screen that we really felt that Torchwood was back, good and proper.
It’s good to see it, too. Russell T Davies has conceived another ambitious, overarching plotline, one that has been widely revealed in the run up to the show’s premiere. Basically, along comes a day when nobody on the planet Earth dies. And the day after, and the day after, and so on. It’s an old sci-fi idea, but a good one.
The ramification of this is that the Earth basically works because so many people die every week, and without that, the infrastructure and systems of the planet become very stretched very quickly.
The counter to this is that the man who has remained invulnerable for the duration of Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness, is suddenly vulnerable. He can be harmed, he can, presumably, be killed. The mechanic we’re used to has been switched.
Given that they throw in the e-mailing of the word “Torchwood” right at the start of the episode, we’ll thus make our first stab at guessing quite what’s going on. Someone is out to get Jack in particular. That they want him dead so badly that they’re willing to put the entire planet Earth into that chamber that we saw at the end of Superman II. Maybe General Zod is to blame.
This is all speculation on our part, clearly. But such a big story idea is going to clearly have something quite badass behind it.
It also has lots of little strands that already Davies is having a lot of fun exploring. The main one is that of Oswald Danes, a ruthless, nasty killer who survives lethal injection and negotiates his freedom. Bill Pullman underplays him really nicely, and he’s already coming across as a really quite nasty piece of work.
The aforementioned Rex Matheson isn’t about winning friends this episode, either. After surviving a seemingly fatal accident himself, he’s the one who’s digging into what’s happening, and uncovers Torchwood. He’s, thus, on a plane to Wales and, with the aid of some cracking one-liners (he’s right about the bridge), he’s the one who’s dragging Jack and Gwen to America at the end of the episode.
Gwen, played by the always brilliant Eve Myles, is carrying a fair amount of the narrative load in this episode, too. She’s dragged back to the world she left behind (although clearly she’s missed it) by a mixture of family circumstance, and the sheer scale of the problem facing the world. More importantly, she doesn’t half know how to use a bazooka, in a pulsating action sequence along a Welsh beach.
Then there’s Alexa Havins. She’s a great addition to an already strong cast, and it’s she who makes first contact with Captain Jack. As Esther Drummond, she takes on an assistant role of sorts in this episode, asking the key questions to get some of the gaps filled in. Expect her character to evolve a lot more as she gets sucked into the bigger conspiracy at work.
And expect Torchwood: Miracle Day to get bigger from this point onwards. Already, the ramifications of a bigger budget are there on screen. A particularly grisly body that won’t die is one example, and the excellent helicopter chase along Roscilly Beach being another. But in narrative terms, Russell T Davies has got through an awful lot of work here, and has left lots of strands in place for the next nine episodes.
It’s a very good opener. It’s not entirely satisfying, but then, that’s writing having followed the show beforehand. For those coming to Torchwood cold, they’re likely to get more out of this skilfully crafted opening, and there’s enough included to satiate the longer term follower of the show (the return of Kai Owen as Rhys and Tom Price as Sgt Andy Davidson).
There’s most certainly a slightly different feel to the show, which is perhaps inevitable given the geographic broadening of the target audience. But also, it’s worth taking into account that Torchwood has always had to evolve its audience, and the show has always been altering slightly to do so. This is a programme, lest we forget, where each one of its four seasons has premiered on a different television channel to the last, and it’s always taken a step up to account for that.
That’s how we end up here, and we’re glad that the show’s back. Its new feel won’t appeal to all, and there are bumps in this opening episode. But it’s still a supremely confident piece of work, based around an intriguing premise, and with the promise of the scale to explore it properly. For all its pros and cons, The New World is a very good opening episode, and it’ll be fascinating to see where Torchwood goes from here.
Torchwood: Miracle Day airs on BBC1, Thursdays at 9:00pm.
Read more about Torchwood: Miracle Day here.