Torchwood: Miracle Day episode 1 spoiler-free review: The New World

The long-awaited return of Torchwood is nearly upon us. And we've seen the first episode of Miracle Day. Here are our spoiler-free thoughts...

4. 1 Miracle Day: The New World

With each subsequent series of Torchwood, as we were reminded prior to the screening of the opening episode of Miracle Day, things have escalated. The show started on BBC Three, then moved to BBC Two, and for the acclaimed Children Of Earth, it jumped to BBC One. Now? Miracle Day sees Torchwood on a global platform, courtesy of a co-production between the BBC in the UK, and the Starz network in the US. It’s the show’s biggest challenge to date.

This, then, gives Torchwood’s creator and lead writer, Russell T Davies, a balancing act. How do you manage giving something to the existing Torchwood fanbase, whilst also bringing a new audience to the show? Turns out, on the basis of episode one, he’s got the answer.

To be clear, though: all we’re going to discuss in this piece are some very outline story points, which have already been revealed. There’s nothing spoiler-y about the review itself, save for explaining the premise of the show.Miracle Day’s opener, then, has a real sense of scale about it. It’s split between Wales and America primarily, as it gradually unfolds that nobody in the world is dying. This is most graphically demonstrated right at the start of the episode, as Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes, a particularly nasty breed of criminal, is being prepared for death by lethal injection. Only it doesn’t go to plan, and it begins to dawn on the world that something very drastic has changed.

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Hence, Torchwood. Or what’s left of it. Thus, we get the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, along Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper. More to the point, it’s Gwen Cooper with husband, Rhys (Kai Owen), and their baby.

Davies gradually reintroduces us to the familiar faces, and he does it through the eyes of characters on the other side of the channel. Those eyes belong to Mekhi Phifer’s Rex Matheson, and Alexa Havins’ Esther Drummond, with the former in particular snaffling the lion’s share of some very funny moments. Davies has always been a skilled writer of comedy lines, amongst other things, and he’s on fine form here.

He’s also very strong at pulling the various threads together, to lay the foundations for the show. This opening episode introduces everyone, and spares time to lay in the threads and moral questions of Miracle Day.

Given the fact that Russell T Davies has ten episodes to work with here, rather than the five that Children Of Earth ran for, there’s less instant grab to the main narrative. But then it’s a slower burning story he’s telling. Children Of Earth had some instantly notable sequences in its opening episode, that made you sit bolt up and take notice. Miracle Day isn’t working quite like that, and it’s, as you might expect, playing a longer game.

It is a good one, though, at least on the evidence thus far. While some will want things more fast and furious (and the episode is hardly a slouch, with plenty of action, and a lot going on), I enjoyed the fact that this opener made enough space to lay a lot of pieces on the proverbial board.

I also enjoyed the episode itself a lot. It’s Americanised to an extent, but mainly in the sense that that’s where the story’s primarily taking place. And it boasts a series of sequences that instantly manage to show off the increased bank balance behind the show. The money, thus far, has been well spent. And filming action sequences in Wales does wonders for the wind-swept look, clearly.

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Yet it’s the smaller, quieter moments that shine through. The scenes shared by Gwen and Rhys. Captain Jack’s ongoing realisation of just what’s happening. And a few other bits I’ve no intention of spoiling here.

I will say this, though: the show is bristling with great performances. Pullman isn’t used much in this opener, but there’s a calm measure about his portrayal of Oswald Danes that very much has the potential to get under the skin. And both Phifer and Havins acquit themselves very well.

But it’s the returning main trio of Kai Owen, John Barrowman and Eve Myles that continue to impress. Owen mixes humour with an earnest, and a real sense of drive about keeping his character’s marriage in tact. Barrowman has immense presence in pretty much every scene he’s in, here, and pitches his character expertly, as you’d expect. And Eve Myles? She’s just brilliant. Whoever Hollywood producers cast in the planned reboot of the Tomb Raider movie franchise, I’m fully confident that Myles could kick their ass. Twice. Before breakfast.

I should spare a quick line, too, for Murray Gold’s music. His score here is strong, delicately weaving around the drama, with real balance to it. It’s a very good score, used very well.

All said, the opening of Miracle Day sees Torchwood in confident form. There are big themes developing here, in an episode that’s very much setting the scene for what’s to come. And Davies gets his mix right. It feels slightly different from Torchwood of old, but then that’s what it should be. The goalposts have changed, the production has escalated, and the ambition of the show’s storytelling has increased with it.

I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing what’s coming next. For after this opening episode, I’m fully on board.

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Read more about Torchwood: Miracle Day here.