TORCHWOOD : MIRACLE DAY
Season 4 Episode 1: “The New World”
TORCHWOOD has returned to our TV screens with TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, in a joint production of BBC Wales and the American Starz network, and for those of you who may have had some fears that crossing the pond would change the show, well, it has and it hasn’t. Some spoilers follow.
We’ve seen it before haven’t we? A UK show becomes a hit, and an American version is put into motion, often with disastrous results. Sure, THE OFFICE worked, but not so COUPLING, or LIFE ON MARS. DOCTOR WHO had a TV movie in the 90’s targeted at American audiences, in a plan to revive the series, but it wouldn’t successfully return to screens until Russell T. Davies brought it back in 2005. But here the stateside-set TORCHWOOD carries Davies as the Executive Producer and head writer, and any fears of it changing beyond recognition are groundless.
But it has changed, although it isn’t as big a change as CHILDREN OF EARTH was to the first two seasons. Personally I found the first two series of TORCHWOOD wildly uneven, with as many groan-inducing episodes as good ones, but CHILDREN OF EARTH was quality storytelling and good science fiction. Part of that was treating the season as one story, with the episodes as chapters, and Davies and Company repeat that model here, to excellent effect.
Returning are our leads, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), last survivors of the decimated Torchwood Institute, though both are in quite different straits as the series begins. Gwen is in hiding in rural Wales with her husband Rhys and baby daughter Anwen, and Jack is off planet, both dealing with the fallout from the events of CHILDREN OF EARTH. But soon events will draw them both back into the defense of the Earth, as suddenly…
The first episode of this new series is “The New World”, and that’s no exaggeration. In one moment, everything changes: No human on Earth can die.
Immortality is a common theme in science fiction and fantasy, but it’s rarely handled the way it is here. The implications are quite frightening if you think about it, and Davies has. No one dies. Of ANYTHING. There’s one particular scene that drives this home quite horrifically as a man who was caught in an explosion is autopsied and is revealed to be still alive, and of course the opening scene of the episode where we are introduced to the very human monster Oswold Danes. More on him in a moment. Back to the implications of no one dying, consider the population explosion. Consider the hospital situation. Consider the fact that life ending trauma hasn’t gone away at all, just the release of death.
In this world we initially follow the aforementioned Oswold Danes, as he is about to be executed for the murder of a child. Danes is very much the unrepentant monster, and is played by Bill Pullman in what is a truly chilling performance. More known for his comedic and everyman roles, Pullman clearly relishes the chance to show us the evil in Danes, and from what information that has been released about the rest of the season, we’ll be seeing a lot more of this killer.
As he is receiving a lethal injection for his crime, the so called “Miracle” strikes, and while his body thrashes around in reaction to the poison, he simply doesn’t die. Quickly it becomes clear that this is indeed a world-wide phenomenon, with all the horrible implications that implied. And suddenly the word “Torchwood” is appearing on computer screens at the CIA, drawing the attention of agents Esther Drummond and Rex Matheson. The latter finds his interest quite personal, as he finds himself in what would have been a fatal accident, but like everyone else discovers that death has taken a holiday. Perhaps looking into this “Torchwood” would be a good idea…
This is a really nice way to introduce new audiences to the Torchwood mythos, by the way. We have a good spin on the “infodump” for the uninitiated as Matheson learns more about this mysterious organization, while using new characters to make it interesting for those familiar with the series.
Jack returns to Earth to cover Torchwood’s tracks and finds himself under attack by a suicide bomber, which leads to the second revelation of the new series, an inverse of the first because, you see, Jack already is immortal. Or rather he was, because the “Miracle”seems to have worked the opposite effect on him, and in a world of those who cannot die, Jack is suddenly very, very vulnerable.
How Jack and Gwen are or are not reunited and how Matheson’s investigation into Torchwood will unfold I will leave to you to see, but I will say this. Russell T. Davies has written an opening episode that raises real questions about mankind and it’s future. If he continues to explore these themes and their implications at this level for the rest of the series we’ll have a story that will become a modern classic. That said, and I’ll discuss this more next week, there is something that happens after the execution that simply makes no sense, and from a legal standpoint is highly questionable. It may be dealt with, and I hope it is, because as it stands it’s the one major problem I had with the episode. One can only hope, but still, based on this first episode, it’s good science fiction, it’s good drama, and it’s a great return for TORCHWOOD.