Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The New World”

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What if all of a sudden, no one died? What if an unexplainable lack of death occurred the world over? How would we all handle it? Would it be considered a miracle? Or would it signal the beginning of mankind’s downfall? These are just some of the intriguing questions asked by the fourth series of the BBC’s Torchwood, now subtitled Miracle Day and airing for the first time as a first-run series in the US as part of a coproduction with Starz.

Torchwood: Miracle Day is Starz’s latest attempt to establish a beachhead in the original programming game as its only notable success [1] thus far is the softcore epic Spartacus: Blood & Boobs Sand. With its built-in UK [2] audience, Torchwood probably stands as good of a chance for success as anything that the network could possibly air, and the ratings for “The New World” premiere are a good sign. Russell T. Davies, the man responsible for rebooting the beloved Doctor Who franchise [3] and for creating the three previous series of Torchwood, returns to helm this new chapter that finds death suddenly taking a very literal holiday. There’s a sense of immediacy to Miracle Day as Davies wastes no time jump-starting tension.

In introducing the series to the US audience, none of Torchwood’s familiar characters are given early appearances and within the premiere’s first ten minutes Davies places both recognizable American faces (Bill Pullman as convicted child murderer Oswald Danes and Mekhi Phifer as brash CIA agent Rex Matheson) in grave danger. One of the series’ first images is of Danes strapped to a gurney and being given a lethal injection that, for some unknown reason, does not live up to its “lethal” status. At roughly the same time, Matheson is involved in a gruesome car wreck that sends a piece of rebar plunging through his chest. As he’s brought to a hospital, he is still conscious and alert, but not dying. The doctors at the hospital soon come to the realization that no one has died in their care in the past 24 hours and this news soon begins to spread as other hospitals the world over begin to realize that this strange phenomenon is happening to them as well. Simultaneously, the CIA office where Matheson and watch analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins, All My Children) are assigned receives an email through various platforms that reads simply “TORCHWOOD.” Longtime viewers are likely well aware of what this entails but American newbies like myself are as much in the dark as the CIA, a nice symbolic touch. After initial speculation that the email blast is some sort of malware possibly connected with the “no death” phenomenon, Matheson and Drummond begin their investigation that ultimately leads each of them to one of the two remaining (read: living) members of the Torchwood [4] team, albeit on different sides of the pond.

Matheson travels to the UK to retrieve Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), who has gone into hiding following the events of the last Torchwood series, Children Of Earth, while Drummond has a chance meeting with the series’ hero, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) in the US. Boom, crash, action set pieces involving Harkness, Matheson, and Cooper occur, Danes is released from prison under an “Act Of God” provision after surviving his execution, becoming something of a religious hero in the process, and Matheson has Harkness and Cooper extradited to the US under rendition laws to assist in the growing phenomenon.

I’m sure there are probably some subtexts and references that I and other viewers are missing due to being new to the series but overall Davies has done a decent job of making the entry point smooth for newcomers. The co-production with the BBC also allows for a larger budget than a solely Starz-produced series likely would have, and this serves the series well as action set pieces don’t look as cheap as they easily could have on a smaller budget while also allowing for a bit more gore factor than basic cable would have provided [5].

As far as the casting is concerned, I’m sure longtime fans will be happy to see Barrowman and Myles return but the new additions are a bit of a mixed bag thus far. Pullman isn’t given a whole lot to do in “The New World” so it’s too early to say how his portrayal of Danes will ultimately be viewed, Havins seems like a bit of a lightweight to be counted on too heavily, and Phifer’s overacting is a bit distracting for pretty much the entirety of his screen time. He could end up being a major weak link although some have suggested that he’s Davies’ commentary on American blowhards. Under that lens his choices make more sense but, again, time will tell.

Despite the casting questions, Torchwood: Miracle Day raises enough intriguing questions to spur our interest. The religious aspect of Danes’ release; issues of scarcity of food due to the population boom of the birth rate staying the same even as the mortality rate ceases; Harkness, who is an immortal being is not healing from his wounds as he normally would; and finally, what happens when the mystery central to the series is solved are all threads that pique viewer attention. Do those who are in a limbo state such as Matheson die, basically rendering them walking dead? Or does a different fate await them? The bottom line is that Davies raises enough intriguing questions [6] to offset any trepidation about casting decisions, and his philosophical bent has Torchwood: Miracle Day off to a very promising start.

Where To Watch: Starz | Fridays | 10:00 PM ET

RATING: 73/100

[1] Its list of failures includes the late lamented (and kind of genius) Party Down as well as the much less lamented Crash, Camelot, Gravity and Head Case.

[2] Not to mention a contingent of US fans who caught the series on BBC America or through Netflix.

[3] It’s in large part because of the Doctor Who reboot that I’m even watching Torchwood: Miracle Day in the first place. After Alan Sepinwall recommended the most recent Matt Smith incarnation of Doctor Who, I decided to trust his judgment and jump into a series that I otherwise likely wouldn’t have checked out and, for the most part, I’m glad I did. Torchwood has now a become recipient of that goodwill and I plan to catch up with the rest of the series via Netflix at some point in the future.

[4] Should you be a newbie like myself, Torchwood refers to the Torchwood Institute, an organization that deals with extraterrestrial occurances. The characters in this series originate from the Cardiff, Wales branch of alien hunters. It’s also intimated (strongly) that members of the organization have a very, very high mortality rate.

[5] At one point we see a body that had been at the center of an explosion in all of its gruesome detail as the victim just lays there, burned beyond belief but still alive. It’s disquieting and very effective.

[6] Although, it is fair to wonder whether all of these questions will be serviced sufficiently within Torchwood: Miracle Day’s 10-episode run.

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Written by jeremylikestv

July 20, 2011 at 12:19 am

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