It’s nearly here, people. The very long-awaited fourth season of the increasingly-popular Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood hits British screens on Thursday after debutting on the Starz network (who co-funded the show with the BBC) last weekend. Having seen Torchwood develop from the clumsy, slightly-embarrassing older brother in its first two seasons and finally flower into a mature, sophisticated adult drama in 2009’s short-run Children of Earth mini-series, this Starburst writer remains particularly interested in finding out what’s in store in this big ballsy big bucks new series. This preview, then, will avoid spoilers and will try to give you a very brief idea of what’s in store for Captain Jack, Gwen and co as they embark upon their most ambitious adventure yet.
I won’t go into specifics – that’d spoil the fun. We all know the basic premise of Miracle Day, the over-arching title for the series; people all over the world have stopped dying. The injured remain injured – sometimes horribly – the old and frail remain old and frail, the sick remain sick. But no-one dies. It’s a desperate situation and, with the Earth’s population increasing, there’s only so long the planet’s resources can cope before it all goes to Hell in a handcart. CIA agents Rex Mattheson and Esther Drummond are drawn to the secret files of a long-disbanded British organisation known as ‘The Torchwood Institute’ and the realisation that if anyone can find out what’s caused ‘Miracle Day’ it’s Torchwood. If anyone’s still left standing.
Let’s get one thing quite clear. Fans who feared that this new series would be some sort of ‘American reboot’ çan be reassured that this just looks and feels like old Torchwood but with a lot more money on screen. Yes, it’s obviously got that glossy ‘American sheen’ and it’s full of anxious CIA agents and TV news reporters (a favourite Russell T Davies exposition-dumping device) but, simply through the presence of the charismatic Captain Jack (his first appearance will send a shiver up and down your spine because…well, just because…) and the always-likable Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and her shouty well-meaning husband Rhys (Kai Owen), we’re reminded that this really is the same clumpy Cardiff-centric show which miraculously (geddit?) made its way through three seasons in the UK when all around it was detectives and hospitals. Other old-series favourites are back too – Gwen’s former Police chum PC Andy Davison (Tom Price) is now a Sergeant and Gwen’s parents, who appeared in a season two episode also turn up. Even one of the unfortunate original Cardiff Torchwood team gets an unexpected mention…
This is, of course, a Russell T Davies script – which means that it races along scarcely pausing for breath, yet manages to find time for some beautifully-observed character moments (especially between Gwen and Rhys and Gwen and her parents), some decent moments of humour and even a pretty unpleasant sequence involving a man who has been literally blown to pieces and yet still isn’t dead. Yuk. In much the same was he showed how easily he had mastered Matt Smith’s Doctor in last year’s Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor Davies reminds us that this is his set-up, these are his characters and he know exactly how to move the show forward without derailing it. Miracle Day, on the basis of its first episode (and there’ll be a longer UK edit broadcast this week – no ads!) is absolutely the right progression for the series after the more doomy Children of Earth.
It’s not all perfect though. As a first episode the show has a lot to do and a lot of people to re-establish and introduce and, as a result, some of them get short shrift. Bill Pullman is scintillating as child killer Oswald Danes who escapes death by lethal injection due to Miracle Day and his scenes are electrifying – we just don’t get enough of them. Similarly the Miracle Day phenomenon itself seems to happen too quickly and its ramifications a bit underplayed until, of all people, Sgt Andy spells it out to both Gwen and the audience. CIA agents Esther and Rex play the familiar Davies role of the outsider stumbling into an unbelievable world, a trick he’s pulled in Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures and in Torchwood but it works less well here because we don’t spend enough time with either of them and, as Government agents, they’re a bit more brusque and less identifiable than Rose Tyler or Gwen Cooper, ordinary people doing ordinary jobs suddenly thrust into the madness of aliens and time travellers. Davies clearly can’t wait to get his new characters and his old characters together and Miracle Day itself is ignored for a while in the last twenty minutes or so as Rex stumbles from his not-death bed and travels halfway across the world – seemingly in moments – to hook up with Gwen and her husband in the middle of nowhere in South Wales. Cue the arrival of a helicopter gunship and a familiar man in a jeep with a bazooka, arriving in the nick of time to save the day… Beautiful madness.
I’ll say no more. It’s a bold and rattling start to what is clearly going to develop into a lavish, exciting, intriguing thriller. It’s great to see Russell T Davies back scripting a Doctor Who-related show again and in Miracle Day it looks as if he and his team have taken Torchwood to the next level, the international level it was always aiming for even though it might not always have known it.
Don’t miss this. Just don’t.
Torchwood; Miracle Day begins on BBC1 in the UK on 14th July. In-depth episode reviews will appear in Starburst Magazine shortly after transmission.