UKTV: The latest series of Russell T. Davies cult sci-fi series Torchwood opens with a chilling premise – people stop dying.
Created by Russell T. Davies, Torchwood
– a darker sci-fi spin-off from the family-oriented series Doctor Who
– explores the goings-on at the Torchwood Institute, founded by Queen Victoria and charged with the mission of protecting the Empire from supernatural and alien threats.
The first three seasons of the show focussed on the Cardiff branch of Torchwood, a disparate group of alien-hunters led by the enigmatic, omnisexual immortal, Captain Jack Harkness (out gay actor John Barrowman). Initially somewhat uneven, the series quickly found its feet, culminating in the five-part Torchwood: Children of Earth, an ambitious television event shown over five successive nights in the UK and Australia.
At the climax of Children of Earth, most of the Torchwood team were either dead or missing, and their underground base had been destroyed in a massive explosion. The events of Miracle Day pick up the story one year later.
A BBC co-production with the US cable network Starz, Torchwood: Miracle Day opens in a prison, where convicted child murderer, Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) faces execution. As the mother of his victim watches on, Danes is injected with lethal chemicals, but does not die.
Simultaneously, high-flying young CIA operative Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) is involved in a potentially fatal car accident, but he too somehow survives. Soon it becomes apparent that death has taken a holiday. All across the world, for a whole day, nobody dies. And then the next day, and the next, and the next. People keep aging, they get hurt and sick but they never die. The result: a population boom, overnight which will soon threaten the Earth’s limited resources.
Matheson’s investigations reveal a possible connection with Torchwood, and soon its only surviving members – including Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), her husband Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) and their one year old daughter – are caught up in events beyond human comprehension.
Newcomers to Torchwood need not fear they’ll be lost in the usual convoluted back stories and continuity references of a successful TV series, for Miracle Day is at pains to introduce viewers to its world and its characters through the eyes of Matheson and his CIA assistant, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) – indeed, for long term fans, the drip-fed details may be occasionally irksome. That said, the pace of the first episode (written by Davies, the showrunner, and the only episode that has been provided for review) is generally excellent: it’s a fast and thrilling ride featuring a large cast of well-detailed characters, and with scenes rapidly cutting between numerous locations on both sides of the Atlantic.
Davies has a deft ear for dialogue, and the script for this first episode sparkles, featuring both one liners, and in-jokes for long-term fans of the show. It also establishes a number of plot threads to be explored in the remaining nine episodes of the season, and in the tradition of speculative fiction, raises a number of philosophical questions around the central theme of life, death and immortality that will no doubt be explored over the coming weeks.
The budget for Torchwood: Miracle Day is clearly larger than most BBC productions, given the influx of US funds from Starz, and it shows: this is a good-looking piece of television, full of swooping helicopter shots and luscious cinematography that makes the most of the show’s various locales.
The most obvious US influence is apparent in the episode’s action sequences: there are more guns, and bigger explosions, than Torchwood has ever seen before. At its heart, however, it still feels like Torchwood, albeit on a larger, more expansive scale.
Rating: Four stars
Torchwood: Miracle Day
Saturdays at 8.30pm from July 9 on UKTV