I’ve finally had a chance to watch the premiere episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, the return of the much-loved Doctor Who spin-off.
What’s startling about the episode (titled The New World) is that it doesn’t begin by immediately re-establishing what Captain Jack and Gwen have been up to. Instead, it launches straight into the premise of this fourth season – a global event that means the entire population of the planet stops dying.
Of course, with the entire human race suddenly immortal, the “new world” of the title is rightfully the pressing concern. Throughout this first hour, Russell T Davies examines the positives and negatives of the worldwide miracle. For a start, you might not die, but if you’re horribly maimed, you will survive in agony. We see this with new lead character Rex Matheson, when he’s impaled by metal rods in a road accident. He should be dead, but lives on in extreme pain as he tries to investigate the strange event. Even more grisly – and I like to think Davies is raising a Karmic question here – is when a suicide bomber blows himself up and wakes up as a mutilated mess on a morgue table.
As with the Children Of Earth miniseries, Davies is looking primarily at social issues, using Sci-Fi as a way of looking at the future. With an immortal population, he posits that the planet will experience a massive population boom (on two fronts – natural birth rates and the fact that no-one is dying). Does the planet have the resources to cope with that population explosion? Nope. And Miracle Day tells us that the planet’s food supplies will be exhausted within four months. After that, we’ll be fighting in the streets for bananas.
I was wary of this premise at the start, but so far it’s been handled well. In real life, we may well want to consider the environmental impact of whether the planet can sustain itself in the face of growing population and scarce resources. Sure, our time-frame isn’t as rapid as Davies suggests, but he’s given us an interesting framework to look at our own global challenges. And isn’t that the hallmark of good sci-fi?
There are a few ponderings on the positive sides of immortality – knowing that your child may live forever is obviously one. This briefly sways Gwen to stay away from investigating the “miracle” as she realises that her daughter will live forever. Her father – who would have died of a heart attack – likewise survives because of the (presumably) alien intervention. And there are a few wistful references to the dead members of the old Torchwood team, who would have survived their deaths if the timing had been a bit better.
Meet the new team?
Aside from establishing the theme for Miracle Day, Torchwood had to update long-term fans on where Jack and Gwen were, and also introduce us to a cast of new characters. To my mind, this was less successful – we discovered that a paranoid Gwen and Rhys are shacked up in a remote Welsh cottage with a new baby.
I loved that Eve Myles had visibly aged. Sure, it’s been a while since we’ve seen her on TV, but considering the ordeal her character had been through, it seemed to fit well enough. However, the goofiness of her and Rhys hiding in their cottage wore off after a while and I was cheering by the time she ran to the window to shoot at a gunman with her child still in her arms.
Jack Harkness took forever to arrive on-screen. Interestingly, it’s just as new girl Vera is looking at a photo of Gwen in a CIA file. Just as I was thinking Gwen looked a bit like Sarah Connor in Terminator, Jack appeared on screen and said “Come with me.” I was dying for him to finish with “if you want to live”. But he didn’t.
There’s still a little bit of Jack’s usual swagger missing though. John Barrowman looked the tiniest bit gaunt in some scenes – and bizarrely his accent seemed a little less American when he spoke. I’m hoping for a bit more risque Jack-type behaviour once the new Torchwood finds its feet.
The jury remains out on the other characters. Bill Pullman is probably strongest as the death row prisoner Oswald Danes, with a contemptuous sneer permanently etched on his face. We’re not sure what how he’ll relate to the rest of the story yet, but watch this space. Mekhi Phifer wasn’t quite punchy enough as Agent Rex Matheson – partly due to his dialogue and partly due to a disconnect I felt with the character. As someone else said – he’s got a weird Danny Glover vibe, but maybe that’s because the road accident scene reminded people of the surfboard scene in Lethal Weapon 2.
Half the fun of shows like this is speculating on how things will turn out. I’m already intrigued about the connection between “Miracle Day” and Torchwood – it seems the two are linked somehow. Jack suddenly becomes mortal again as people stop dying, and the name Torchwood flashes up on screen at the same moment the “miracle” occurs.
Funny, with the reminders to the 456, I briefly wondered if there was some retribution on Torchwood for the death of Jack’s grandson. Would it be outlandish to suggest that Jack’s daughter, demented with grief, might seek revenge on him somehow? Just putting it out there…
I also want to know slightly more about how Jack returned to Earth – all we know is that he possibly got laid after the Tenth Doctor hooked him up with Russell Tovey in the Mos Eisley cantina. Why’s he back on Earth – why now and why’s he in America instead of touching base with Gwen first? Hopefully that conversation will take place in the next episode.
- Doctor #1: Don’t tell me this is a virus, or evolution, or whatever. This is deliberate intervention. All of us have been changed by design. Doctor #2: But how? Who could do this? Doctor #1: Who’s got the technology? Simple answer: No-one on this Earth.
- Gwen: This miracle is specifically human. I mean, it’s gotta be. This website says if insects stopped dying, we’d be overrun within 48 hours flat, and that hasn’t happened. So this thing is being targetted at us.
- Steve: That’s the fastest population boom in history…we’ll run out of food first. Guy on the telly says we’ve got four months like this, just four months, then that’s it. Society just collapses, everyone just fighting each other for food like animals.
- Rex: I’ve gotta pay for this bridge? Goddamn Wales.
- Rex: CIA. Gwen: Yeah? So what?
- Rhys: I knew it. First sign of trouble and you’d go running off with Captain Jack Bollocks.