‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’: Episode 1 review

So, by now, the whole world (well, almost) has had the opportunity to gaze upon the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, the fourth series of the Doctor Who spin-off from writer Russell T Davies. And, like 2009’s previous series (the kiddie-killing, alien-spewing Children Of Earth), Captain Jack & Co. are dealing with a mystery on a global scale, where one event takes place simultaneously.

The event here is Miracle Day (which, to be honest, does sound rather like a feminine hygiene product) – a moment where everyone becomes immortal, where nobody dies. Oddly, the world’s population seem to comes to grips with the phenomenon pretty quickly (we’re such an accepting bunch!) and we soon learn that living forever brings with it its own issues; such as, how does life continue on the brink of death?

But the CIA have their own concerns, as they’ve been alerted to the presence and then subsequent disappearance of Torchwood (rather neatly explaining its concept to new viewers). Here we meet agent Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) who – like Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) in Series 1’s ‘Everything Changes’ – investigates Torchwood and comes face to face with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

There are chills for fans to see the immortal one back, with jacket flowing, purring, “Come with me” to a shocked Esther. Barrowman plays Jack with his usual effervescence, but more akin to his Doctor Who-style performances than the more sombre and, sometimes, dour Torchwood portrayal. Likewise Eve Myles brings all her Welsh charm and beauty to the proceedings – with added baby!

Gwen’s motherhood becomes an interesting trope, no more so than when Gwen covers baby Anwen’s ears with earmuffs, protecting her from the noise of the surrounding destruction, guns and rocket launchers – though one wonders if it was more a comment on BBC compliance than her supermum powers.

The cast are complimented by new arrivals Bill Pullman (Spaceballs), Mekhi Phifer (ER), Alexa Havins and Arlene Tur. Pullman’s paedophile murderer (or murdering paedophile, rather), Oswald Danes, doesn’t get much of a look-in during this opener but he lights up the screen with every move of his head and every drawl of his languorous vowels. We look forward to seeing more of the Independence Day actor in future instalments.

Also faring well is wise-cracking, and not necessarily pleasant, CIA agent, Rex Matheson (played by Phifer). Despite his rudeness and callousness he still comes off as sympathetic (must be that pole through his heart) and adds personality and engagement each time he appears. However, the same cannot be said for actresses Havins and Tur, who perform their roles without much charm and are perfunctory at best. Perhaps there are just too many “big” characters for these “smaller” ones to breathe.

Writer and showrunner Russell T Davies has managed to reintroduce and reinvigorate the Torchwood “brand”, if we may use such a disgustingly overused word, with his usual expert televisual pen, familiar humour, broad strokes and larger-than-life characters (no mean feat here). One wonders if the very notion of no one dying is a comment on the recent fascination in genre television where the audience are watching “dead” characters (Lost and Ashes To Ashes, for example). Here, Miracle Day has taken this facet to the extreme and the challenge now is to create the drama and interest without having to kill off major characters every second episode for a cheap 24-style shock.

It’s an incredibly assured return for the few remaining original characters and whilst not all the newbies connect immediately, there’s certainly enough to think that they will engage like Jack, Gwen and Rhys soon enough. Stylistically, Torchwood: Miracle Day is hardly original, but it has a swaggering, all-encompassing style; a gregarious manner filled to the brim with personality – a trait missing from a great deal of television these days.

Airs at 9pm on Thursday 14th July 2011 on BBC One.

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