‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’: Episode 1 spoiler-free review

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‘No one dies these days!’ Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) yells to new acquaintance Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) as they leap out of a top-floor window of the CIA archives in Washington, just in time to avoid a huge explosion that rips the building to bits. That sentence alone is enough to showcase the scale and swagger of the new, supersized Torchwood: a big, brash, brilliant ten-part (re)incarnation of the series co-produced by BBC Wales and America’s Starz network.

If there was a criticism that could be levelled at the last series of Torchwood, 2009’s Children Of Earth, it was that the supposedly worldwide nature of the problem – all the titular children stopping at the same time – didn’t ever really feel as if it went any further than a few playgrounds dotted around the UK. This time, with death miraculously eradicated from humanity, leaving even the most disfigured, dismembered corpses still alive, it’s a completely different story.

The bulk of this first episode is set in the USA, but what isn’t American has a lot of dollar bills tucked into its G-string; there’s an absolutely stunning sequence at Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsula – where Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) has been living in seclusion since the destruction of Torchwood – that is more Hollywood than Holyhead. There’s a genuinely global sense of scale; a feeling that this is something massive.

However, those who might fear that the show’s cultural identity will be lost amid an influx of American gore and glamour have no need to worry. Torchwood has always aspired to match the standards (and styles) of US shows like The X-Files and Buffy, whilst simultaneously contrasting the sci-fi and ridiculousness with a very earthy injection of realism from the Welsh characters.

So, while Miracle Day features law enforcement officials checking themselves out of hospital and commandeering cars, planes, guns and entire police forces to get what they want (‘CIA!’ the excellent Mekhi Phifer as Rex Matheson bellows at a startled old lady climbing into a taxi, ‘I’m taking the cab; get the hell out of the way!’) there’s still the steadfast PC Andy (Tom Price) and the ever-beleaguered Rhys (Kai Owen). Despite handling some serious firepower with almost as much gusto as Gwen, Rhys still comes out with all the funniest lines: ‘At the first sign of trouble, you go running off with Captain Jack Bollocks,’ he moans to his missus. And if any more proof were needed that Torchwood will always remain resolutely British at heart, Gwen takes time out of the opening episode’s most explosive sequence to put some fluffy ear-protectors on her baby daughter. It’s a lovely touch.

Fans used to the predominantly stand-alone episodes of Torchwood’s first two series – or the rapidly wrapped-up, five-consecutive-nights event television that was Children Of Earth – may be disappointed to find that Miracle Day is an unfolding drama serial in the mould of 24 (Rex Matheson certainly has a mobile phone with a Jack Bauer-esque battery that never needs charging) that requires sustained, weekly viewing for resolution. But that is the weight that Torchwood is now punching at – and Russell T Davies promises that ‘every question posed in Episode 1 is answered by Episode 10’.

This is good news, with plenty of mystery woven in the opening instalment. There’s a great deal of set-up (both of the storyline and of the premise of the show itself, the latter neat enough not to put off returning UK viewers but detailed enough to enlighten American newcomers), yet very little is actually learned about the nature of the ‘Miracle Day’; or the long-term effects of it; or precisely what it has to do with Captain Jack or Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), the paedophiliac killer granted an ‘Act of God’ pardon after his lethal injection execution fails. However, the finding out will definitely be fun.

The season ahead looks like a thrilling shotgun ride into the unknown on a supercharged Harley Davidson with the Welsh flag stencilled onto the gas tank and a takeaway from Chippy Lane tucked into the saddlebag. It’s going to be a hell of a summer.

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

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