The format for the hit BBC series Torchwood has been changing for some time. The first two seasons of Torchwood aired on the BBC in 2006 and 2008. They were standard, 13-episode seasons but that was all shaken up with the third season. Torchwood: Children of Earth aired over five consecutive days in July 2009 and consisted of five one-hour long episodes that were preceded by three 45-minute radio dramatisations on BBC Radio 4. I didn’t think Torchwood: Children of Earth would work but was very happy to admit that I had been wrong. Torchwood: Children of Earth was, quite simply, the best five hours of television I had ever witnessed before and I finally thought that Russell T. Davies could be redeemed for his various crimes against the Doctor Who franchise.
Riding on the wave of renewed faith and fandom, I was therefore quite satisfied that Torchwood would survive the move to the Starz network in the United States. I trusted that both Russell T. Davies and the BBC network would be sufficiently invested in the series to uphold the standard of the original series while titillating us with new storylines, characters, and locations. I studiously avoided all previews and news of the upcoming Torchwood: Miracle Day because, like an excited child at Christmas, I wanted that experience of unwrapping the new season and thrilling at its shiny, new format. In short, I was absolutely prepared to love it and I was absolutely disappointed.
Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The New World” begins with the attempted execution of convicted child rapist and murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman). Meanwhile, intelligence systems in the U.S. are being flooded with the word “Torchwood”. The virus, as it is imagined to be, disappears almost instantaneously, as does any physical or electronic trace of the Torchwood Institute. As CIA Agent Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) relays this information to her colleague Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), he is involved in what could only be a fatal collision but he does not die. It soon emerges that people have simply stopped dying and the consequences for the population of the world are dire as resources will run out in a matter of weeks.
We are reunited with Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and long-suffering husband Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) as they are exiled in a cottage on the coast of Wales with their new-born baby. Their level of paranoia is kept constant as they receive visits from strange tourists and worry about helicopters above. At this point in the story I felt that there was nothing special but understood that steps needed to be taken to establish the characters and set the story for the millions of viewers that may not be familiar with the Torchwood series. I felt confident that all of my misgivings would be calmed as Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) makes an explosive entrance and saves the life of Esther Drummond. And then they jump out of a two-storey, exploding building and land in a water fountain and don’t break both of their legs. In fact, the most severe injuries they are subsequently found to have are bruising around the ribs and two neat little scratches on Jack’s wrist. This was the point at which I knew that Russell T. Davies was having a laugh and that he took his audience to be a bunch of morons.
Feeling somewhat disappointed and unimpressed, I realised that there wasn’t much to distinguish this episode from the scores of formulaic apocalyptic thrillers out there. Noticeable for its glaring absence was the magic and intrigue that had convinced the most cynical of viewers that there really was a rift in the space / time continuum in Cardiff, of all places, and that a group of impossibly good-looking agents were protecting the world from alien invasions. As if to make up for this lack of magic (or perhaps distract viewers from noticing it) the episode is full of explosions, crashes and attacks from all corners. There is just so much going on and this is classic Russell T. Davies mayhem.
My tolerance was exceeded when Gwen puts a pair of ear muffs on her baby to protect her from the sounds of gunshots. Perhaps it is just me that manages to hear train announcements through ear muffs in winter? That whole scene was hackneyed and ridiculous and was brought to a clumsy conclusion as Gwen downs a helicopter with a Torchwood-issue rocket launcher. I believe it was at this point in the episode that I muttered under my breath that this was diabolical.
Evidently, I am in the minority and “The New World” has generally received rave reviews and I’ll certainly view the episode again in the hope that I am able to rekindle some of that old Torchwood magic. I am sincerely hoping that I am proved wrong or that the next episode blows me away. My concern is that this entire season is named Torchwood: Miracle Day which seems to be in reference to the miracle of death stopping. That means that an entire ten episodes will be spent in pursuit of this one case and I fear that we’ll simply have more chases and explosions to support a storyline that would have been dispatched in no more than two episodes in the previous format. As I look back fondly to the first and second seasons, I can’t help but this that this isn’t Torchwood.
All images ©2011 BBC Worldwide Limited.