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TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The New World”

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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.

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About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is a blogger, serial expat and eternal tourist living and working in London. Aside from writing at Blogcritics, she blogs about travel and London at Emm in London, entertainment and media at Addicted to Media and war crimes, genocide and social justice over at A Passion to Understand.
  • camytaru

    I’m with you. This was absolute shit. Everything felt so phony.

  • Steve

    I agree with your sentiments. I also think you should proofread your articles before submitting them.

  • Mark

    Highly disappointed. This isn’t Torchwood. From the CIA taking over Torchwood to the regression of Rhys’ character as a bitchy, whiny husband/father. Mekhi Phifer’s character should not overshadow Captain Jack, but that’s what has happened. There is no “international feel” to it as RTD has alluded to. Torchwood needs to go back to the beginning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mle54 mle54

    I was disappointed in the first episode of Torchwood, Series 4. The premise is interesting as it was in 1798 when Malthus wrote about it and in 1972 when Toffler wrote about it. It is a great vehicle for Torchwood, but the show feels like the kind of soulless and substandard American cop show that gets introduced and dies every season. I did not feel any of the magic of the Torchwood I came to know and love in series 1-3. I hope I’m wrong and that the magic reasserts itself in later episodes, but I am very skeptical. This does not feel like an evolution but a devolution.

  • Lmaitch

    I am so disappointed in the opening of this season of Torchwood…can it ever recapture the magic of the previous?

  • Pat

    I still think that Torchwood died with Ianto Jones…the magic was lost at that moment, at least for me.

  • Pat

    I agree with you about RTD taking the audience for morons. Utter bollocks. This could have been any number of cookie cutter American shows. It wasn’t Torchwood.

  • rogue time agent

    Thank you. A mom taking a kid into a gun fight? How many kids are killed by guns everyday.

    I miss the Torchwood team with the Rift in Cardiff.

  • J Thomas

    Sad to say that I agree with you. Torchwood: Miracle Day obviously has a bigger budget that earlier versions, but it’s lost that special something it had.

    Added to the utter incorrect idiocy of a CIA agent loudly identifying himself to all and sundry as a CIA agent, going to the UK on an unapproved mission and immediately getting the British government to let him do what he wants with UK citizens (check Google first); letting a CIA employee go rummage in the CIA archives, able to shift boxes and files around wherever she wants (SO not happening–ask any librarian about their controlled-access stacks); showing exploded bodies still functioning (ignoring basic human physiology); letting a convicted pedophilic murder loose, ignoring the years of legal action it would take for that to occur (again, Google please); a paranoid, in-hiding Gwen and family suddenly returning to Cardiff without any attempt at a disguise (i.e., glasses, a hat); Gwen suddenly being an expert with a rocket launcher and no one around having any hearing difficulties after she fired it…

    Without that special spark Torchwood used to have, there’s just nothing there that makes me want to tune back in next week. I don’t hate it…I just don’t care about it – not the story line, not the characters (not even the remaining characters). For me, it’s become a flat, dull, derivative not-that-well-acted, clone of any number of shows that have appeared and vanished over the years. That’s very disappointing, and makes me very unhappy. I really wanted to like it.

  • Travis

    I agree with you
    starz and the american script writers killed torchwood

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    Considering how poorly written the Children of Earth was, I am surprised people are still following the series

  • GriffithsCymru

    I completely agree that Children of Earth was atrociously bad. I wasn’t unhappy with Day One of Miracle Day but I do see RTD’s hands all over it: complete with a two dimensional treatment of the Evil Governments and the globe-sweeping threat. Oddly enough, I was surprised that the show misses Ianto so much. Neither Jack nor Gwen were ever able to manage Torchwood on their own. I think the loss of Ianto might ruin this for me. Huh. I didn’t expect that.

  • Jenny

    Agree. It was entertaining enough but all the Torchwood magic is gone and its full of plot holes (but then so was CoE in my view but that’s RTD for you)

    It’s all very formulaic, comic book, B Movie stuff. John looks good, the American characters are unmemorable and in a couple of cases badly acted (and written).

    Oh and re the ear muffs and rocket launcher? Why weren’t all their ears bleeding/eardrums shattered from the rather large bang these things make. If its meant to be a cartoon style show fine, and its vaguely entertaining as such, but don’t tell me that its gritty and dark when actually its a bit silly!

  • sass g

    I agree with much of the critisism. The first episode was written by Russell T Davies. Maybe it will improve with the (female) American writers. They’re big fans.

    I used to be really excited by this show. But Ianto was my fav. Now I just watch out of curiosity.

  • http://www.addictedtomedia.net/ Mandy Southgate

    Wooo, I expected most people to disagree with me but it seems that just as many people were disappointed and irritated by this episode as were impressed with it.

    Mark, J Thomas and Jenny, you raise excellent points. There seem to be very few redeeming factors in this season opener.

    Sass G – I’m interested in the prospect of new writers taking over. Having avoided al news and spoilers on the show, I did not know that.

    I purposefully avoided al mention of Ianto in the review both because it still hurts too much but also because of spoilers but yeah, maybe it is his absence that robbed the show of its magic?

  • Sherry

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but I liked this episode. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I knew there was going to be a lot of setup and introducing new characters, so I wasn’t let down by this aspect.

    I am looking forward to more adventure, and I’m sure something otherworldly will be introduced soon. Maybe it helps that I was not a fan of Ianto and I did not care that the character was not returning. I really don’t get the fascination with him. Honestly I would have rather had Owen and/or Tosh back.

    I thought some really good ideas were introduced in this episode and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with it. Yes, it’s different, but I don’t think it’s bad.

  • Nick

    Ah well…i enjoyed it even though it has been a bit americanized!

  • Judasace

    The tragedy here is they had the opportunity to do something interesting. Be unique. Instead they give us the standard cardboard cutout boogeymen (Danes) and a sermon on Universal Health Care. Utter shite. Hopefully this ends Davies involvement with the Who-ni-verse once and for all.

  • christina morejon

    this was NOT the torchwood I love. I guess it died with Ianto. also, it was bad enough eve myles became the star of show–thought it was supposed to be john barrowman? I watched for him, not her. This has become a tired formulaic tragedy. Thanks RTD, u still suck.

  • http://nikdudnik.com Nikita

    I’m with you. The season 4 is complete bullshit. It killed mostly everything good original torchwood had.