The newest, fourth season of Torchwood, dubbed “Miracle Day,” now on Starz, as well as BBC, begins with “The New World.” In it, everyone on Earth suddenly stops dying, including Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, Too Big to Fail), a convicted pedophile and murderer, whose execution fails to take. People can still be severely injured, but even being blown up and having one’s head severed from the body does not stop consciousness or life. Strangely, the event extends only to people, not animals, insects, or other forms of life. Which means that the planet has four months before total destruction, instead of the two days it would have taken otherwise.
Oswald forces a debate over whether he should be released, as he has technically served his sentence, but the governor doesn’t wish to let go of such a dangerous person. In the end, the legal arguments win out, and Oswald becomes a free man once more. What he will do with that freedom remains a mystery.
At the same time, CIA Agent Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins, All My Children) sees the word ‘Torchwood’ flash across her computer screen, and begins to investigate a possible connection between Torchwood and the lack of death. As she tries to find paper files on the mysterious Torchwood, the computer ones being wiped, she is found by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), one of the subjects of her investigation. Jack is normally immortal, but it soon becomes clear that he doesn’t heal the way he used to, and is likely the only human being capable of dying on the planet. Jack heads to Wales to find his former co-worker, and the only other member of Torchwood left alive, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles).
Esther learns, as fans of the first three, British-made, seasons already know, that Torchwood is an institute set up by Queen Victoria to defend the Earth from all manner of strange things, including alien incursions. Many times over, Gwen, Jack, and friends save all life on the planet. But those comrades that work alongside them die off one by one, until only those two are left. While now defunct, Torchwood may be just what Earth needs now.
Esther’s superior, Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer, ER, Lie to Me), is in a car accident, and would be dead, if not for the “miracle” overtaking the planet. He awakens, and Esther tries to push him into finding Torchwood. Rex agrees, and flies to Wales, managing to find Gwen, who is in hiding with her husband, Rhys (Kai Owen), and their infant child. Gwen is suspicious of Rex, but before they have time to get to know each other, they are attacked. Luckily, Jack comes to the rescue. After the bullets stop flying, Rex has Gwen and Jack extradited to the United States to help him find out the cause of “Miracle Day.”
To have Jack and Gwen back after such a long absence (season three aired two years ago, and only has five episodes) is gratifying. While time has surely passed for them, and many things are different, they seem much the same people at heart. Gwen is hiding with her new family, and Jack stays missing to protect her. But their glee at reconnecting and having a new mission is as satisfying for them as it is for the fans. Whether Rhys likes it or not, the two are back in action, and with some new friends, it is likely they will save the day once more.
As “Miracle Day” will be longer than “Children of Earth,” the subtitle for season three, there is no urgency for everything to happen right away. More than one critic has complained that it makes “The New World” move a little slower than one would like. I disagree with this assessment, glad that time will be spent getting to know the new players in the game, as well as to slowly unravel the mystery behind what is going on. Torchwood once did cases of the weeks, but a longer arc is a much more gratifying way to digest the adventure.
A fun little bit of trivia, Jack introduces himself at a hospital as Dr. Owen Harper. Owen is a character in the universe, and serves as Torchwood’s doctor. Played by Burn Gorman, Owen perishes midway through season two, but continues on the show until the end of the year in an arc where he deals with being a dead person. Then Owen is gone for good. With just that offhand line, Torchwood manages to bring back the memory of a great character who is sorely missed.
Also nice is PC Andy’s (Tom Price) brief role in “New World,” which brings Gwen and Rhys out of hiding. Though he is never a major player in Torchwood, the familiar face evokes nostalgia of days past. It’s good the Americans working on the show now choose to include him.
At first glance, it appears that the whole Miracle Day event may be a personal attack. Surely, it is extreme to doom a whole planet, throwing it into instant chaos, just to kill one person. But with an unknown assailant trying to kill Jack, and Jack being, for the first time we’ve seen him, vulnerable, it may just be a plot to eradicate the good Captain. This is only a theory, and after a mere one hour, it is hard to argue that it will be the correct one. Yet, it is the most obvious as the story begins, and sometimes obvious is what works.
The new characters are pretty interesting, too, expanding the world of Torchwood, which has become rather small by the time season four begins. Bill Pullman is expertly playing a psychopathic creep. It’s Pullman as he’s never been seen, gaunt and pale, with malice in his eyes. Every word exudes a sort of evil. While Pullman has played the hero in other projects, it is great fun to see him slither into such a bad man, and it will be intriguing how this killer’s plot plays into the overall state of the world at large.
Rex Matheson is a hero, but a much more modern one than Jack. While Jack oozes with chivalry and old fashioned morality, Rex goes for the guns blazing method. Mekhi Phifer plays him with veiled intentions, and it is difficult to see whether Rex will be more of a help or hindrance to Gwen and Jack. He could go either way, and will likely be both at times. At the moment, Rex is much more concerned about saving his country than helping anyone else. His stubborn refusal to stay in a hospital bed proves he has great, noble qualities. But instead of asking Gwen for her help, he shows up with a gun, and has her and Jack forced to do what he wants. It’s a very different type of character for Torchwood, and it is unknown how he will fit into the mix.
Esther Drummond is much more likeable. She is not the action type, at least from what has been seen of her so far, though she does get into it a little when Jack comes around. But she is clever and determined, which can be just as good. Hopefully, Esther will soon join the Torchwood team and assist them. She is wasted behind a desk, even as she continues to dig up secrets that will help, because she is kept separate and out of the loop. Though Havins is not a familiar face, she is surely already winning admiration for her portrayal of the bold woman.
Other new faces will soon enter the fray including Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Arlene Tur (Crash), Candace Brown (Head Case), and Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, Neighbours). All of these are complete unknowns. Which is fine. Torchwood works best when the surprises come fast and furious.
One question that hangs in the air, and will not be answered anytime soon, is, what becomes of Torchwood after this crisis? Both seasons two and three end fairly definitively, with the institute suffering heavy loss. Gwen clearly isn’t happy in an isolated house. It seems unlikely she will be willing to go back there. Presumably Jack will survive. Could Miracle Day by the beginning of a whole new series, with a large ensemble besides the duo? Or will it be a ten episode adventure that ends with Torchwood still defunct? The former is the better option.
Watch Torchwood Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Starz.