Torchwood S4E1 review
|REVIEWS - TV|
Captain Jack gets the American treatment...
“Miracle Day: The New World”
A lot seems to have happened in two years.
Two years ago, we said goodbye to Captain Jack Harkness, who was hitching a ride with some aliens to get off of the planet after the events of 'Children of Earth'. A grandson sacrificed, a daughter angry and unforgiving, and the last remnant of the great Torchwood Institute was in rubble, its members dead save for Jack and Gwen Cooper. With only a brief scene of him in a bar across the galaxy in David Tennant’s last Doctor Who story – in which The Doctor seems to give him absolution for his actions – we were left wondering where the story could possibly go from there. We endured more than a year of rumours about a new series, American networks and possible casting, but at long last Starz and BBC have finally premièred the latest instalment in the Torchwood saga: 'Miracle Day'. And nothing is ever going to be the same, because as the good Captain says, “This is when everything changes”.
The plot setup is pretty straight forward. One day, everyone on Earth stops dying. It sort of sounds like a story that Rod Serling would resolve in a half hour on The Twilight Zone. But Russell T. Davies doesn’t do anything halfway, and in this first episode – penned by RTD himself – we get a lot of layers to this story. A convicted paedophile/murderer is being put to death; a CIA agent is killed on the highway while on the phone with a colleague who is looking into a long, defunct British organisation called Torchwood (who in turn is being blamed for the sudden 'miracle' that has befallen mankind); and Gwen, Rhys and their infant daughter Anwen are living off the grid in the middle of nowhere, keeping as low a profile as possible, leaving Torchwood dead. Unfortunately, the event of 'Miracle Day' will drag them back into the action.
RTD’s writing is, as always, incredible. If nothing else, he knows great human drama, and it comes full force in the first installment of this new mini-series. Eve Myles and Kai Owen are terrific in reprising their roles. You see that the two characters love each other deeply, but you also see the ever-present tension, as Torchwood seems to constantly loom over them, threatening to drive a wedge between them. Gwen wants to maintain her quiet life, but is always running at least a bit in Torchwood mode. It seems that she’s always going to struggle with the two sides of her life, and how to find a balance. Especially when she gets a call from Sergeant Andy (formerly PC Andy) who informs her that her dad is in the hospital. Suddenly, she and Rhys are back in the game.
Jack, on the other hand, has been doing his best to eradicate any mention of Torchwood, and let his friends go on living in peace. He then comes across Esther Drummond (Alexa Havens), a desk jockey for the CIA who is looking into the dissolved organisation to see what connection they may have to the miracle. John Barrowman brings that charm and confidence to the role that made us all love him in the first place, and it’s great seeing him back in the hero coat. However, Jack seems to have a new problem: While everyone else on Earth is immortal, he, it would seem, is mortal, having a cut arm and bruise that won’t heal. What will be made of this isn’t clear yet, but it makes for fascinating television! Havens is really good portraying the agent who dreams of bigger prospects, but is too timid to get out in the field.
Other additions to the cast include Mekhi Phifer as Rex Matheson, a CIA agent who seems to be the complete opposite of Jack. Where Jack is suave, Rex seems rough, and yet, both look like they’ll work well off of each other. Rex has a steel pipe driven through his chest in a car crash, but is still alive, and travels to Wales to find Gwen and answers that may or may not exist. Little does he know, Jack is also en-route to lend a hand. Phifer is well cast here as the cowboy agent ready to go after the truth no matter what. There’s also Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes, a former teacher who raped and murdered a 12-year-old girl. In the opening moments he is given a lethal injection, and as such is one of the first to experience the miracle. He also knows his law well, because he is able to use that knowledge to get the Governor to get him released on parole. Pullman doesn’t get much screen time, but he gives new meaning to the word smarmy, giving a performance that makes your skin crawl. His release from prison is also emotional, as throngs of protestors are stationed outside the prison, calling for his re-incarceration, as he just looks on them with a smile so evil it could have been patented by Hitler.
As far as fears of the show being Americanised, well, that’s a yes and no. It has been in that there’s more gunplay and explosions – and an especially gory scene where Jack and a group of officials look on as a patient blows himself up – yet still lives (and a nod to the fans as Jack identifies himself as “Owen Harper, FBI”). The production values are amazing, as would be expected with the added money from American studios. There are also some references that are uniquely American (Rex’s comment about Wales being the “British equivalent of New Jersey” really is hilarious). Luckily, there still seems to be some of the original humour present from the first two series of the show, especially in scenes set in Wales. Jack, Rhys and Gwen are full of their usual one liners and little jabs at each other, and it’s a welcome return. Furthermore, I’m certain that the tight assed whiners out there will be complaining about scenes of Gwen firing a gun while holding her daughter, but there’s a humour to it (even if such naysayers don't understand it). The smile on the baby’s face while Gwen shoots the bad guys is priceless.
The final moments of the first episode eventually bring Gwen and Jack back together, and it’s about damned time. There’s also a nice overhead shot of Cardiff that harkens back to the older episodes, and the series opener ends on the site of the Torchwood Hub, bringing it all together for one incredible story. Torchwood is back, and it looks set to take us on one incredible ride!
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