I have loved Torchwood in all its guises – chasing fish-headed aliens in fast cars, fighting and snogging Spike the vampire (sorry, Captain John) and the dark and deeply traumatic Children of Earth (CoE).
With one hour of Miracle Day under my belt, I’m pretty sure I’m going to love this incarnation too.
It’s 60 minutes spent setting up the pieces on the board, but it’s done with the usual humour and explosions, and with an eye to welcoming Torchwood virgins aboard.
(SPOILERS from here on in…)
We open with an introduction to Oswald Danes – a paedophile and murderer without any redeeming characteristics so far – played chillingly by Bill Pullman (yes, lovely, sweet While You Were Sleeping and my joint-second* favourite fictional US President Bill Pullman). Danes is scheduled for lethal injection for his crimes, but things don’t go according to plan. Somehow he survives the toxic drugs pumped into his body – though not before showing us some writhing agony.
In a nifty little move, we’re then introduced to CIA agent Rex Matheson (ER’s Mehki Phifer) and to Torchwood at the same time. Rex is currently an arse – though I suspect he will turn out to have some redeeming features before long – delighting in the possible leukaemia of a colleague’s new wife which means he might land a post in Venezula. He’s being briefed (while driving and bluetoothing) on the news that the mysterious word Torchwood has been emailed to every CIA section chief by the much-nicer CIA operative Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) when in a classic Casualty scenario he ends up with scaffolding rods coming through his windscreen and then his chest.
Meanwhile, back in Wales Gwen and Rhys are parents to a baby girl, Anwen, and hiding from everyone in a cottage on a deserted stretch of coast. Gwen, although suffering Torchwood-related nightmares, is still very much on her toes and missing her old life. Rhys is clearly relieved it’s all behind them and wants to keep as much distance between Torchwood and his family as possible. That said, when a couple of ‘ramblers’ knock on the door asking for directions, Rhys is as quick to pick up a shotgun as Gwen is in reaching for a handgun. Like Rory Williams in another part of the Whoniverse, he’s filled out in character since he first hit our screens and is as much a part of Torchwood as Tosh or Owen ever were.
Back in Washington, Rex survives what should have been a fatal injury and we learn that nobody in this hospital, any other US hospital or anywhere else on the planet has died since Sunday night. Not one of the 300,000 people who usually die each day has done the decent thing. In the case of Oswald Danes this is a problem – he’s demanding to be freed on the grounds that his sentence has been carried out and promising to sue the Governor personally for wrongful imprisonment. It’s no surprise that he gets his demands.
While Oswald awaits his release and Rex lies in a hospital bed wracked with pain, Esther decides to go digging for Torchwood. With all electronic traces removed by a piece of malware, she goes after the hard copies and finds them filed under 456 (the number of the beast if you’ve watched CoE).
That’s not all she finds – a handsome (if slightly over-Botoxed) man in a greatcoat would like her to accompany him. Not unreasonably, she runs away. Unfortunately, this leaves her standing in front of a masked man with a gun. Luckily, Captain Jack has caught up with her and shoots the bad man.
Having failed to shoot Jack, the man detonates the biggest suicide vest I’ve ever seen, leaving Esther and Jack to leap through a window and land painfully in a handy fountain below.More importantly, Jack injures himself. Which raises lots of questions. If everyone else is suddenly immortal (although, they don’t seem to have the amazing regenerative powers we’ve seen in Jack) and Jack is suddenly normal, what does this mean for our favourite omnisexual time-traveller?
There’s no time to dwell on that though, having given Esther the lowdown on Torchwood from Queen Victoria’s big idea onwards, he also retcons her and heads off to find more pieces of the puzzle. Some of those pieces belong to the man who blew himself up. He’s now lying on a metal table, exploded, blackened, bloody, barely held together, gross as hell. And alive. Looking at Jack. Even cutting his head from his body doesn’t stop him being conscious. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares.
Jack’s not the only one piecing things together. After a phone conversation with Esther, Rex realises that the Torchwood message came through at exactly the same moment that people stopped dying and hauls himself from his bed, though he can barely stand, to head for Britain and find Gwen and Jack.
Throwing down painkillers like a bad guy in a Carl Hiaasen novel (Chemo, the psychotic, weed-strimmer wielding nutter is probably who I have in mind here), Rex struggles to the airport, using his CIA badge like a light sabre, is rude to his Hispanic housekeeper (I’m betting she had something really important to say) and decides Wales is our version of New Jersey.
Rex’s attempt to bring Gwen in doesn’t go to plan as he collapses, facedown next to the vegetable patch. But then her plan to get away from him is hampered when Rex unties himself from the radiator (Gwen [to Rhys]: “So much for tying him up!” Rhys: “I’ve never tied up a person.” Gwen “‘Men are good at knots’. How many times have you told me that?”).
And as Rex, sweating and struggling to stand, rants about his bad day – the pole in the chest, the not dying, the paying the Severn bridge toll – and how he wants to know what Torchwood has to do with it all, we all suddenly realise that there’s a nasty black helicopter hovering outside the window…
It most certainly is not, as Rhys suggests, a tourist thing. Cue man with rocket launcher ruining the hallway, and Gwen going into Terminator mode (though not before putting pink fluffy ear defenders on Anwen -and you thought you were a well-prepared mum for remembering to put tissues in your handbag?). And you have to love the big grin on Anwen’s face as Mummy empties her magazine in the bad guys’ direction. This is the coolest baby ever…
Who wouldn’t beam like Gwen at the sight of Captain Jack turning up to defend his Torchwood family with a bloody great gun and a bit of Jack humour: “I can’t leave you alone for a minute!”. Rex is less amused, as he realises he was sat next to Jack all the way across the Atlantic, but there’s no time for recriminations, as we race across a sandy bay, helicopter in hot pursuit. And man does this chase scene look good – that shot of the sideways chopper pursuing them across the bay, the rocket launcher punchline, the flaming helicopter skewing over their heads… the extra budget is being well applied (full marks as usual to Julie Gardner).
And just when you think it’s all coming together for our gang, Rex gets on with his rendition of Jack and Gwen back to the States with a little help from the local police. He’s going to have to work really hard to make up for this in the coming weeks…
Full marks then and I’m already impatient for the next episode. I guess I’ll have to make do with Torchwood’s Lost Files (Radio 4/iPlayer) until then…
Posted by Jo the Hat
* Bill Pullman is tied with Kevin Kline (Dave) for joint-second, in case you were wondering, and is beaten only by Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlett.