Torchwood: Miracle Day – The pieces are placed on the board

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.

8 Comments

Filed under Drama

8 responses to “Torchwood: Miracle Day – The pieces are placed on the board

  1. Corumba Love

    Morning JTH

    Enjoyed your review slightly more than the programme itself.

    Our house is stuffed with TW fans from way back. It’s a small residence so “stuffed” means me, Old Girl, Favourite Older & Younger Sons and two dogs that live for alien flesh and the complex paradoxes thrown up by time travel. As such we were a little concerned that the Whoniverse ** plot-holes we’ve come to know and love, and whose hair we like to ruffle – that “with one sentence of gobbledegook and he was free” sorta t’ing – would look a little, well, amateur in a big budget co-production. So far, so ok I guess; but Team CL is going to be pretty watchful over the next few weeks (think of us as a collective Hanssen minus a few inches off the top).

    Now then, PLA tells me that you’re the polar opposite of You Don’t Know Jack when it comes to all things Whosey because you Do Know Jack very well indeed. So answer me this: why did the Captain say he was human again when, to my knowledge, he’s always been a timelord? Was there an earlier story where he dabbled with being a bit peeps-like? Sorry to get all geeky over this but a question like “are we human” is crucial when we might actually be dancer (or singer in John Barrowman’s case).

    Onto the action scenes … I loved it when Gwen tooled up for the helicopter attack, she’s mighty cool with big gun, serious express and a pair of ear muffs (well spotted BTW). I must admit, much as I loved the rather spiffy house by the sea, I think I’d lose myself in the crowds if I was trying to disappear from life. Then again, helicopter and missile battles must be less expensive to pull off on a deserted beach than they would be in a busy high street. Added to which, Captain J’s way with a speeding Jeep might upset the chamber of commerce if it frightened off the shoppers.

    One other thing, did you notice the contrast between the British (Welsh) acting and the US style? Having been concerned with the possibility of showing ourselves up on the plotting front, I’ve no such qualms about the performance comparisons. Stuff a leek in my mouth, wrap a dragon flag about my ample form and call me biased but our stuff was subtle and just enough for each scene (including the wild ones) while across the Atlantic it was all furrowed brows, bombast and finger-jabbing. The honourable exception was Bill President who, as you noted, had a remarkably creepy thing going on especially with details like the quarter gulp he engaged half way through some phrases. I should add I was also taken with the fellow who had his head pulled off. He certainly made the most of his character: if he can arch an eyebrow like that when it’s all he’s got to work with then he should be offered bigger parts; by which I mean roles, of course.

    All in all a promising start, but the dogs remain to be impressed.

    ** A brillbo word is ‘Whoniverse,’ your review’s worth it for that alone.

    • pauseliveaction

      Sorry to get all geeky over this but a question like “are we human” is crucial when we might actually be dancer (or singer in John Barrowman’s case).

      CL, you are priceless.

      As is Jo the Hat for the fab review.

    • Thank you CL – v kind. I can’t take credit for Whoniverse though – may be a Den of Geek phrase, can’t remember exactly where I saw it first.
      As for Jack he was a human Time Agent when we first met him (DW series 1, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances). He became immortal when Rose absorbed the time energy from the heart of the TARDIS (to save Doctor 9 from the Daleks). She brought him back to life, but couldn’t control the energy and ‘went a bit too far’.

      (SPOILER!!)

      One of RTD’s little gags was leaving us to believe that Jack will become the Face of Boe. (End of S3 – The Last of the Time Lords)…

      What we do know for sure is that Jack is a 51st Century human (this to explain his omnisexuality – this is the way we’re all going to be in few millenia) but one who’s been immortal and time travelled.

      As for Miracle Day, I’m still a little worried that TW will lose its heart in translation for our American cousins, but I’m hoping RTD and the fabulous Julie Gardner haven’t lost their touch.

      Curious to know what *does* impress your dogs btw – and also very much enjoying the are we human/are we dancer thing! It’s only a shame Torchwood didn’t do a musical episode back in the first couple of series (a la Buffy) when it could have got away with it. That would have been fantastic…

      A postscript re hiding in the town… you’re forgetting all the CCTV and face recognition software the government could use to track them down. Paranoid? Me? Etc…

  2. Paul

    I really enjoyed this – more than I expected to.

    I feel like this is Torchwood getting closer and closer to the vision Russel Davies always had for it, and although I was a tad concerned that Torchwood does seem to have an ongoing morbid obsession with death (going back to the first season, and the concern with the blackness and nothingness, and of course dead/undead Owen), found this “nobody dies” premise intriguing, and starting to be well set up.

    And yet – I’ve just come from the BBC website where there seems to be a great deal of negativity about this new series.

    I’m really liking it, though I do have a sneaking nostalgia for the original Torchwood, where it was all screamingly fast 45 minute single episodes, much like the parent programme, rather than the ongoing season-long storyline.

  3. Corumba Love

    Thanks for that – I’d forgotten about the 51c omnisexuality; at least we’ve all got something to look forward to in these trying times. As a bit of a tree hugger, it’ll be nice to feel some of that love requited. Sap rising? I should coco. “Barking,” you say? Guilty as charged. Stop there? Probbly best.

    Now this question of CCTV paranoia: I do like a nice hat when I’m out and about; panama, wide-brim – that’s the ticket. I imagine, JTH, that a decent stand of headgear is your bag too.

    I’ll let you know if the dogs do perk up during later episodes of TW. They use to enjoy a spot of Patrick Moore of an evening but that was more to do with his fondness for a full moon. Personally I found that distasteful and I remember being pleased that he was on long after the watershed.

  4. Pennie

    Sorry guys but I’ve always loved the british feel to TW and was really disappointed to find it hads gone CSI on us. Saying that I enjoyed the storyline and the black humour. Please please please keep the fab welsh countryside and dont defect to the USA.

  5. Tim

    Just catching up. I’m in two minds about this. I wasn’t overly happy with the episode, but accept it’s mostly set-up. I love the idea of no one dying, but RTD has his numbers wrong. In a world which is already experiencing a population boom, it would take more than four months for us to reach a critical point even if people stopped dying.

    Anyhow, there were some good moments here – the reintroduction of Jack was nice, and the little continuity touches too which didn’t pander to new viewers. But Mekhi Phifer’s hobbling around was distracting (didn’t he just look like a damaged Terminator?), and the Wales jokes a bit tiresome (pretty sure they have toll bridges in small provincial US back-waters like, say, NYC).

    And what was with the extended teaser. Were they not confident enough that the first episode had enough to keep viewers’ attention, so they had to show us all the whizz-bang explosions from upcoming episodes?

    Agree with Pennie’s comments too. Part of Torchwood’s charm was always its sheer quirky Britishness. I don’t know about CSI (I don’t watch any of its incarnations), but this felt like the pilot episode of 24: Cymru …

  6. Sue

    Suffered through Torchwood when it aired in Canada. Being a Doctor Who fan and Torchwood fan from way back, had looked forward to the latest Torchwood incarnation. Best way to describe it is “Torchwood for Dummies.” By the time we watched the final episode (and it was a long, drawn-out and horribly painful and boring process), we mourned the loss of clever writing and compelling story-line. These appear to have been sacrificed in order to appeal to a less-intelligent American audience who needs every single moment and plot device explained multiple times each episode. With each subsequent episode, we wondered where the excitement was. At some point we decided the whole series was Russell Davies’ attempt to overcome North American homophobia (well, American homophobia; most Canadians I know couldn’t care less). The entire series could have been completed as a two-part episode. Kudos to anyone who is able to suffer through this but suffer you will. Russell should have written for the original Torchwood audience rather than try to tempt fans who think Tom Cruise’s “War of the Worlds” as the height of compelling fantasy/sci-fi viewing.

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