Torchwood series 4 episode 1 review “The New World”

Posted: 21 July 2011 in television
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Torchwood: Miracle Day promo“Torchwood” is a curious ever-evolving beast of the television age. The first proper spin-off series from “Doctor Who” and quite possibly the only programme inspired into creation because of an anagram…In the early days of the revived “Doctor Who”, the production team decided upon “Torchwood” as a cover name for the transportation of master tapes from Cardiff to London. Russell T Davies liked the name and linked it to an idea he had for a science-fiction/crime drama provisionally entitled “Excalibur”.

The 1st series of 13 episodes premiered on BBC3 in October 2006 and for the most part suffered from an over-eagerness to be “adult” (seemingly shoehorned-in swearing and sex) in comparison to its parent series. For series 2 (again 13 episodes) in January 2008 “Torchwood” moved to BBC2 and thankfully displayed far tighter stories, stronger characters, much needed humour, and peeks at the early days of the Torchwood Institute. Transmitted on BBC1 across a single week in July 2009, the 3rd series consisted of only 5 episodes collected under the banner title of “Children of Earth”. The curtailed episode count may have been connected to budgetary issues within the BBC that year rather than any dissatisfaction with the format. Whatever the reason for the reduced episode count, the mini-series was a huge success in terms of both audience figures and critical acclaim.

Now “Torchwood” has returned with a 10-episode 4th series under the banner title of “Miracle Day”. Produced in co-operation with the US cable network Startz there’s an increased budget, American focus in terms of location and characters, and a lot more explosions and action. With the story split between America and Wales episode 1 “The New World” sets up the premise and characters for the serial – summed up neatly by the official blurb:

One day, nobody dies. All across the world, nobody dies. And then the next day, and the next, and the next, people keep ageing – they get hurt and sick, but they never die. The result: a population boom, overnight. With all the extra people, resources are finite. It’s said that in four month’s time, the human race will cease to be viable. But this can’t be a natural event – someone’s got to be behind it. It’s a race against time as CIA agent Rex Matheson investigates a global conspiracy. The answers lie within an old, secret British institute. As Rex keeps asking: “What is Torchwood?”, he’s drawn into a world of adventure, and a threat to change what it means to be human…for ever.

In The New World, the launch episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, Agent Rex Matheson is impaled in a car crash and miraculously survives, while his analyst, Esther Drummond, sets out to discover what Torchwood is. Far away, in Wales, Gwen Cooper lives in hiding with her husband Rhys and daughter Anwen – she’s the last surviving Torchwood member and is determined to stay hidden. In Kentucky, convicted murderer Oswald Danes survives his own execution. And when Esther meets the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness, assassins are activated to kill them all..

From a prison in Kentucky, to Cardiff and an isolated beach in Wales, to the CIA archives in Washington, and many locales in between, “The New World” delivered a geographical scope not previously seen in the series. Naturally being a partly American production there was an increased action quota from when it was an in-house BBC production and we were given two feature film quality set pieces with the helicopter attack on the Welsh cottage and subsequent chase along the beach (Eve Myles looking hot with weapons in hand), and the assassination attempt in the CIA archives.

It’s great to see John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Kai Owen back in their respective roles of Jack, Gwen and Rhys. One of the best aspects of “Torchwood” has always been the unspoken love triangle between these three characters and doubtless that will move up a step. And hooray for the return of Sergeant (formerly PC) Andy! Good to see RTD remembering the little characters. Though how much do we miss Ianto…

The new American characters are going to take some getting used to but you just know that Rex and Jack are going to butt egos and heads more than once, and Esther is bound to go all gooey over the Captain. If there is such a thing as a human villain in this story then it’s got to be Oswald Danes – a scary character chillingly bought to life by Bill Pullman. Danes is a manipulator, as his use of the American constitution to secure his release from prison proves, and his past sins will certainly not find favour with Gwen or Rhys.

The pieces are in place for an exciting international conspiracy thriller concerned with issues of life and death, mortality and immortality. Chances are there is an alien intelligence connected to Miracle Day and working through human agents…but what is their ultimate aim? Surely it can’t be a coincidence that at the same instant the human race became immortal (fixed points in time and space as the Doctor would term it), the previously immortal Captain Jack Harkness becomes mortal.

Of course the whole storyline could have been conceived to allow Captain Jack to age a little bit in line with John Barrowman now being 6 years older than when he first took on the role…you know, let him age a bit and then make him immortal once more to explain away the grey hairs???

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