Posts Tagged ‘bill pullman’

Torchwood - The Blood LineIn a pit in Old Shanghai, I brought death back to the world. They said it was like a breath…the breath that went around the whole wide world. The last breath. And then no more. We said goodbye to them then…the dads and the mums, the sick and the old, the friends and the neighbours. And the people we once met, and the people whose names we never knew. We said goodbye to them all on the day that death came back.

“Torchwood: Miracle Day” reached its finale and expired in a flurry of expositions, explosions, and exterminations. The momentum of urgency developed through “The Gathering” thankfully continued into “The Blood Line” with an almost real-time fight by the ragtag Torchwood team to halt the machinations of The Families.

In amongst all the words and action the most affecting scene came without a single syllable spoken by any of those involved. In the Cowbridge Overflow Camp, Rhys sat with grief pouring out of every inch of his body as the Miracle ended and Gwen’s father finally succumbed to the dignified death that had been denied to him for so long. Sergeant Andy held the hand of a girl that no one knew the name of and comforted her as she passed into the undiscovered country. Through the brilliant performances of two actors whose characters have been cruelly overlooked through most of this series, the central message of “Torchwood: Miracle Day” came shining through. Death is a natural part of life and must happen in order for society to continue.

No aliens or time-travellers, no ghosts or demons – for the past ten weeks Torchwood had not been fighting an unnatural forces from beyond the Earth but the misguided attempt of an organisation to impose their own definition of order upon the world and its varied cultures. The Families had torn down the walls of society in order to rebuild a new world of order and strength. The parallels with the era of Nazi Germany surfaced once again, but there were also frightening reflections with the current state of where American society could end up if the Republicans are allowed to run the country after the 2012 elections. A great nation where the poor and the weak will be ethnically cleansed in favour of the wealthy and powerful.

In common with the worst aspects of extreme conservative and fascist politicians and organisations throughout the world of the 21st century, The Families were content to rape and disrupt nature in order to achieve their objectives…

Well, we had to wait until the world grew up, until the information age became fast enough, so we could crunch the numbers on a massive scale. Facts became visible that were never visible before, such as a tiny little statistic, hidden in the heart of Shanghai Old Town. The average life expectancy of those living within a two-mile radius of this point was exactly equal to the average life expectancy of the world. And it always had been. Say in 1998, the average life expectancy from birth on this planet was 66 years, 5 months and 33 days. In this area in Shanghai, it was 66 years, 5 months and 33 days exactly. Try going back a hundred years to 1898. The average life expectancy was 49 years, 9 months and five days. Shanghai – 49 years, 9 months and five days. It was as if something on this spot was calibrating a matrix, subsisting alongside humankind in harmony.

Whilst it took a long time (too long?) to reveal the nature of The Blessing, there can be no denying that when finally unveiled, and explained, it was a breathtakingly clever concept. An entity that had existed for an unknown period of time in a symbiotic relationship with the human race, binding us together through a morphic field and calibrating life expectancy. As though the Earth itself was in control of the evolved apes roaming upon its surface…a living 2001-style monolith running through the planet like the lettering on Blackpool rock…

Immortality for the human race occurred because the villains of the piece screwed around with a wonder of nature for their own insidious ends. The introduction of Jack’s blood into The Blessing caused the nature of life and death for humanity to be reset: all mortal humans became immortal and all immortal humans became mortal. The fact that Jack’s blood could upset the whole plan answered the mystery of who transmitted the message about Torchwood way, way back in first episode “The New World”. The Families needed to draw Jack, the only mortal man, into the open so that they could eliminate him and his supply of blood.

Rex managed to continue the run of intelligence that had settled upon him in the previous episode. It was certainly a clever move to have a quantity of Jack’s blood transfused into himself as a back-up plan – a plan which had to come into operation when an Argentinian suicide bomber took out the main supply of blood that had been transported to Buenos Aries. Throughout the whole crisis Rex’s behaviour can be generously classed as “arrogant” and as events came to a climax part of his raison d’être was shown to be partially rooted in his fear that when the immortality ended he would die as a result of the injuries he sustained on Miracle Day. However when faced with the choice between his own continued existence and the restoration of death to the human race he did the right thing.

Oh, you are magnificent!

Oswald’s admiration of Gwen and her “fuck you” attitude was a perfect reflection of the admiration that the entire audience have for the character and the actress that portrays her. Eve Myles absolutely loves every minute of being in the series and with such material to perform who can blame her. From the opening monologue where she acknowledged her actions that day would kill her father, through the scenes of compassion and humanity with the old Chinese lady, and onto the final scenes where she berates Jilly for wearing too much lipstick as hell erupted around them.

As mentioned before, the Jack/Gwen relationship, brought to life so magnificently by John Barrowman and Eve Myles, is the foundation stone of “Torchwood” without whom the whole enterprise would collapse. Within the Shanghai base the characters perfectly displayed their love for each other – and their ability to banter in the face of any crisis. Great comedy arrived when Gwen realised that Jack’s ramblings about the Doctor, the Racnoss, and Silurian mythology were complete bullshit to cover up his complete lack of knowledge about how such a wondrous phenomena could exist.

Through “Miracle Day” John Barrowman had played Jack as a more fragile and retrospective character than the one seen previously. For the first time in centuries he had faced mortality and it taught him just how frivolous about life he had become. In the two-handed scene with Oswald he beautifully conveyed the wonder of all that he had seen throughout time and space, and also silently accepted that his time might well have come to an end. A clear demonstration of his role as humanity’s champion in the stead of the Last of the Time Lords came with his preparedness to die in a pit in Old Shanghai, his sacrifice known to only a few.

I spent a long time in prison, and I know the smile of a man who’s done terrible things. And your friends. I’ve been watching them. Sometimes they like you, sometimes they love you and sometimes, just once or twice, glittering away in those tiny little gaps…they fear you.

One important aspect of “Torchwood” throughout has been the preparedness to acknowledge that fighting the monsters of the Earth and beyond often comes at great cost. At the end of series 2 Owen and Tosh fell into death. Ianto paid the ultimate price fighting the 456 alongside his friend, lover and commander Captain Jack Harkness in “Children of Earth”. And in “Miracle Day” Rex was forced to watch his lover Vera burn inside one of the obscene Modules. But the death toll wasn’t completed until the closing minutes: once more the Torchwood team lost one of their own in battle. Esther was fatally shot in an attempt to prevent Rex introducing Jack’s blood into The Blessing as she would be destined to die the moment she became mortal. Rex nearly wavered in his resolution but once again the beating heart of the team was there to urge everyone on.

If the death of Esther came as a surprise at the conclusion then at the other extreme it should be been glaringly obvious that Oswald Danes would not survive into any follow-up series. His crimes were too great, his existence intolerable to a post-Miracle world. Oswald himself knew that his useful time on the planet was over even before he entered The Families’ Shanghai base of operations with laden with explosives.

One of the major successes of this American-orientated “Torchwood” was the snagging of “Mr President” Bill Pullman to play a character that horrified and evoked sympathy within the same scene, often within a single sentence. Pullman more or less dominated every moment he appeared and certainly made the most of his final scenes as the child-molesting monster. Taking centre stage ahead of Jack and Gwen, being a somebody for the final time – and actually looking forward to going to hell as that’s where all the bad little girls went – as he blew the Shanghai facility (and doubtless a nice portion of the episode’s budget) sky high.

You, World War II, What the hell did you do to me?

What now for “Torchwood”? The decision on a further series will be taken by the production teams in November and renewal is dependent on those ever-important viewing figures. Whilst by no means disastrous, the ratings showed a consistent decrease across the series and critical acclaim was certainly far less than the case had been for “Children of Earth”, which remains the high point for “Torchwood”. At 10 episodes “Miracle Day” had twice as much screen time as its immediate predecessor yet told a tale that could have been done in half the minutes.
Unlike “Children of Earth”, which wrapped up all the dangling plot threads and could have acted as a conclusion for “Torchwood” as a whole, “Miracle Day” ended with elements that can be continued into a 5th series…Rex’s new-found immortality for starters, which to be honest was a naff and unnecessary revelation – Jack should have remained unique…

The continued existence of The Families provides a far more satisfying storyline for the future. With their minion Jilly Kitzinger and “Plan B”, are an ideal SPECTRE-like foe for the Torchwood Institute to go head-to-head with. Two organisations with their roots in the distant past joined in battle for the ancient, modern, and extraterrestrial tools that can either destroy or preserve the planet Earth…

Torchwood - The Gathering“Once upon a time there were three wise families and they went out into the world. One family took politics, one family took finance and one family took media. But that’s all in the past. The stories yet to come, they’re the best.”

It was apt that Russell T Davies, the true architect of Miracle Day, got to fill in the plot with a cameo as the radio newsreader. The world was in Day 61 of the Great Depression. The Western World was on the verge of going bust. China had closed its border and the USA was about the follow. Dictatorships were imminent but it was not clear yet whether the real dictators would be governments or other organisations. Credit to RTD for using science fiction the way it ought to be used – capturing the zeitgeist of current times. The scenario of global recession, xenophobia, and failing governments, is all too pervasive in the real world.

The fiery Welshness of Gwen, Rhys and Mary was at the heart of this episode with their efforts to save Geraint from the reopened Overflow Camps. Their ultimately unsuccessful attempts to conceal him from the authorities once again drew a parallel with the era of Nazi Germany and the hunting down of fugitive Jews. It is doubtful there will be a more heartbreaking moment of television in the near future to match the scene where Gwen begged for her father to be spared. Once more Eve Myles proved herself to be the emotional heart of the series. Truly amazing how she can go from making the audience cry like babies to righteous fury in the blink of an eye.

It is a testament to the acting of Bill Pullman that sympathy is felt for the monstrous Oswald Danes each and every time misfortune befalls him. He fully deserved to get the crap knocked out of him by a saucepan-wielding Gwen after inveigling himself into the Cooper house and cuddling Anwen. Yet it was impossible not to pity him as he sat bloodied and handcuffed in the kitchen. Particularly enjoyable was to see the brief double act between Bill Pullman and Kai Owen, the Hollywood film star and the Welsh TV actor, as Oswald used logic to extract himself from the murderous presence of Rhys with the deadpan of “you delightful man”.

In “The Gathering Kai Owen’s Rhys was finally able to make a long overdue contribution to the plot of Miracle Day. Even more than Gwen it is Rhys’ humanity and simple thinking that made the complexity of the plot clearer. He was able to see that the reopened camps and the global recession as part of an overall plan to bring down humanity. Rhys was also the to see the connection of Shanghai and Buenos Aries as global antipodes…

Everywhere we turn this conspiracy spans the 20th century.

As well as the plot narrative having moved up a couple of gears during the one week/two months away, so had the new characters on the block. As observed by Jack, Esther was no longer the shy bumbling little thing that he first encountered in the CIA archives way back in “The New World”. With Jack wounded and the two of them on the run Esther was forced to become the stronger of the two and she rose to the challenge. The character had been rather annoying up to this point but with “The Gathering” she found her feet. When there is the opportunity to watch “Miracle Day” in a single sitting as a complete story Esther is likely to come across much better than she has on a weekly episodic basis.

The biggest leap in characterisation was surely that of Rex. No longer a pompous arse but a professional, intelligent and competent agent of the Central Intelligence Agency fully focused on locating any trace of The Families in history. Being back in the fold in Langley clearly did him good. Having John de Lancie’s chain-smoking Allen Shapiro to bounce his dialogue off certainly did Mekhi Phifer no harm. It would be interesting to have Shapiro connected with a resurrected Torchwood Institute if the series is given another run.

With all records of the Alblemarch, Costerdane, and Frines families erased from history, an impossible paper trail to riffle through, and 6 million potential descendants from the population of 1928 New York to trace and interview, it was interesting to see Rex try an off-the-wall Torchwood-style approach. He concentrated on fiction and ignored facts. Within the pages of a pulp horror story entitled “The Devil Within” he managed to locate enough points of references to the multiple killings of Jack to convince him that the writer had been in the cellar. Good to see proper intelligent detective work on show for once.

Well now. Can’t say I’ve been to China before, so I’m not well versed in their customs. But I’ve got to say…i never knew about that.

In “Rendition” it took the entire episode to get Jack and Gwen from Wales to the USA. Now that the narrative was on a roll to the finish line it only took Jack, Gwen and Oswald a jump from one scene to the next to arrive in Shanghai via arms dealers now using one of the old Torchwood routes into China. Perhaps a missed opportunity to have intense scenes between Jack and Oswald over their respective killing of children. John Barrowman and Bill Pullman had previously proved themselves more than capable of going head-to-head in such a manner.

Thanks to a laptop stolen by Oswald, Esther was able to deduce that Jilly had spent the last two months overseeing the mistranslation of media reports emerging from Shanghai to conceal all references to The Blessing. So The Blessing was located in that gargantuan Chinese population centre…

We say the Blessing shows you to yourself.

After weeks of anticipation the nature of The Blessing was revealed: a vast rift running completely through the centre of the Earth with emergence points in Shanghai and Buenos Aries. Two massive population centres balanced on either side of the planet. Somehow blood is involved with The Blessing and how The Miracle was enacted. The Families went to great lengths to ensure the destruction of blood banks in Shanghai and Buenos Aries in the days leading up to Miracle Day. Jack’s blood is being drawn to the sites where the rift emerges at the opposite sides of the world – and it is killing him in the process.

Taken to Shanghai to meet The Families and see The Blessing, the strutting, self-assured, flame red confidence of Jilly Kitzinger came into full view. She was totally confident that she was right about everything that she had done. The reveal of The Blessing was done well with the focus on Jilly’s awestruck reaction before the pan around to reveal the vast set and the cavernous opening to the rift running all the way to the other side of the world. Kudos to the writers for having foreshadowed the nature of The Blessing throughout the series with the PhiCorp logo: the letter Phi with a line through it paralleled The Blessing running through the centre of the Earth.

With Jack, Gwen and Oswald converging on The Blessing in China and Rex and Esther tackling the Argentinian end of matters the stage is set for a final confrontation between Torchwood and The Families. The promise beforehand of “Torchwood” going global and being bigger and better was certainly fulfilled with a dramatic hour of television encompassing locations in Scotland, Wales, USA, China and Argentina.

More importantly the edge-of-the-seat storytelling and powerful acting that were so much a part of the highly-acclaimed “Children of Earth” finally made a return. With a long overdue return to its Welsh roots, “Torchwood” set itself up for what will hopefully be an awesome series finale. In “The Gathering” the uniqueness of the format once again came to the fore and eclipsed the poorer aspects of the preceding episodes. If “The Blood Line” can maintain the inventive drive and provide a satisfyingly awesome and well-rounded finale then “Torchwood” will fully deserve a 5th series.

Torchwood - End of the Road“Dying of old age can now be considered a crime. Something happened here, and we are going to search this place for every last bit of information. And nobody is going to leave until we know exactly what happened. So you can stay just where you are, Captain.”

Torchwood joined the CIA. Jack behaved mysteriously. Gwen got pissed off. Rex finally showed some brains. Oswald displayed his true colours. Jilly received a promotion from The Families. Major Kira explained the plot. Q popped in for a visit. And Esther screwed up. Again!

Given previous appearances of intriguing characters/guest stars deserving more than just one episode exposure (in particular C Thomas Howell and Ernie Hudson in episodes 4 and 6 respectively) it was a surprise to see Wayne Knight return as the CIA traitor Friedkin. Someone must have recalled the plotline of Rex and Esther being framed as traitors and that it needed a resolution before the rush of the narrative to the finishing line began. In the end it was wrapped up rather arbitrarily with the old “trick a confession out of the guilty party trick”.

In a rare (only?) display of intelligence, Rex managed to lure Friedkin to the Colasanto mansion with the pretence he’d given a shit about the “death” of Vera at the San Pedro Overflow Camp. By now everyone knows that Rex doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything but himself – though it became apparent that he is preoccupied by the possibility he’ll die when The Miracle ends due to the massive chest injuries he suffered on Miracle Day.

The analogies to Nazi Germany that have run throughout the series continued with the attempt of a collaborator to justify his traitorous actions. Before he blew himself to pieces (along with one of his cohorts and Olivia Colasanto, grand-daughter of Angelo) Friedkin attempted to justify his collaboration with The Families by claiming that his co-operation ultimately did more good than bad. Throughout history many quislings have used such an excuse.

You’re telling me the whole world got screwed because two gay guys had a hissy fit?

Thankfully before she was torn asunder by high explosives Major Kira Olivia (Nana Visitor) was able to explain what her grandfather Angelo had been up for the previous eight decades or thereabouts. Nothing trumps a five minute exposition scene to move a stumbling narrative along. Why aren’t helpful plot points ever written down in plain sight?

Through the 84 years following his brief relationship with Jack in New York in 1927, Angelo had attempted to discover the secret of immortality, including research into cancer cells and stem cells. Although he was able to extend his life he was unable to halt the process of ageing. The pseudo-immortality of The Miracle was not caused by Angelo.

Ultimately It wasn’t the most successful reunion given that Angelo was well over 110 years old and died within a short time of Jack’s arrival. Yes died! The first human to truly die since the commencement of the The Miracle. Angelo Colasanto was deader than that damn Norwegian Blue parrot that has haunted Cleese and Palin for over 40 years…

How did Esther get employed by the CIA? She’s made more cock-ups than Chief Inspector Clouseau on his worst day. Today’s grand “putting-the-foot-right-in-it” involved yet again not listening to Jack and then handing alien technology over to the CIA. Esther subsequently ended up on the run with Jack after he gets shot after stealing a vital component from the technological wotsit that Angelo had recovered from the destroyed Torchwood Hub and hidden under his bed. Somehow the gadget allowed the nulification of the morphic field that caused the Miracle.

The file also says that Cooper and Harkness inevitably form an alliance and the best results can be achieved by separating them.

Thankfully a competent CIA operative made an appearance with the arrival of Q Allen Shapiro in a wonderful larger-than-life performance from the mighty John de Lancie. Whether pissing off Gwen by referring to her as English and then deporting her, or reveling in a cigarette as cancer cells have been rendered mortal, de Lancie made you wish he’d been bought into the mix far earlier. Any chance of scenes in episodes 9 and 10 that place de Lancie in the same room as Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose as they get the most explosive scenes?

Pullman and Ambrose blew the screen apart with a fury-filled cat fight as Jilly’s latent hatred for Oswald boiled over following his discovery that, despite his popularity in preaching hellfire and salvation, his stardom was only a wonderful delay before final retribution for his crimes caught up to him. What upset Oswald more though? The knowledge that the about-to-be-mandated “Category 0” will send him to the ovens, or the fact that he learnt the information from his “whore” and not from Jilly. There must be a certain significance in his choice of a redheaded prostitute given the colour of Jilly’s hair. Whilst Oswald ended up on the run after his assault on Jilly (and destined to work with Torchwood?), the lady herself received a promotion from The Families.

Alblemarch, Costerdane, and Frines are the names of The Families and their representatives were present at Jack’s numerous deaths and resurrections in New York in 1927. At that moment the three families formed an alliance to purchase the power of resurrection, though Jack stated that his blood would have been useless to them in isolation are there are numerous factors at work to cause his immortality.

The slow feeding of information in relation to the mysterious Families has been one of the more successful elements of “Miracle Day” so far, but there remains the feeling that the writers are not 100% certain whether the organisation is pure Cosa Nostra, a SPECTRE-style organisatio, or an insane banking outfit. Whatever their methodology and ethos The Families clearly command vast resources as no trace of them can be located anywhere on the worldwide web. The Families have removed themselves from history. And in 1998 they discovered “The Blessing”…

With only two episodes remaining there remains a huge amount of questions left to be answered. Who alerted the CIA to Torchwood? What is “The Blessing”? What was the importance of “revelation” in Oswald’s performance? How many air miles has Gwen clocked up? Are the villains of the piece merely human or is there an extraterrestrial involvement that hasn’t been even hinted at yet. Can Russell T Davies please remember that Rhys, Andy, and the Welsh landscape are integral elements of the charm and success of “Torchwood” and much much more screen time in any 5th series? Though the production of any future series in a UK/US co-production format isn’t a good move based upon what has been on show in “Miracle Day” so far.

Torchwood - The Categories of Life“…man has risen again. Now he has a new name. And his name…is…Angel… Angel…Angel…We are angels. We have been elevated. We have been purified. We have been given life…unending. We are the first angels on Earth. And I promise you this there are even those who have been planning for this, the agents of angels in this brand-new world. I’m telling you right now. THEY stand amongst us. Yes. For this is MY revelation!”

The biblical overtones begun by referring to the new-found immortality of the human race as “The Miracle” stepped up a gear in the fifth episode with references to “angels” and “revelation” at the “Miracle Rally” in Los Angeles. Jack’s scheme for Oswald to expose the culpability of PhiCorp in the events of Miracle Day backfired spectacularly. Although Jack may have promised him an eventual death as atonement for his crimes, the thought of dying hated by the public and in obscurity has driven every moment of Oswald’s new-found life. He may have “lost heaven forever” but he’s not going off to hell without a fight.

Despite her continuing revulsion for Oswald, Jilly’s skills and support for PhiCorp’s machinations have not gone un-noticed by “the right people”. Whether coming to the attention of The Families is good or bad remains to be seen…

In the midst of all the religious imagery, including Oswald bowing his head and clasping his hands in supplication, came a reminder of evolutionary science with references to the Great Leap Forward of 50,000 years or so back. Could this leap to a certain type of immortality be a latent factor in humanity that The Families have triggered? And why was it so important for Oswald to include the word “revelation” in his speech? Is the human race being primed for the end of the world in accordance with the Christian myth of “Revelation”?

Mixed in with the religious aspects were non-too-subtle digs at the current state of worldwide medical care. In the UK the emergency “Miracle Law” gave the nation what the Prime Minister referred to as a “new age of care and compassion”. Every time the NHS has a so-called reform this is the type of false platitude that emerges from 10 Downing Street.

Whatever has happened to the human race the absence of death (including the crime of murder) lead to a reclassification of life into three categories sanctioned by the United Nations. Category 1: anyone without brain function or anyone who would have ordinarily died; Category 2: anyone between Categories 1 or 3 – people who are alive and functioning with an illness or injury that will persist but isn’t fatal; Category 3: anyone who has no injury. Esther added “Category Jack” as he’s now the only mortal person left on Earth.

In America, Torchwood infiltrated the San Pedro Overflow Camp to learn more about the Modules and why they don’t appear on photos even though they are on the plans that were stolen from PhiCorp. In Wales, Gwen’s infiltration of the Cowbridge camp in South Wales had a more personal aspect: her dad had been classified Category 2 and placed there. An attempt to do it by the book through the front door led to the most intractable enemy Gwen had ever faced in her Torchwood career: red tape! Forget Weevils , rogue Time Agents, and demons from the dawn of time, bureaucracy is unbeatable…

Whilst Rex went in as a Category 2 (blue peg) patient and got Esther to reclassify him as Category 1 (red peg) so as to get inside the Modules, Gwen adopted the guise of a nurse. Gwen dressed as a nurse isn’t as exciting as it would once have been – as Geraint Cooper comments it’s like she’s wearing pyjamas. Gwen’s infiltration plan ended badly with her dad suffering another heart attack and reclassified as Category 1 – for which she blamed herself.

The infiltration of the San Pedro camp went even worse…

The termination of the medical panels and the creation of the Categories of Life drove Vera to join the Torchwood team and aid the infiltration of the San Pedro camp. She couldn’t sit back and do nothing whilst governments had effectively been given the power of life and death over their populations. Unfortunately her compassionate nature brought her into conflict with Colin Maloney, the administrator of the camp. This is a man who is more interested in coming in under budget and checking that patients have the correct insurance than in a proper system of healthcare. Maloney is a bigot. 200 years ago he’d have been running a cotton plantation and shooting the occasional Negro slave for amusement. 70 years ago he’d have been running a Nazi death camp and shooting the occasional Jew for amusement. He’s not privy to the ultimate plans of PhiCorp or The Families – but like so many others throughout history who have committed atrocities he’s a weak man, out of his depth and totally corrupted by the lure of power. The butting of heads between Vera and Maloney leads to a horrific conclusion to the episode when Maloney snapped under pressure and shot the doctor in the legs. Desperate to conceal his crime Maloney revealed the purpose of the Modules….

The Modules are the modern version of the crematoria from the Nazi death camps. Category 1 patients are to be consigned to a fate of being burnt alive. Vera is reduced to ashes whilst Rex is helpless to intervene – all he can do is record the crime on the video camera he’d been using to catalogue the activities within the camp.

When Jack was “killed” in “Children of Earth” during the explosion that destroyed the Torchwood Hub in Cardiff Bay, his regenerative abilities allowed him to reform from the scattered elements of his body. The newly-”immortal” humans can’t heal their wounds and illnesses in the same way that Jack’s immortal nature allowed him to so it’s unlikely their bodies can be reformed. So why do The Families want to reduce a certain percentage of the human race to ashes? Is it possible that the scattered parts might retain some fraction of life energy that can be harvested? Are the villains of this piece some kind of energy vampires akin to the ones on show in “Lifeforce” (aka “The Space Vampires”)?

Halfway through the 4th series it’s clear that this is the most ambitious storyline yet for “Torchwood” with its examination of issues relating to religion, healthcare, genocide, and the cult of personality. When first announced the co-production deal between the BBC and Starz raised a few eyebrows. There were fears of an “Americanisation” of the series. Whilst it’s undeniable that the focus of the series has been shifted to America, it’s clear that the deal has been of huge benefit to the format and lead to a scale of production and concept that would not have been possible if it had remained an in-house BBC Wales production. The obvious increase in budget has allowed for the hiring of premier actors such as Bill Pullman (in lesser hands Oswald could have been a total mess despite the excellent scripting), large scale action sequences and grand locations such as the San Pedro Overflow Camp and the Miracle Rally stadium.

Torchwood - Escape To LA“We are everywhere…We are always…We are no one…and soon the Families will rise”. Originating from a currently unknown encounter in the past of the previously immortal Captain Jack Harkness, the architects of Miracle Day have begun to reveal themselves…and their intentions for the human race…

The emergence of “The Families” ties into one of the major themes of this episode: familial relationships and how they affect the new Torchwood team in different ways. There are also subtle, and not so subtle, allusions to religious cults with messianic leaders who you wouldn’t trust around your children (no one said Catholic. Yet.) and the state of healthcare systems, particularly in the USA.

Rex was clearly a heartless bastard even before his chest was impaled on Miracle Day. He’s constantly on everyone’s case. He considers Jack and Gwen to be playing games rather than acting professionally; belittles Esther for her stupidity in visiting her sister and nieces whilst on the run for treason (though he has a point); and treats Vera as his own personal drug pusher. His “fuck-you” attitude has been inherited from his father as there is no love there.

Jack’s relationships with his colleagues have a sibling air to them. He is protective of Esther in the way he used to be with Ianto and sees her as the new Q for the team, inheriting Tosh’s role. He and Rex butt testosterone egos in the manner of two aggressive brothers who can’t help but feel affection for each other. And although he and Gwen carry on like brother and sister it’s clear that beneath their banter and humour they feel more for each other than normal siblings should.

Many view Miracle Day as an opportunity for a new society and world order to be forged, but fear those that they perceive as the lesser members of society. Old unused hospitals have been converted into the “plague ships” of the 21st century and the extremely sick and old hidden away from the rest of humanity. Out of sight and out of mind as so many are in our real world.

Chief amongst the advocates of the policy of separation (and coming across like a bastard hybrid of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann) is Ellis Hartley Monroe, a small town mayor and a darling of the Tea Party. She is the instigator of the “Dead Is Dead” campaign, which believes that those who should have died without the intervention of The Miracle have merely had their passage to the afterlife paused and should be treated as though they are in fact deceased. The call to partition these “undead” recalls the policy of Apartheid in South Africa and the persecution of the Jews during the regime of Nazi Germany…

Oswald is not willing to allow his media profile to be eclipsed by Monroe as it would mean a return to normality and a vulnerability to the public who want him to suffer for his crimes. In a brilliantly manipulative, yet somehow perversely admirable, fashion he enters the “plague ship” hospital that Vera is helping to run and wins the patients and media over with his presence and almost messianic manner, with declarations of “Life Is Life” and “I have risen with unending life”. Oswald is creating a cult of personality in the same manner as Adolf Hitler and religious cult leaders. Despite what his friends may think Jack is likely to be proved right in considering Oswald a threat and at the centre of matters.

PhiCorp subsequent removal of Monroe from the public scene, motivated by her near pre-emption of their own plans for humanity, is a lovely homage to “Goldfinger” with her being crushed inside her car in a junkyard. A single undying eye is all that remains visible…

Jilly is emerging as perhaps the most human of the new characters with her conflicting views of Oswald. On the one hand she has a clear admiration of his ability to mould the media to his will and the messages of PhiCorp. On the other hand, she is truly repulsed by Oswald’s crimes and is unable to look at his hands because there are a constant reminder of what he did to a 12 year old girl…It wouldn’t be a surprise if a few episodes down the way she allied herself to Torchwood due to her repulsion outweighing her desire to succeed in her job. It’s a bizarre double act that Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose pull off beautifully.

At the heart of the episode is a “Mission: Impossible” caper with Torchwood breaking into PhiCorp’s HQ in Los Angeles to steal the contents of Server 113. Gwen dolled up just looks all wrong – and doesn’t she know it. To her anyone who wears high heels to work is “heroic”. She looks so so much better in tight trousers, boots and firing off large calibre weaponry.

Lurking in the background of the whole narrative, with a lovely cultured performance from C Thomas Howell, is one of the most charming and well-spoken assassins seen on screen in many a long year. He apologises when removing biometric data from the PhiCorp technician with the aid of a rather sharp knife; is rueful about The Miracle being bad for those in his line of work; and displays understandable curiosity about Jack’s mortality – which overcomes his task to kill “the only true human”. Though he ends up bleeding from multiple bullet wounds against a wall after an encounter with Rex (who tackled 66 flights of stairs at a lick with a ruptured chest) it’s to be hoped that he can make a comeback in one of the episodes yet to come.

The potential for the segregation of humanity takes on a more chilling turn at episode’s end with the discovery about the contents of Server 113. In conjunction with the UN (bet no one has mentioned the scheme to UNIT), PhiCorp are setting up “Overflow Camps” to relieve the pressure on medical facilities around the world. The Torchwood team don’t like the look of these camps…and Gwen’s dad has just been sent on his way to the one located in South Wales…

The parallel between the “Overflow Camps” and Nazi concentration camps is all too obvious…“The Families” appear to have a plan underway to move the most “decayed” aspects of humanity into specially built and contained facilities. But for what purpose? Is there a harvesting of the human race afoot in the way there was in “Quatermass” (aka “Quatermass IV / The Quatermass Conclusion)?

An interesting aspect to The Families may have been teased. Oswald has been attempting to learn about PhiCorp and the company’s masters online but he can find nothing tangible as their online presence has been hidden on a worldwide scale. Is it worth remembering that the Torchwood Institute have software that is capable of removing all references to specific subjects from the worldwide web? And way back in the 5th episode (“World War Three”) of the revived “Doctor Who”, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor offered Mickey software that would remove all traces of “the Doctor” from the worldwide web…

“They are everywhere…They are always…They are no one…They have been waiting for such a long time…Searching the world for specific geography”.

Torchwood Miracle Day - Dead of Night“They’re everywhere, they know everything”. Whoever has paid Director Friedkin for his non-CIA activities they’ve been around for decades…

After being framed for treason in the previous episode Rex and Esther had no choice but to team up with Jack and Gwen in order to uncover why they were set up, what caused Miracle Day, and why the remnants of the Torchwood Institute might be the key to solving the mystery of the fundamental change to humanity. Unfortunately personality clashes threaten to cause the still-birth of the new Torchwood team…

The boys are butting heads like a couple of stags vying for superiority with Jack having a tendency to rush in where angels fear to tread and Rex needing to realise that he can no longer do things by the book each time.

The girls meantime have bonded quite nicely over the differences between UK and US English, such as petrol station/gas station; cashpoint/ATM; crisps/chips. Hopefully in a future installment Gwen will mention Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and watch Esther’s eyes roll in her head.

A haunting image near the start of “Dead of Night” came with the slow-walking, torch-holding Soulless. Wearing white masks with sad mouths and eyes in black, with a single tear below the left eye, these individuals believe that humans have been robbed of their souls by the events of Miracle Day. In “Rendition” it was mentioned that India and Pakistan were no longer at each other’s throats due to the impossibility of reincarnation occurring due to the newly acquired immortality of the human race. Will the issue of humanity’s “souls” and what makes homo sapiens tick prove to be a key factor?

With government organisations unable to cope with the changes The Miracle has visited upon the established world order (such as the crime of murder now being irrelevant), the mysterious PhiCorp pharmaceutical corporation is standing ready to reap huge financial benefits. Torchwood’s discovery of a warehouse that Friedkin had been keeping off the grid and stuffed to the gunnels with painkilling medications offers proof that PhiCorp knew The Miracle was coming. But did they cause it to happen?

In “Rendition” Jack suggested that interference with humanity’s morphic fields might be the reason for the sudden immortality. According to Esther there have now been more than 10 million hits on the internet relating to the term “morphic field”. So the possibility is being investigated by others.

Currently no one is willing to pursue the possible involvement of extraterrestrial entities in connection to what has happened to the human race. Given all the occasions on which Earth has been attacked by alien forces such as Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, etc, it seems weird that no one has thought to telephone UNIT to have a chat. It’s possible that with the rewriting of Earth’s timeline as the result of Series 5 of “Doctor Who” there’s always the chance that non-Torchwood related humans don’t remember. Though, as many of those alien incursions took place in England, it’s possible the average American never noticed cyborgs and trolls all over the place.

Now I’ve no objection to the portrayal of sex (whether it be heterosexual or homosexual) on television, radio, stage, etc, but surely there needs to be a logical reason for it to happen. Plus it should flow out of the narrative. Early episodes of “Torchwood” were guilty of the introduction of sexual elements and moments simply to make everything “adult”. I’d hoped those days were gone.

Rex gets it off with Vera after going to get his dressing changed – couldn’t he have gone to the pharmacy (hang on, America…so that’s drug store?), purchased the supplies and gotten one of the other Torchwood people to do the necessary? As in medical attention, not the sex. Then Jack goes off and gets off with a gay barman from a pub (bar?). Given that the much-missed Ianto was Jack’s lover for most of the previous series of “Torchwood” it seems to have been forgotten that he is in fact bisexual. Remember that it was established long ago that in Jack’s home period of the 51st century genders and species are no longer a barrier to sexual relations.

Jack has had sexual relations with human females since he left Station 5 with his new-found immortality (“Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways”) and arrived on Earth in 1869. In the Series 1 episode “Small Worlds” he re-encountered Estelle with whom he’d had a relationship during World War II. In “Children of Earth” we met his daughter Alice Carter and his grandson Steven Carter, the latter of whom Jack was forced to sacrifice in order to defeat the malevolent 456.

The death of his grandson at own his hands provides Jack with a chilling insight into the mind of Oswald Danes when they come face to face at a television station. At gunpoint Jack forces Oswald to admit that the killing of his 12 year old victim was the best moment of his life, but he knows the pedophile’s claim that he feels “forgiven” after The Miracle are hollow words. Like himself, Oswald is ultimately seeking to be punished for his crimes. Unfortunately Jack’s plan to broadcast Oswald’s confession is derailed by the intervention of security personnel from PhiCorp. Oswald accepted Jilly Kitzinger’s offer to work for them after being beaten up by police officers as retribution for his crimes. Jack is convinced that Oswald is an important piece of the mystery surrounding Miracle Day and PhiCorp’s involvement. But he doesn’t know what the connection is yet.

Oswald’s huge media profile makes him the ideal recruit to push “The Message” about the need for freer public access to the necessary painkilling drugs. Tied in with this is the announcement from a US Congressman that will introduce legislation to make painkillers, antibiotics, etc, available for sale without the need for a prescription. The entire healthcare system is about to be reformed….

Torchwood Miracle Day - Rendition “Everything mortal becomes immortal, everything immortal becomes mortal”. Rhys neatly sums up what happened in “The New World” and for once shows himself to be on Jack’s side, an extremely rare occurrence for the two most important men in Gwen’s life.

“I’m Welsh”…From the heart-breaking separation from Rhys and Anwen at the beginning, via the fiery “You stupid, tiny, bloody little man” directed at Rex, to the final line to Esther of “Welcome to Torchwood”, this is most definitely Gwen Cooper’s episode with a powerhouse performance from Eve Myles. Since being the wide-eyed audience surrogate in series 1, struggling to cope with the bizarre world of aliens and monsters that she’d been thrust into, Gwen has evolved into a moral warrior who accepts that the world needs Torchwood, even if at times she wants to walk away from it all. She is desperate to reunited with her husband and child but at the same time is overjoyed to be once again involved with Captain Jack Harkness and the never-ending chaos that constantly follows in his wake.

From the very first episode Eve Myles has shared a fantastic chemistry with John Barrowman borne out of a close friendship (once during the filming of “Countrycide” in the Brecon Beacons she stayed in his hotel room with him because she was convinced there were ghosts in her own room). As angry as Gwen gets with Jack she can’t help but love and respect him. And in “Rendition” her devotion to him extends to her literally ripping a 747 apart at 30,000ft with her bare hands to save him from death by arsenic poisoning at the hands of a duplicitous CIA operative (who gets decked by Gwen in an “audience-punches-the-air-and-shouts-YES!-moment”).

John Barrowman is getting to play Jack differently so far this series. For the first time since his resurrection on Satellite 5 Jack is having to face up to the dangers of being mortal – currently the only human out of nearly 7 billion (and climbing) who is. Why are unseen antagonists so desperate to eliminate him and any trace of Torchwood? And who sent the message alerting the authorities to the existence of Torchwood? Clearly Jack has an inkling of the mechanics of the sudden halt to humanity’s natural expiration times. All that babbling about “morphic fields” and “Sheldrake theory” isn’t “Star Trek”-style technobabble either. It’s from the mind of Rupert Sheldrake, an English biochemist.

So far Rex has treated Torchwood with disdain. He views the institute, together with Jack and Gwen, as a sideshow – the dusty remains of a British black ops outfit that can’t possibly be a major player in the events surrounding “The Miracle”. That all changes once his colleague tries to murder his prisoner and he and Esther are framed as traitors working for the Chinese.

If Gwen was the audience surrogate in the early days of Torchwood then for “Miracle Day” that baton has been well and truly passed to Ester Drummond. The one-word message “Torchwood” has intrigued her from the very beginning and the encounter with Captain Jack in the CIA Archives only served to further her curiosity more. Her eagerness to get to the root of the mystery puts her squarely in the sights of CIA Director Brian Friedkin (a suitably slimy and worried performance from Wayne Knight) and his mysterious paymasters. Yet in a bizarre way she actually seems to be enjoying herself – even if Gwen is critical of her choice of a Blue Mini as a getaway car (a joke referring to “The Italian Job” missed surely?).

With violence and conspiracies holding the attention of the Torchwood and CIA characters it’s down to Dr Vera Juarez and other members of the medical community to realise that the rules of healthcare system need rewriting in an instant. Rather than treating the most hideously injured and sick first the priority is to deal with the walking wounded so as to free up hospital space. After all the most worst off aren’t going to die before they can be examined and treated. But that’s the least of the problems facing doctors…In common with the legend of Tithonus (nice to have a classical reference) the human race is continuing to age, not remaining fixed in time. Death may have been halted but decay hasn’t. Humans are becoming germ incubators. Carriers of infection are not dying and allowing corpses to be fed upon. New forms of disease will be rife across the planet with normal antibiotics and painkillers becoming obsolete within a matter of months. Radical new medications are needed for the human race – and fast.

And into the narrative steps PR guru Jilly Kitzinger, acting on behalf on PhiCorp, a major pharmaceutical conglomerate. Their triangle logo tips them off as being the instigators of the frame-up of Rex and Esther. The chances are PhiCorp does not have philanthropic plans for the human race with any forthcoming machinations. Lauren Ambrose endows Kitzinger with an endearing klutziness that is most likely an act to ingratiate herself with her prey, firstly Dr Juarez and then the repulsive Oswald Danes. With her flaming red hair and equally red clothes the character certainly stands out from the background. Now could the redness being a subtle hint as to her employer…Or I just have a weakness for slutty redheads…

Now it’s understandable that PhiCorp would want an intelligent forceful set of medical practitioners such as Juarez on their payroll but less obvious is why they would want to be associated with a repulsive creature such as Oswald Danes. Don’t 21st century villains have standards anymore? There must be more to their motives than simply the fact Danes is trending well on Twitter?

Bill Pullman’s performance as Danes is already standing out as one of the premier performances ever seen on “Torchwood”. When Danes commences his public rehabilitation via a tearful performance on a television chat show Pullman treats us to a masterclass of remarkable acting. He is able to appear truly repentant to the other characters for his pedophiliac crimes yet conveys to us that he clearly doesn’t have a single regret for his horrific acts against his 12 year old victim. With his reptilian charm Danes is simultaneously sympathetic, repellent, and truly dangerous. He is everything a great villain should be: intelligent, vile, and yet utterly convinced of the rightness of his actions. You just know that Gwen will want to kill him the second she meets him.

But let’s remember that in “Children of Earth” Jack himself condoned the murder of a child. His own grandson in fact…

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???