Belfast Telegraph

Torchwood Series 4 blog

By Ed Hagan

This week

One day nobody in the world dies. No-one at all. This worrying trend continues the day after that and the day after that. With Earth's population rising rapidly, CIA agents Rex Matheson and Esther Drummond are searching for answers and find a single word: Torchwood. But Jack and Gwen have gone underground just when it would seem the world needs them most...

What's good about it?

Torchwood has always pitched itself as the more sophisticated and adult counterpart to its parent show Doctor Who and following a couple of uneven series really lived up to its promise in 2009's Children of Earth. The questions is does Miracle Day follow suit? So far, the answer is a pretty resounding yes. This co-production with the US network Starz begins in a very slick and suitably global manner as we are introduced to the sinister Oswald Danes (played with scenery-chewing enthusiasm by Bill Pullman) and CIA operative Rex Matheson - both of whom seem to be on the verge of shuffling off this mortal coil when death apparently goes on strike. This clever premise is deftly fleshed out by Rex's surgeon who recounts similar tales of no deaths being recorded from across the world. A nice homage to Children of Men, Russell T Davies, don't think I didn't notice!

But what of the Torchwood team itself? Well, Gwen and Rhys have retired to the country to raise their baby and recreate The Good Life, only with less posh neighbours and a lot more guns. In fact, a hell of a lot more guns. Gwen seems to have stashed enough weapons in the pantry to stage a very respectable military coup. This is probably a good thing as their peace and quiet is soon disturbed by a couple of hikers who aren't as friendly as they would appear... Eve Myles and Kai Owen are a joy to watch in these scenes, as they are throughout this episode. Over the past few years they have really got their characters nailed down and once again present the audience with a reliable, loving every-couple who face harrowing situations bravely and with a flash of humour. It's good to have you back guys.

Meanwhile, Rex's colleague Esther is off on the snoop for information about Torchwood which leads her to the CIA archives and a meeting with Captain Jack. I've decided I rather like Esther. She's a good analyst who follows her instincts and backs that up with some well researched facts. She also doesn't go weak at the knees on meeting Jack, which makes for a refreshing change and most importantly of all she is played very likeably by Alexa Havins. I look forward to seeing how she progresses as the series goes on. Jack is reintroduced at this point in the episode as a man of mystery, which is a good move as it tones down John Barrowman's performance and makes it little more sombre and a bit less arch. Don't get me wrong, the old Harkness charm is still there, it's just been tempered a little and all the better for that.

Having wiped Esther's memory (for now), Jack dashes off to witness the phenomena for himself at the 'autopsy' of their would-be assassin. What follows is a grisly scene where a charred and mangled body clings doggedly to life - excellent work from the visual effects team and director Bharat Nalluri, who resists the temptation to linger on the remains but keeps the shots brief and to the point. Nasty, but very effective. The global implications for the absence of death are then underlined when Gwen goes to see her father in hospital and runs into an old friend in the form of PC Andy - a welcome return for the reliable Tom Price. They quickly work out that if the situation continues population figures will soon grow to insupportable levels and society will break down completely. As with Children of Earth, Davies demonstrates again that characters talking about horrific outcomes can be equally as chilling as showing them happen.

Convinced by Owen to go back into hiding, Gwen returns with her family to the Welsh coast. However, they don't remain hidden for long as Rex is on their tail. Agent Matheson is a pretty persistent kind of bloke I must say - it's amazing how easy it is to track down a couple of fugitives with a good data analyst and millions of dollars worth of intelligence at your fingertips. But I digress. No sooner than he has found his quarry, a helicopter armed to the teeth appears intent on killing them all. Who are these people? Something to do with those shifty hikers from the beginning of the episode no doubt. Agents of the government perhaps? Or the people/creatures behind the lack of natural wastage across the globe? I'm sure we'll discover who they are in the fullness of time, until then they can carry on keeping everyone very much on their toes ...

With Gwen and Jack reunited, the episode reaches it's climax and it appears Rex is not the ally he's made himself out to be. On the verge of being renditioned by the CIA to the United States, what remains of Torchwood faces a very uncertain future.

What's bad about it?

I thought this was a very strong beginning to Miracle Day, but there were a few things that niggled me considerably. First of all: Rex. He's a bit of a bastard, isn't he? If he's not chortling away about a co-worker's wife having leukaemia, he's barking orders at poor Esther or marching around being rude to cabin crew and flashing his CIA badge around like it gives him the right to do whatever he damn well likes. Humph. I'm sure he's going to get a lot more likeable in the coming weeks - which is good as Mekhi Phifer is a fine actor - but right now Rex seems less a 'loveable rogue' and more a 'complete tool'. And that's not even taking into account the whole CIA rendition thing he's got planned for Jack and Gwen! Double humph.

Also, once Gwen had got a handle on the whole 'people not dying' situation and the likely consequences should this continue i.e. the total collapse of Earth society, it seemed far too easy for Owen to persuade her to leave it all behind and pretend everything was going to turn out okay. Come on Gwen! You have had years of experience dealing with the strange and extraterrestrial, when does it ever resolve itself neatly, hmm?

And finally, a very petty quibble. Can someone please, for the love of God, get Esther a decent pair of shoes to run in? Watching her teeter and slide her way in five inch stilettos around the CIA archives was bordering on ridiculous. Honestly, get that lady a pair of mid-height courts before she does herself a serious injury!

The bottom line

'All of us have been changed by design.' A solid debut episode for a mini-series that shows a great deal of promise for the coming weeks. The central idea is a fascinating one and as of yet we still haven't the faintest clue who might be responsible or what their purpose might be. The new crop of characters show much potential - Oswald Danes in particular being a man to watch for. Overall, glossy, stylish and nicely directed with the beginnings of what feels like a thrilling story. I'm looking forward to more of the same next week, which can't come soon enough.

Belfast Telegraph


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