Passing the Torch
Torchwood - Miracle Day Series 4 Episode 1
Airdate: July 14th 2011. UK. BBC1
Hmm... since I’ve only been blogging a year and a half and have not had a chance to review the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood before in a public space, I think maybe I should give you a little history of my own experiences with the last three series’ of Torchwood before kicking off into a review of episode one of the fourth series.
When the first series came out 5 years ago, we were all excited about it over here in the UK because this was the first time that we’d had a spin-off show from a popular TV show, Doctor Who and the name Torchwood or The Torchwood Institute had started to get referred to a little bit in the good Doctor’s show to get us all primed and ferocious for the series premier... and all in all I have to say that I was very disappointed with the first series back then. Since then I’ve re-watched them all on DVD and am not quite so disappointed now with them, I think my expectations of what the series was going to be possibly got in the way of me being able to accept that series on it’s own terms a little bit... although I still say that the first year of Torchwood was hands down the worst series of the show we got (so far).
I think we were all expecting more Doctor Who references on the programme (after all, even the shows title is an anagram of Doctor Who) but apart from a few cynical references to The Doctor and an episode featuring a cyber-babe, we had to wait until the last minute of the last episode of the first series to hear the familiar sounds of the TARDIS... and that was all we got, the last episode dovetailing into a new Doctor Who adventure in the main series which guest starred Captain Jack (and an important three episodes they were, dealing with the return of The Doctor’s famous arch-nemesis The Master, this time around played by both Derek Jacobi and John Simm in two incarnations).
Aside from that though, I think that first season had some bad writing in it. It was trying to be adult without wanting to really ruffle anyones feathers was my opinion of it... and as such was a huge let-down. The pacing seemed a bit out and the dialogue just sounded too... well too English school-marmy for my taste. Everything was so prim and proper and you got the feeling half the time that the shows writers (and Russell T. Davis is an excellent writer and producer to have on anything, by the way) were just doing things to impress the audience which just weren’t that impressive.
However, good fortune inadvertently smiled on me because I persevered where, frankly, every other friend I had who was watching this show dropped out of it by the middle of that first series (and none of them have returned to watching it by the sound of it, which is a pity because Torchwood suddenly got to be compulsive viewing a short time after).
My secret weapon, at the time, was that I had a girlfriend who liked it and insisted on watching it (otherwise they would have lost me too). I groaned when I heard she wanted to watch the second series when it came on but dutifully sat with her to watch... and I’m really glad I did. Torchwood Series 2 was like a fresh breath of air to jaded British TV... it’s like the producers and writers really listened to viewers perceptions, analysed what was right and wrong about that first series, and managed to completely fix everything. The second series, right from the opening hook in the first five minutes where the crew chase down an escaped fish alien, was absolutely brilliant. The pacing was great, the dialogue was clever and extremely witty, it was a TV show that had got itself more than just a fresh lick of paint... this was suddenly a great show. Even if they did kill off the best two characters at the end of the series.
And then the BBC decided they didn't have enough money to carry on so the third series was a 5 part serial which aired in one week over consecutive nights... everybody was disappointed with this decision but it has to be said that the result of this, Torchwood: Children of Earth, was also quite brilliant and dramatic. And both critically and in the ratings was an absolute sensation.... so of course the plodding BBC let it wallow for more than a year without commissioning a new series, presumably because of budgetary restraints again?
Luckily (perhaps) a US cable chanel has jumped in to fund a fourth go at it and the right, honourable “Russ T” and his brilliant producer Julie Gardner have brought us a show which I’m still confused about in regard to it’s title. I believe that over here it’s called Torchwood: Miracle Day and in the US it’s called Torchwood: The New World. Ether way... we get to win on this side of the pond because I believe our episodes are 5 or 6 minutes longer over here. My guess is they’ve cut out a lot of the uniquely British bits in the US to make way for advertisements?
And I also have to say that, quite surprisingly, after my viewing of episode one of this 13 part serial (man, that’s one long story arc) then I’m almost, but not quite, as disappointed as I was with that first season... but this is, after all, only the first episode so I’m figuring (hoping) this is gonna get real good, real quick).
There’s two real problems I’ve got with it at the moment. One is... it looks and feels like any generic, US made TV series... it seems to have lost a lot of that edgy Britishness that it had and looks maybe a little too slick for something like Torchwood. That’s okay though... I’ll get used to that, I’m sure, as soon as it gets a bit more edgy (fingers crossed).
Because my other problem is that it really does feel very formulaic at the moment. It’s exactly what I was expecting it to be... and that’s really not a good thing. Even the action sequences were things we’d seen before... rockets entering a dwelling through one window and exiting via another window, helicopters flipping out of control and just flying over the heads of “our heroes” etc. We even had a major character skewered through the chest in exactly the same way as the husband and child got killed off at the start of Neil Marshall’s The Descent... we’ve seen it all before.
Same thing with the Ret-con and standard Torchwood procedures (and emergency drills)... I guess this is a big jumping on point for US audiences though, so it’s understandable for now.
But, there were also some nice sequences in it, like the man who is blown apart and later decapitated but who is still conscious and alive throughout this process (the show deals with a world unable to die). Also the fact that Captain Jack has suddenly become mortal since his run in with the Daleks at the end of Christopher Eccleston’s first season of Doctor Who. Interesting twist that. After all, we know the ultimate fate of Captain Jack Harkness and we’ve even seen his ultimate death in an episode of the companion show, hundreds of years in the future, so we know there’s no actual threat to Captain Jack in this series... although I do put it to you that he could wind up decapitated by the end of the show... that would tie in with things, wouldn’t it? Although I doubt if they’d want to do that to John Barrowman’s career in the two shows just yet.
The real problem with the events occurring on Miracle Day though, of course, is that if it really is related to what normally “afflicts” Captain Jack then they’re going to have to get into the whole Rose Tyler powered up by the heart of the TARDIS where she inadvertently gave Captain Jack his passport to immortality (I like to call it the Rose T-virus)... that could be an awkward one to dovetail into a “jumping on” series. We’ll have to see what happens on that.
So, yeah, some nice things about the show, certainly... like Captain Jack's use of the name of a former Torchwood team member Owen Harper as an alias or the little flourishing musical references by Murray Gold to the old main theme of the show whenever Captain Jack does something particularly Captain Jack-ish... although I was surprised to see they’d dumped the old “chase/action” theme in favour of something less striking... never mind.
Also, though, there’s been no real references or explanations as to Captan Jack’s sudden return to earth after the death of his lover and the guilt over deliberately and painfully sacrificing the life of his grandchild at the end of Torchwood: Children of Earth. But again, this is only the first episode and I’m sure they’ll get to it. I’m willing to forgive them a lot for a few more episodes due to the fact that Series 2 and 3 were so brilliant... I trust Russell T. Davies a lot so lets just be patient and see what he’s got for us this time.
The jury is out on Torchwood 4 for the time being.