‘He’s the second one tonight. DOAs who just won’t die.’ Torchwood’s transfer to the US Starz network comes with a visibly increased budget (and Bill Pullman) which not only leads to better effects (the grisly aftermath of the suicide assassin) and action sequences (the helicopter battle on a Welsh beach), but an international flavour and a greatly increased sense of scale. Amusingly, given Doctor Who’s own experience of becoming a US co-production, it also begins with a character being rushed into ER and miraculously surviving death.
I enjoy that all this is achieved without walking away from the show’s origin as a Welsh show, with about half the action taking place in Cardiff or Gwen and Rhys’ witness protection cottage in rural Wales. RTD naturally has some fun with this (Rex calls it ‘the British equivalent of New Jersey’ and repeatedly complains about having to pay to cross the Severn Bridge), but the show’s essence is retained. It bodes well as he now shepherds the parent show onto Disney.
RTD also follows up Children of Earth, with Gwen, Rhys and their baby coping with the aftermath, Jack dedicated to protecting them by keeping Torchwood dead and buried, and many references to the 456. But this is balanced by helping new viewers to jump on – as Rex and Esther become the viewpoint characters for the bulk of the running time. Rex is introduced as an idiot, delighted by a rival’s misfortune (his wife has leukaemia) and the opportunities it presents so that we might be cheering when he gets impaled by spikes in the first few minutes. His miraculous survival, at the same time as the child-killing paedophile Oswald Danes walks away from his own punishment murder, is the entry point to the story.
That story is the sudden abolition of death across the world. Now, everyone has Jack’s ability to survive (though not to be restored to full health), while Jack himself is suddenly vulnerable. RTD employs one of his favourite techniques, flicking between TV channels to show the impact from multiple perspectives – to some, it’s Miracle Day, to others it’s a sinister government experiment, or even a zombie takeover. And while it means Gwen’s dad survives a massive heart attack, it also means the human population is four months away from unsustainability.
This is a great episode, full of action, intrigue and shaded characterisation for all the leads (barring, at this stage, Esther, who has to play exposition woman). The body horror is a step beyond the UK version of the series. This is very promising.
Next Time: Rendition