Reasons to Watch: Torchwood Miracle Day

Taken by the Apollo 8 crew in 1968, this is the first image taken of the Earth in its entirety.
Taken by the Apollo 8 crew in 1968, this is the first image taken of the Earth in its entirety.

Torchwood: Miracle Day has a lot to live up to. Essentially the fourth season of the BBC hit, Miracle Day repackages what fans of the series love and presents it to a fresh American audience, suitable for immediate consumption without hours of playing catch-up with the earlier seasons. That being said, I always suggest that the best viewing experience comes with being well-informed, and the earlier seasons, the first two especially, are worth the time to revisit.

What is Torchwood?

For the Unitiated

Torchwood is a spin-off, and anagram, of the British cult classic Doctor Who, which ran from 1963 to 1989 and was rebooted in 2005. Doctor Who revolves around an alien known only as “The Doctor” who travels through space and time as an intergalactic hero. During these travels, the Doctor picks up human companions to accompany and help him on his journey. The Doctor does not die; he simply regenerates, changing appearance and personality when he does so. Over the span of the show, there have been eleven reincarnations of the doctor, all of them male.

“Why is this important?” you ask. Well, Torchwood essentially begins with Captain Jack Harkness, a character first introduced in the 2005 Doctor Who episode “The Empty Child.” He too is a time-traveller, but he is also a con-man, and his seeming twisted morality and playboy ways make him an interesting contrast to the stoic ninth Doctor. He joins the Doctor and then companion Rose on their journey and eventually ends up dying in their battle against the alien Daleks. Rose, imbued with power at the time (it’s a long story), brings him back to life, but she pushes too hard, giving him too much life and making Jack immortal.

Jack ends up parting ways with the Doctor (he and Rose do not even know that he survived), and takes to rebuilding the Torchwood Institute in Wales. Originally, "the Torchwood Institute was set up by the British royal family in 1879 to defend the realm of Great Britain by investigating the unusual, the strange... and the alien," as Jack puts it. The Torchwood Institute has lost its way, but Jack takes the Wales division and fills it with his own operatives, bringing it back to its original purpose in the name of the Doctor. We join his story when he first meets his next team member: Gwen Cooper. We see this new world through her eyes as she joins Jack and the team in investigating the unusual, surreal, and alien.

If you are a fan of such shows as The X-Files, Fringe, or Warehouse 13 (a Syfy show I must also recommend for its delightful characters), then you would like Torchwood. It is another take on the typical monster-of-the-week storyline with an alien/supernatural twist. Add some gratuitous violence and sex in a show that is so bold as to have its protagonist be openly bisexual and you have a fascinating start.

Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff, the location of the Torchwood Institute in Wales
Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff, the location of the Torchwood Institute in Wales | Source
Actors John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) and Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones)
Actors John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) and Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones) | Source

Controversy

Season three of Torchwood deviated from the mold of the first seasons in a few ways. Firstly, rather than a full season, Torchwood: Children of Earth aired as a miniseries over five nights. It also aired one hour earlier, taking over the slot usually occupied by Doctor Who while it was on hiatus. This may seem insignificant, but the change put Torchwood at a more family-friendly hour, which put some restrictions on what content could be aired.

Depending on who you talk to, Children of Earth was either a success or a disaster. The story is compelling: one day all of the children on earth stop in their tracks and deliver a single message "We are coming." The members of Torchwood are being hunted and an alien invasion is on the way that will put all of the children in danger. The turning point for many, however, is what happens to the beloved main characters when these aliens, the 456, finally arrive.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Captain Jack has always been the attractive and never aging heart of the show. When he began dating his teammate, Ianto Jones, the relationship showed yet another, softer side, of Jack. So when Ianto died in Jack's arms at the end of Children of Earth, the poignant moment was powerful as well as devastating in its effect. Television shows should not be afraid to kill popular characters as it can get in the way of storytelling, but when such a death leaves your main character devastated as well, it can have powerful consequences. When Jack ends up sacrificing his own granddaughter in order to save the world, his character turned a corner. Where would he go now?

Bold storytelling or character massacre, Children of Earth left the Torchwood Institute in ruins.

What is Miracle Day?

On July 8, 2011, death takes a vacation. A man on death row receives a lethal injection and survives, a boy is shot multiple times and keeps breathing, and a CIA agent who should have died in a car crash is left alive to wonder how he survived and what will be in store for him now. The effect is worldwide, and people begin to speak of "Miracle Day," the day when death no longer had a hold on humans.

Just as the last death is recorded, the word "Torchwood" is transmitted to the top agencies in the world and is just as quickly erased from the record without a trace. Somewhere in Wales, former Torchwood agent Gwen Cooper lives in isolation with her husband and baby daughter, fearful of the day when someone may come looking for her. Unfortunately for her, that day has come.

Torchwood: Miracle Day appears to have something for everyone. For the die-hard fans, we have the continuation of the beloved series with both of its stars, John Barrowman and Eve Myles. With Russell T. Davies at the head of the show, some continuity will be maintained, and viewers can expect glimmers of the former season (Jack uses Owen Harper's badge to impersonate an FBI agent in the first episode - I always did love Owen). For new viewers, we have a fresh start with the relocation to the United States. As the newly integrated team members of the CIA learn about Torchwood and its past, so shall we.

Those used to the grittier low-budget execution of BBC shows, Torchwood: Miracle Day will be a surprise, with its glitzier Hollywood feel, but the core of the show remains the same. I had my doubts, like many others, and having seen the first episode, some of those remain. The first episode is meant purely as an introduction to the newest threat to the world and to the Torchwood Institute itself, and thus is not purely necessary for those familiar with the show. I fully expect the second episode, "Rendition," to pick up the story and run with it now that the basic information has been dispensed.

If my hopes are realized, as reviews by writers who have seen the first few episodes suggest, Miracle Day will be a welcome addition to the Torchwood narrative. After all, the premise may be the most compelling of them all. What happens when death is no longer a factor in human life? Some welcome this change as a miracle and begin to worship doctors as it source. Some recognize the danger, as an increasing human population with no end in sight threatens to overpopulate and overburden our world. More interestingly, perhaps, is what happens when the only man in the world who did not have to fear death up until this point now finds himself susceptible to injury and mortal danger.

How did this "miracle" come to be? Why is it only affecting humans? And who decided to unveil Torchwood to the world at this very moment when Jack and Gwen were both determined to keep it hidden? I hope you will be watching with me to find out.

Torchwood airs on Starz, Fridays at 10PM ET/PT

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