Torchwood Miracle Day – episode 1

First impressions: slick, glossy, well written, well acted, and suffering from much the same problem as the 1996 Who telemovie — they’ve taken a show whose primary appeal was a very British humour and sense of whimsy, and stripped it of everything that made it unique, offering us yet another formulaic US sci-fi thriller series. It’s better than the 1996 effort, but the thing that really struck me about it was “Where’s the sense of wonder?”

This is obviously a complete reboot of the Torchwood universe, and I’m not inclined to criticise it for the way it’s been detached from the Whoniverse. That was clearly always on the cards, given that its creator never wanted it to be part of the Whoniverse in the first place, and this is a new show trying to hook a new audience. But one of the things that hooked me on the first series was that sense of wonder to be found with the best sf and fantasy. Gwen’s first look at the Hub in “Everything Changes” is a thing of joy, and never was an episode more aptly titled. That joy, that wonder, was sadly lacking from Miracle Day’s opener.

And yes, it’s been utterly Americanised. The final scene reads to me as intended to make a US audience cheer for good guy Rex. What I see is a craven act of collaboration by the British government. Rusty is smart enough to play to both audiences at once, but I don’t much like the message intended for the US audience.

I’m not sure there’s enough here to sustain a single storyline over ten weekly episodes. Stripping Children of Earth across five consecutive nights worked, but here people have to want to watch it week after week. I finished the episode feeling inclined to watch the next episode, but I didn’t feel that sense of “Oh no, I’ve got to wait a whole week for the next one!” that I used to get watching the “next episode” teaser. Because this slick Hollywood show isn’t what I watched Torchwood for. The first two series always felt to me like fanboys and girls getting to put their fanfic on screen with a BBC3 budget. It was crackfic on acid, it had a pteranodon fighting a Cyberwoman. They weren’t afraid to throw stuff at the screen and see what worked. When it was bad it was horrid, but when it was good it was very good indeed. I never saw a single episode that didn’t have something worthwhile in it, even if there are episodes I’ll never bother watching a second time. The action sequences in Miracle Day are wonderful, but they’re not enough. There’s no risk-taking here. I’m never going to see a little old lady at a pedestrian crossing muttering, “Bloody Torchwood.”

It’s the first episode, so there’s a need to bring the audience in and up to speed, and it may pick up in later episodes. But if this is all there’s going to be — well, sorry, Rusty, but the show I want to watch is Torchwood in all its silly, funny glory, however dear to your heart your original Excalibur concept may be.

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