Contributor: Gregg Wright
Being a big “Torchwood” fan, my expectations for “Miracle Day” were very high. While “Doctor Who” suffered something of a decline at one point, “Torchwood” was getting better and better. Season 3′s “Children of Earth” miniseries, though flawed, was a fantastic piece of entertainment. I was genuinely excited about the idea of “Torchwood” coming to America, especially given the fact that Russel T. Davies would still be actively involved in its creation. And better yet, all three surviving original series regulars (as well as recurring character Sergeant Andy) would be back for the new show, alongside a few American castmembers. The stars seemed to be aligning for “Torchwood’s” triumphant return.
To my surprise, and disappointment, “Miracle Day” is off to a bit of a shaky start. There’s still a lot to like about the premiere, but it’s a bit underwhelming, given the past quality of the show. The change of setting and involvement of more American characters is a bit more off-putting than I would have expected. The overall tone of the show is also different. It’s not that it feels more “American”. It doesn’t give way to the dreaded shaky-cam, and the increased number of aerial shots due to the higher budget are a welcome addition, as they give the production more epic feel. I just expected the same adult, character-oriented drama/thriller I’d been watching for three seasons now. The seriousness of the premise demands a serious approach, but “Miracle Day” is more cliché-ridden adventure thriller than powerhouse drama, so far at least.
None of the CIA characters are particularly interesting, though Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) seems to be the better of the two leads. His character lacks depth, but Phifer at least brings some energy to his role in his relentless search for the truth. Esther Drummond (Alexa Havens), however, is completely bland and forgettable. The only new character who’s immediately interesting is, not surprisingly, Bill Pullman’s convicted pedophile/murderer, Oswald Danes. At the moment, he is a bit one-note, but Pullman’s acting is great. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the character, who looks to play a central part in the unfolding of this mystery.
For the premiere, returning characters Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams are the only ones who get any real development. They provide the emotional core for the episode. Gwen is finding it difficult to settle down into a normal life after her time with Torchwood. And current events threaten to push her back into her old role. I thought this aspect of the episode was handled a bit roughly at times, but it worked. Gwen and Rhys are immediately more likable than the other new regulars.
I haven’t yet discussed the actual plot yet. This is one area of the episode where I have no real complaints. I love the premise. It’s a quintessential “Torchwood” plot, with big stakes and an easily relatable concept. I’d say that it can proudly stand up next to “Children of Earth’s” equally great premise. It’s easy to see Miracle Day as a good thing, and it would be, if not for the obvious consequences for a non-spacefaring species. The concept is perfect fodder for a compelling sci-fi drama, with the potential for incredible emotional and philosophical conflicts. I also like that the premise seems to relate pretty directly with Jack Harkness himself. Could this plague of immortality have something to do with the technology that turned Owen Harper into a walking corpse? The symptoms seem slightly different, so it seems unlikely. But you never know.
The real question is: who is behind this? Who would want to expose “Torchwood” to the world? There may be something of an alien involvement, but I’m gunning for the theory that it’s a human being, possibly from “Torchwood’s” past. I know Owen Harper is supposed to be dead, but I think he would be perfect as the one behind it all, maybe with a misguided sense of benevolence. On the other hand, common sense would seem to suggest that someone has a grudge against either “Torchwood” or Jack himself, and that this whole phenomenon is just a means to that end.
Murray Gold is probably better known for his work on “Doctor Who”, which is just as well, because his work there has been some of the best TV music of the past decade, and perhaps much longer. Gold and Ben Foster have been splitting duties on “Torchwood”, and the results have been generally good, though not nearly as impressive as Gold’s work on “Doctor Who”. Foster composed for “Children of Earth”, a score that felt a bit uncharacteristic for the franchise, but was effective enough nonetheless. It’s been long enough that I have a hard time remembering much of Gold and Foster’s music for the first two seasons, but I don’t remember disliking it. It’s Murray Gold’s turn for “Miracle Day”, and oddly, this is the first time I’ve thought that anything he composed for the Whoverse actively detracted from the program. I’m not sure what happened, exactly, but Gold seems to have tried to compose something stylistically different than what he normally would. And in my opinion, it’s more noise than music.
Trying to appeal to both longtime “Torchwood” fans and new viewers, “Miracle Day” ends up only halfway achieving that goal for either. Longtime fans will be pleased to see Jack, Gwen, and Rhys back in lead roles, but they’ll be slightly annoyed at the rough attempt to shoehorn in new characters and a new feel for the show. New viewers will probably have an easier time getting into the show through the perspective of the new characters, but the introduction of previous “Torchwood” characters seems to rely too heavily on longtime viewers’ knowledge of them. New viewers learn almost nothing about Jack, other than that he was involved in “Torchwood”, is friends with Gwen, and was previously immortal. Without a longtime fan’s previous knowledge, Jack becomes overly simplified. The effect is not as dramatic with Gwen and Rhys, but it’s still present to a certain degree.
Much of what we loved about “Torchwood” is still present. Jack, Gwen, and Rhys are still very much themselves (even if Gwen’s “badass chick” persona has been a tiny bit exaggerated). There are some great scenes that feel bigger and better than what one would normally expect from an American TV show, like the helicopter attack at Gwen and Rhys’s home in Wales, and the memorable “try cutting off the head” scene. There’s a lot to like about the premiere, in spite of its weaknesses, many of which may seem less like weaknesses in the broader season context. The season could have, and should have had a stronger start. But there’s enough going for “Miracle Day” that it feels a bit premature to get so critical.