Maybe it’s all the American accents, but there’s something decidedly un-Torchwoody about “Torchwood: Miracle Day.”
It’s not that the show is bad or uninteresting. Creator/writer Russell T. Davies starts with a fascinating premise and takes it in some smart and equally fascinating ways. And it certainly has its touches.
But it mostly feels like a generic sci-fi show dressed up with John Barrowman as the dashing Capt. Jack Harkness and Eve Myles back as Gwen Cooper.
That fascinating premise? At the exact moment convicted pedophile/child killer Oswald Danes (a seriously creepy Bill Pullman) is being executed by lethal injection, everybody in the world stops dying. No matter how bad their sickness or injury (including being burned to a crisp and decapitated), they don’t die.
Also at that moment, someone emails the word “Torchwood” to the CIA, but it’s quickly erased from online existence. But not before it piques the interest of CIA data miner Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) and her friend/crush/hotshot agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), who’s been impaled by metal spikes in an auto accident and should be dead but, of course, isn’t (don’t talk on your cellphone while driving, kids).
Rex and Esther track down Gwen, who’s deep in hiding in England after the events of the last “Torchwood” season. (Don’t worry, they do a good job of not making you feel lost if you’ve never watched the originals.) But so has someone else, and Gwen’s family (hubby Rhys [Kai Owen] and baby Anwen) is attacked. But Jack arrives to save the day — and get extradited to the United States to help solve this problem.
But, oh, it’s not that simple, of course. Just as the world becomes immortal, Jack, who’s not been able to die, is suddenly mortal. And there’s a big conspiracy that has even infected the CIA. And who exactly is the pharmaceutical company rep, Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), who keeps showing up in the most interesting places?
As a “Torchwood” fan from the beginning, it’s kind of hard to write this review. Let’s start with the good stuff:
Jack and Gwen are back and their cool selves. The banter is there, and their connection is there. And there’s a great moment in the third episode that addresses the tension between them — one of the Easter eggs for longtime “Torchwood” fans. Rex and Esther are good characters, too, as is Rex’s doctor, Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur).
There are some great action sequences, including a second-episode visual that is straight from the “Torchwood” handbook. You’ll recognize it when you see it.
And there are the threads that stretch from the premise. With no one dying, can someone be accused of even attempted murder? Who gets treated in the ER first — the one with massive hemorrhaging but is in a coma, or the one who just broke a hand but is in agonizing pain? What does a life sentence in prison mean? What will happen to the food supply?
But the three episodes provided to critics (out of 10), feel padded, like they’re stretching the story to fill the episode order. So there’s a bit of a lurching quality to the story flow that would be a problem no matter what title is on the marquee. And hey, it’s pay cable Starz, so let’s throw in two random, overlapping sex scenes. (Yes, Jack is still “omnisexual,” and his tryst gets equal skin treatment.)
But this is “Torchwood,” after all, which has a history of slow starts. So I still trust Davies to give me something awesome in the end.
But since this is “Torchwood,” there’s something disappointing in translating it to the U.S. A big part of the problem has nothing to do with the transplant, though; it’s the fact that Davies killed off three-fifths of the team in the last two seasons. Add to that basically kidnapping Jack and Gwen and forcing them to do things the “American way,” and Jack is no longer rebuilding the Torchwood team. He’s having one thrust upon him, and that doesn’t feel right.
And frustrating for this fan were the references to Torchwood being decimated and no more. Um, what about the other Torchwood branches that have been mentioned in the past? Jack’s team in Cardiff wasn’t the only one, just the only one with a TV series.
But there are seven more episodes, and I’m still hopeful Davies can pull this off. I just wish Davies had made PR person Jilly Katzinger British. She feels the most like a proper “Torchwood” or “Doctor Who” character and potential villain. I hate to be so shallow, but I think that would have helped.
So here’s the bottom line.
For newbies: You’ve got a smart sci-fi series with nice bits of humor, interesting characters and a great premise that suffers a bit of clunky storytelling.
For fans of the original: Many of the pieces are there, but they’re largely cosmetic and don’t add up to a “Torchwood” whole … yet. Moving the series to the U.S. seems to be hurting it a bit more than helping it, but I’m always glad for an excuse to reconnect with Jack (and, to be honest, Rhys, whom I liked for challenging Gwen and being so quietly strong). I trust Davies. I know the last season, “Children of Earth,” polarized fans, but I largely liked it, despite losing my second favorite character.