The bad news is that “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” after the opening episode, doesn’t quite live up to the all UK-version of “Torchwood.” The good news is that it’s still a solid sci-fi fantasy anchored by the bisexual charm of Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and the deft writing of Russell T. Davis. It’s also too early to say whether the 10-part reboot airing on Starz will, after reintroducing its characters and grabbing new viewers, take us back down to the devastatingly grim tone of “Children of the Earth.” The story is certainly built for it.
[Opening Episode Synopsis]
“Miracle Day” opens with Twitter. The disbanded #TORCHWOOD is mysteriously trending on all the social networks. One CIA agent, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) is at CIA headquarters discussing it with another, Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer). Suddenly, there’s a car accident and a long metal pipe bursts through Rex’s window and gores him through the chest. He should be dead, but he isn’t. Meanwhile, at the same time, a death-row inmate Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) is being put to death by lethal injection, but against all odds, he doesn’t die, either.
We soon discover that no one is dying. That’s the premise behind “Miracle Day.” People around the globe have simply stopped dying. Suicides fail. Heart attacks are rendered moot. Cancer is put on hold. Hospitals fill with the sick and dying, but no one actually passes on. Even bomb explosions fail to kill, leaving the charred remains of would-be corpses alive and breathing.
It’s an intriguing premise, and one that immediately presents a lot of questions: Who is behind Miracle Day? When and if it ends, will those that should be dead simply die? How long before the hospitals run out of room? How long before the world is faced with an overpopulation problem? What happens when food runs out? Will people even need food to live?
It’s those questions and more that only “Torchwood” can answer, but “Torchwood” is toast. It’s been six months since the events of “Children of the Earth,” and there are only two Torchwood survivors: Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) is hidden in the remote countryside with her baby and husband, Rhys. She is presumed dead. And Captain Jack? Who the hell knows? But after a heart attack fails to kill her father, Gwen comes out of hiding, and in doing so, Rex Matheson — alive but still unhealed from the goring — tracks her down, and Captain Jack resurfaces to protect her. From what or whom is not clear. That’s a question for “Torchwood,” which I assume will be rebuilt in the States with Jack, Gwen, Rex, and others, certainly Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), who has yet to be introduced. The twist? Captain Jack, heretofore immortal, has experienced a reversal: He’s suddenly lost his healing powers.
[End Opening Episode Synopsis]
The central mystery of “Miracle Day” is vintage Russell T. Davies, and even contains small echoes of the “Children of Earth” storyline. The execution, in the first episode at least, has been a little clumsy, as Davies has taken pains to introduce “Torchwood” to a new audience and, in doing so, over-emphasizes Captain Jack’s sexuality while paying unnecessary lip service to the “Torchwood” backstory. It’s repetitive for existing viewers and needless for new ones.
The show’s biggest weakness so far, however, is Mekhi Phifer, who is brash and irritating beyond measure. I don’t understand why he was chosen for this role, My only guess is that Eve Myles got so tired of being the most obnoxious person in “Torchwood” that she asked someone else take the mantle. It worked; Gwen Cooper, baby in one hand and pistol in the other, is suddenly taking aim at helicopters and is one of the best reasons to watch “Torchwood” instead of the biggest reason not to. Likewise, Alexa Havins is a bit too shiny-faced American for the series, but she’s serviceable in what looks to be Gwen’s old role of logistics.
For fans of “Torchwood,” it would take one colossal cock-up to keep us from watching “Miracle Day,” and there are none of those in sight. There are a few minor irritations and one major one in Phifer, but with Captain Jack and a sci-fi premise as brilliant and immediately engaging as the one on display in “Miracle Day,” there should be enough charm and intrigue in the first episode to hold on to the existing viewers and win over some new ones in the process.