Torchwood: Miracle Day: Episode 1: “The New World” (review)

No spoilers here, if you’re in the U.K. and you’ve been good and won’t see this episode till tonight, when it finally airs on BBC One. There are no spoilers because there’s pretty much no way to spoil this episode: it’s all setup… all the setup we’ve already heard about.
A day comes when people stop dying. They don’t stop getting hurt or sick: they just keeping suffering without dying. Does Torchwood have something to do with this? Maybe: Someone emailed all the honchos at the CIA that single word: Torchwood. No one can figure out what it means. One agent, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) is trying to find out. She finds out — at least what Torchwood is, if not how or why it might have been involved in Miracle Day — just as Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) shows up to retcon that knowledge away.

What brought Jack back to Earth from the other side of the galaxy, where we last saw him hitting on young Starship Titanic officer Alonzo at a space cantina? Perhaps we’ll find out before “Miracle Day” runs its course.

Meanwhile, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and her hubby, Rhys (Kai Owen), and their infant daughter are playing happy families in the Welsh beyond the beyond, except when Gwen gets paranoid over everybody who comes knocking at the door and every helicopter that flies over.

Meanwhile meanwhile, CIA Agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) would have been killed in a car accident if not for death taking a holiday, which might have been poetic justice, seeing as how he had just been gloating over someone else’s fatal illness and how that would benefit his career. Later, sewn up but still in pain, he stumbles out of a Washington DC hospital, onto a transatlantic flight, into a rental car, and drivers several hours over to Cardiff, bitching along the way about why there are bridges in the U.K. and how absurd is it that those bridges might have tolls.

I was sort of tottering along boredly up until this point, when I actively started to hate this new Americanized Torchwood. Matheson is obnoxious and stupid, which is deeply annoying, but even worse is the mystery of Russell T. Davis, who wrote this episode, thinking it would entertaining or amusing for this unlikable character to be focusing on whining about how Wales is “separate” when he’s walking around basically undead and in terrible pain. Oh, and also the entirety of human civilization has been turned upside down. But, you know, let’s have a CIA agent do a comedy routine. He might as well have moaned about how terrible the airline food was on his flight over. Though that would have made more sense, actually, then being surprised to find toll booths on bridges.

There’s a pettiness to not just the writing but the whole package here, one that misses the enormous impact of the situation. I’m hoping this is not an attitude that endures throughout the series.

I’m also hoping for fewer explosions and more humor. I do dread, though, that Matheson’s bridge bitching is mean to be funny. But apart from one line later on — Jack’s “Never annoy me again” — I don’t feel any of the old Torchwood humor here.

I do have a few good things to say.

Gwen and Rhys’s baby is seriously cute:

(And Gwen engaging in a shootout with the baby on her hip worked better than I thought it would.)

Bill Pullman is powerfully creepy as Oswald Danes, proud child rapist and murderer who survives his own execution:

The suicide bomber who won’t die: this is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen, particularly since it’s handled with a sort of clinical ER/CSI authenticity rather than a zombie-movie gloss.

I’m not gonna post you a pic of that one.

Next: Episode 2: “Rendition”

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