Friday, 29 January 2016

Miracle Day: A New World written by Russell T Davies and directed by Bharat Nalluri

This story in a nutshell: One day nobody on planet Earth died. And the next, and the next, and the next…

Hunky Hero: A smart audience will figure out the picture of Jack is from World War II and that he hasn’t aged a day. Standing there before Esther like a living embodiment of the immortality that has struck the world, he cuts quite an imposing figure. The biggest miracle is that Jack has hurt his arm – it appears that whilst everybody has gained his regenerative powers he is now mortal again. That’s another strong idea because we had all become desensitised to Jack ever being in trouble no matter how much cement they pour on him and this makes him a character to genuinely care about again. Jack feels responsible in keeping Gwen safe as the last member of his team to survive.

Welsh Babe: Gwen is living out in the countryside now as far away from her old life as she can get without leaving Wales. She and Rhys have the most beautiful house on the beach where they are brining up their baby. Gwen is both haunted by and missing her old lifestyle and secretly tells her daughter stories about the aliens that she met. They live in a blanket of paranoia every time someone knocks on the door and treat the most innocuous events with suspicion (with good reason, it appears). Gwen feels completely impotent because this is exactly the sort of thing she used to deal with all the time in Torchwood but now she has left all that behind. Visiting her dad in his hospital bed is as useful for her character as Ianto visiting his sister in Children of Earth was for his. Rhys is furious that Gwen is interested in the Miracle and reminds her of her responsibilities to her daughter. There are few things on this Earth cuter than Gwen putting the earmuffs on her daughter before unleashing a volley of bullets.

CIA Survivor: I’m not sure that opening on this character smiling in the face of somebody being diagnosed with Leukaemia is the best idea Davies has ever had. I get that he is a hard nosed CIA operative but I still don’t buy that any human being could be quite so cold as to laugh in the face of a terminal illness because it would mean promotion. He thinks the UK government is like kindergarten which means he can’t be all bad. When Rex flicks through the news channels and has an outspoken nurse crying out that he should be a corpse, that is the first time I felt something for his character. Without the Miracle he would be dead which gives him a very personal interest in this spell that has been cast over the whole world. He asks the questions a lot of the survivors must be asking: ‘What happens to me when it ends? Do I die?’ When I first watched this I found Mehki Phifer’s performance a little too hysterical to be convincing but how else could you play a man who has survived a pole to the chest who is in excruciating pain and pumped full of drugs? The last death on planet Earth co-incides with the Torchwood being splashed across the CIA computers which gives Rex a strong link to follow up.

New Girl: Whilst the performance is a tad too earnest at this point, I really like the approach of Esther being intrigued by the notion of Torchwood and beginning her own private investigation into the organisation. In a way you want to scream at her to run away and not bother because her life will be turned upside down but in another you really want her to succeed because she will be a cute new member of the team. Because she was talking to Rex when he crashed his car Esther feels as though she is responsible and she owes to herself to look into Torchwood.

Daring Doctor: Of the new actors brought into the show it is Arlene Tur who makes the greatest impression on me. She’s world wise and hip and very humanistic and Vera looks like she is going to be a very welcome addition to the Torchwood team.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t reprieve a man you failed to hang because the rope snapped.’
‘Anyone who worked for Torchwood died in action. And they died young.’
‘Warfare’s even worse when bodies refuse to die.’
‘Its like the British equivalent of New Jersey!’ and ‘I’ve got to pay for this Bridge? Damn Wales!’ – which pretty much exactly what I said when I travelled on the Severn Bridge!

The Good Stuff: I much prefer the subtler title sequence – I know some people want Torchwood to be all bombast and style but this is a much quieter title sequence which drives home the Miracle Day premise. A huge round of applause for the Miracle Day premise which is so simple and yet opens out so many storytelling possibilities it is one of those ‘why the hell hasn’t anyone thought to do this before?’ ideas that crops up every now and again. I have seen many shows deal with immortality for one character but by opening out this curse to the entire human race you have a premise that will see the entire Earth facing extinction in a very unusual way in four months and you know the populace will get more and more desperate as the show continues. Bravo Mr Davies for such a dazzling concept. Opening on the horrific murder of a paedophile which proves to be very discomforting to watch, Miracle Day looks like it is going to walk in Children of Earth’s footsteps with some uncomfortable material. I really like the idea of Torchwood being this long forgotten organisation that nobody knows about but is treated in the higher echelons of the CIA as something to be whispered with reverence. The show has managed to mythologise itself successfully. Rex being speared with poles is a shocking and nasty moment. The majestic sweep across the Welsh countryside is beautifully achieved by the director, it’s the sort of location work this series has been capable of since its inception but it has always gone for the harsher industrial look of Cardiff City. Bill Pullman plays Danes with such a odd accent that is both barely decipherable and very creepy at the same time. After a slow premise building first half it is nice to get some action and a sniper blowing himself up and our heroes leaping out the window to safety is just what the Dr ordered. The sniper whose body is burnt to a frazzle and still breathing (and having his head chopped off!) is exactly the sort of twisted horror that Torchwood excels in and I hope we see more this can of Tales of the Unexpected style black humour in later episodes. I was recoiling in shock and laughing at the same time, great stuff. You can really feel the budget during the exciting Welsh action sequences and the sight of that black helicopter appearing at the window is truly dynamic. I can just imagine Americans flocking to the beach in which this gorgeous dusk chase was filmed – they manage to make Wales a genuinely dynamic place that should satisfy even the American fans!

The Bad Stuff: A man accused of the rape and murder of a 12 year old girl is exactly the sort of concept that no other science fiction show would touch and Torchwood seems to revel in the dirtiness of. Even though it lack subtlety that isn’t what I have a problem with it’s the hyperbolic statement ‘She should have run faster.’ Its not only really distasteful but means the character is hard to believe before we even meet him. The guy who talks to Danes in prison bugged me because he had some great lines but the performance is dreadful. Rex’s journey to the UK feels really quick.

The Shallow Bit: Jack looks unbelievably hot after he has jumped in the fountain.

Result: Whereas Children of Earth felt like a transition story cutting away all the usual Torchwood nonsense and homing in on the characters, Miracle Day feels like a brand new pilot for Torchwood and it begins with a great degree of confidence. Imagine for a second that the first three series never existed this actually feels as though it is the first ever episode of Torchwood dealing with an old British organisation. Because it is setting up the premise and characters it isn’t so much a strong piece in its own right but as an opening piece it is one of the stronger pilots I have seen of late. There is tension, action and a fantastic premise at the heart of the show. In a way I wish they had left Wales behind and started the whole show afresh in America but some of the shows best scenes are those featuring Gwen’s paranoid life. By the end of the episode I was intoxicated by the potential of the Miracle Day idea and cheering as Gwen was brandishing a rocket launcher during a stunning beach sequence. Rex and Esther have yet to grow on me (but by the next episode I’m sold) but Vera is a great new character who I hope they keep on. Its not the best episode of Torchwood because it has to do too much but it certainly kicks things off in exactly the right direction: 8/10

No comments: