The Glass Teat


Torchwood: Miracle Day

A little bit of Wales comes to America

By Geoffrey Dow
Managing Editor, True North Perspective
Originally published in
Geoffrey Dow will be watching Torchwood: Miracle Day all summer long. You can read his introductory essay at
  It's been suggested one ought not bring a baby to a gun-fight, but if you've no choice, earmuffs are a must.

There's no secret to the MacGuffin behind Torchwood: Miracle Day. All of a sudden, the world over, nobody dies. That doesn't mean they don't get hurt or sick or (in one especially gruesome case) exploded and burned to a crisp by the bombs he's strapped to his own chest) — it just means they don't die.

A Big Idea for a summer science fiction series, and show-runner (and screen-writer) Russell T Davies seems determined to play up its implications even as he spends his shiny new American budget to blow things up as he's never blown them up before.

Does "The New World" deliver?

As is so often the case with Davies, the answers is equivocal — so far, it's eminently watchable with both laughs and chills to spare, but with one or two lapses in credibility that make you fear the worst before it's all over; when dealing in the fantastic, verisimilitude is vital.

"The New World" opens with an execution. One-time school teacher, now convicted child rapist and murderer Oswald Danes (an very creepy Bill Pullman), who said of his 12 year-old victim, "She should'a run faster," is strapped to a table while the parents of his victim look on. Danes sneers as the poison begins to flow into his arms. He convulses, he chokes, he thrashes. But he doesn't die.

That scene is very well-done, but the un-dead Danes is also the first warning flag that Russell T Davies might not have thought everything through.

Not long after the failed execution, Danes insists that his sentence was carried out and he should therefore be released. The paedophile quotes the Constitution and threatens the Governor with lawsuits and (somehow) wins a force majeure judgement within a day or two.

Reverse the (legal) polarity, Doctor! Had that scene occured 15 minutes in, instead of 45, I might have quit watching then and there. I don't know why Davies needs a child-murderer in his story, but if he did, he damned well should have worked harder on convincing me that how he managed to get out of prison.

Not a good sign of things to come.

Other not good signs are the surgeon who dresses like a call-girl, the improbably lackadaisical response CIA's powers-that-be when their own computers are hacked, a few info-dumps too long and too many and a major character, Alexa Havins' Esther Drummond, who is a forgettable non-entity, as played by one of those blonde Hollywood actresses with more looks than acting chops.

Good signs? There are a few of those, too.

Mekhi Phifer's Rex Matheson (the name must an ironic tip-o' the hat to file noir — mustn't it?) is more than competent as the CIA agent who ought to have died when the spike went through his chest. The injury gives him excellent motivate for tracking down Torchwood's surviving member and Phifer is reasonably convincing as a determined man battling despair.

John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness is as cheesy and charming as ever and even manages to create some tension when, shocked that he hasn't healed, examines an enormous bruise on his side.

And, much later, the climactic action sequence, complete with babe (and a bazooka) in Gwen's arms, is exciting and fun.

It is in the Welsh back-country, where surviving Torchwood operative Gwen Cooper (the attractive but real-looking Eve Myles) lives in hiding with husband Rhys (the lovably lumpish Kai Owen) and their infant daughter; where they start at the sound of helicopters; and where answer the door with pistols and shotguns at the ready, that Torchwood: Miracle Day seems to finally find its legs.

A land-rover and helicopter chase suggests that Davies can spend that American money usefully after all and the final scene, when Matheson announces the survivors' rendition, is an almost perfect cliff-hanger, turning the tables on the viewers' assumptions and leaving us hungry to find out what happens next.

I'm not predicting great things for Torchwood: Miracle Day, but neither am I predicting disaster. If nothing else, I suspect the ride will be more fun now that it seems to have picked up speed; if we're lucky we won't be subject to any more legal miracles to disrupt our willing suspension of disbelief.

The coming weeks will tell the tale.