Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Television Review - Torchwood: Miracle Day: The New World

So it's back with new, sexy American clothes. Also, a budget, something that BBC programs tend not to have the luxury of. Torchwood, the crap-tastic Doctor Who spin-off that actually got good near the end. Very good, actually. So now its back with a bigger budget and a more diverse backdrop than Cardiff. Things can only get better, right?

So the scene starts with Torchwood gone. Jack's disappeared. Gwen is living a solitary life, Welshing it up out in the wastelands (or non-urban Wales as it's more conventionally known). Actually, I poke fun, but its very pretty, and its prettiness is shown off in a few sweeping helicopter shots that are not only a bit pointless, but more pressingly feel outta place. We get exciting and dramatic music, sweeping countryside shots, all building up to scenes of Gwen and her husband painting. Hooray?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First we are introduced to our American protagonists, a couple of agents, Rex and Esther. Esther calls up Rex as he's driving, wondering about a mass email that was sent saying just the word "Torchwood", but as she talks Rex crashes and recieves a pole through the chest. Like any good action hero Rex, soldiers on, however, and as he lies writing in pain in a hospital bed he is told the news: no one is dying. In the world.

What follows is an episode that tries to slowly entwine the different story strands together and establish the new Torchwood cast, to reasonable success. This is a hook and a confluence of characters, but in terms of judging how the series will turn out it'll be the next episode that really acts as the mission statement. The mystery element, as it pertains to Torchwood, is never particularly compelling. As the audience, we know who Torchwood are already and the episode tries to play the mystery segment straight.

I don't like the directing in Torchwood. Not at all. This is no different, although as someone who knows very little about directing I have trouble explaining why. It just really rubs me up the wrong way.

Our villain, a murderer and a paedophile, looks to be a fun one. He's introduced to us in an unambiguous manner: he's famous for his defence of "she should have run faster". When you get a villain so unrepentantly, audaciously evil you can't help but feel that he's certainly going to make things worth watching. The one scene he does have, where he plants the seeds of his escape from jail, however, doesn't work. It's not well written or directed and the acting fails to convey the sense of menace, or the struggle going on.

There are some interesting discussions going on here about the portrayal of death in fiction that was discussed elsewhere. Certainly, by not just using this as an excuse to revel in set-pieces, instead giving us a couple of rather nasty scenes, Miracle Day shows that it is handling its theme decently. It is rather undone, however, by the episode's ending. An action scene with explosions and weapons and not a hint of self-reflection? Glad to see this new treatment of violence is followed through with for less than half an episode.

Torchwood: Miracle Day: The New World was always gonna be a tricky one. It has to bring Jack and Gwen back into the fold and introduce our shiny new America characters, whilst setting up the overarching concept driving the plot forward. It does so rather clumsily, but when the series settles down and the characters develop some group chemistry we could see something very entertaining. This isn't a great episode, but it does show enough of a promising glimmer to justify watching a few more episodes.

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