After a two-year hiatus, the BBC sci-fi hit Torchwood is returning with the mini-series Miracle Day. While it reunites the original Torchwood team of underground alien investigators Captain Jack Harkness (the mysteriously immortal hero, played by John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (ordinary Welsh girl turned super-cop, played by Eve Myles), it’s now on a new network (Starz), with a mostly new supporting cast and a new extraterrestrial crisis to solve. Sci-fi shows, with their seemingly impenetrable mythologies, often feel daunting for newcomers, but this show, with its revamped plot and new cast, is more welcoming than most. But is it welcoming enough for Torchwood first-timers? And should this reboot worry veteran viewers who are scared their beloved show will change? Here’s a guide to the revamped show’s selling points and stumbling blocks, for old fans and new viewers alike.
WHY NEWCOMERS SHOULD WATCH
It’s the show you wanted V to be.
Of all the high-concept sci-fi series of the past few years, Miracle Day is one of the few that actually works. The premise: Everyone on Earth has abruptly stopped dying owing to some unknown alien influence. The show smartly explores the moral, medical, and political shifts that occur around the event — and unlike V, with its evil alien invaders and their wink-wink Obama rhetoric, Miracle Day is a savvy commentary on apocalypticism and the health-care crisis.
Even to a newbie, it’ll feel familiar.
Really, it’s fine if you haven’t seen the BBC show, because they’ve killed off all but two of the original cast members. To supplement male pin-up John Barrowman and the wonderful Eve Myles, Starz has added a top-notch American cast, including Bill Pullman (repulsively compelling as a condemned pedophile turned media hero), Lauren Ambrose, and Mekhi Phifer. The geekier among you will be glad to learn that writer Jane Espenson (Buffy,Battlestar Galactica) has her fingerprints all over these scripts.
It’s the BBC with a premium-cable budget.
We understand that some people find the BBC’s shoestring aesthetic tiresome. (Well, we don’t actually understand, but we’ve heard.) If you have no love for rubber alien masks, actors with visibly bad skin, and spaceship interiors that look suspiciously like storage closets, you’ll appreciate the well-utilized effects budget of the new Torchwood. No charred-to-death animated corpse has ever been beheaded so effectively on the BBC.
WHAT NEWCOMERS NEED TO OVERCOME
Beware the Torchwood leap of logic!
One thing that hasn’t changed from the original series is a certain suspension of disbelief. A murderer released from death row the day after his failed execution? Why not! A CIA agent gets out of his hospital bed to fly to rural Wales on a hunch? Makes sense! If you’re the type who demands more sci in your fi, you may end up exhausted.
Who are these people, anyway?
It’s hard to dislike Gwen Cooper (Myles), but her backstory with Torchwood is never explicitly revealed. Ditto with Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman), whose Miracle Day conundrum (when all the humans stop dying, he’s no longer immortal) has less impact if you haven’t seen him gasp back from the dead a dozen times. New viewers will have to take the same approach to the old characters that the Americans on the show do: stand back, and don’t ask lots of questions.
WHY LONGTIME FANS SHOULD WATCH
It’s still complicated.
Creator Russell T. Davies, now steering the show from Los Angeles, hasn’t dumbed anything down for the network that brought you Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The line between hero and villain has faded a little with each season of Torchwood, and is now blurred enough to make things really interesting. The new characters are intriguingly conflicted, but even Captain Jack — a character who once had the subtlety of William Shatner reciting Sarah Palin tweets — must reckon with the blood he spilled in the previous series.
Gwen is a fish out of water, again.
One of the pleasures of Torchwood’s early episodes was watching Gwen Cooper try to navigate a new world of oversexed aliens and mysterious time travelers. Now she’s the alien, a saucy Brit among fast-talking, overconfident Americans. The dividend: Eve Myles gets all the best punch lines. (Although one of our colleagues observed that she spends a lot of time with her lips pursed. Are American producers trying to hide the gap in her teeth? Perish the thought!)
More sex, fewer pterodactyls.
As John Barrowman has taken great pains to assure the media, Captain Jack still has sex with men — only now, he actually gets to do it onscreen. (His “omnisexuality” seems to have morphed into straightforward homosexuality, but we’ll take what we can get.) And in fitting with the season’s grittier, sexier aesthetic, the more fanciful aliens of the BBC series — the space whales, the Weevils, the homicidal carnival ghosts — have been thankfully put to rest.
WHAT LONGTIME FANS NEED TO OVERCOME
We’re not in Cardiff anymore.
A great deal of Torchwood’s character is derived from the East Wales city where the show originated. Now that they’ve hopped the Atlantic (and, as of last season, killed off most of the Brits), the pace and feel is distinctly American. The plus side: Wales jokes that actually make sense! (“It’s like the British equivalent of New Jersey,” one character mutters.) But if you can make it through the obligatory “in America, pants means trousers!” scene, you’ll be okay.
Yeah, it’s kind of a weird length: shorter than the standard thirteen-episode BBC series, longer than a mini-series. For those who loved the taut five-episode arc of Children of Earth, Miracle Day may feel long-winded. At least it’s a continuing story line: No monsters-of-the-week will get a chance to rear their ugly heads.
The word “Torchwood.”
It’s a good word, a clever anagram of “Doctor Who” — but trust us, you’re going to be tired of hearing it after the first couple of episodes of Miracle Day. (“What is Torchwood anyway?” says one character. “Will you drop this Torchwood business already?” says another.) Just remember that the exposition isn’t for you; it’s for the newbies who need to watch in order for there to be a season five. And you want there to be a season five, don’t you? Right. Welcome to Torchwood.