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“Torchwood: Miracle Day,” Episode 1: “The New World” Review (SPOILERS)

After I watched Torchwood’s third series, the 5-part event collectively known as “Children of Earth,” I called it a “sci-fi 24.” This was a long way from the hit-and-mostly-miss first two series, which were almost exclusively monster-of-the-week stories and misguided attempts at grown-up sex and violence.  What “Children of Earth” did so beautifully was take the alien invasion format and show how it affects people in a very human way.  The newest series, the ten-part “Miracle Day,” is following the same format but putting it on a global scale instead of merely a British one.  The central conceit, that everyone in the entire world stops dying, is interesting enough on its own, but the first episode discusses the ramifications of such a phenomenon while wrapping it into a mystery (likely conspiracy) story. Just what is causing everyone in the world to remain alive even when they shouldn’t? That’s for another episode. What “Miracle Day: The New World” tells is that only Torchwood can figure it out.

In the episode’s opening scene, we’re introduced to easily the most interesting new character in the form of Oswald Danes, played by Bill Pullman.  He is being put to death for the unrepentant rape and murder of a little girl, immediately making him the least sympathetic person in the entire universe. As we see him strapped to the table and the lethal injection administered. He then begins a horrific series of death throes that don’t end when they ought to. A later scene between Danes and a Governor’s representative explains that, legally, he WAS executed and has fulfilled his sentence. Now I bet the jury wishes they’d sentenced him to life.  Pullman’s performance is chilling and his character offers a very definite antithesis to those proclaiming the new found global immortality is a blessing.

We also meet CIA agents Rex Matheson and Esther Drummond, who inexplicably has received an e-mail about Torchwood, only to have it wiped moments later.  Rex is only starting to get annoyed at the Torchwood talk when he gets in a car accident and pieces of steel crash through the windshield, impaling him. Good thing it’s Miracle Day, so now he can be alive in horrible, agonizing pain. Matheson is not a very nice guy either, as in his opening moments, he gleefully cheers a colleague’s wife’s terminal illness, thus allowing him to be unavailable for a cushy promotion.  He spends the bulk of the episode conducting an investigation from a hospital bed.

Esther, meanwhile, is fulfilling the role of the audience surrogate as she investigates Torchwood and runs into the mysterious Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowmaaaaaaaaan!) who saves her from a mysterious assassin, then drugs her into forgetting what happened, much like what happened to Gwen Cooper in the first episode of series one.  We know very little about her as a character, save that she appears to be a “good” person who just genuinely wants to get to the truth. Knowing the kind of writer Russell T. Davies is, Drummond will surely have an interesting personal tale of her own. Or at least I hope she does.

Jack Harkness has been living in the United States in what looks like an abandoned housing project.  He’s tried to keep people from asking questions about Torchwood, but isn’t doing a very good job.  While at the CIA archives, he saves Esther from a guy strapped to a bomb, who blows himself up after Jack shoots him. Jack and Esther fling themselves out window to escape the blast and we learn for the first time that Jack’s healing factor isn’t working anymore.  He then pretends to be in the FBI in order to gain access to the blowed-up assassin’s autopsy. Yes, even though there’s not much left of him, he’s still alive.  Jack suggests they try removing the head, which still doesn’t stop him ticking. These aren’t zombies, they’re just undying.

And what of Gwen Cooper? She has secluded herself to the remote Welsh coast with her husband, Rhys, and their infant daughter.  Despite the peaceful life, she lives in constant fear that someone will come looking for her because of her Torchwood past.  They would have remained there if not for news that her father has had a heart attack.  Gwen and family return to Cardiff to see him and learn of Miracle Day. For anyone asking what the real problem with not dying is, it is fully explained in a scene between Gwen and PC (now Sgt.) Andy Davidson: In four months of no one dying, Earth’s societies will collapse from lack of food and overpopulation. And if no one EVER dies, that will be quite a bad thing, I think you’ll agree.

While I did really enjoy this episode, there were a couple things I didn’t particularly like. First, I really actively disliked the character of Rex Matheson, played by Mekhi Phifer.  I appreciate layered and complex characters, but I really didn’t know where he was coming from, aside from just wanting to know about Miracle Day because of his own should-have-died experience. The sequence where he goes to the UK to find Gwen is particularly eye-rolling, though not because of his character exactly.  It was just silly to have the conversation between Matheson and Drummond on the phone the way it did, essentially skipping all time when he wasn’t on the phone. There’s even the obligatory, “Where were we?” line, which was jokey and not in keeping with the tone of the episode. I also thought that, while the climactic action sequence on the beach was exciting, the special effects of the guns firing and the flaming helicopter were quite poor. Certainly miss The Mill on that one.

In general, though, I was highly engaged in the plight of a world where no one can die. I’m particularly interested to see what happens with Oswald Danes, as such an evil character being put in a position of ever-living is quite frightening.  There’s also the realization that Jack, it seems, is now the ONLY person in the world who CAN die.  This is my prediction for the ultimate conspiracy of the series: since it’s clear that some alien (or just clandestine) entity is behind changing people, I think the entire thing was just a way to find a way to kill Jack Harkness.  Let’s see how soon I’m proven wrong.

“The New World” raises a very real question about the nature of existence. Earth needs death to function properly. It’s a vital part of the cycle and most people fear it entirely. It might end up being even more frightening to have to keep living in an ever-worsening world. I hope this sci-fi 24 keeps it up for the whole ten episodes.

-Kanderson enjoys your TWITTER followship

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  1. adros47 says:

    From memory, there was no hint in this episode that jack could die. His regenerative power had simply worn off, making him susceptible to injury like everyone else. This point is made visually by the scene in which Esther and Jack are examining their very similar bruises. My first reaction was that Jack lost some of his powers to become just like everyone else – vulnerable to injury but undying.

  2. Sarah Hughes says:

    I am just glad they are back. It has been so long! It’s a show, enjoy it.

  3. Shelly says:

    I felt Davies relied entirely too much on stereotypes. None of the American characters felt believable to me. They were all two-dimensional. And our regulars, Gwen and Jack, weren’t on form either. The dark humor of the original Torchwood was sadly lacking. I’m afraid it’s typical of Davies though – he works up a brilliant first season (Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood) and then the rest fail to measure up.

  4. James McGill says:

    Joshua is right. I was referring to the face of boe. But here’s the thing, who else in Torchwood knows and is friends with the doctor. The Face of Boe always called the doctor ‘My old Friend’. Unless Gwen and her family become companions to the doctor, there’s no one really else who can fall into category of being really old, powerful, and a friend of the Doctor. Of course this could all lead up to the master coming back and teaming up with Jack, the two becoming ‘friends’ ::wink wink nudge nudge:: and jack dying. Making the master change his name to The face of Boe.

    Of course i could be high right now, but I don’t remember smoking any weed today, so probably not.

  5. Gabriel says:

    @ Art,
    Thanks for the info. I will look for this.

  6. Reed: I don’t think James was talking about the bar thing from after end of time, but the Boe reference at the end of the third series. But like Art above, I think it was too jokey to take as the final word on the matter–just a fun possibility that may have even been a joke Jack was playing on the Doctor.

  7. Reed says:

    Just a note to James McGill, above:

    Pretty sure that scene has already taken place. When Jack teleports up into space at the end of ‘Children of Earth,’ I think we’re meant to assume that that’s what lead him to that bar where the Doctor gives him the note. I think ‘Miracle Day’ takes place after his return to earth.

  8. Graham Trudeau says:

    Im really just interested to see if there’s further elaboration into the face of boe thing this season (im imagining some shenanigans that result in his head being immortal, but his body dying)

    The Rex Matherson character is pretty terrible. Up until the end he was developing some likability as a overly-snarky/mean, but well meaning guy, but the “TAKE ‘EM TO ‘MERICA!” ruined his character for me.

    Other than that i think the episode has been a nice mix between the first two seasons (which lacked plot in general, but had great character development and general feel) and the Children of Earth (which had a great plot, but kinda sketchy character development)

  9. SHOGUN says:

    I just finished Children of Earth yesterday so I am officially caught up with NuWho/Torchwood and will watch this tonight after work. Pretty stoked!

    Awesome Mira Booey!

  10. Saxyroro says:

    Was a good start! I’m keeping my expectations low. So far so good. On the review had to chill some know it all out. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Welcome to Torchwood newcomers.

  11. Scott Harris says:

    “Deaths: 18,495,442
    Births: 43,619,176

    or a net gain at the end of the 4 months of: 62,114,618”

    Nope, a net gain of 43,619,176, where prior to Miracle Day it would have been 43,619,176 – 18,495,442 = 25,123,734. 43,619,176/25,123,734 is not quite 1.75. Therefore, if the world will collapse due to resource in 4 months in a world without death, it would have done so in 7 months anyway.

  12. Art says:

    @Gabriel – Netflix has Starz Live. Its hard to find but Google it. You can watch Starz 24/7 in real time. Thats how I watched MD.

    I enjoyed it. Thought it was a good start to a new series. Not great, but set the tone and got all the questions out of the way.

    As for Jack being able to die, RTD said that the comment was an In-Joke. He hinted Jack COULD be the Face of Boe, but it could go either way. If it we’re Moffat, I’d fully expect Jack to die and shatter our expectations. But its RTD, so Jack will live long enough to out-mack Captain Kirk

  13. Everyone outside of Torchwood seems pretty shocked at the idea of non-human involvement. Is it those crazy cracks in time playing up again? So that everyone can be reshocked by the existence of alien life, while the events of Children of Earth still left Torchwood in its current mangled shape?

  14. Brian H says:

    So I know I’m being nitpicky, but I’m a nerd so I’m allowed. I can suspend only a certain amount of disbelief for a show. The total collapse in 4 months figure crossed that threshold.

    Population growth rate:
    1.092% (2011 est.)
    Birth rate:
    19.15 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
    Death rate:
    8.12 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)

    4 months approximately 120 days.

    Deaths: 18,495,442
    Births: 43,619,176

    or a net gain at the end of the 4 months of: 62,114,618

    Now most of those are going to be in the highest population countries. Probably China and India. I’d expect turmoil and famine in those countries, but hardly world wide collapse. I mean that’s about a total of what, 1% (or what we normally see in a year) worldwide population increase, spread out (or compressed I suppose) over 4 months?

    Not gonna say it wouldn’t be panic inducing or that it wouldn’t be a world messer upper, but the world (certainly not developed nations) are not going to collapse in that short of a span from population alone.

    Still exciting show and awesome to see Jack and Gwen back in action.

  15. Gabriel says:

    I was disappointed. I really wanted to like this so I probably set to high a threshhold. For me I was able to suspend disbelif on everything except the release of the Bull Pillman character. That wouldn’t happen. This isn’t even close to the first time someone hasn’t died during an execution. Some people have had multiple attempts. I think one guys execution was eventually commuted to life in prison. His threats of lawsuits were utter bullshit. As a govenor he can’t be sued for his actions while he is in office. The state would have as many lawyers as would be necessary to have these lawsuits tossed out. This makes me angry because people will watch this and think it is that easy to bluff your way out of prison. A year or so from now people will be using it in arguments over what is wrong with government.
    Didn’t like the CIA character at all. He was a prick. And watching him bounce around in the car was just irritating.
    Really thought the baby was too cute for words and that Gwen and Rhys were a lot of fun.
    Owen Harper. That was effective. Gave me a bitter sweet feeling.
    And since I don’t get Starz I am guessing I won’t see the rest of the series until it is available on netflix.

  16. steviferg says:

    Even in the midst of all the super disturbing aspects: creepy evil Bill Pullman, the horrifying undying people, the worrying prospect of a mortal Jack Harkness, and ridiculous baby-endangerment, the reall gut-punch for me was Jack using Owen’s name as an alias. All casual-like. I realise that some of the audience won’t have a clue who Owen is, but for those of us who do, using his name as just any old alias… that’s just heart-wrenching. I hope that any reference to Ianto gets a bit more respect.

  17. Robin Burks says:

    I have to admit I am very biased when it comes to this show, but I loved the first episode of “Miracle Day.” I felt it struck just the right note and definitely left me wanting more. I have to disagree about Mekhi Phifer’s character, though – I really liked him. He’s got just enough crazy to fit into the Torchwood team. I loved that scene where he got on plane to the UK to track down Gwen.

  18. Vincent S says:

    lol at Rex just randomly swallowing drugs off a cart.
    Freaking adorable baby and it just smiled in the helicopter scene. Kick ass Gwen scenes too.
    I think they just ret-con’ed Jack kiss since he’s normal now. Then again I have no idea how long this Miracle Day Event will stop.

    Not a bad start… I wasn’t actively watching Torchwood before so I can’t judge.

  19. Martin J says:


    I found Rex’s “Im CIA bitch” attitude to perfectly reflect the attitude Torchwood had to the regular police in the first 2 series, as such found it hilarious.

    But then I am British and think he is there as the personification of clunky overbearing US influence to explain the the UK audience why Torchwood is not in the UK this time.

  20. jess says:

    1) Gwen’s baby was wearing ear muffs, which Gwen grabbed and threw on Anwen (the baby) when she realized she would be shooting.
    2) LOVED watching both Gwen and Rhys kick ass while holding the baby – totally torchwood.
    4) anyone else notice the name that Captain Jack gave as his FBI name? Owen Harper. Nice shout-out to lost friends, RTD (and a nice thing for those who have been with Torchwood from the get-go).
    5) PC (now Sgt) Andy! yay!
    6) so, if the miracle gets reversed, does everyone who should be dead just drop dead then and there – Gwen’s dad, Rex, headless crispy critter bomber, etc?
    7) am I the only one that was wondering about the Baby as they “commandeered” the Torchwood people? I mean, great, they are flying them to the States, but are they going to stop at Boots or Mothercare for nappies, food, clothes, and a breastpump/bottles/formula? it’s not like Gwen or Rhys had time to grab the diaper bag, infant carseat, or anything else.

  21. James McGill says:

    Great episode, the only thing that didn’t make it as good as it could have been was the fact that we know Jack survives because of the Dr. Who episode where we see what happens in his future. (Trying to be spoiler free if you haven’t seen dr. Who season 3). If I didn’t have that info, then the fact that he’s mortal would have been a much bigger ‘O shit’ moment. Of course he could still die and be ressurected in some way as a giant head (did i just give a spoiler away?)

  22. Sofia says:

    I know what I gonna say is very girlie, but I have to.

    WHAT A CUTE BABY! (Specially with those little ear-thingies).

  23. Sawyer says:

    Keith Richards IS the inspiration for Jack Harkness, isn’t he?

  24. ali says:

    From the looks of the series previews Rex Matheson is going to become a new Torchwood member (I think Esther probably will too) but have to wait and see! Also, Gwen Copper kicked ass 🙂

  25. crowthrow says:

    I also found Rex’s character very unlikeable. His “I’m CIA, bitch” attitude bothered me for some reason. Hopefully, by working with Torchwood, or enslaving them as they did towards the end, he will learn that he isn’t the centre of the universe.

    *Did anybody else notice how Gwen’s baby didn’t cry at all when they were being attacked by the helicopter?

  26. Tom Steele says:

    Doesn’t seem like it bothers Keith Richards.

  27. Sawyer says:

    @Tom: People don’t die, but they get sick. {EPISODE SPOILERS] In the episode, they showed a suicide bomber who got burnt to a crisp, and was in excruciating pain, but didn’t/couldn’t die. Matheson’s doctor told him that his heart stopped, but his blood kept pumping.[/EPISODE SPOILERS] So I suspect that as people become malnourished, their organs will start to shut down, they’ll get sick, and get to the edge of death, but not actually die.

  28. Jamie says:

    “Children of Earth” was on a global scale. Hence “Earth” and not “the UK”.

  29. Reed says:

    Whoa, see, I feel completely the opposite.

    I thought Children Of Earth was way too brutal, and not in a precarious, suspenseful kind of way… Anyone in any danger was KILLED without question. It took away the thrill, because any tough situation, and boom, one more Torchwood employee (or relative) gone. So the monster-of-the-week series was a bit campy… But it still had the feel of a Doctor Who spinoff for adults. It had the ambiance of the Torchwood institute’s office itself (complete with a living staff… Owen, Ianto, etc., not JUST Gwen and Jack).

    I get the feeling it won’t even be aliens, which is some bullshit.

  30. Tom Steele says:

    I only had one question about the premise. If we need people to die because otherwise we run out of food, what happens when we run out of food? People… die?