456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed
To say that Torchwood has had something of a chequered past is to put it mildly. However it is a fascinating case study of televisual evolution. The first series which aired on the small of the smaller digital channels BBC 3, was met with a somewhat mixed reaction. However despite clear signs of a rushed production, it garnered handsome enough viewing figures to warrant swift repeats on the much more prestigious BBC2, where its second series would find a first showing home. And besides gaining an improved slot, the second of adventures showed a marked improvement with many of the fan niggles about the first batch of episodes being rectified.
However most remarkable of all was the third series. Firstly we had a massive format change; instead of the previous template of 13 episode seasons of more or less stand alone stories, Torchwood: Children of Earth was a five part mini series telling one tale that aired on consecutive nights in a single week. Now while fans where pleased to see the show had now moved to a prime time BBC1 slot, there was much muttering and carping about only getting five episodes...
...At least until they aired, and then all was forgiven. As to everyone's surprise Torchwood: Children of Earth turned out to be not only the kind of 'Doctor Who for grown-ups' this spin-off show had always been promising us, but was actually one of the best pieces of British sci-fi television in a long time. It was dark, complex and intelligent, armed equally with sharp science fiction concepts and cutting social commentary. Torchwood hadn't just at last equalled its parent show, but produced a tale that could be comfortably compared with the works of British sci-fi genius Nigel Kneale. And naturally viewers wanted more...
However instead of more of the same, Torchwood has evolved again. Now a joint venture between the BBC in the UK and Starz in the US, Captain Jack and Gwen have at last resurfaced in a new 10 part series, which like its immediate predecessor, is telling a single story rather than reverting to the old adventure of the week format. Series creator Russell T Davies is still helming the ship, but this time round sharing writing duties with some stateside scribes, mainly Jane Espenson and John Shiban. So then with such talents on board, not to mention the budgetary benefits of working in partnership with Starz, Miracle Day has got a good start in life. However equally, the usual excuses of no money and weak scripts aren't going to cut it this time around. And the triumph of Children of Earth could well prove to an albatross round the show's neck - in short it's got a lot to live up to.
So then how did the first episode play out? Well, pretty much as I expected it to - being a co-production and having decimated both the old team and set up of the previous three series, this episode was bound to be heavy on introductions. Not only do we have to meet the new characters who are going to join Jack and Gwen, but also the show was clearly going to be weighted towards the US audience for whom all this was was unknown territory.
Now being familiar with the whole Torchwood set-up, it's a little hard for me to judge how well this opener does it's job. However although this episode wasn't Davies best script work I've seen, it did seem to get the job done and place all the players on the board and start weaving plot threads for the next nine weeks. Yes, there were frequent info dumps, but they were in bite-size portions and the show did keep things moving in between these necessary bouts of exposition.
However I did feel that RTD concentrated so much on introducing characters, the actual events of Miracle Day itself was pushed into the background at little. But in fairness, we do have another two months to get tot grips with all the implications and consequences of nobody on planet Earth dying.
Of course the other downside is that if you are familiar with Torchwood and its characters this episode will play somewhat slowly, telling you a lot you already know. Of the new characters, CIA boss Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) did little other than shout on the phone and wheeze alot, hopefully now the introductory stuff is done with and the new team is assembled we'll be able to get a better grip on his character. Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) however fared much better, with Davies making her the audience identification character for new viewers. She's certainly a likeable figure, and it's going to be interesting to see how she sparks off the other members of the team.
Naturally as so much of this first episode is just setting up the building blocks of not just the storyline but the series itself, it's hard to come to any firm conclusions about the real quality of this latest manifestation of Torchwood. On one hand I must confess to being a tad underwhelmed, but equally I did expect this would be the case with so many introductions to be made for a new audience. Basically this episode shows all the usual weaknesses inherent in pilot episodes, but on the upside, there's an intriguing enough premise here to justify coming back next week, when hopefully the show will get out of first gear and start properly motoring.
And indeed we'll return to see how they are getting along in a couple of weeks...
JIM MOON, 15th July 2011