(A re-run of our review last week as the episode is airing in the U.K. right now. Find it on the BBC iPlayer)
Death takes a holiday.
Imagine that no one dies. Plants and animals continue with their normal life-cycles, but humans don’t. They sustain massive injuries, get blown up, stabbed, burned, what have you, but yet they live and live and live without the great surcease of pain. For some this would be a blessing; time granted to them while surgeons repair damaged bodies. To others it would be a living hell no one should ever endure.
This is the situation the world finds itself in at the start of “The New World,” the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day. It’s the fourth series to of the Doctor Who spinoff be produced and the first to be co-produced with the American television network Starz.
As the story opens, we find a man, Oswald Dane (Bill Pullman), about to be executed for the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl. His defense? “She should have run faster.” Not the most sympathetic character. We watch as his execution begins and then starts to go horribly wrong when, in a scene that went on almost long enough to become funny, he starts screaming in agony and breaking loose from his restraints.
He’s not the only person to survive apparent death. CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), is driving while being told that the word “TORCHWOOD” is appearing on screens all over the CIA, only to disappear as quickly. As he’s processing this, and indulging in some job hunting, some rebar falls from a truck in front of him and does, oh, some very nasty things. He’s brought to the hospital where, to everyone’s surprise including his own, he lives.
Soon word of undying people spreads around the globe and everyone begins looking for answers. Matheson’s friend, fellow CIA agent Esther Drummond (Alexis Havins), thinks there may be a connection with Torchwood. She raids the CIA archive, finds a photo of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), and then is confronted by the man himself, who saves her from an explosion and then is troubled to notice that a scratch on his arm isn’t healing.
Matheson himself soon leaves the hospital and begins investigating the case, eventually traveling to Wales where he complains a lot and tracks down Gwen Cooper, who has been leaving peacefully with her husband Rhys and baby Anwen. Rhys is less than pleased to have anyone snooping around trying to get his wife involved. Cooper on the other hand seems to have become bored with domestic life and is quite keen to return to the fight; a fight that becomes all too literal as assassins try to kill everyone.
The show is off to a great start. All the characters we know and love from the British series (well, those still alive at any rate), return and are put to good use, though the show is nearly stolen away from them by exceptional performances from Mekhi Phifer and Bill Pullman. The central problem of a never-dying population is also handled with intelligence and logic, including a couple conversations about why, exactly, this is a problem.
The program is also doing an excellent job of building off the darker, more adult feel the series gained with 2009’s Children of Earth, but isn’t nearly as buried in dread. Fans of that series will also be pleased to know that it hasn’t been forgotten and that numerous references to the 456 turn up throughout the first episode.
While it is hard to evaluate the entire series on the strength of this first episode, I will say that it seems to be off to a great start. At no point was I bored or disinterested in what was happening, and I am very much looking forward to what happens next. Producer Russell T Davies has created an exceptionally fascinating conumdrum and watching how he gets everyone out of it promises to be vastly entertaining.
Returning to the series are stars John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper, supporting actors Kai Owen and Tom Price, as well as Russell T Davies and some of the rest of the production staff. Joining the cast are Mekhi Phifer, Bill Pullman and Alexis Havins. The program begins airing in the USA on Starz on July 8, and in the UK on BBC One on 14 July.