Torchwood: Miracle Day – episode one review

Does a bigger budget mean bigger thrills in the opening instalment?

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Captain Jack Harkness and his band of alien hunters return, this time flush with American cash for a fresh 10-part run. But despite the glossy sheen and bombastic set pieces, Miracle Day doesn’t yet possess the sweaty-palmed tension of Children of Earth, the 2009 mini-series that ended with Jack quitting the planet for outer space. Maybe it needs to bed in a bit; after all, we’ve had to go back to basics in order to explain the premise to new US viewers. Hence lines like: “Have you ever heard of Torchwood? No, it’s not Touchwood. T-O-R-C-H.” Everyone got that now? Good.

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The set-up that brings Jack (John Barrowman) back from his self-imposed exile revolves around the fact that all of a sudden nobody on the planet can die. You can be impaled by steel rods or blown up with dynamite – it doesn’t matter, you’re not going to expire. Effectively, everyone’s turned into immortal Captain Jacks. Apart from Captain Jack, who now finds that if he gets pricked, he bleeds.

The problem here is that Jack has very few people in whom he can confide, seeing as most of his squad were killed off in previous episodes. What we’re left with is Gwen who, in the interregnum between series, has given birth and is now living like a survivalist in remotest Wales with tubby hubby Rhys. We know we’re in Wales because the location gets typed across the screen accompanied by that digital beepy sound effect that you only ever hear on TV dramas.

Rhys is as dopey as ever and given the thankless job of saying things such as, “No one knows we’re here” only minutes before Blue Thunder turns up and shoots a rocket through the window of their home. Speaking of that attack: why did the gunmen waste all those bullets when they must have known that there was no way anyone could be killed? And what happened to them once their helicopter crashed onto the beach? Were they left charred and pounded flat like the suicide bomber on the autopsy table?

There was no time to consider any of this as ER’s Mekhi Phifer was too busy extraditing the team to America. His character, CIA agent Rex Matheson, is one of the people who should be dead but isn’t. As the most likeable new introduction, he’ll probably be dead for real by the end of the story because that’s the way that writer Russell T Davies operates.

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One addition who wouldn’t be mourned were he to meet a sticky end is Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), a convicted paedophile and murderer who – with his slicked hair and prison-issue white T-shirt – looks like a wannabe Hannibal Lecter. In a tasteless scene, he was left gagging but alive after a lethal injection and has now been freed from jail following this “act of God”. It was a sequence of events typical of a programme that still acts as Doctor Who’s brash, attention-seeking younger sibling. Let’s hope that in future weeks they provide substance to go with the spectacle.