Torchwood: Miracle Day – jumping the gun?

In TV on July 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

"I'm pretty sure that's adequate ear protection for you, kid."

I loved Torchwood. It was an incredibly difficult task to pull off: a Doctor Who spinoff? Yikes. But Russell T. Davies did it, and for a while, I think I liked it more than the “new” Doctor Who. But now, along has come Torchwood: Miracle Day, and I’m just not sure if what I’m seeing is a good thing. It’s hard to pin down exactly what’s bothering me about it. Some of my superficial concerns are the use of castoffs from failed Joss Whedon shows (and please, RTD, keep Eliza Dushku as far away from the live-action Torchwood as you can), or that both Wayne Knight and Bill Pullman are just too damned hammy as actors to take seriously as any kind of villain.

But there’s more serious issues: ones that are clearly more strategic in nature, decisions that obviously relate to the show’s “new” audience in America.

1. Bang! Pow! Boom!: Any way you cut it, this new series is going to have a lot more action. In itself, that’s no shame; certainly, the Doctor Who universe is friendly to action and violence. But one of the things that made Torchwood such a great spinoff from Doctor Who was its focus on the more “soap opera”-elements of the science fiction setting. That meant many of those shows were, in this new paradigm of running jeep-helicopter battles, rather slow. You get some of this flavour from the trailers:

2. Moving to America: I know, it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that Americans will be more interested in seeing a show set on their own soil than one in Wales. (The same argument might be said for the English, though.) But, and I don’ t think this is a crazy thing to say, I think it’s going to be a real challenge to reproduce the “tone” of the Doctor Who universe in America for any length of time. This is a weak and ineffable argument, I realize, and I have no evidence to back me up here, but I’m seriously worried that the show is going to end up sliding into some endlessly reproduced metaphor for American global power, or the extent to which the American government is involved in schemes to sell out humanity to alien overlords. (We already did that, remember? It was called Torchwood: Children of Earth, and it was great, and then it ended, OK?)

3. Jumping the Gun: (I was going to title that “Blowing their Load,” but with Captain Jack involved, phrases like that take on a whole new meaning.) The “immortality” theme is, in so many ways, the essence of dramatic tension in the show. It’s what gives Captain Jack his whole perspective on life, and which, in turn, conditions the behaviour of his subordinates, and the strategy of Torchwood as a team.

To structure your opening of a new show based on this issue is, I think, a bit premature. Wasn’t there some way to ease into it? Where do you go from here? The cat’s out of the bag — there’s no going back. If they’re going to make an entire show premised around the immortality of everyone around the world, and the aftereffects of this, well, that’s one thing. But I seriously doubt that’s the intent. It sounds like Miracle Day is setting up this issue as the “topic” for Season 4 (or is it Season 1 of a new show called Miracle Day? — I’m wildly unclear on this), and that, in the next season, we’ll be moving on to something else.

I have been enjoying the show, if only because I’m happy to see the trio of John Barrowman, Eve Myles, and Kai Owen together on screen again. I think Owen is really the anchor for audience sympathy, and the character who “grew” the most over Torchwood’s older incarnation — I’m bothered that he might be sidelined across the pond for the duration of the show. This remains to be seen, and I’m willing to give RTD the benefit of the doubt.

But the Starz channel has a spotty record when it comes to erring on the side of dramatic subtlety. Its current CEO, Chris Albrecht, is a bit of a mad genius, and I admire him very much. But he’s also the guy who brought us Spartacus and Camelot, two shows which, while they’re exciting and heavy on the boobs and blood, are rather lacking in substance. The subject matter of Torchwood won’t stand up to that kind of treatment, and I think that Starz will likely give more creative control to the more sensitive hands of RTD, but still: Davies and the actors are in a new country now, and we drive on a different side of the road over here. I hope the writers and the actors get used to it.


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