I can only assume that Torchwood fans experienced some trepidation when it was announced that the series, a spin-off of the worshipped Doctor Who, was being imported to the United States. Especially because the 'crossing-of-the-pond' would come courtesy of Starz, a network with a reputation for creating original programming full of gory violence and bare breasts. But after watching the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, I think those fears can be safely put to rest: The U.S. Torchwood is similar to the old Torchwood, but with a bigger budget. And no exposed boobs.
Of course, I say this having only seen the very enjoyable, if at times flimsy, third series—the five-part Torchwood: Children of Earth. But Miracle Day has retained that series' mystery and entertainment value and added a few rocket launchers to boot. Because why not? Creator Russell T. Davies has more disposable cash now, and there's no reason not to use it.
But, aside from more explosion-y explosions, Torchwood is still a conceptual sci-fi thriller—and Davies just may've come up with his best "what if" scenario yet: People on Earth have stopped dying. Yes, he milked the concept dry in Friday's opening episode, but the way he did so sure was fun. It's fair to say that Miracle Day (and the Torchwood franchise in general) spins its wheels a lot, but the episode never peeled out and remained motionless; it did beachfront donuts in a Bugatti, spent just enough time hammering the concept home, and then rocketed toward the next part of the story. (I admit that Davies' use of news broadcasts to handle the exposition of "Miracle Day" was a bit lazy, but it served its purpose.)
That's what made Miracle Day's debut so enjoyable. The episode boasted an unapologetic sense of self-awareness. The show knows it isn't highly intellectual science-fiction with a reserved spot in the annals of nerddom; it understands that it's a small-screen version of an enjoyable summer blockbuster—and for me, at least, it worked. The action was entertaining. The story is intriguing, and the show's tone screams, "Let's just have a good time, okay?" That's all I ask of my TV shows; as long as you know what you are and roll with it, we'll get along just fine and I can overlook a few flaws.
But just as important, Miracle Day still has Captain Jack Harkness, one of sci-fi's best new characters and the kind of guy you'd love to share a
pint six-pack of watered-down American beer with. Harkness (played by Mark Harmon's handsomer doppleganger John Barrowman) is the heart and soul of Torchwood, and if his aloof charm and get-down-to-business attitude haven't already inspired you to hang a poster of him on the wall, just wait. When he stepped into the light in the records library, I did cartwheels. I just love the guy to death. And his introduction to Esther (the cute-as-button Alexa Havins)? Best "nice to meet you" ever.
Also returning to the franchise is Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) who complements Jack very well as his right-hand woman. She's a mom now—how cute is that kid?—and married to unofficial Torchwood member Rhys (Kai Owen). Though Jack is the centerpiece of the show, Torchwood couldn't survive without Gwen; she's the emotional foundation of the series, and Myles has that essential skill of being able to convey as much with her eyes. Also, I have an unfounded obsession with the Welsh that I can't explain, so maybe that explains why I dig her so much.
As for the new cast members, it only took me about 30 seconds to hate Mekhi Phifer's angry CIA agent Rex Matheson. But once he popped out of bed, grabbed a cane and a handful of pain pills, and took off for Wales, I did a 180. That sequence alone was worth the price of admission—it was silly, and really reinforced the point I made earlier about the tone of this show. Esther, in addition to being hot, adorable, cuddly, and uh-oh I have a new TV crush, is fantastic as the Torchwood n00b, holding hands with viewers who've never watched the series before. And finally, we still don't know what Bill Pullman's child rapist means to the series, and I'm eager to see where his story takes us.
For the uninitiated viewers out there, you should know that the twist that Jack might be mortal is HUGE. I'm not sure the whether the first episode made this clear, but Jack is a time-traveling bisexual immortal from the 51st century, and the fact that he can be hurt and presumably die, while no one else can, turns the show on its head. In Children of Earth alone, he "died" three times (blown up, shot, infected with a deadly virus). I don't know if it's too early for theories, but I think we can assume that whatever is making humans immortal is also responsible for making Jack mortal. Perhaps whoever did this did it with the sole purpose of wanting Jack dead?
Torchwood: Miracle Day isn't perfect, but it kept me engaged for the whole hour, and that's a rare feat these days. So far, I'm hooked.
... The scene in the morgue with the blown-up guy was incredible. I'm hoping there's a whole lot more of that.
... I'm usually not a fan of shows that are too "Rah-Rah!" about their characters, but I got pretty fist-pumpy every time Jack made a dashing entrance or Gwen said "[We're] Torchwood" and fired the RPG. Badass with a hint of corny—my favorite combination!
... Sweet credit sequence.
... Captain Jack: "What if we detached the head? I mean, would he... stay alive without his head?"
... Rex: "I had a pole through my chest. I was dead, then I wasn't. I had to pay for this bridge. And now I want to know what the hell is going on, alright?"
What did you guys think of the first episode? And please preface your comment with how much Torchwood you've seen—it'll be interesting to see how the opinions of longtime fans of the series' compare to those of total newbies.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom