Torchwood: Miracle Day — who wants to live forever?

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Torchwood: Miracle Day (Starz)This is a quick review of the first three episodes of Torchwood: Miracle Day. There may be minor spoilers below.

More than any sci-fi show I’ve experienced lately, Torchwood has grown. Its first and second seasons were pretty standard sci-fi fare, despite the attitude, rich drama and frequent and varied sex that set it well apart from its progenitor and anagram, Doctor Who. “The 21st century,” it boldly proclaimed through lead character Jack Harkness, “is when everything changes.”

But the third season is when Torchwood itself changed, truly transcending monster-of-the-week fare and becoming a centerpiece of human drama. That previous installment, the five-night event Children of Earth, utterly destroyed my faith in humanity before building it back up, little by little — and throwing it all away again at the end. It was a cruel reminder that life isn’t fair. It was utterly human, and carried a message that the universe may hold more terrors than wonders after all when a certain time-traveling trickster in a blue box isn’t around to save the day all the time.

The fourth season, Miracle Day, builds on this in new and intriguing ways. The BBC-Starz coproduction retains enough of the Torchwood mystique while reinventing it for a whole new American market. It successfully (so far) explores the ways in which a deathless world would be a curse rather than a blessing

When the adventure begins in the premiere, “The New World,” Torchwood is nothing more than a whispered myth after the shameful worldwide 456 catastrophe in Children of Earth. Then people stop dying, and someone is determined to scrub out the few remaining elements of Torchwood, suggesting a link and piquing the interest of CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) and analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins). Meanwhile, a loathsome murderer-pedophile (Bill Pullman) whose death sentence is cancelled by the Miracle is recruited by a tenacious PR woman (Lauren Ambrose) — and both new characters manage to nearly steal the show from Torchwood team survivors Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), who are forced back into action by the Miracle only to be hauled off to the States for their mysterious connection to it in the exciting second episode “Rendition.”

In tonight’s third episode, “Dead of Night,” The Torchwood team — finally taking shape anew, though half a world away and far from cohesively — is just starting to wrap its arms around the scope of the mystery. That’s a little hard to take in, as the worldwide end of death would seem to be as big as it gets. But it’s very much a “Jinkies, a clue!” moment that suggests much bigger revelations to come.

The plot that’s unraveling could easily be mistaken for a mere indictment of the American medical system and drug industry, and indeed it seems as if the world, however changed, is being run by pharmaceutical executives, idealistic doctors, rogue secret agents and crafty PR specialists, with government nowhere to be seen in the crisis. Alhough, after what our governments were portrayed to be doing in Children of Earth, that may not be such a bad thing.

Torchwood is airing Fridays on Starz. The first episode is available to watch online.

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Jayson Peters

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