I must confess that I’ve not watched much Torchwood before now. I know the character of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) from the occasional Doctor Who episode, but the idea of following him around on a weekly basis never floated my boat. I list that as a qualifier since the premiere episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day gave me no reason to change that opinion.
It’s not that it lacked the proper elements. The intriguing premise is more than capable of carrying a ten-episode arc. The cast is energetic and appealing, and the ready chemistry between Barrowman and Eve Myles (as the Torchwood Institute’s only other survivor, Gwen Cooper) creates an instant appeal for new viewers. Yet the final impression is surprisingly superficial: all sound and fury, signifying nothing that demands our attention.
It starts with the Problem Du Jour, as everyone in the world suddenly fails to die. People can get hurt, feel pain and otherwise experience all the miseries of existence, but their hearts just keep on pumping. The press calls it “Miracle Day,” but as new days arise and the world’s morticians continue to suffer for business, the real horror of the equation becomes clear. Within four months, the world’s population will outstrip any available resources, leading to mass starvation. Only we can’t die, so “starvation” really means “being incredibly uncomfortable in perpetuity.”
The CIA soon has its best agents poking in the right corners… as well as following up on the Torchwood Institute, word of which mysteriously vanished from its records at the same instant people stopped pushing up daisies. Operative Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) spearheads the efforts, despite being, um, spearheaded in a car accident that should have punched his ticket for good. He’s joined by analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) and ultimately the two Torchwood survivors to unravel the mystery before the rest of the world unravels. The path apparently crosses that of Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), a convicted child killer whose execution is interrupted by the phenomenon and who has some dangerous ideas about how to take advantage of it.
All well and good… so why does it all feel like reheated X-Files leftovers? The characters all run to and fro with great vigor, while spelling out the parameters of the scenario so we can follow everything clearly. Lost in the equation is a reason why we should care. Director Bharat Nalluri delivers plenty of slick action sequences that don’t add up to much of anything, while holding the key questions in reserve for future episodes. Does it really matter who started this population explosion, or why? Does anyone doubt that it will be resolved by the time the show ends? And assuming it doesn’t – assuming that Russell Davies and his team pull an amazing narrative rabbit out of their hats – then how does it differ from any of the dozens of other shows who played similar tricks in the wake of Lost?
Call it Metaplot Fatigue: the need for shows of this ilk to string us along without providing any kind of satisfying resolution. Lost pulled it off with style, but many of its imitators have failed to duplicate its magic. Torchwood falls all too easily into the same trap, with deferred satisfaction and a scenario that fails to bait its hooks properly. Longtime fans may be thrilled by the developments, as the team moves to America and the sense of a real shake-up helps it keep a spring in its step. The show also benefits immensely from Pullman: a very engaging actor who does his best work playing creeps and weirdoes of this precise sort.
Sadly, it can’t engender the kind of urgency that it requires to earn itself new fans. I don’t regret watching the show, but I have absolutely no desire to tune in again. Considering the big question it posits, and the wonderful permutations that could arise, Torchwood: Miracle Day feels far too empty for its own good.