Chris Carter was probably cribbing from Whitaker or Holmes.

TV With its oscillating idioms and content, the Doctor Who franchise is capable of provoking a range of critical responses. Sometimes whole books have been written, or at least long essays, too long probably and sometimes they’re posted to this and other blogs, thousands of words devoted to expressing the fan opinion of what’s been put before them and in the case of Torchwood often written way into to the wee smalls of the morning. Yet sometimes, just sometimes, a critical response can be summed up in just three letters and a punctuation mark, three letters and a punctuation mark which have become popularised on the internet and mobile phones but which seem to contain as much meaning as those books.


Except of course, your expectation is for something slightly longer than that but honestly, if Torchwood: Miracle Day did anything and even in this week when there have been enough things to put a liberal like me in a good mood, it made me laugh out loud. From Gwen’s bazookering of a chopper on what looked liked the same beach where the Doctor’s farewell to Rose was filmed to Rex’s inconsistent approach to a crutch to PC Andy’s promotion, Russell T Davies’s opening episode The New World, I giggled and giggled and giggled again. For all its absorption into a dodgy SD NTSC transfer and pretensions towards 24, Torchwood’s lost none of its ability to be absolutely bloody bonkers and like nothing else on television. Including Doctor Who itself.

I’m very conscious that we have ten weeks together on this, and if it’s nearly impossible to give a decent opinion on the first half of a Who two parter let alone a tenner.  What will say that as anyone who’s read The Writer’s Tale will know, Davies’s thought processes lend themselves to find complexity in the simplest of ideas, and deciding that the world’s population can’t die has three o’clock moaning email to Ben Cook written all over it. But like turning everyone on the planet into the Master is so clever, it’s weird to realise that no one else seems to have thought of it before.  Already in this episode he's investigating the implications, hospital wards filling up with patients, medics becoming messianic figures, suicide no longer being an option to save us from our drab wretched lives.

Arguably, unlike C of E, this didn’t have the single eye-catching shot that encapsulated that idea. Bill Pullman's chemical convulsion probably will have resonated better in the country were such barbaric things are still permitted (like I said, I’m a liberal), yet like the polls piercing Rex’s chest in a cramped car at night it was visually relatively low-key, lacking the massive scale of say the initial flash forward in Flash Forward. The rapid fire news reports about no one dying and the coining of the title of the series filled in somewhat (I found the lack Trinity Wells distracting) as did the cutting of spinal cord of that still living human barbecue. But like I said, we have another nine, and if C of E is anything to go by, the impending remake of Soylent Green is probably a sideshow.

It’s also an episode in which Davies asks seasoned fans to trust him just as we did in 2005 with Rose. Like Rose, the writer has to introduce a whole universe to a new viewership and still hope to retain our attention. He doesn’t really have to. If we sat through the first two seasons of Torchwood, we’ll sit through anything but it’s quite charming just how closely he follows the narrative form employed in every opening iteration of the Whoniverse since An Unearthly Child. Human becomes curious. Human discovers alien/alien hunters. Human becomes mixed up in alien/alien hunter’s adventures. Well, alright it’s also the pilot episode of The X-Files, but Chris Carter was probably cribbing from Whitaker or Holmes.

Esther’s investigation into Torchwood, her meeting with Jack, the explaining of exactly what the institute was for new viewers (skipping the werewolf) and his subsequent retconning of her was of course almost exactly how Gwen was brought into the team in Everything Changes. There was also some of Rose’s visual DNA in here too as the viewpoint character for new viewers is hurried out of an exploding building by our inexplicable hero. An interesting question is how well modulated all this was, how a new viewer encountering this mythology would have been lost. It didn’t seem as ferocious as the Gallifreyan info-dump in the TV movie (the closest comparison) but how did the Gwen scenes play with an audience who had no clue who she was?

Because let’s face it, what is Torchwood? The first two series were five go mad in Cardiff, C of E told the story of what happened when everything changes and now? To and extent it’s the Gwen and Jack show, but without the Hub, without the alien weaponry, it risks simply being another alien invasion (assuming that what this is) show which happens to have these few old characters in the middle of it. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps with each new channel, Davies is deliberately bending the format, taking advantage of the fact that Torchwood as a premise wasn’t on the most solid of foundations, wasn’t the UNIT-like series we’d all been expecting and is using it as a vehicle to tell the kinds of stories he couldn’t in Doctor Who. Which is fine.

Of course we’re also being introduced to these new characters and again it’s early days. Bill Pullman’s in full The Last Seduction mode for Oswald Danes, the squinty eyes, delivering, his lines, one, word, at, a time, and then a bunch of them together before pausing, again, for, emphasis. The Master for adults, the too long teaser at the close of the episode (is that how they’re going to be filling up the add space each week?) suggesting a Jonas Nightengale-like meteoric rise into evangelism. Mekhi Phifer’s faux-Bauer figure seems at this point to be a rather standard CIA agent as does Esther Drummond, the performances also not quite at the same high register as the old regulars, though Barrowman is dialling himself down a touch.

Perhaps the triumph of The New World is how little some aspects have changed. Gwen and Rhys are just the same albeit, y'know, rural, and it’s astonishing to see the Coopers returning from Something Borrowed ("Are you feed him lard?"). Similarly, Gwen’s relationship with Andy pouring over the impending doom sends us right back to their initial scenes together in Everything Changes though once again their double act is going to be thwarted by events. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Jack, a rather more understated figure though to an extent we’re rather in the dark as to what happened between meeting Alonso in Dorium Maldovar’s place. I know, I know, nine more weeks, plenty of scenes to be filled with dialogue.

But it’s probably impossible for us fans to watch any nu-Who and try to work out how it fits. What didn’t fit was the massive continuity error which suggested Gwen joined Torchwood in 2006, which as readers of Ahistory, the TARDIS Index File and this will know is year too early. But given that everyone on the planet seems to have forgotten about the Daleks, the planet going out of orbit and Gallifrey coming into orbit, perhaps the cracks on Amy’s wall when she was seven years old or the Doctor rebooting the universe also swallowed up the extra year added in Aliens of London, though more likely, as was the case in The End of World and whoever produced the info graphics for The Waters of Mars, Russell’s big brain simply forgot.

We’ll have The Sarah Jane Adventures discussion some other time because it’s getting late and there’s nine more reviews to fill. But let’s just mark the card on what else worked in this opening episode. Bharat Nalluri (a Kudos veteran) took full advantage of the budget and made this look like a feature film; this is Independence Day to C of E’s Quatermass and it’s interesting that a British director should make this thing seem so American. The gathering in the spot above where the rift used to be in Cardiff Bay was a nice touch even if Ianto’s shrine was out of shot. Like so much of the episode, for all the changes, this is still Torchwood. LOL.

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