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Critical Reaction: The U.K. Has Lost ‘Torchwood’

‘Torchwood’ is awesome, but its Welsh charm has been destroyed to make way for American values


The twenty-first century is when everything changes …

The re-invigoration of “Doctor Who” proved one thing for U.K. television channels: there is still a market for homegrown science-fiction.

Almost as if testing the waters, BBC launched “Torchwood” — an adult-themed series based in the “Doctor Who” universe — to continue exploring the newfound success that the genre has enjoyed.

Sadly, it looks like the run of British science-fiction is in free-fall: there are still concerns over the fate of “Doctor Who,” a series which not only boosted the image of BBC but also re-created Saturday night as an evening of family entertainment; “Outcasts” was so poorly marketed and scheduled that, despite being a dramatically rich and compelling series, was destined to fail; and now “Torchwood” has been lost in an effort to keep up with American production values.

As a fan that has watched “Torchwood” since Day One (and even stuck with the show through its inconsistent first season), I can’t help but feel betrayed by the BBC for broadcasting the show after it airs in the United States. “Torchwood” is a British series and it should remain British.

But before we get into quibbles about what constitutes a British show, I have been absolutely thrilled since the announcement went out that “Torchwood” would be a joint-production between the Beeb and Starz. Finally, the series is getting the recognition it deserves (by an premium American cable channel no less!) and the show is now being showcased to a bigger audience.

However, the series has made a huge sacrifice to pull off this feat.

One of the key appeals to the show was that it was just so Welsh … Welsh with the kind of production values that have made American-based shows such a hit in the United Kingdom. More than that, it was a British series that dealt with British issues that were easy to relate to (yes, even during an alien invasion!).

No more.

“Torchwood: Miracle Day” has become your run-of-the-mill American show with some weirdness. Sure, “Miracle Day” is easier to promote than “CSI with Aliens and Stuff,” but that is the general feeling you get after watching the first episode. And with the added insult that the series airs in the United States first, the show feels like just another import.

This episode is not the slick and sexy piece of television that its predecessors were, and comes across as a slow and clunky imitation of what “Torchwood” was. Instantly hampered by the need to re-explain the whole premise of the show, the first part of “Miracle Day” slows every development down to a pace that can only be described as insulting and obvious.

Resetting the board and establishing all the players is a necessary part of the new season, but it is done at a lumbering pace with every detail being explained as if the audience is incapable of following what is really going on … a common flaw in American serials no doubt caused by the television networks’ love of the casual viewer.

Michael Hinman offered a spoiler-free preview of the first installment to “Miracle Day” before it aired, but now that the episode has been broadcast, we can now delve into a more spoiler-filled breakdown of the adventure.

As the name suggests, the Earth is hit by a miracle: no one in the world dies for 24 hours. The concept itself is fascinating because death is a natural part of life. Without death, or even the fear of death, human mortality and the rules of society become absolutely meaningless. Not to mention the obvious population boom.

It all sounds pretty drastic, but as Rhys (Kai Owen) correctly points out, the whole thing is a gift. Think of the heartache at losing loved ones and the pain that their absence causes and then think about what life would be like if you never had to know that anguish.

But aside from the academic discussion of what would happen without death, the real hook into the case doesn’t come until the halfway point when Gwen (Eve Myles) learns that her father is in hospital. The introductions to the CIA, the investigations of Rex and Esther, and then the life of a serial killer are all forgettable when compared to the emotional resonance that the miracle has for our existing characters (especially considering the cast cull “Torchwood” has gone through over the last few years).

Also further harming the new setup is the over-Americanizing of the whole adventure. “Torchwood” was always such a joy to watch because it embodied the finest British storytelling with the production values of America’s greatest creations. Rocket launchers through windows, beach car chases and unnecessary explosions (coupled with unnecessary dives) may look good on paper, but don’t translate that well into a series that has already proven it can be entertaining, enthralling and entirely captivating without such spectacles.

Don’t believe me? Watch “Children of Earth.”

It’s not until the autopsy scene that you really feel the episode is kicking into gear and that this is just the opening salvo in a much more gripping story. Why has everyone stopped dying? How is it connected to “Torchwood”? And just what could do such a thing? These are all questions floated around that will be answered over the coming weeks. The final scenes only help cement that idea further, leaving you more with a need to see how the show improves than an actual need for answers.

Got an opinion on this reaction? Drop me an email at ablair@airlockalpha.com, or leave a comment here.

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