The launch of The New World as the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day last Friday on Starz in the USA and in the UK on Thursday evening is possibly one of the most interesting television experiments of recent times.
A show, which is a British property, co-produced with an American network and airing over 10 weeks in the Internet age is almost unheard of, and while there have been rumours that many fans would head to the web to download the show, this is unlikely to occur with the same fervour as the worldwide lust for Doctor Who during the time of the staggered broadcast dates of 2007 and 2008. Of course, that depends entirely upon how Miracle Day builds its arc over the next few weeks, and whether or not it will be a slow burner to capture the imagination of viewers around the world.
Over in the USA, the Starz network drew a total of 1.51 million viewers to The New World, according to the overnights, with 819,000 watching the initial broadcast at 10 pm and a further 687,000 catching the repeat an hour later (weird scheduling or what?)
Meanwhile in the UK, the initial Torchwood Series 4 audience figures were lower than for the third series back in 2009, although given the delay in bringing it to screens and the lost buzz over the past 12 months, that is hardly a surprise. John Barrowman, Eve Myles and their new co-stars drew 4.83 million views, a 21.1% share of the available audience.
Note that neither figure features delayed viewings; there is every chance that in the UK, The New World could have an extra million viewers via iPlayer.
As with our Doctor Who reviews this year, Mez Burdett and Andrew Reynolds are to be thanked at this stage for their assistance in putting together this roundup. We begin with Andy, who notes that reaction to the episode in the press is good, and that The Independent’s Neela Debnath is wholly onboard, praising brand new paymasters Starz for injecting a heavy dose of Hollywood into Torchwood’s homespun thrills:
“Given the need to bridge the Transatlantic gap, ‘The New World’ is jam-packed with action and is addictive to watch. As well as the shift in setting from Cardiff to Washington, the tone has also changed. It is less of bleak and depressive like the first three series instead it is about the adrenaline rush and thrill to discover what is going on.”
The tonal shift was also noted by Den of Geek’s Simon Brew who, while optimistic about the show’s potential, also took the time to address the constantly evolving world of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman):
“There’s most certainly a slightly different feel to the show, which is perhaps inevitable given the geographic broadening of the target audience. But also, it’s worth taking into account that Torchwood has always had to evolve its audience, and the show has always been altering slightly to do so. This is a programme, lest we forget, where each one of its four seasons has premiered on a different television channel to the last, and it’s always taken a step up to account for that.”
However not all the reviewers were willing to follow on that step up. Flick Filosopher’s Maryann Johanson failed to be wowed by the new ‘Americanised’ Torchwood – laying most of the blame at the pettiness of CIA uber-agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer):
“Matheson is obnoxious and stupid, which is deeply annoying, but even worse is the mystery of Russell T. Davis, who wrote this episode, thinking it would entertaining or amusing for this unlikable character to be focusing on whining about how Wales is “separate” when he’s walking around basically undead and in terrible pain. Oh, and also the entirety of human civilization has been turned upside down. But, you know, let’s have a CIA agent do a comedy routine. He might as well have moaned about how terrible the airline food was on his flight over. Though that would have made more sense, actually, then being surprised to find toll booths on bridges.
There’s a pettiness to not just the writing but the whole package here, one that misses the enormous impact of the situation. I’m hoping this is not an attitude that endures throughout the series.”
Johanson has a point. The game has changed so much it’s difficult to reconcile the shows over-arching theme- the validity of all life and the lengths Torchwood will have to go to prevent other agencies from corralling the booming population of world into those worthy of life- and its attitude towards those black-clad storm troopers staking them at every turn.
Although it was in self defence it felt disingenuous not to at least acknowledge that the helicopter assassins Gwen (Eve Myles) had just blown up were still alive as they burned on the Welsh coastline, rather than gloating in the moment Jack and Gwen are reunited.
Let’s not get started on the readiness of the expert to hack off the head of the suicide bomber in the archive. It felt like a writer imposing a choice on a character rather than something that would naturally happen.
Hopefully all this having cake and eating it won’t overshadow what was a confident and intriguing re-introduction to the Torchwood world.
Over to Mez Burdett now, with his thoughts on the reviews from The Guardian, and first, The Shropshire Star, who found that the changes to Torchwood were very noticeable from the start:
“This new series of Torchwood is co-financed by a US channel, and it certainly showed: bigger, louder, flashier, glossier, and more American(er) than before.”
But ultimately, the reviewer enjoyed the first episode:
“It’s terrific fun and zips along like a finely tuned Mercedes. Whether or not it can keep up this pace over the remaining nine episodes remains to be seen, but you’d be a fool not to tune in to find out.”
The Guardian, meanwhile, introduces the world to a new description of what Torchwood has done by moving to the USA:
“It’s known in the business as doing a Zeta-Jones, meaning upping sticks from Wales, moving to America, and in doing so going from cute but a bit Welsh to extremely glam and very Hollywood…and it’s what Torchwood has gone and done, with this fourth series.”
Before summing up how a lot of people are feeling about the show right now:
“There will be moans, I’m sure – that it’s lost its soul, its Welshness perhaps. Pah! Come on, look it’s got rocket launchers now, and exploding helicopters, expensive special effects and excellent zombies. But – probably because [Russell T] Davies is still at the helm – it doesn’t ignore the interpersonal, the characters are still at its heart. Sci-fi that sci-fi phobes will enjoy too.”
Personally I thought the best bit was the smile on Gwen’s baby’s face when she tried to shoot the helicopter down with a handgun, she’s born to be in Torchwood!
Our own review of the episode was provided this week by Kasterborous veteran Thomas Spychalski!