Torchwood: Miracle Day starts airing in a couple days on Starz, and we have pretty high expectations for the Doctor Who spin-off. But when the show's creators spoke to us on a conference call, they only raised our hopes further.
We were lucky enough to be on a call with producer Russell T. Davies, plus stars John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Alexa Havins. And they made some pretty big promises for what to expect from the fourth season of Torchwood. Spoilers ahead...
In Torchwood: Miracle Day, everyone on Earth stops dying — and it doesn't take long for everyone to realize this is no blessing, since death makes life possible. This mysterious, world-changing development seems to be connected to the defunct Torchwood Institute somehow, so once again Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper are in everybody's cross-hairs.
Here are some things that Davies and the show's stars promised us:
Lots of continuity with previous stories. There are references to the 456, those sinister child-stealing aliens from Children of Earth — although we won't be seeing the 456 again, says Davies. "Old Smokey the Space Pelican is stuck in his bunk somewhere," Davies jokes. Captain Jack Harkness does give the pseudonym Owen Harper when he needs to get into a secret briefing. And there's even a reference to the Doctor.
The show keeps its Welsh roots. In fact, the show had a highly unusual process this time around — nine out of ten episodes were written before production started, because they wanted to be able to film all the Welsh scenes first. There are sequences set in Wales in every episode, and the show keeps returning to Wales throughout its run. This meant the producers had to have almost all of the episodes written, at least in draft form, way in advance. Episode nine, in particular, has a huge action-packed sequence in Wales that really made all this extra preparation pay off.
Captain Jack goes to some dark places. You might think that Captain Jack had exhausted his supply of dark secrets in Children of Earth, but apparently it's not true — there's more to come. The fact that Jack has lived for thousands of years, in the future as well as the past — and made plenty of mistakes — is just too tempting for the screenwriters not to delve into. And when Jack finds out that he's now become mortal as a result of whatever turned the rest of humanity immortal, he has to confront his mortality for the first time in centuries — and reconsider whether to throw himself into danger with quite so much abandon. But Jack also "starts to live a little," says Barrowman. He feels fear "but also excitement. He can experience things he's never experienced before."
Jack's sexuality is still a factor. Both Barrowman and Davies said they never even considered toning down Captain Jack's bisexuality — even if this show had wound up on Fox, as Davies originally hoped, they wouldn't have wanted to compromise. Says Barrowman, "If you watch it and you don't like it, you have a choice to change the remote to another channel. It's not a big issue within the show itself, it's just part of the character and who he is." And Davies says that really, such concerns are from ten years ago — American television has embraced gay characters, and nobody should have a problem with a bisexual one at this point.
The world will go crazy. As a result of the fact that nobody can die, the whole world goes a bit nuts, and this builds throughout the ten episodes, says Davies. There's the "Soulless" protest movement, in which people wear those weird white masks you've seen because they believe humanity has lost its souls. There's also the 45 Club, a suicide cult that believes if you jump from above the 45th floor of a building, you'll succeed in killing yourself. The sister of Esther (Havins) has a total nervous breakdown because she believes the Soulless are right.
You won't be left hanging. "All of your questions are answered," says Davies. "I don't like shows that [say] come back next year," to find out the answer to important questions. "I think when you come back next year, you should start from scratch." A lot of your questions will be answered before the final episode, but Miracle Day will end with "a riveting last episode, with shocks and explosions galore, and real big proper revelations," says Davies. "You do have to keep watching until the last second to find out everything."
Nobody is safe. Now that Jack is mortal again, there's no guarantee that he'll survive this adventure. Davies was very firm that the idea that Jack is destined to become the Face of Boe is just a "conjecture," and it's not set in stone. "You know how I love killing people off," he adds. "I think the stakes are high when you're saving the world — so long as you're not a family drama, you have to be that dangerous, you have to show that lives are at stake. You have to show how high the stakes are." He said that if anything, this series gets darker than Children of Earth, although it's also more romantic, especially in episode seven. This time around, the show is a bit more confident, because nobody knew if Children of Earth would work.
The show will still be ultra-political. Davies says that he was setting up this series of Torchwood during the debate over Obama's health care reforms, when everybody was screaming about health care on both the right and the left. And those themes found their way into the story — even though Davies didn't set out to write a story about health care reform, particularly. Davies believes in "writing with your eyes open... putting what's happening in the world into your writing." One of the things Davies loves about Torchwood is that "it's got the nerve to stand up and talk about the world."
It's an intense character-focused drama, including a really disturbing character. We were honestly a bit squicked by one new character: Oswald Danes, a murdering pedophile whose execution fails due to Miracle Day. We asked Davies what thought process had led to including such a repulsive character in the show, and he said it was the result of a "long, crazy process." He wanted a way to dramatize the idea that people weren't dying, and having a lot of scenes with an 80-year-old woman who couldn't die might not "be as compelling" — unless they were able to get someone like Gloria Swanson to play her. The idea of executing someone plays into the notion of choosing who lives and who dies, and it's something peculiarly American — Britain hasn't executed anyone since 1964. But also, having a character like Oswald roaming around being a celebrity is "a perfect example of the world gone wrong." Davies also says that Oswald provides the opportunity for a "very good strong bit of storytelling," the kind of dark character exploration that channels like Starz and BBC One are interested in featuring.
Davies may well be back. A while ago, Davies was quoted in an article as saying this would be his last year of working on Torchwood, so we had to ask him about that. The good news is, Davies says the quote was blown out of proportion, and he could be producing more of the show after all. "I was just musing about moving on, as we all do," Davies says. "And then I look into John Barrowman's eyes and I'm seduced all over again."
Torchwood: Miracle Day airs this Friday on Starz at 9 PM.