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Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Paula Seligson

Torchwood is back. There are differences - more explosions, American-geared jokes, and cinematography no longer based on the confines of a city. But the feel of a science fiction story grounded with people and taken to the edges of dark and disturbing is the same.

It begins dark. A convicted rapist and murderer of a young girl, Oswald Danes, is prepped for execution by lethal injection. The mother watches, hoping for closure from his last words, and cries as Danes dismisses her and waits for death. Immediately the plot (already spoiled by the previews for the episode) is introduced. The liquid enters the man’s veins and he thrashes in agonizing pain, undying.

And so Miracle Day starts.

This episodes begins with why I love Torchwood. With Danes’ unsuccessfully completed execution, it immediately shows the horrible nature of the Miracle: if people can’t die, what does that mean for the pain they suffer when death wont release them? With Danes, we see horrible pain but no other side-affects because the drug simply passes through his body.

With CIA agent Rex Matheson we see an unhealing injury. Even in the promo pics, he’s depicted with a bloody shirt.

And of course with the exploded assassin, we see the abject horror of the Miracle. What happens when a person’s body is damaged beyond function? They keep living.

The episode rightfully takes the time to explain the mystery of Torchwood for the new American audience just tuning in, with echoes of season one: finding an old picture matched to a modern-day Jack and retcon. The two accessible characters - Rex and fellow CIA agent Esther Drummond - are believable. Rex is portrayed as arrogant and in search of advancing his own career, but ultimately with a very personal stake in the mystery of the Miracle. The joke about the toll bridge fell short, but hey, the guy is in a lot of pain, you can’t expect to have a sound sense of humor. Esther’s obvious (and unrequited) feelings for Rex are an expected addition to the character interactions (there’s always a romance) and will be interesting to see unfold. Esther shows she’s both inquisitive and self-directed by seeking out information on Torchwood despite being told not to bother, which is encouraging for her later character development.

Of the new characters, the surgeon, Vera Juarez, is the most interesting, due to both her personality and her experiences while standing at ground zero of the Miracle - the ER.

We’re just getting to know the new main characters, and so far so good. Esther is definitely the weakest, but that leaves the most room for character development. All are in the thick of the Miracle’s effects, and they each deal with their respective burdens in different ways. The only one I’m not sure about is Danes, because his side-plot seems extraneous, and so far is the weakest portion of the show. Still, I’m excited to see what directions the writers take the new characters.

But if you’re a returning fan, they’re not why you’re watching the show. Jack, Gwen, and Rhys were fantastic.

Gwen has reached a new level of bad-ass, now that she’s a mother protecting her child. The scene where the couple comes to her and Rhys’ door for directions was brilliant. I love the new level of fierceness she brings to fighting. She has her daughter and her husband, she has reclaimed her life from Torchwood, and she will not let ANYONE ruin that for her.

I am so glad they didn’t change Rhys and Gwen’s relationship. He’s just as annoying and against Torchwood as he’s always been, and it’s a wonderful counter-perspective to Gwen’s readiness to jump in and save the world. While Gwen protects her family from the dangers of the world, Rhys has to protect Gwen from herself and her willingness to get involved. Their argument in the hospital was wonderful, and the best example possible of why Rhys is a worthwhile character to have around. I especially loved his readiness to handle a weapon and fight, revealing how much he’s grown since the start of the show.

And of course, Jack! Saving the day, one rocket launcher at a time. His reunion with Gwen was quick but well-done. Just the sheer look of joy on Gwen’s face (and the disgruntled scowl from Rhys) made me grin in delight - what’s left of the team is back together. Their reunion leaves fans wanting more, which I am confident the writers will deliver in the coming episodes.

And their reunion reveals the biggest shock of the episode - Jack is now mortal.

Plotwise, along with Torchwood being broadcast in the CIA headquarters before Jack wiped it from the entirety of the internet, it seems as though Jack’s presence is connected to and possibly causing the Miracle, and perhaps was even a trap for him. But could it instead be that whatever is causing the Miracle has managed to supersede Jack’s immortality, making him able to be injured but still (like the rest of Earth) unable to die? We’ll have to wait and see, but the plot is extremely intriguing and I can’t wait to see where they take it.

And yet the most interesting aspect of Jack’s mortality is not even the plot, but himself as a character.Jack has been immortal at this point for thousands of years. He has suffered in horrific and excruciating ways, and even spent his first few hundred years trying to find the Doctor in order to regain mortality. For now, in the thick of the plot, he’s most concerned with protecting Gwen and saving the Earth. But does Jack want to die?

We watch him casually suggest decapitating the exploded assassin in a truly cringe-worthy scene, all the while knowing he’s been through a similar experience during Children of Earth. The audience rarely sees the inner psyche of Jack. We see him endure horrible experiences, and he always seems to absorb whatever is thrown at him, back to his flirtatious old self by the next episode. But by the end of Children of Earth, he finally leaves because he’s suffered too much on his home planet.

Now that he has the chance to die, will he take it?

I suspect the finale of this story arc may be Jack’s choice between death or immortality, a choice that will decide the fate of the Earth.

In the meantime the fascinating plot will continue to unfold as the entire world deals with an increasing population and a growing number of injured who should but cannot die. The New World was an exciting start to a 10-episode season, slow paced enough to let the show right itself on American soil, but still full of action and adventure. And most importantly, it was still distinctly Torchwood.