Jane’s Take – Episode One “Torchwood: Miracle Day”

 
 

Editor’s Note: Jane Espenson is one of those very rare Hollywood creatures — a television writer who needs no introduction to the smart folks who know their television. And even quite a few who don’t. After all, Espenson has played a key part on a number of TV shows that have gone on to become classics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica. All of which explains, why Torchwood creator Russell T Davies was smart enough to grab Espenson when Torchwood made the jump to American shores with Torchwood: Miracle Day. (If you haven’t already, be sure to read Heather Hogan‘s hilarious recap of episode one “Torchwood in 10 Minutes.”

And now we’ve got her. Yes, we can hardly believe it either. Every Tuesday for the duration of Torchwood, Jane will be sharing her thoughts about the previous Friday’s episode. Sometimes it will be from her perspective as a writer of a particular episode. And sometimes it will just be as a fan of great sci-fi television.

But enough from us. Let’s hear from Jane!

Oooh! It’s finally here!

I remember that we were in the BBC Worldwide offices exactly a year ago, working on the broad strokes of this season of Torchwood. It was around this time that we came up with the idea of calling the change Miracle Day. And now Miracle Day has arrived.

I’m going to be writing up my impressions and memories here after each episode – there is some dark water up ahead and the journey may not always be smooth, but we’ll go through it together.

To a certain extent, this will read as DVD commentary, except it’s written down and we’re all imagining the DVD. Let’s try it.

So let’s talk death throes! Everyone who was on set during the
attempted execution of Oswald Danes couldn’t stop talking about Bill Pullman‘s performance here. I was told that the ripping off of the armrest wasn’t even planned. But personally, I think the impressive stuff in this scene is all the stuff he does before that.

He paints a character with, like, his eyelashes here. Something about the way he holds his face and slides his eyes around, tells you a lot about Oswald Danes. He looks like the world just hit him and now he is going to hit it the frak back. And then between scenes, Bill Pullman is, like, over at the craft services table having a snack and talking about whatever – such a lovely guy.

Do you love the minimal opening credits? I love that it’s kind of a dark show, with bright white credits.

Next up! Look at Gwen and Rhys’s baby. That is a magnificent baby. When we started working on the show, she was going to be named, I believe, Emily. When Russell decided to change the name, some of us American writers suggested that we wanted her to have a Welsh name, and she became Anwen. Anwen in this episode does some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen done by a baby.

The baby’s enthusiasm for action actually seems to speak to Gwen’s own character. I hope this baby continues to work as a professional baby for the next 40 years. Gwen’s choice to provide Anwen with ear protection is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of making a responsible action into something hilarious.

Did you catch Robin Sachs as the British Expert on the television? Robin played Ethan Rayne on Buffy. I didn’t have anything to do with bringing him to Torchwood, but I was thrilled to see him!

Look at how Welsh Wales is! There would have been no way to fake that here. I love that Torchwood still feels like Torchwood. So exotic to my Midwestern American eyes.

By the way, there were early versions of the script in which Jack was revealed to the audience in a more humorous way – I believe we saw an IT guy, and then revealed it had been Jack the whole time. It was funny and cool. But this reveal of Jack standing all epic-like – nothing beats that. Sometimes drama trumps comedy – I hate to admit it, but it’s true.

John Barrowman does some great work when Jack realizes what it means that his arm isn’t healing itself. He doesn’t say it, but we can see the knowledge informing his performance for the rest of the scene.

Moving on! This exchange kills me: “Should I be dead?” asks Gwen’s dad. “I don’t know, Dad,” she replies.

Gwen’s inability to NOT be honest in that moment just — wow. It’s a great example of writing without poetry. “I don’t know” looks on the page like it’s a nothing line, but it is an honest reaction and that’s worth a lot more than her saying something inspiring and then repeating it with less certainty, which is the stock (and poetic) way to go here. “You’ll be perfect, Dad. Perfect.” No.

Rex downing pills and stumbling on his too-short crutch is hilarious – for me, this is the moment when Rex becomes lovable to me, when he’s foolish and vulnerable. And then, in Wales, when he can’t get over having to pay for the bridge; that cracks me up. This is a great example of the signature tone of Torchwood. It finds the absurd human moments that don’t stop happening just because the world is going nuts. I find this kind of choice shares a lot with Buffy-style writin’ – human foibles even in the face of disaster.

Helicopter chase! These dailies fascinated me because they would just keep doing the scene over and over without turning the car around. They just seemed to be able to drive endlessly – I think that beach may be infinite.

And the end – Jack’s new situation. And Torchwood is coming to America. Somehow, watching it tonight, I feel the enormity of that – Gwen Cooper on American soil. I can’t wait to see what happens next! Want to watch it together?

If you aren’t already, be sure to follow Jane on Twitter.

 
 

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