Torchwood: Miracle Day Is Russell T Davies' Bleak But Big-Budget Will Please Both UK And US Audiences
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” said one the America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
Well, that was a long time ago. We’re now in Russell T Davies’ world, and we can’t even rely on that much.
The writer’s baby, Torchwood, returns on July 14 for its fourth series, dramatically sub-titled Miracle Day; 10 hour-long parts asking one fundamental question – What would happen if no one could die?
It’s not, as Davies is keen to point out, a new idea.
The premise has been dabbled with in fiction many times before, but, as was the case in 1934 film Death Takes A Holiday, the Grim Reaper taking a break is largely handled in a ‘Wouldn’t it be cute if everyone lived forever?’ kind of way.
The forthcoming Torchwood’s angle is far, far bleaker.
Meet Joe Black, the 1998 remake of Death Takes A Holiday, offered little more than Brad Pitt looking dashing in a tuxedo. Miracle Day’s take on worldwide immortality, however, brings the rather more practical concerns of a bankrupt NHS, overcrowding and famine into the equation.
It’s the writing equivalent of putting a cat up a tree and then spending 10 weeks working out how you’re going to get it down, although, promises Davies, all loose ends will be tied up by the end, every question answered.
“We did volumes and volumes of research before writing,” he begins. “We had to.
“The more you look at it, the more fascinating it becomes; the food shortages, the space, everything. It’s all backed up with lots of facts.”
After finishing work on Doctor Who in 2009, Davies, along with Julie Gardner, the producer with whom he worked so closely during that series’ resurrection, moved to the US.
“And we’re back, to find Doctor Who is still on TV, and television hasn’t collapsed without us. You bastards,” he says with mock indignation.
Gardner, also here today but more than happy to let the ever-jovial raconteur Davies do the talking, went to work at LA-based BBC Worldwide and soon after, the pair’s seed of an idea was bearing fruit.
“Writing this while living in America, while they were going through health reform, was fascinating,” says Davies.
“I saw debates where they would talk about British healthcare in extraordinary terms, as if we run death camps over here.
Serious debates about the death panels of Britain!” his voice getting more and more high-pitched, the more excited he gets.
“To have that socialist debate at the same time we’re writing something where the first problem is over-crowding in hospitals was interesting. Healthcare in general is founded on people dying. That’s how the system works, we rely on it.”
At this point Davies realises he’s been talking for the best part of 20 minutes and, gesturing to the end of the long boardroom table where we are congregated, looks at Bill Pullman and John Barrowman. “Talk to them, for God’s sake.”
The two stars of the show have been observing and laughing along while RTD holds court as he’s wont to do. He’s almost as good at talking about TV as he is at writing it, while the trademarks of his work exist in his conversation too - warmth, familiarity and more than a few exaggerations for dramatic effect.
The budget for the coming series was significantly higher than anything Davies and Gardner have had to play with before. That’s largely down to the deal struck with American subscription channel Starz, who co-funded the series.
It’s a real victory for the production team, having started out as an experiment on BBC Three before graduating to BBC Two and finally BBC One for Torchwood: Children Of Earth, all the while building a cult, yet sizeable audience in the States.
There are, however, concerns from fans that Torchwood has now been Americanised, thanks to the arrival of Pullman, ER star Mekhi Phifer, Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose and the visible bucketful of cash Starz have clearly thrown at it.
The centre piece of the first episode – without giving too much away, of course – involves a helicopter chasing a jeep at high speed along a beach, machine guns, bazookas and all.
It’s a far cry from the rickety sets and cheap props of the first series, but most impressive of all is perhaps the fact it looks and feels like the same Torchwood fans fell for in 2006. Now, though, it possesses the slickness to truly appeal to a mass audience.
“We had a nice budget, yes,” says Davies, coyly. “The only problem is that everything costs twice as much when you’re filming in America. That money is very quickly spent, but that’s Julie’s problem, not mine.”
“We also filmed in Wales again,” adds Gardner. “It’s always good to do that because we get so much love and support. Cardiff and Swansea always seem to glad to have us back I think we could do pretty much do anything.”
“It’s no secret we were developing Torchwood for an American audience,” continues Davies. “But obviously we can’t lose existing fans here. We’d never allow that.
“I’ve got previous in this area with Doctor Who, writing for fans at the same time as writing for newcomers. We brought that back after 16 years, and previously with Torchwood we were writing for a new audience each time we changed channel. It worked, so when we went to Starz we were confident we could do it again.
“And we have. We really, really have.”
Torchwood: Miracle Day begins on BBC One on July 14.