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'Torchwood' Creator Russell T Davies Talks about the Show's 'Miracle' Season (VIDEO)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 12th 2011 1:15PM
Not many shows completely revamp their format midway through their lives, but doing that worked out well for 'Torchwood.'

A couple of years ago, the sci-fi-flavored show, which follows a secretive team that battles threats to Earth, abandoned the monster-of-the-week structure that it had used in its first two seasons. In 2008's 'Torchwood: Children of Earth,' creator Russell T Davies abandoned that format to tell a morally complicated story that spanned five tightly linked episodes.

'Children of Earth' was a critical and commercial success in both the U.S. and U.K., and Davies said in a recent interview in Los Angeles that using a highly serialized format had been a creative breakthrough for 'Torchwood,' which had begun life as a 'Doctor Who' spinoff.

In the 'Torchwood's' first two seasons, which featured mostly standalone episodes and an array of one-off villains, "we were always upstaging ourselves by the fact that 'Doctor Who,' [which Davies had revived in 2005] did that on a much bigger scale, and that's why 'Torchwood' struggled sometimes."

"I loved those first two years, but when I hit on the idea of 'Children of the Earth,' when I said, 'Let's not do weekly story, let's do one long story,' it sort of came of age for me in my head, and I discovered the potential to go anywhere and do anything, and then I thought this [show] could run and run and run," Davies said.

Davies loves shows like 'Lost' and 'Fringe' and 'Supernatural' -- in fact, he expressed concern during the interview, which took place last Friday, that he might miss an episode of 'Fringe' (he was relieved to learn that the Fox show doesn't return until Jan. 21). But now that 'Torchwood' has found its own distinct approach to telling stories, it has something that sets it apart from other sci-fi-flavored fare.

"I think ['Torchwood'] finds something absolutely unique by saying, well, all this show does is take a concept, a high concept, and drop that into Western society, like a great stone going into a lake," Davies said. "The story is about the ripples. It's about how we react.. ... It's not about a fleet of spaceships anymore, even though I love those sort of shows, I love them to death. ...It's not a monster, it's not a glowing cube, it's not even a laser beam, it's a concept -- plunk -- right into the middle of society, and then you just watch how we change."

Though the drama is sticking with that format -- call it the mega-miniseries -- there are several other changes ahead for 'Torchwood,' which used to air on BBC America. Season 4 of the show obviously won't be called 'The New World' (that was a fakeout title announced a few months ago), and it will air on a new channel, Starz, probably in July. There's been a change of location as well: 'Miracle Day' begins shooting in Los Angeles on Monday. The story, which will have an international flavor and have the characters traveling to various countries, will be filmed mostly in the U.S., though a two-week shoot in Wales is also planned.

As Davies explains in the video accompanying this post (which is not spoilery), the new season is not the complete "reboot" of the franchise that some fans had feared.

But those who've never watched 'Torchwood' should be able to plunge in with 'Miracle Day,' he added.

"The serial format if fascinating because I believe... you should be able to join in episode 3 or episode 4 or 5 and still follow what's going on," Davies said. "So we just had to be very careful with it and make sure you keep parceling up information and make sure your faithful viewer doesn't feel bored while there's an endless repetition of what events are."

Like 'Children of Earth,' 'Torchwood: Miracle Day' is driven by a concept that will be unveiled in the season's opening minutes. Read on for more detailed information about the new season of 'Miracle Day.' If you'd rather not know plot specifics, check out here.

The miraculous event that the title refers to is the end of death. One day, people on Earth stop dying. Even a Death Row prisoner named Oswald, who is played by Bill Pullman, lives, despite getting the full array of lethal injections. The fact that people stop dying soon presents a huge problem, given that the planet soon begins to get even more overcrowded, and the miracle turns into a nightmare.

For Captain Jack Harkness, who is played by John Barrowman, the story has special resonance.

"Of course, Captain Jack is an immortal, and what we are talking about is the world turns immortal. So there's an awful lot of story packed into that," Davies said at a press event for the show on Friday.

Eve Myles will once again play Gwen Cooper, who is now the mother of a small child (her husband, Rhys, who's played by Kai Owen, will also appear in 'Miracle Day'). Gwen misses the excitement she used to have when she worked with Jack, and she soon meets Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), a CIA agent who begins uncovering information about the disbanded 'Torchwood' team.

Other 'Miracle Day' cast members include Dichen Lachman, Arlene Tur and Alexa Havins. Writers for the show include Davies, Jane Espenson ('Buffy,' 'Battlestar Galactica'), Doris Egan ('House') and John Shiban ('Breaking Bad,' 'Supernatural').

Check back here soon for more from 'Torchwood' star Eve Myles.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I'm not at all "excited" about the new series.
Because I don’t like the way Mr. Davies treats in the old series
- his characters (Ianto, Jack, Stephen)
- the story (so many plot holes and I hate when the writers/producers think I or the average viewer is too stupid to see them)
- and the fans, or everybody who may doubt his genius
Yes Ianto was for me the best character of the show. He was more human then Gwen, and more heroic in his own way then Jack.
Gwen ”I’m the caring woman”, and Jack, “I’m the charismatic and enigmatic hero”, are so stereotypes
I never really cared.
I hated de big plotholes in CoE, and the fact they thought it’s Ok to kill a child on TV for the sake of drama and sensationalism. And also that they killed the best characters (for me) on the show just because of the stupid “they die young” statement. As if anyone believes Gwen is ever going to be hurt.
And also I don’t know if MD is as “madly” original as told. Read years ago a book about people becoming immortal because of a virus and the governments had to hide the “infected” on an island.

January 13 2011 at 2:15 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Syl's comment
Craig Ranapia

Fair enough: I don't watch 'Two and a Half Men' because the male characters are uniformly vile, the women all nuts, ***** or castrating shrews and I just don't care about an alleged comedy that's about as amusing as watching a baby try to pet a rabid wolf. Charlie Sheen's inexorable downward spiral towards becoming a middle-aged Lindsay Lohan with a penis is more interesting than the show he appears in.

Sadly, around fifteen million people beg to differ.

January 14 2011 at 10:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Jay Beu


Yes. Everyone thinks that the ONLY, SOLITARY reason that anyone is upset is because of Ianto. That is so far from the truth but no one bothers to listen. They just go "Oh, another Ianto nut" which shows that they are just as capable of being as rude as RTD proved himself.

I respect that he is open about his own sexuality, and envy him that important step in his life but sorry, the way he reacted, "Read poetry" "Watch Supernatural", tells me that though he might have claimed to want different ranges of emotions he really only wanted them if they ended in every single viewer, whether old devoted fan or new to the show, to think CoE was the greatest piece of TV ever written. And for some it was. But for some it was the worst and others still it was somewhere in between.

I agree that he should have been more professional, mature and tactful in his own reaction. Would it have killed the man to just say (and I'm borrowing your words, chryssalys) "I understand you're upset about Ianto's death, and I'm sorry for that"? It would show that he understood and respected us all (even though many claim that he doesn't have to respect fans), especially the ones who have been with Torchwood since the beginning. He needs to learn and understand that not everyone is going to like what he does, it's a fact of life. I work in a restaurant and no matter how hard we try, not every customer eats our gyros and thinks that it's the greatest thing ever but we roll with it, take the good and the bad. I actually learn a lot from the complaints I get and no, I'm not perfect therefore sometimes I get testy with a customer but they pay my salary, so I always apologize if that happens. RTD on the other hand insults us, belittles our concerns, tells us that he doesn't need us all the while making us feel like he used us. And now this new series, with "everyone's immortal therefore we're doomed, help us Gwen, Jack!" plotline is definitely a proverbial slap in the face to all the ones who are still upset.

Why-- no---HOW could I support this? He insulted me just because he could so I find it most difficult to care about him or his work. And believe me, I USED to care. The Tosh, Owen and Ianto happened too much too soon.

January 12 2011 at 10:57 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jay Beu's comment

@Jay Beu

Exactly. Like it or not, the show and the characters belong(ed) to RTD. He had every right to destroy them. However, knowing that he had created a show and characters that his viewers cared deeply about, a smart writer would acknowledge that and the fact that killing them would create grief, in many cases, very strong grief - his attitude is what caused the anger.

When Tara was killed on Buffy, the reaction that Joss Whedon had validated the fact that fans felt strongly about the character. No one was insulted, no one was told to go elsewhere (how very not bright is it, to tell your audience to go watch another show?) and the fandom rumbles settled down relatively quickly.

RTD could have handled the aftermath of CoE in a similar manner. He chose not to, and he chose to publicly insult us for being upset. That's his right.

Just as it is my right to publicly say that I will not, ever, watch another show he is involved in, as I feel that he is a mannerless, talentless hack with far too big an ego. And I have no desire to become involved with another character just for that character to be killed off. And I loved Torchwood - all of Torchwood, not just Ianto. Torchwood, though, is dead.

Whatever happens in Miracle Day - it still won't be Torchwood.

January 13 2011 at 6:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Jay Beu

Don't care to read books by directors and showrunners as they always come across as arrogant or biased because it's hard for them to NOT toot their own horns and I have never liked RTD's attitude. I also never accept things like his profession or the stress he's surely under as an excuse for such an attitude.

Sadly this goes for many in his profession. Memoirs and such can be fiction just as much as TV is.

As for Steven's death: yes I was very upset and agree with others that after "Exit Wounds" and all the deaths prior to Day 5 as well as the other deaths in that episode that it was unnecessary. Ianto died, fine. But because a child was brutally murdered (by his own flesh and blood, sorry but it's true because the child did not have a choice) so soon after the death of a popular character who was the second half of a popular relationship, I (and others I assume but will not say for certain) was honestly too upset over Day 4 and Ianto that the murder of Steven truly was just a 'blip' on the radar. And I honestly as much sorrow for Frobisher's kids as I did Steven.

There is a place for death in drama and in a show like Torchwood but it was done far too much in such a short time. Because of that, by the time Gwen was in tears over Jack's departure, I truly just wanted to tell her to shut up and set BOTH Jack and Rhys free because by that time there was nothing left for me to feel.

And with as depressing as THAT was, I really can't get excited over a show where they all become immortal when Owen, ianto, Tosh, Steven and probably hundreds of innocents ("Exit Wounds", Day 4 and 5) died. Polar opposites aren't all they're cracked up to be.

January 12 2011 at 10:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jay Beu's comment

@Jay Beu

I agree with you - the death of Stephen, as tragic as it was, fell at a time when I was numb with disbelief and just waiting for something, anything, to happen to make it better again.

It was the final nail in the coffin - but most of the nails were already in place.

If RTD had wanted that death to have the impact - then an alive Ianto, either protesting or reluctantly helping - or taking over so that Jack didn't have to kill his grandson - would have been the way to go.

January 13 2011 at 6:19 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Jay Beu

@Julie. I agree that I feel that RTD and Ms Gardner didn't live up to their promises, especially, but not solely (despite what so many believe) the issue of Ianto. To be honest, I have listened to the audio books and radio plays and see much more character and relationship development in those than in CoE.

And if the fans would just remove their heads from their nether regions they might actually get that only a tiny (though yes, vocal) number of "Ianto fans" are so emotionally charged that they may actually feel loathing towards RTD, et al. Many, if not MOST, of us dislike CoE and this new series, even RTD and co for MANY MANY reasons. But all anyone bothers to notice when they see a "Ianto fan" post is that they miss and want Ianto back.

Personally, I feel that if RTD didn't want any reaction other than complete and utter joy over the events of CoE then he shouldn't have made it at all because no show, director, script, actor is perfect. Why? Because every single person involved in an imperfect human. Is it right for any of us to tell the others, say, the "Ianto fans" to "get over it"? No. Grief, even that of a fictional character can be very real for many. When I was upset over my cat dying, I was told to get over it the next day. I was told the same about CoE and what I saw as the death of Torchwood. Yes my cat was real but my grief over Ianto, Jack, Steven, Alice and all the others in CoE was too. I am a human being who refuses to put a lid on my emotions. I'm not saying that everyone is like that but just because some of us are doesn't make us less or more of a fan or human.

January 12 2011 at 5:30 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jay Beu's comment
Craig Ranapia

First, I don't think I wrote anything that could be reasonably taken as regarding "Ianto" fans as "less than human", but am sorry if you felt I did. Do I get passionately invested in shows, and favourite characters too? Hell yes - Donna Noble's departure at the end of series four of Doctor Who made me cry. Literally.

Am I a mindless RTD fan boy - nuts I am. He's a very good, but far from perfect writer. Not a big fan of 'Queer as Folk', his highest profile project before Doctor Who FWIW. Hell, was CoE perfect? No, like Mo (IIRC) I thought the pace of the third and fourth episodes was a bit wonky & the Prime Minister/Cabinet's characterisations over-melodramatic.

I can perfectly understand that CoE in particular, or RTD's work in general, isn't everyone's cup of tea. Fair enough too, but honestly I thought a lot of the reaction to the death of Ianto (much of that in language I can't and won't quote here) was seriously OTT. And a significant subset of that was frankly beyond what I consider acceptable. (YMMV, but I thought more people would be upset by the scene where a ten year old child DIES ON SCREEN WITH BLOOD RUNNING FROM HIS EARS, NOSE AND EYES. Or even the whole idea of the British Government complying with an demand to hand over millions of children to be, in effect, used as living crack pipes -- because, hey, it's one way to thin out the poor and other social undesirables.)

I find it absurd that anyone could believe "RTD didn't want any reaction other than complete and utter joy" - he said exactly the opposite, repeatedly, before CoE aired. It was a very dark week of television. I'd also recommend that you find a copy of 'The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter' - it's the work of a man who has a very reality-based view of how his work is received, especially by one of the most vocal and nit-picky fandoms in SF. But he's also blunt that he wasn't hired to moderate a fan board, but be executive producer/head writer of a television show. You don't have to like, or even respect, all his choices; just respect they were his to make.

As I said below, if you don't think 'Miracle Day' is your cup of tea, fair enough. But from the start, it was always clear that Torchwood was a dangerous place and nobody was guaranteed safe passage. What I don't think is fair is acting like Russell Davies lied to anyone. And it should always be possible to express you views about what is, after all, just a television show, in civil and reasonable way. You have - and thanks for that. But too many others have not.

January 12 2011 at 9:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This should be brilliant, the first 2 seasons of Torchwood were very good but it was really with Children of Earth that it found its own voice. And yes, Ianto's death was sad but that's just Torchwood. He was a popular character (I liked him as much as anyone!) but the stuff that came after his death with Jack and his grandson was far more shocking still, and has really set the bar high for this new series.

The only thing that worries me is that living in the UK we often don't get to see shows for months after they have aired in the US... I had heard a while back that Torchwood being a joint BBC and Starz project would air simultaneously here and in the US but haven't heard anything official, was anything about that mentioned Mo?

January 12 2011 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Nic 's comment

According to a report on SFX a while back, the show was going to air on the same night on Starz and BBC-1. Since they are producing it 50-50, neither would have first dibs on it.

January 12 2011 at 3:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Excellent column on Torchwood, Mo, thank you. I loved "Torchwood: Children of Earth" and think the fourth season sounds terrific. I'm just worried about how or when I'll get the opportunity to see it. (Starz?) Do you think BBCAmerica will be showing it? And don't you think that fans of Dr. Who and the first two seasons of Torchwood are very possibly NOT going to enjoy Season Three and the upcoming Season Four as much? It's true in my case. But I am slow -- I'm still trying to grasp the fact that John Barrowman grew up in Joliet and graduated from high school there. Captain Jack was a neighbor? Excellent! :)

January 12 2011 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Connie's comment
Craig Ranapia

I'm not sure, but since Torchwood: Miracle Day is technically a co-production with both BBC Wales and BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC that owns and operates BBC America), I'd be very surprised if it didn't show up on BBCA at some point.

January 12 2011 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

Why am I not surprised that RTD is a Fringe-head. :) Still, it's a delicious irony that I think Torchwood & Fringe started with, and overcame, very similar problems: Trying to step out of the shadows of much higher profile parents (Lost & Doctor Who) and taking a long time to figure out what they were about tonally and thematically; a reliance on meh-some "monster of the week" stories; and a POV/audience surrogate character that was less than entirely engaging, despite being played by more than capable actresses.

January 12 2011 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

RTD can keep his new series, because I refuse to watch it. I was a fan of the first 2 seasons, in which the show was great. In COE, he promised the viewers wonderful things, but by the end of the mini-series, he had killed off a beloved character, Ianto Jones, and scattered the remaining members to ends of the universe. When confronted about the false promises, he stated that the fans should go watch Supernatural, if they were that disappointed. Funny that he mentions that show in this clip. He is of the same ilk as Brad Wright, Martin Gero, and Joe Malozzi, who have affectively derailed the Stargate product.

January 12 2011 at 1:35 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to julie24j's comment
Craig Ranapia

Acutlaly, Julie, I think Davies was entitled to get a wee bit testy about being called a homophobe. He also pointed out that it's always been part of the show that working for the Torchwood Institute is DANGEROUS. For heavens sake, in the very first episode a member of the team was killed, resurrected with alien technology and committed suicide -- only to be resurrected and killed (again) in the 8th episode. Owen died not once but twice in series two; and Tosh died with him, at the hands of Jack's own brother! Obviously you don't like that, and if you join the rest of the Jack-Ianto ship in checking out on 'Miracle Day' fair enough. What I don't think is fair is acting like Russell Davies lied to anyone.

January 12 2011 at 2:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to Craig Ranapia's comment

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