Torchwood: Miracle Day – episode one

One of television's strangest shows is back for a fourth series, and this time around it's made in the USA

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read any further if you haven't watched the first episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day. We're launching this blog to coincide with US broadcast dates so there's a place all fans can discuss the show together. Sorry, UK viewers – if you're waiting for the show to air on BBC1, do come back here after Thursday's broadcast

The new world

Welcome, Woodies old, new, British, American and watching through legal or nefarious means. This year's Guardian Torchwood blog will be nothing if not equal opportunities. We apologise to UK fans waiting for the BBC1 broadcast – we know, we're putting temptation in your way – but this way we can all share your considerable knowledge and discuss the series together.

In the spirit of which, if you are new to us for season four then you're likely to be asking the same question as agent Rex Matheson: "What is Torchwood?" And the answer is as intangible as the mystery at the premise of this series. The easy explanation is a long-dead British institute founded by Queen Victoria after some unfortunate business with a werewolf, charged with investigating extraterrestrial occurrences.

Alternatively, Torchwood is one of the strangest shows on television. Written by Russell T Davies, who brought Doctor Who back to TV, it started off as a bizarre, adult-themed Doctor Who spin-off, packed with nonsense such as aliens that sex you to death and "resurrection gloves". But as it leapt up the BBC channels it grew up, emerging as an edgy, sci-fi version of Spooks with the surprise smash hit two years ago Children of Earth (if you're catching up, you'll find our blogs on that series here).

"You don't reprieve a man you failed to hang because the rope snapped."

Torchwood's fourth incarnation sees it change again, and not just in transatlantic scale. With most of the team dead and the Hub destroyed this isn't quite a reboot, but certainly a start again from scratch. It most resembles a classic Russell T Davies "what if?" caper in the vein of his shows The Second Coming and Bob And Rose. It's easy to forget that pre-Doctor Who, Davies was the master of these thought experiments, and now we have another. Effectively, Miracle Day is "what would happen to us if everyone stopped dying" – starring Jack and Gwen out of Torchwood.

With so much scene to set and so many characters to reintroduce, this episode for the most part came off as a confident season opener. Jack, last seen hooking up with Russell Tovey in a space bar as David Tennant regenerated, has been circling Earth, making sure Torchwood stays dead and Gwen stays alive. New mother Gwen has been living off the grid, barely concealing her boredom with life as a housewife, then barely concealing her glee as a global emergency brought Jack and a whole heap of violence to her door. Their grinning stare on the beach as all hell broke loose was a welcome moment of familiarity in what really was a new world. And oh yes – we didn't need to worry that the US connection would dilute the show's identity (apologies American readers, but we did slightly fret). It just means that we can now do things like hurl helicopters across Welsh beaches. And that is all good with me.

"How do you investigate something that's not happening?"

And so to the new cast. I'm going to reserve judgement on agent Rex Matheson for the time being: for a man who talked such a game he didn't appear to do a huge amount of investigating that didn't involve Esther Googling things for him over the phone. Esther, though a bit simpering and (yes, it seems) a bit in love with Rex, at least showed some initiative. Bill Pullman, of course, stole the show as manipulative psychopath Oswald Danes; his character might give us one of the most compelling narratives. Plus there is the promise of Claire from Six Feet Under as a public relations queen bitch. What's not to look forward to?

Most-likely-to-be-complained-about scene

You might think it would be the scene where they detached the head from the undead soldier on the hospital slab. Maybe I'm sick, but I just found that incredibly funny. I would predict the sight of a woman with a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other will get easily offended viewers the most hot under the collar.

Classified information

• The scene where Jack retconned Esther was a direct echo of the very first episode, when he did the same to Gwen.

• There were plenty more fan-friendly riffs: Jack used the name Owen Harper at the hospital, and there's a lot of talk of "the 456 regulations" – the 456 being the the aliens from Children Of Earth.

• No hope of a return for Ianto, but PC Andy rides again! That man was like a cockroach, seemingly unslayable where most around him fell. And he was apparently taking part in extraordinary renditions.

• RTD loves a newsreader, but with so many of them in the various montage scenes, where was old familiar Trinity Wells, from so many Doctor Who episodes?

• Also new for this series: an episode of Torchwood containing no same-sex action whatsoever.

• "I gotta pay for this bridge?" Rex's day got even worse when he was forced to deal with crossing the river Severn. "Yes m'am, I'm feeding her lard."

Contributor

Dan Martin

The GuardianTramp

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