It starts small, this creeping realization among hospital workers that something is out of whack. Specifically, no one on Earth is dying, anywhere, no matter how sick or injured they are.
That's the situation at the heart of "Torchwood: Miracle Day," the crackling miniseries premiering Friday, July 8, on Starz, the new home for the provocative British sci-fi series that previously aired on BBC America.
But while most of the planet views the newfound immortality as a miracle, doctors quickly assess the situation far more grimly. Grievously wounded and infirm people aren't getting better; they're just continuing to exist, often in agonizing pain. And then there's the issue of Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), the convicted pedophile and child murderer who survived lethal injection due to this inexplicable "miracle."
Small wonder, then, that at the moment this unnatural phenomenon begins, computers around the world begin flashing the word "Torchwood," the name of the covert Welsh-based operation that was set up back in Victorian times to protect Earth from alien threats. Unfortunately, most of that team has been decimated in recent missions, and its leader, an immortal alien named Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), fled the planet and the human charges he loves so much in the wake of the devastating events that played out in the last "Torchwood" miniseries, "Children of Earth."
As this new miniseries opens, however, Jack's back, mainly to protect the only other surviving member of his Torchwood team, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), now a new mother who has been forced into hiding.Flummoxed by all that back story? Not to worry, says Barrowman.
"Fans who are just going to join us are not going to have to worry about past episodes to catch up and know where we are," the actor says. "They'll get to know us in the very first episode of the new series. Jack has come back, and his main priority is to keep Torchwood below the radar. He knows the devastation and what has happened because of Torchwood. But then this massive event happens worldwide and Jack has to come out of hiding.
"So now we see him as the hero again, and comfortable with it, a gunslinging hero who comes out to save one of his greatest and dearest friends. He's probably about 80 percent resolved (from his past grief), but there's a lot of other issues that happen in this series and things that we find out about his past. There's a lot more troubled history, but it's Jack's determination -- and now Gwen's, too, because now she understands him -- that they are out to protect and save the human race but also to save each other."
"Miracle Day" finds Jack and Gwen on the run but gathering allies along the way, some of them very improbable -- including Oswald Danes.
"What's really interesting about Bill's character is that he and Jack have a lot of similarities," Barrowman says. "They've done things that are bad but in different circumstances. Jack has done them for the greater good, whereas Bill's character has done them for selfish reasons. People are going to be very confused, because ultimately they are going to really like this character, but they know they're not supposed to. The same journey that the audience goes on, Jack is going to go on, too."
Pullman -- who gives one of the most fascinating performances of his career as Danes, a monster whose defense at his trial includes the assertion that his young victim "shoulda run faster" -- gives much of the credit to "Torchwood" creator Russell T. Davies, who also wrote the "Miracle Day" teleplay.
"Russell makes Oswald very difficult to pigeonhole, although you definitely realize that essentially he is coming from a very bad place, and he has deep, dark things inside him," Pullman says. "At times you don't know whether he is playing a game with it or he is frightened of himself or he's amazed at what people expect from him and enjoys the power that has been given him. He's like that evangelist who has gotten to a place (of influence) while harboring all these secrets."
What follows is a brilliant, if very unsettling, piece of work, especially for viewers who know Pullman mainly for the more widely known and sympathetic characters he has played in many movies. This isn't the actor's first trip to the dark side, however."I've done some dark characters with the Lynches -- 'Lost Highway' with David, and with (David's daughter) Jennifer, 'Surveillance,' " Pullman says. "But this is really a distinctive character in that he is at this moment of being executed for his deeds, and he lives, because suddenly no one is dying. Oswald is vilified, because he is the one they want dead, although it's a miracle that everyone else is able to stay alive.
"In the process of being thrown out to the lions, he begins to speak about what has happened to the world in a way that makes people realize they need someone saying these things. He begins to grow in stature and respect and power, but he still is a very complicated character. It's a big panorama of what is happening to the globe under these conditions, and I get to ask questions about what fame is and what redemption is and what leadership is."