“IT’S a new start for the show. It’s a new audience.”
Torchwood creator Russell T Davies speaking at the British Film Institute in London last night.
While John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) reassured fans: “But we never thought of taking it away from you. We never did.
“We want to make it bigger. We want to make it better. We want to spread what is the best of British television from the BBC.”
Torchwood: Miracle Day begins on BBC1 in the UK this summer and Starz Originals in the USA on July 8.
A 10-part series taking this sci-fi show to another level, without diluting the Welsh ingredients that have made the drama such a hit.
We saw the first hour-long episode and a teaser trail for the rest of the season.
Followed by an on-stage Q&A with Russell, John, Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper) and Bill Pullman (Oswald Danes).
Hopefully you won’t find any major spoilers in this blog, over and above what the BBC has already revealed in their advance publicity for the set up of the series.
My transcript of the question and answer session is below – again edited to remove anything that might spoil the plot or reveal character development.
If you haven’t read the BBC Press release on the new series, you can do so here.
Torchwood: Miracle Day opens in Jacksonville, Florida, with convicted child killer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) about to be executed for a truly horrific crime.
Just listen out for what he told the police when he was arrested.
Miracle Day refers to the day nobody died. And they continue not to die.
Day after day, across the world.
As the BBC News website headlines it: “The Death of Death.”
Not as good news as you might initially think.
Causing the world to go into a tailspin.
As CIA agents try to solve the mystery of what Torchwood was, its sole survivor Gwen is back in Wales living in an isolated cottage with her husband Rhys (Kai Owen) and baby daughter Anwen.
But where is Captain Jack?
The opening hour is a stunning piece of television, including some startling scenes.
With added lard and helicopters.
Two jokes about the Severn Bridge.
Plus as chilling a performance as you could wish for from Bill as the hateful killer.
The Q&A in front of a packed BFI audience was almost as entertaining as the show itself.
So it only seems fair to share a flavour of it below.
BFI London post-screening Q&A: (Edited highlights):
John Barrowman to audience: “Did you like it?”
John: “Awesome, isn’t it?”
Eve Myles: “Oh, you wait!”
John: “I’m naked in one episode.”
James Rampton (chair): “What gave you the idea for the immortality and such a brilliant concept?”
Russell T Davies: “It’s kind of one of those old ideas, really. I think death taking a holiday, I think that goes back to medieval literature, just to get posh for a second…I won’t be for long. It was a very old idea that I wanted to see done in more than half an hour. I wanted to see telly over 10 hours, and months pass in the 10 hours of Torchwood. By the end you get, I think, a completely different society because the banks break down, because the economy is all based on mortality. Pension funds are based on us dying off…the health care system breaks down. So by the end of episode 10 there’s huge ramifications. So it’s just a big story.”
And the American setting gives it so much more in terms of the scale. It’s absolutely massive?
Russell: “Yes. Wales is massive in its own way…those helicopter shots of the Gower…we’ll never have to pay for a car park there again.”
John: “I got a free lunch there the other day…”
Russell: “Your life is a free lunch…” (laughter) “It’s funny, because I hate saying it’s bigger and better and stuff like that because I loved the old Torchwoods we made in the past with our Welsh crews, who were brilliant. And, of course, it’s an American co-production but we did have Brian Minchin, who’s here tonight, who is our producer and Bethan Jones (BBC Wales)…and a lot of that is our faithful old Torchwood crew doing that shoot and then there’s the American side as well. And in weeks to come we go to Dallas, we go to Los Angeles, we go to Washington – you (Bill Pullman) go to every city, you go to Atlanta, don’t you? It covers the ground.”
Bill – were you familiar with Torchwood before and what appealed to you about coming on board with these guys?
Bill Pullman: “Well, it was just before Christmas and I knew presents were coming. I read the script and immediately thought that it was very engaging and lively and I don’t watch television so I was out of the loop. But I had remembered that somebody two years before, a converted literature professor – a posh man (laughter)…posh people love it too. And then it was announced that I was in it, a NASA scientist contacted me and said, ‘You’re in Torchwood?’ And I thought, ‘God, aren’t you going to the Moon or something?’ But it was great to see. It has a very intriguing audience.”
John (smiling): “And he’s learning to love every one of them!”
John, where do you think Captain Jack is at the beginning because he’s absent for a while? Is he watching over?
John: “He’s, obviously with everything that’s happened…the last time we saw him he zapped up to a freighter and he zapped off somewhere in space. But he’s back. He’s on planet Earth. Unbeknowns to the others, he is just keeping Torchwood under the radar. He thinks it’s hurt all of its friends, it’s caused death, destruction, he’s protecting Gwen, he’s trying to keep her out of harm’s way. She doesn’t know that…so he’s come back. What’s really great about it and the way that Russell has structured it, along with the other writers of the team, you who are the staunch fans who love the show, as we do, you’ve come into it and you can pick up right like that. But, again, it’s explained to the new audience right away. You understand who the characters are. You have (CIA agents) Rex (played by Mekhi Phifer) and you have Esther (played by Alexa Havins), who are asking questions, exactly, blatantly – ‘What is Torchwood?’ You’ve got Arlene Tur, who plays the doctor, describing everything to everybody. So it’s not a revamp. It’s Torchwood. And as Russell said, we’re just back a bit bigger than we were before. And thank…for that.”
Eve – can you describe where Gwen is at the beginning. Obviously she’s in hiding?
Eve: “Yeah. She’s the last remaining member of Torchwood left and she’s a wanted woman. She’s in this idyllic kind of chocolate box, beautiful cottage overlooking the sea, growing her own cabbages and carrots, which Rhys loves and she’s a mum first and foremost. You’ve gone from this woman who saves the children of Earth to a woman who has nothing to do with the Earth, has nothing to do with people, because she can’t. Because everybody who she loves and adores and cares for around her is constantly in danger because they’re trying to get to her. So Rhys is in heaven and she is slightly in hell. She’s digging. ‘Please, Torchwood, knock on my door. Give me a bazooka.’” (laughter)
There’s still that terrific bond between Jack and Gwen. Can you explain that a bit, John? What is it that bonds them?
John: “Well the thing that bonds them the most, for those who have followed us from the beginning, you go back to the whole point where you met Jack and Gwen for the first time. She was the heart that was brought into the organisation and I always think that Gwen and Jack teach each other constantly throughout all of the series and continue to do in this one….Gwen has to do things to protect him. There’s all that learning process between the two of them. She taught him how to have a bit more heart, a bit more humility, to care about humanity. What’s very interesting, and I’m quoting Russell on this, because both Eve and I were completely appreciative about this and loved this episode – it was episode seven – and you finally get the insight of how Gwen and Jack actually really feel about each other. And you also take a trip into Jack’s past, into one of his relationships. And with that whole story, we absolutely adored that episode. Russell wrote it and he said to us, ‘This is a gift to the both of you, for the characters, for what you’ve done, and this is just something for you to relish in.’ So you really get an insight. And it’s not what you expect. It is so not what you expect. And, for us, that was so much fun to do. I was tied up in the back of a car…”
Eve: “That was the best evening of my life. I had John Barrowman tied up in the back of my car and I ate a lot of cake. Perfect.”
Russell (to Eve): “You’ve joined quite a big club there.” (laughter)
What do you think it is, Eve, that holds them together?
Eve: “They’ve got this unspoken, strange, love and respect and what one fails in, the other one exceeds in. They like each other. They make each other laugh. And as complicated as Jack is, she’s fascinated by him. Why wouldn’t she be? And he’s fascinated in her heart and her way with people and with humanity. And I think the essence of these two very, very strange people from a very strange place come together and work incredibly well together.”
John: “They’re both heroes but in different ways. They’re heroic in everything that they do. And I speak for Jack, himself, but Jack believes in something, he goes for it, he sticks to it and it’s exactly the same…he has taught, in a way, Gwen the same thing. And she’s exactly the same way now. It’s what happens. Stick to it, keep with it…”
Were you ever tempted, Russell, to bring them together romantically?
Russell: “Well, anything can happen, you’ve got to watch the show. But, to be honest, no.” (laughter) “I’ve never seen that in the two…I think there’s a much more interesting relationship. There’s so much more going on between them than just a kiss. It’s like there’s a lot more going on.”
Eve: “The chase is always more interesting than the actual catch. Ladies?”
John: “It’s more than romance, it’s more than love, it’s more than a sexual love between Jack and Gwen. It’s a love of the person rather than a love of what they can do for them, that kind of thing.”
Eve: “It’s the company. They adore each other’s company and just can’t live without each other being in each other’s lives, because they help each other and they enjoy each other.”
Bill, there’s a very interesting relationship that develops between Oswald and Jack. Can you talk a bit about that without giving too much away?
Bill: “You could see that Oswald rises…and when he meets Jack for the first time…there’s a series of meetings, actually. They’re very intriguing. There’s an ability to cut through a lot of things. They recognise that there’s a similarity between each other, even though they’re very different. And so that allows them to speak very directly in a way that’s kind of very intimate and also very chilling. It’s an important relationship that takes dimensions that you can’t predict.”
Russell: “It’s a bit dark…”
What a wonderful coup to get Bill. Why were you particularly thinking he would be so great for this role?
Russell: “Simply a fine actor, as simple as that. And someone we never thought we’d get in a million years. On the list you go, ‘Oh, we don’t stand a chance.’ And then it turned out he needed a new kitchen.’ (laughter) We sent the script off on a Tuesday afternoon and by the Thursday morning or something, you (Bill) said yes. It was the fastest process…”
Bill: “The people that are fans here that are recognising what I didn’t know at the time when I was reading the script, I thought, ‘This is a genre piece with so much humanity and there’s so much appetite for everything.’ It’s funny and scary and disgusting and exhilarating and just the appetite, I could feel it. So I was really excited. I didn’t even finish reading the third script before I called my agent. It was like, ‘Yes, go.’ And it has continued to be…”
John: “Every question that is proposed in episode one is answered in episode 10. So you get all the answers. You don’t have to wait.”
Russell: “But you get a lot of answers along the way…(jokes) skip the middle.” (laughter)
This won’t be the kind of part that we’re almost expecting from the former President of the US? The inversion of the image that some people might have of Bill is very interesting, that he’s playing such a dark part?
Russell: “Well, Bill had done Last Highway and stuff like that. That was a dark, dark film. So I think there’s an enormous range of stuff there. The person we haven’t praised tonight – he’s sitting over there – Bharat Nalluri, the director is here.” (Applause) “Brilliant work.”
John, the series has been a huge success for five or six years now. What is it that people have latched on and that makes it endure?
John: “Well, first off, if I had a formula for that I would bottle it and I would sell it. I have to say this, it’s Russell and it’s the writing, it’s the creation of characters, and if I can choose a word, something that you said today Bill that I listened to – the characters are not cardboard cut outs. They’re three dimensional. They have pasts, they have futures, they have presents, they have emotions, they are truthful. The characters that are in these shows, although might not all be good people, and sometimes good people do do bad things, they’re all characters that people like yourselves sitting here can relate to. We do things that they have done in life. We’ve experienced emotions that they have experienced. And I think that’s why they connect with shows like Torchwood, like Doctor Who, all that kind of stuff. But that whole genre. Because science fiction, we can touch on things. And I think we touch on them in a different way than certain sci-fi shows…it’s something we can relate to. It’s something that the fans relate to. That’s a question you should really ask them because they have the answer. We just take the brilliant writing, we take the vision that Russell, with Julie (Gardner – executive producer), and everybody else, the production team that they have, we get up and we say the words and we make them alive, or try to sometimes.”
Eve: “Everyone who’s in Torchwood is not perfect. Everyone has imperfections. And everybody has flaws. That’s very interesting. And there’s a lot of flaws with us.”
Russell: “I think it’s that. I think it’s got quite a fluid sexuality and in this genre that’s quite rare. I think that’s attracted a different sort of audience, a lot more lively…a more intelligent sort of audience. I do think so. And I think no matter how serious it gets there’s a great sense of fun in it. It never loses its sense of humour, even in the darkest of moments. Which I think is a very true thing of human nature. It’s a very human survival instinct.”
People always try and label these things, Russell, but it’s not, strictly-speaking, sci-fi or any other pigeon hole, is it? How would you describe it?
Russell: “I do think of it as science fiction, actually, I do. Which I think encompasses the whole range of everything. I think this is a nice and different form of science fiction. Because often science fiction is the toys – it’s the spaceship or the aliens or the laser beams. Which we’ve done tonnes of in the past ourselves. But what I like about this year’s version of Torchwood, is that it’s just a concept…it’s really taking an idea – that we’ll all live forever – dropping it in the middle of society and watching the waves go out, watching all of us react, watching how society bends and falls, how it brings out the best of us and the worst of us. I think that’s really quite pure science fiction. It’s not relying on the hardware, it’s not relying on the toys, it’s just an idea. So I’m glad of that.”
Does it give you a bigger canvas to play with, the budget that you’ve got?
Russell: “Yeah, there is a great big bit of swagger…”
What was the biggest challenge in filming for you?
Russell: “That’s a hard one. The whole thing, really. It’s not easy to set up…and I didn’t do a lot…setting up a production that at one point is filming in Wales simultaneously while it was filming in LA, with two units, and then bringing everyone back. And then, of course, we built bits of Wales in LA. We go to Gwen’s parents’ house an awful lot, the Coopers’ house in Swansea becomes a big part of the action as the series goes on. We built that house in America then as a set. So that’s weird. Just that crossing over. It was just exciting.”
Was it quite a buzz filming on he Warners Bros lot as well?
John: “There are some things that happened that shall remain a secret between the girl (Eve) and I. We had a really good time. I don’t think Warner Brothers knew what hit them sometimes. It was amazing. We actually had to pinch ourselves sometimes because here we were with a show that we love, with a brand that we love, with characters that we love, with people that we love and care about working with, and it’s now something that’s bigger than what it was before. We’ve watched this grow. To be on the Warner Bros set. And you’ve got the Charlie Sheen scandal happening up at the next building and we’ve got golf buggies to get around the set on because it’s so big. And I bought a bike to ride around on, it’s so big to get around. A big gay bike – that’s what she (Eve) called it. It had a big wire basket, though…to hold my scripts. It was amazing, it was a thrill, we had to pinch ourselves. There was a little story once…we were at one of the stores and I heard some people talking – I was eavesdropping – and they were saying, ‘Have you heard of this new show? This show that’s called Torchwood that’s come from over in the UK, over in Wales? It’s apparently really edgy, it’s dramatic, it’s very good. Where is Wales?’’’ (laughter)
Were you nervous before filming with Bill for the first time, a big hero of yours?
John: “I have a secret to tell you. I was very nervous. You all know I’m a sci-fi fan and Bill’s been in some of the best sci-fi movies…”
Bill: “Spaceballs…” (applause) “Serious work, yeah.”
John: “He found out today that I actually fancied him and had a crush on him in Spaceballs…still do. With Bill, I was nervous. The first scene we did together was in a very small room. I climb in through a window, that’s all I’m going to tell you, and we have a confrontation. And I was nervous. I love science fiction, I love television, I love films and this is a man that I’ve watched on the big screen and there I was in a room with him. It’s one of those dreams come true that you kind of in the back of your head, you go, ‘Ooh, my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ And we did the scene. You have to. You just have to be the actor. You have to be a contemporary. And I listened to him and I actually watched to see certain things that he was doing and you learn from that and you take note of things from people like Bill and that’s what’s great about it.”
Bill: “Of course, going into this, I was most concerned about the calibre of the American actors. Because I had seen Torchwood and I thought that they have a deep bench. Every actor that has been in the Torchwood sequence were of a calibre. And I’m going, ‘Oh, there’s going to pick up some stupid (American) Valley Girl accent and they’re going to try to make and mix ‘em with these people?’ But there was an incredible amount of respect on the set – everybody who worked on the crew said they hadn’t had a better experience in television in their careers. So it was a testimony to the kind of permission that was given to all the artists on every level, in the craft end…to bring something to the plate. I think that’s what’s really most rewarding about this project is…it may fail, there may be some wheels that come off, or people have a resistance against blah, blah, blah…not the gay jokes, but for whatever reason, you always think it’s going to just go…but it always had the hugest ambition to be more. It has this crazy appetite to be everything. And it was great to be part of that.”
James then opened questions to the audience:
(Again, I have edited out questions / answers that would spoil future plot lines and character developments)
Working with American actors who are familiar to genre fans?
John: “Nana (Visitor), who is from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the first time when I saw her and I looked at her and I just kind of stood there. And then I actually wanted to get a piece of prosthetics and put it on her nose. That’s how I knew her. That was incredible.”
Russell: “But it is funny with stars like that out there. Because it’s Los Angeles and they’re there. It’s a bit like hiring a doctor from Holby City. We had Coco from Fame who came in to audition. We didn’t give her the part.”
Any funny stories on set?
Eve: “I came in at about 5:30 in the morning…I walked in and you (John) were in the shower…”
John: “I like to scare her every so often. And we’d just done some really intense scene and we were a bit panicky and we were in the middle of nowhere.”
Eve: “We were in downtown LA. I thought I was going to get shot.”
John: “I climbed into her (trailer) shower. And I sat there for 35 minutes, for her to come back…she finally comes in and I still didn’t move because I was in pain. She came walking in…she came just around the corner and I just went, ‘Whoooooogghhhh!’ Oh my God, I thought she had another child. It scared her to death. So that’s the kind of fun things we do…”
Eve: “That was the first time I’ve ever come that close to falling out with John. I nearly cried. It was terrible.”
Russell – would you ever consider making just an American Torchwood?
Russell: “Oh, that’s not the plan. But I suppose you just roll with the punches, whatever happens. If BBC1 said, ‘We’ve had enough you,’ but someone in America said, ‘We love you,’ then, suddenly, I’d be sitting here going, ‘I want to do an all-American series. That would be a really good idea.’ (laughter) “I’d like to always keep its Welsh roots. I think if the series went on and we did more, it should always come back to Wales in my view of things. But who knows? Who’d have thought we’d end up here a few years ago? I do think it’s in its DNA. It’s original, it’s unique, nothing else does that.”
Were you ever worried that you might alienate some of the original fans in Britain by going to America?
John: “You have to trust us when we say this – we never ever, and I hope I speak for Russell and for the others – but we never thought of taking it away from you. We never did. We want to make it bigger. We want to make it better. We want to spread what is the best of British television from the BBC. Because I’ll have you know that in America, on BBC America…if you go to America and you mention ITV or you mention Channel 5 or you mention any other channel from the UK or Europe, they have no clue what you’re talking about. But you say the BBC and they know exactly what you’re talking about and they think, ‘Good television.’ So when you go over there, ironically, all of ITV and all the other programmes are shown on BBC America, they become part of…go figure that one. So for all of the things that we have done over here, it was the perfect progression. Because every time from when we started on BBC3, a small digital channel, and worked our way up, we changed every time we went to a different channel, we got better. And so we just saw it as a better thing for us to spread what we have created, what Russell’s created, what Julie’s created, to make it more worldly and also to make it more international. Because we’re really proud of it. We’re proud of what you’ve helped us make it. We did not want to take it away from you.”
Eve: “We wanted to make it bigger and better and more fantastic for you and to keep giving you series after series after series. And this is the only way we can do it.”
John: “We weren’t worried…if that was the point, that it was going to lose anything from the fans over here. We weren’t worried because I know how loyal they are.”
Eve: “Well, we’re as loyal to you guys are you are to us. We appreciate every minute.”
Will the link into Doctor Who ever return?
Russell: “Torchwood has gone into Doctor Who, which I think is correct. Who knows? But that’s not up to me anymore. It would be for Steven (Moffat) or whoever wants to do that. I think it would be lovely. I’d love to see that.”