After two lackluster seasons, the science-fiction series became a success by learning two important lessons
Torchwood, the BBC Wales spin-off of the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who, had an obvious pitch when the show launched in 2006. The show was meant to add a healthy dose of sex and adult talk about the complexity of relationships to the time-travel-and-aliens formula that has served Doctor Who, which is essentially a family show, so well since 1963. But the show took two seasons of meandering through repetitive plotlines before it found the best way to tell stories about the titular fictional law enforcement agency, which it did in rather spectacular fashion in 2009. With the five-episode season "Children of Earth," Torchwood finally discovered the two things that make it a truly distinct television show: a dedication to finding the number of episodes that fit a given story, and an explicit embrace of political themes and storylines.
Now, BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Worldwide, and Starz have used those lessons to very good effect in their collaboration on the fourth season of Torchwood, called "Miracle Day," which begins airing on Starz in the U.S. at 10 p.m. tonight and on the BBC next week.
"Children of Earth" used its five episodes to follow five days in a deeply disturbing alien invasion. As the mysterious race, known as the 456, demands ten percent of the world's children, the British government embarks on a murderous coverup to disguise the fact that they've been in touch with the aliens—and surrendered children to them—before. The short season lends a nastily propulsive quality to the storyline, which involves the characters racing against a government that's trying to kill them, and aliens with no inclination to alter their timeline. "Children of Earth was a compact little time bomb," says Eve Myles, who plays Torchwood's main character Gwen Cooper.