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Tuesday 29 Jul 2014

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Torchwood: interview with executive producer Julie Gardner


What is Miracle Day?

Miracle Day is the day when for planet Earth, no one dies. And it sounds fantastic when you first hear it, aside from the fact that you can still get sick, get hurt, and still suffer the pain. You still age, so it's not the perfect, dream-like, living forever and being immortal, super powerful. All the problems that we have in everyday life continue, but it just means your life span goes on – and on.

I think the best type of sci-fi drama is about shining a light on how we live now. And posing big moral questions about what we would do in particular circumstances. When people have stopped dying, you're looking at a world where society as we know it is crumbling. So, at a very basic level – what does your pension and life insurance mean? What kind of savings do you have? What's your healthcare cover? What's your local hospital able to sustain and help you with? The world and all those props that we have around us as a society have gone. We like to think that we're a very civilised and caring society. But Russell T Davies, the creator of the show, would look at places like Kosovo or Rwanda and say that terrible atrocity could happen very readily in a so-called civilised democracy. And with Miracle Day, as you see the threat on resources and society as we know it crumbling, it starts examining how people deal in that situation. Not just governments, but everyday people. What would your neighbour be like – your doctor?

I think the most important thing about the series is its examination of how we all live, and what we are like as a society. When the rules are taken away, when everything is stripped bare, what are we like as a people? What becomes important and where is your humanity? I think it's asking that question. In a time of crisis, some people rise as heroes, while others become collaborators and others become killers. It should, at its very best, ask the audience, in that context, what would you become? That's why I work in drama. Those are the big important questions that a show can ask. At the same time, it should be an entertaining, action-packed thriller adventure that we take the audience on.

About the cast

Aside from the story, it's the cast that keeps Torchwood going. John Barrowman brings so much life to the part of Captain Jack. I mean he's so swaggering, sexy and funny. And he's absolutely gorgeous. And Eve as Gwen Cooper has always been the heart of the show. When you look at the journey of Gwen, starting as a policewoman, who goes on this extraordinary journey where she realises aliens can exist. She realises that the world is so much bigger, darker and complicated than she ever thought. She's really the anchor of the show. She's the audience's way in.

Mekhi Phifer as Rex Matheson goes on an enormous journey. When we first meet him in Episode 1, he's a character who has worked very hard, been very ambitious and is rising up the ranks of the CIA. I think he's very certain of the world and his place in it. He's the American elite – intelligent and well paid. The world is his proverbial oyster, and very quickly, you see how Miracle Day puts all of that under pressure. He is seeing a bit like what Gwen Cooper saw in the beginning – how much richer the world is. How much more complicated it is. He has to go on the run and he has to work with people that on the surface seem a bit strange. They're the Welsh and what do they know about anything? And besides, there's a guy who wears a Second World War coat. And I think across the journey, he becomes a hero because he's tested. He's asking questions about what his life is now.

Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes is clearly our most controversial character. It's an intriguing role of a genuinely guilty man who has raped and killed a 12-year-old girl. And the journey for him is a journey about modern society. You see Oswald on Miracle Day facing lethal injection. He is about to die, and because of the new state of the world, he survives the execution. He becomes for part of the story a modern-day messiah – the mouthpiece of this new society, through YouTube and the internet. And when footage of Oswald's execution is leaked onto websites, he becomes this flare for the world. He becomes this infamous, controversial character, whose story becomes irrevocably tied up to Torchwood's investigation.

What's wonderful about the show is it's uncompromising. I think Russell T Davies is one of the best producers I've worked with in my life. He's an extremely practical, clever man and very savvy about television production.

If you haven't watched Torchwood before, the first important thing to say is – don't be afraid. You don't have to know anything about the show or its history. Everything is explained from the beginning. In that way, it's a completely welcoming new show for a brand new audience. And you should watch because it should be a lot of fun. It's a thriller that is properly answered in 10 episodes. It's not the type of show where you have to hang on for five years and at the end of that you're weeping trying to understand who everyone is and how stories have properly been tied together.

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