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SPOILERS!!! Torchwood: Miracle Day - Russell T Davies Interview

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    Torchwood: Miracle Day - Russell T Davies Interview Ian Berriman | Features, Interviews | 01/06/2011 10:31am In this interview, the Torchwood creator spills
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      Torchwood: Miracle Day - Russell T Davies Interview
      Ian Berriman | Features, Interviews | 01/06/2011 10:31am

      In this interview, the Torchwood creator spills
      the beans on the new series SPOILERS


      Torchwood returns to our screens in July with
      Miracle Day, a ten-part co-production with US
      network Starz, which explores what happens when
      suddenly, one day, people stop dying… Back in
      February, while the production team were shooting
      scenes for episode one in Cardiff Bay, we caught
      up with showrunner Russell T Davies. You can read
      some choice cuts from that interview in SFX 210
      -on sale now), but here's what else he had to say.













      SFX: The basic concept of Miracle Day - the end
      of death - is massive. It changes religion,
      economics… You could run with that in a hundred different directions!

      "You're right, and we sat in a room for a long
      time all talking about those consequences."

      SFX: No death means no consequences, so I could
      imagine a three-minute-warning scenario where
      everyone's looting and having sex in the streets!

      "Well, in episode three there's a great scene
      where Gwen and [CIA analyst] Esther walk through
      Washington at night, and it's kind of a wild
      atmosphere, because half of the world is out
      drinking and the other half are at home praying,
      so we are acknowledging that sort of stuff. But
      at the same time, I think you should never forget
      that during the greatest national crises people
      just go to work, and go home, and get on with it.
      If this really happened, you and I would just
      carry on as normal. If something conceptual and
      huge has happened, nonetheless, you've got a
      deadline tomorrow, and I need to go to work and
      write a script tomorrow, and if our granddad is
      ill in bed, he's still ill. So it's a very
      unusual concept, in that it's hard to dramatise
      in many ways. That's why I like it. It's a very
      powerful concept, because it takes hold subtly,
      and you have to find ways to dramatise it,
      because it's not immediately obvious. The
      overpopulation isn't obvious - it's not like an
      extra 200 million people land on Earth today. So
      it's unusual in that sense, and it's been fun to
      dramatise and really challenging. And we're still
      telling a great big rattling thriller, so you find ways to dramatise that."

      SFX: Are there similarities with Children Of
      Earth in terms of looking at how quickly
      "civilised" society can take a turn for the worse?

      "Well I've always been fascinated by the fact
      that we think we're so far away from Romania, or
      Rwanda, or Kosovo… and we're not! We don't have
      better instincts than Rwandans do. It's
      fascinating how paper-thin it is. We were getting
      at that with Children Of Earth - we showed it
      there. That purposely ended with children being
      taken from homes to be killed, which you see
      happening in Rwanda and think, 'It's a million
      miles away', but it's not, it's next door. So
      that's continuing into this, because I loved that.

      "Y'know, you sit in every drama launch where
      they're going, 'What this show is really about is
      what it is to be human!' [laughs] What the f**k's
      that?! I don't even know what that question
      means, but I do think you can look at how society
      works, and how we are responsible for each other,
      and what responsibilities you have for yourself,
      against your family, against your friends - it's fascinating."

      SFX: How long is the mystery about what's caused it all sustained?

      "It's not one of those things that'll annoy you!
      Round about episode six you start to get concrete
      answers, and episodes nine and ten finally
      explain it all properly. But all the way through
      Jack's kinda ahead of the game in working out
      what's going on. It's a mystery, but in a way
      it's not that mysterious. Obviously something's
      happened to the world, but the most fascinating
      thing about what happens in terms of science
      fiction plotting is that it happens
      instantaneously. It's not a virus, it hasn't
      spread, it didn't take a day for it to travel
      from the North pole to the South pole; it's
      literally a flick of the switch and it's
      happened. To Jack, that instantly suggests what
      has happened, and that takes a few episodes to
      evolve. It's more about explaining what has
      happened to society while this has happened,
      that's the real meat of the story. But it is
      explained in the end, and finding it out… this
      story goes back in history as well. We've got
      episodes that go back to 1927, so it's a broad
      story covering continents and covering time as
      well; it's one of those stories with a plot
      that's been planned for decades, so there's a lot
      of expanse and muscle in the story. The 1927
      stuff is beautiful. I'm giving away too much!"

      SFX: In terms of the story, how much takes place
      in America and how much is in Wales?

      "Oh, it's about 95% America… well, 90%. We've got
      three weeks here and we're shooting scenes from
      nine episodes - I think episode seven is the one
      that doesn't have any Welsh material at all."

      SFX: Could you ever do this show without it having one foot in Wales?

      "I would never want to. Whether I do any more
      Torchwoods I don't know, because I think I've
      saved the world often enough - I've done it
      enough now. But it's a BBC Wales production as
      well, it's part of its DNA, so yes, I would think
      if there was a new series you'd start with
      something being dug up here, something
      mysterious… those are the building blocks, it would always work.

      "And it's great. You see scenes of Mekhi [Phifer]
      walking into the Gower, and it really has a size
      to it, y'know? We take this American CIA
      character and put him in that landscape and it's
      really good. You've seen CIA agents in Buenos
      Aires and Rio, you've seen that a million times,
      you expect them to be in those settings, and then
      to play Wales as one of those places is really powerful - it just works."

      SFX: Tell us how the paedophile/child killer
      character, Oswald Danes, fits into it. I gather
      he gets out of jail after his execution fails.

      "Well, his argument is that his execution didn't
      fail, and there's no legal precedent for this.
      You don't release someone because the rope
      snapped - that's not true. His argument is that
      it was carried out, to the best of everyone's
      possibility, and that the fact that death has
      ceased to exist has absolutely nothing to do with
      anything - or the legal system - so he gets out
      on a technicality. And then the only way he's
      ever gonna get a police guard, or a motel room,
      or any sort of food without being stoned in the
      streets is to ride this media wave and survive
      it. And at the same time, Torchwood is looking
      for anyone who may or may not be connected to this problem.

      "At the same time there's a very important
      subtext, which is that here is a child killer
      saying that he's been forgiven. Jack killed his
      own grandchild and has never forgiven himself,
      and would never believe Oswald's lies for a
      second. So there's a fantastic collision between
      these two men being terrible opposites, with a
      very bizarre common ground between them. It's
      fascinating territory that - really difficult."

      SFX: Some people take umbrage at the idea of
      having a paedophile character in Torchwood,
      because of its connections to Doctor Who.

      "Well, of course you would never put a character
      like that in Doctor Who, but equally if there was
      a child watching… they understand different
      genres, they understand the watershed, they
      understand different types of drama brilliantly.
      These are the people we feed a diet of cartoons.
      If you can understand a cartoon you can
      understand anything! The cartoon's one of the
      most sophisticated forms of storytelling in
      existence, and it's bread and butter to kids,
      it's what we feed them straight away - it's the
      weirdest thing! So they're fine, there's no problem about it."

      SFX: How did you manage to get Bill Pullman for
      that role? Do you have negatives of him in compromising positions?

      "I'm not kidding, Americans genuinely rolled
      their eyes! He was free and available so we said,
      'Shall we try Bill Pullman?' and these Americans
      said, 'You'll be lucky!', and the next day he
      said yes - he just read it and liked it. And he's
      such a laugh, he's such a nice man."

      SFX: And he's teamed up with Lauren Ambrose's character, Jilly Kitzinger…

      "She plays the real villain of the piece,
      actually - she's the PR woman. In this world of
      heightened sensation, with paedophiles being
      forgiven live on television, the PR person
      becomes one of the most important people in it,
      able to manipulate this world more than anyone
      else. Her rise to power is one of the most
      fascinating stories we've ever told, it's an
      utterly fantastic story. She's twinned with
      Oswald, and they have many episodes where they
      have no contact whatsoever with the Torchwood
      team, but you're always telling their stories in
      parallel, because it's all heading for a great
      big climax with Oswald, Jilly and the Torchwood
      team, in extraordinary circumstances."

      SFX: People tend to be a bit nervous about
      international co-productions. How do you avoid
      creating something that feels not quite one thing or the other?

      "To be honest, I just didn't worry about it. It's
      been my job to keep the integrity of that, but
      when we see Eve Myles walking through Washington,
      being herself, it feels absolutely natural -
      that's the funny thing. You put her with Alexa
      [Havins], who is as blonde and American as can
      be, and they simply feel like two characters in a
      drama walking along together, it has never felt
      odd. And I did wonder about that. I thought, 'Is
      it gonna look strange when the rushes come in, is
      it gonna be like this weird combination?'

      "But it's not apologising anywhere. It's a really
      heartfelt, big drama that never shrinks. I think
      you get that sort of bad, Europudding feel when
      you're a bit shy about it, or even when you
      pretend this isn't happening - you know, when you
      get those bad dramas where a German walks in, and
      a Swiss person walks in, and a Scotsman walks in,
      and everyone pretends that's really normal that
      they're all working together. No, that's rubbish - it's really odd."

      SFX: So is there a culture clash? Do the American
      characters and the Welsh rub each other up the wrong way?

      "They do, and there's some obvious gags, and some
      obvious cultural differences, but mainly it comes
      down to the story - I think that's where we've
      got it right. Of course, Rex is rubbing Gwen up
      the wrong way. He's a great big, strong, arrogant
      man; she's a proud, feisty woman, they would
      argue anyway. But the fact is he's arrested her,
      exercised a rendition to take her to America, and
      separated her from her baby, so they're not gonna
      get on anyway! Nonetheless, they're on the same
      side. The coming together of the team takes a few
      episodes. It takes until the end of episode three
      for them to actually feel like a team but they do
      because they're very quickly all on the run together, so it's natural.

      "There's only so much, 'You say tomato, and I say
      tomato' dialogue you can do - those jokes kinda
      wear thin. We started out full of intentions to
      make all these funny lines about how different
      the countries are, but once you've got a great
      big story underway it's kind of… y'know, it's a
      Welsh person and an American, they're fine -
      there's not that much of a difference. We don't
      do those jokes about 'I've never heard of Wales',
      stuff like that, because that's just cheap shots.

      "So actually the story does that. They rub each
      other up the wrong way and then becomes friends -
      and Esther's a very healing force, she comes in
      and makes everything alright between them,
      because she's much cleverer, and much more able
      to empathise with people. It's just a natural
      story. It would happen this way if Rex came from
      Manchester - he'd get on Gwen's nerves, he'd rub
      up against Captain Jack, but they'd end up being
      friends. So it's absolutely no different in that sense."

      SFX: Does taking these familiar British
      characters and putting them in a different
      environment show you different sides of them?

      "Not madly, to be honest, because that's all in
      the middle of a thriller. Also, they're in
      America. Throw them into the middle of China in
      episode one and genuinely, culturally, you'd be
      out of your depth, not knowing left from right…
      but they're in America. I could bore you to tears
      with a million cultural differences between
      Britain and America but actually they'd kinda
      look like arses if they couldn't cope in America!
      There's a lot of bad dialogue I'm really glad we
      haven't chosen to do - there's some funny lines
      from Gwen about it in episode three, but not for
      long. You can't talk about 1% milk for that long
      before it runs out of steam, y'know?

      "Extraordinarily, they don't say 'skinny' over
      there for a low-fat coffee. Didn't you think
      that's American? They don't know what the f**k
      you're on about! If you say 'skinny' they go,
      'What?' Isn't that weird? I thought that was
      American, turns out it's British. You could fill
      a script with stuff like this, but who cares?"

      SFX: Torchwood's been written with an
      American-style writers' room for the first time,
      and you've some great genre names in there,
      people with experience on the likes of Buffy and The X-Files.

      "Oh I know, and that's part of what I went [to
      LA] to do, to meet people like that and work with people and talk to them."

      SFX: You're a fan of those shows yourself. Do you
      turn into a Buffy fanboy when you meet people like Jane Espenson?

      "Oh yes, I sit there and say, 'Tell me about
      "Storyteller", about how you did that. Tell me
      about why you killed Tara.' I've worked with her
      all these months now and I keep thinking of new
      questions! I sat there the other day and said,
      'Why did you kill Jonathan?' That was the
      strangest decision! I do think the death of
      Jonathan on Buffy was really strange and thrown
      away. And we had a great dinner, and she tells
      you all about what was going on at the time and
      what it was like, and I love all that! And John
      Shiban, he's directed Breaking Bad - I love that.
      And Doris Egan, with her stories on House, is
      just hilarious. I just love it all.

      "When you're here [in the UK], you think, 'God,
      that woman's the lead writer on House! That's one
      of the biggest dramas in America! That's
      amazing!' But when you're there, in America, it
      kinda becomes normal. Doris will come into the
      office and they've gotta do a reshoot on House
      because they didn't like the scene with the
      goldfish or something, and it's just normal - all
      that stuff that you dreamt about from afar
      becomes really workaday, really. It's strange,
      isn't it? One day you'll be sitting there
      interviewing Henry Cavill on the set of Superman
      or something, and it'll all be quite normal -
      it'll be all about the cup of tea you've got,
      working late, what your deadline is… everything
      normalises when it's actually your life."

      SFX: Do you find yourself thinking, "Ah, Jane's
      the writer who does that kind of thing" and, "I
      wouldn't have come up with that on my own"?

      "To an extent. Don't forget, I started out
      working in soap operas, so I'm kind of used to
      it. Everyone in Britain says, 'We should use the
      American system! We should use the writers'
      room!' when the highest-rated dramas in Britain
      are run with a writers' room, but no-one ever
      pays them any attention because they're soaps. So
      of course it happens here - it's happened for 50
      years at Granada television. But in any office -
      it must be the same in the SFX office, or at the
      DVLA in Swansea - anyone in any room falls into
      certain roles. So you do. Doris will always be
      quite tangential and come in at an unexpected
      angle. Jane is an absolutely brilliant voice of
      common sense. I will know when I've gone too far
      - one little look at Jane sort of says, 'Right,
      stop it now!' She'll go with the greatest flights
      of imagination, but she's absolutely brilliant at
      just saying, 'You've gone too far'. John is very
      steeped in mythology. He's a series consultant on
      The Vampire Diaries now, and he just knows his
      stuff: he knows how to introduce an enemy, he
      knows how to bring in an assassin, he knows the
      mechanics and he knows how to enjoy that stuff so
      well. Then completely in the middle of all this
      you've got John Fay sitting there, this
      Liverpudlian who spent 10 years writing the best
      Coronation Streets of all, who comes in on a
      completely domestic level - and I don't mean that
      as an insult. He sits there and says, 'Well, Gwen
      wouldn't do that, and Rex wouldn't do that, and
      Esther wouldn't do that, and why don't they do X,
      Y and Z?' to an extent that'll drive you mad
      sometimes, but you sit there thinking, 'He's
      right!' I'll go off on a flight of fancy, and you
      need those people sitting in a room going, 'He wouldn't do that.'

      "But basically they do what I say. Or they're sacked!"

      Ian Berriman

      Read more: Torchwood: Miracle Day - Russell T
      Davies Interview

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