SPOILERS!!! Torchwood: Miracle Day - Russell T Davies Interview
- 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!"
Read more: Torchwood: Miracle Day - Russell T
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