by Shantella Y. Sherman
For New Pittsburgh Courier
One day, nobody dies. All across the world, nobody dies. And then the next day, and the next, and the next, people keep aging—they get hurt and sick—but they never die. The result: a population boom, overnight.
With all the extra people, resources are finite. It’s said that in four months time, the human race will cease to be viable. But, this can’t be a natural event—someone’s got to be behind it. It’s a race against time as CIA agent Rex Matheson investigates a global conspiracy. The answers lie within an old, secret British institute, Torchwood. As Rex keeps asking “What is Torchwood?” he’s drawn into a world of adventure, and a threat to change what it means to be human, forever.
And so begins the trailer of the new BBC-Starz network collaborative Torchwood. Premiering July 9, science fiction television has not seen such a generous offering since Russell Davies reinvented Doctor Who in 2003. Following the traditions of science fiction writer Octavia Butler and The X-Files screenwriter Chris Carter, Davies created Torchwood, a vibrant and sophisticated drama that is as intriguing as it is playful.
While the Torchwood franchise has appeared in British television since 2005, its American debut includes the introduction of actor Mekhi Phifer, as CIA operative Rex Matheson.
“Rex has this accident where he should be dead. That drives him to find out what the hell is going on in the world. Now that this miracle has happened, it makes Rex question life and what he’s been brought up to think. So through this, he has definitely learned to be more in the gray area of thinking—a little bit more obtuse,” Phifer said.
“I think as time goes on, he fears the ‘Miracle’ less. But I know in the beginning he feared that if it was gone, he’d just be dead,” he said.
Phifer joins an ensemble cast that includes John Barrowman, who portrays the uber-dishy and immortal Captain Jack Harkness, and Eve Myles, who portrays Gwen Cooper, a Torchwood “warrior,” who traded fighting extraterrestrials for motherhood, only to be hurled back into Torchwood duties unexpectedly.
“In this day and age, you can’t put drama or a sci-fi show on television without having any action in it, and we have tons of action. We are oozing with action and overflowing with the stunts. That’s why I say it’s going to be bigger and better. It’s just an action-packed sci-fi, fun-filled, roller coaster of a drama,” Barrowman said.
Aside from battling the “unknown,” the Torchwood gang has to manage a culture shift, a particularly difficult task for Phifer, whose character has to contend with the unexplained nature of his “miracle” existence, while coming to terms with the possible supernatural explanation for it.
“I wouldn’t describe Rex as arrogant but I think he’s certainly set in his ways. There’s a certain amount of edge to him. I think he’s determined and strong and focused. And I think once he has it set in his mind that he wants to do something, that’s what he goes out and does,” Phifer said.
“He just goes out and makes it happen. He’s very much a black or white person—he’s not a gray area guy,” Phifer said regarding his character.
On first glance, it’s unclear whether the Torchwood franchise can handle two powerful and handsome leading men, but Phifer and Barrowman make it work—and look good in the process.
“When Rex first meets Captain Jack, they just flat out don’t like each other. John’s a great guy in person —really funny—loves life. But our characters, definitely in the beginning, clash, and there’s no question about that. We definitely have different approaches to things. And I haven’t figured him out yet,” Phifer said.
Executive producer Russell T. Davies is one of the UK’s most influential and highly-regarded television writers. In 2008, he was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his writing services to television and in 2006, he was honored with the prestigious Dennis Potter Writer’s Award from BAFTA.