“Torchwood” returns. In fact, “Torchwood: Miracle Day” (9 p.m., Starz) represents a reboot — a revival of the BBC series that is itself a spin-off from the seemingly endless “Doctor Who” franchise. It’s done more than move to North American television. To use an ugly 21st-century verb, it’s been “renditioned” and forcibly dragged across the Atlantic. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To make a long story short, Torchwood was a super-secret organization founded in the late 19th century to battle alien invasions and the like. As “Miracle Day” begins, Torchwood has been shut down and extinguished, to belabor a pun. Its staff has been liquidated and only two veterans remain, the dashing and immortal Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), a down-to-earth new mother trying desperately to find anonymity and safety in Wales, a place described here as “the New Jersey of England.”
“Miracle Day” refers to a spooky worldwide phenomenon: People stop dying. We see this on news reports, but the story is really driven home when Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), a convicted killer and child molester, survives his lethal injection, and when CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) wakes up alive after a certain-to-be-fatal car accident.
This is exactly the kind of weird anomaly Torchwood was designed to confront. So the shadowy organization is pursued by both the CIA, with Matheson stumbling from his hospital bed, and the bad guys bent on finishing off Torchwood for good.
But questions remain: How can you kill anyone when nobody dies? And will old “Torchwood” fans stick around when the action gets moved from Cardiff, Wales, to a CIA headquarters where spies and everybody else are so much better looking than their U.K. counterparts?
For the record, star John Barrowman does a great job being both haughty and dashing in the old British movie style, while at the same time appearing to put on an elaborate Tom Cruise imitation. It’s uncanny. And Myles deserves some kind of Emmy for straddling the line of spy and mother. There’s one quick scene of her wielding both a machine gun and a baby that’s not to be missed.
Episode 1 sets up the story and the move to the U.S. in a nonstop hour that is sleek, captivating and economical storytelling. Look for future installments to explore the dire ramifications of a world without death, as well as the emergence of the freed killer Oswald Danes as a media fixation. Intelligent, but not without whimsy, “Torchwood” is a solid British import alternative to all those effervescent summer hits on SyFy and USA.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Ed’s wife has a troubled delivery on “Flashpoint” (7 p.m., CBS).
• Coach Taylor mulls an offer on the second-to-last episode of “Friday Night Lights” (7 p.m., NBC).
• A rescue mission on “Whale Wars” (8 p.m., Animal Planet).
• Local businesses in need of attention turn to “Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings” (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., IFC).