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Comic Books, Film
With a line that stretched out of the San Diego Convention and down to the harbor, the Torchwood: Miracle Day panel at Comic-Con International was stuffed to the gills with fans dressed as the characters Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper. Laughing and cheering before the Friday-morning presentation even began, fans let out a deafening roar when convention staff asked whether they were ready for Torchwood.
The audience then got to see a convention-exclusive trailer for Miracle Day, the current, fourth season of the series, co-produced by BBC and Starz. The trailer served to set up the main story for Season 4: Across the world people stop dying, even those in horrible accidents. Getting to the bottom of the “miracle” is the Torchwood crew, extradited to the United States and joined by CIA agents Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) and Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins).
The audience cheered as the trailer ended on Gwen (returning star Eve Myles) riding a motorcycle away from an exploding building, then doubled the volume as the cast came out, led by John Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack. Barrowman, followed by Myles, Phifer, Havins, Bill Pullman, who plays a child killer named Oswald Danes, and writer Jane Espenson, one of the creative voices behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica. As the panel members waved, fans began to call out that they loved the assembled group.
“I love you, too!” Barrowman said, winking. He then admitted that he had spent $2,000 on the convention floor, buying T-shirts, books and the new Captain America action figure.
“I’m a nerd at heart and proud of it!” he announced to the applause of the crowd. The actor then said that, while he was not sure they would return after the end of Season 3’s Children of Earth storyline, “It was my opinion … they’d be stupid not to bring it back because they were so successful.”
“Thank goodness for Starz,” Barrowman added. “Without them, we would not be here.”
Myles said she found it easy to slip back into Gwen’s leather jackets because, “They are always comfortable and very warm and sexy.”
Turning to the American cast, Pullman and Phifer admitted only Espenson had seen Torchwood prior to being hired, although Havins said she watched some episodes, as her husband is a huge fan of the show.
“When it came about, he fully geeked out, and it was, ‘I will serve you divorce papers if you do not take this job!’” she told the laughing audience. Keeping plot points secret from her husband was difficult, and she said he would often trade washing the dishes or doing other chores in exchange for plot details.
“If you only got dishes out of it, you need to come talk to me,” Barrowman said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Phifer and Pullman tried to defend their pre-show ignorance, with Phifer explaining he became involved after he met with executive producers Julie Gardner and Russell T. Davis.
“I met with Julie and Russell and fell in love with them, and then they gave me all of the third season, Children of Earth,” Phifer said. The actor then devoured all five episodes in one sitting and signed on.
“Even though I’m from Harlem, I’m a big nerd, too!” Phifer added, eliciting a cheer from the audience.
Asked about the tone of the new season and how Miracle Day compared to Children of Earth, Espenson assured the audience that the drama would be as dark as ever.
“People are saying, ‘Well obviously this can’t get as dark as the Four, Five, Six, because what could possibly beat those stakes,’ and I just keep saying, ‘Oh, wait!’” she said, adding, “If you are feeling hungry for dark chocolate and you have been getting milk chocolate, just wait for Episode 5.”
While Barrowman said the season would not show what Jack was up to in between leaving Torchwood in Children of Earth and returning in Miracle Day, the actor confessed he liked it better that way.
“We may never find out … but maybe that can be looked into in another series,” he said. “That’s how we time travel in Torchwood: We do it through memories, we do it through past histories.”
However, the actor had his own theories about what happened.
“I just think Jack had a great time with Alonso!” Barrowman laughed, referring to the character Jack was seen flirting with in the Season 4 finale of Doctor Who. The joke, however, brought up a new question: How could Captain Jack move on so quickly from the death of Ianto in Children of Earth?
“In a drama you have to do things that unfortunately will upset and cause change,” Barrowman said, adding that the fan response to Ianto’s death was exactly what the creative team wanted. He also hinted that Jack will have another romantic entanglement in Episode 7 of Miracle Day.
Myles acknowledged that she loved filming in Los Angeles, and would willingly relocate to America if the show continues to film here.
“In ‘N Out Burgers rock my world! I mean, come on, animal fries!” she joke. She also demonstrated her American accent, developed for the show.
“She sounds a bit Jersey Shore, but it’s all right,” Barrowman said. While the British actors got a bit of a culture shock filming in America, Barrowman and Myles teased Phifer about his own response to filming in Wales, where he critically underestimated how cold it would be on set.
“Hey, I’m black, I’m a tropical person!” Phifer exclaimed.
Pullman then talked about getting into the mind of the complicated Oswald, saying that he stopped reading the scripts ahead of time to enable him to tackle the character in the moment.
“I was reading the three scripts, I was halfway through the second script when I said I don’t need to read anymore,” he recalled. “The chance to do a part that I never knew the ending to was kind of a thrill and a challenge … I realized I should approach every part like this like I don’t know the ending.”
Espenson told fans that she found working for Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies highly enjoyable and confessed it hasn’t been as difficult as her experience with Joss Whedon. “Working for Joss was harder because I was younger and I was more scared,” she explained, adding, “I just think things have gotten easier for me as my confidence has gone up.”
Returning to the show itself, Havins talked about her character, saying that Esther served as the American audience’s window into Torchwood and occupied the same space on the show as Gwen did in the first season, an outside observer bringing the audience up to speed on who and what the Torchwood Institute is.
While Havins is a newcomer to the world, Barrowman has been entrenched in the Doctor Who/Torchwood universe since 2005, and as such told the audience he would welcome the chance to act in the 50th-anniversary episode of Doctor Who.
“Torchwood and Captain Jack were born from The Mothership, which is what I always call Doctor Who,” Barrowman said, adding that he thought it would be disappointing if Jack did not make, “some kind of appearance.”
Turning back to the fourth season, Phifer and Barrowman said their characters don’t get along initially, although Phifer defended Rex, saying he isn’t arrogant, just misunderstood.
“I don’t think he’s very comfortable in Torchwood,” Phifer said, adding, “When this miracle happens, it kind of rocks his world a little bit.”
Espenson then ended the moderated portion of the panel by giving fans a tease of what to expect from the season. “Look for a little more flexibility with the timeline, look for a little romance, look for a little darkness, look for some losses, and look for big implications,” she said, adding, “This is a show that’s not just about characters, it’s about ideas in the way sci-fi gets to legitimately have real ideas shaping this show.”
“Look for some brilliant writing from [Espenson],” Barrowman added.
The panel then opened the floor to audience questions. After panel members told a fan holding a Steve Moffat puppet they had no idea whether Starz will co-produce another season, another fan asked whether the cast played practical jokes on set. The entire panel turned and glared at Barrowman.
“Why are you looking at me?” Barrowman asked. Despite some on-set ribbing, Phifer said that being a part of Torchwood felt like being part of a family, something he hadn’t experienced since his time on ER.
Pullman told the audience that Torchwood was his favorite type of science fiction, and that it reminded him of Independence Day.
“It has such scale and such epic ambition that it’s like Independence Day, as it tells a global story and talks about how people from every corner of the Earth work together or fight each other,” he said.
The next question came from a man in a perfect replica of Captain Jack’s coat, prompting Barrowman to ask whether the man had been in his closet.
“Have you been in mine?” the man asked, and laughed as Barrowman raised his eyebrows and made a kissy face while Myles made a “call me” gesture.
However, it turned out that Barrowman’s joke was accurate, as the man operates the company that makes the official coats for Jack. On behalf of his company, he asked whether the coat, like Jack himself, is immortal. Barrowman told the audience that he actually has many versions of the coat he wears on the series.
“We have one which is called ‘the hero coat,’ which is the only one used in the hero shot when I’m walking or with the team, and this is the one that looks sharp always,” Barrowman said. He also has a running coat that flows a little better, and a handful of others he’s allowed to bleed on, burn, ri, and otherwise destroy. The actor then excitedly pointed to the fact that his military coat has four epaulettes, not the customary three, as one of his favorite details, as well as his airplane-shaped cufflinks.
“I just love the outfit. It’s a great thing to wear on a Friday night,” Barrowman added, winking at the laughing fans.
When another fan asked about practical jokes and crazy set stories, the cast once again turned to Barrowman. His defense fell apart when Myles demanded he tell everyone about the time he hid in her shower.
“Oh, that was brilliant!” Barrowman laughed, recalling that on the set one day he decided to scare Myles by jumping out of her trailer shower. Demonstrating how he squatted in hiding, Barrowman said he proceeded to wait like that — for 45 minutes. Finally, “She walks in, I literally threw myself out of the shower and she went ‘Ahhhh!’ And then she went, ‘I actually peed myself!’”
“Listen! I did not pee myself!” Myles told the hysterical audience before relenting and adding, “Well, maybe just a little.”
Among fans, Torchwood is known as much for its racy aspects as for its dark subject matter, and the actors were living up to the former reputation by miming the “call me” sign to the audience. and flirting with fans, the moderator, and each other.
“Let me pick up that melted mess,” Barrowman said to a fan who admitted that Gwen’s smile melted his heart, while Jack melted other parts of him. Laughing, the fan declined, pointing to his wife.
“Bring her along!” Barrowman joked. The panel then ended on a high note — literally, as that same fan asked Barrowman to sing.
“No, I’m not singing ‘Springtime for Hitler!’” scolded Barrowman as the audience began to shout out requests. Bringing the panel to a close he began “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. Suddenly the entire ballroom broke out into the song, clapping in time as, together, cast and fans finished the chorus.