When Jane Espenson was first approached about joining the writing staff of Torchwood, the veteran television writer whose credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica had just one thought: "It's going to be hard to get stakes higher than aliens wanting to gobble up the children of Earth."
Fortunately for fans waiting to see how immortal alien hunter Captain Jack Harkness would return after suffering the devastating losses he did in 2009's Torchwood: Children of Earth, series creator Russell T. Davies had just the ante-upping answer. For the U.K. hit's fourth season, (premiering Friday at 10/9c on Starz), he'd move the action from Cardiff, Wales across the pond (and into the bigger-budget land of pay cable), transform actor Bill Pullman into a worldly "monster," and hit Jack with a head-spinning reality in which everyone is cursed with living forever — except, suddenly, him.
Check out photos from Torchwood: Miracle Day
There will be other changes, as well. The new season brings new players into the Torchwood fold, including CIA operatives Rex Matheson (Phifer), who gets ensnared in the miracle day mystery in a rather gruesome way, and Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), who serves as something of an entry point for new viewers as she begins investigating the covert organization.
Then there's the Oswald Danes, who Myles describes as "the worst type of monster, the biggest Torchwood has ever had." As played by Pullman, Oswald is a confessed, slack-jawed murderer-pedophile whose life is spared when the miracle prevents his death by lethal injection from taking effect. Soon after, he becomes something of a television messiah with dubious intentions.
"There is something about what it is to be given your life back that allows you to speak about the preciousness of it. No matter what you feel about Oswald, there' a truth to that," Pullman says. "It's easy to say he's the bad guy, but it's really not quite the depiction of evil that is just watching him get blacker and blacker and blacker. He's actually someone who starts black and then has this opportunity to transform himself. Then it becomes a question of is he or isn't he able to shed his old skin?" Making her way into his sudden fame is sweet-talking PR maven Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), whose Miracle Day agenda is equally suspect.
Pullman hadn't seen Torchwood before signing on, and said he was convinced by the strength of the ideas put forth in Davies' initial script alone. "I think that there is some real interesting philosophical thought about why mortality is important," he said. "It goes to the core of whether we're living our conscious lives as wholly as we should or not. This show doesn't ever lose sight of the fact that we're talking about something kind of important. As much as the show is really fun — and the last thing Russell would want me to say that it's more important than it is fun, because he loves fun — but it's also great that he has this other thing in play."