Torchwood: Miracle Day – Saving the best for last?

A wise man (Ashes to Ashes writer Matthew Graham) recently advised me to judge programmes on what they try to achieve, rather than what I want them to achieve.

I have been trying my hardest to apply this, especially where Torchwood: Miracle Day is concerned. But even now, I’m not entirely sure what the aims of Miracle Day are. (A comment from John Barrowman is illuminating though. He has said that he’d rather make a compromised/Americanised Torchwood than not have it on TV at all – without Starz money, Miracle Day wouldn’t have happened afterall.)

Actually I think Miracle Day’s biggest problem may be the gap between what the production team wanted to achieve and what the Torchwood fan base wanted it to achieve. Children of Earth proved that you could change the format and tone of Torchwood without disappointing its fans (well, apart from the ones who are still pissed off that they killed Ianto). For all the darkness at the heart of CoE however, that heart was still pumping Torchwood blood around the body. Miracle Day feels like a mutation too far.

Is a compromised Torchwood better than no Torchwood at all? Have the flashes of good Torchwood been worth the soul-sucking awfulness of some of those early episodes – especially all that ‘we call mobiles cell phones over here’ nonsense? I’m still not sure, even after a good night’s sleep.

Perhaps a quick rattle through the good, the bad and the bearable mechanics of The Blood Line will help me to decide.

(Spoilers below the line…)

Bad. Gwen’s dodgy ‘I’m going to kill my dad’ speech. We’ve all worked out that if you stop the Miracle all the Category Ones are in big trouble thanks. And one homily in episode ten isn’t going to make us care about Mr Cooper’s fate either. This just feels like empty posturing.

Good: That classy misdirection from Rex and Esther as they reassure Gwen and Jack that the reserves of Jack’s blood are safe. (No, of course I didn’t spot it first time around, it’s not classy misdirection if you can see straight through it.)

Bearable: The race against time is a classic dramatic trope and applied in near enough real-time here. Though, like all fictional, power-crazy evildoers the Families should know better than to give the heroes fifty minutes to work in. You might as well just throw yourselves in that dirty great chasm now and save us all the bother.

Good: Rex telling Gwen not to do ‘any of those lame-ass Torchwood things. Be professional’ – the big hypocrite! (Though I say this with a little more affection for him now.)

Good: The Eurovision song contest quality of Frances Fisher co-ordinating the demolition of the Blessing’s access points: “Buenos Aires, this is Shanghai…” (If only she had added ‘Royaume-Uni deux points’).

Bearable: Lampshading the bleedin’ obvious – Jilly wants to know why she’s not surrounded by magma. Answer, nobody knows. Frankly, I’ll take this over wasting yet more time creating a lame-arsed concept that wouldn’t stand up to geological scrutiny anyway.

What? What? What?: The Blessing has been moderating life expectancy on Earth for thousands of years. Now, please tell me if I’m being dim, but surely the Blessing would need to calulate the average life expectancy on the planet and then apply it to Shanghai and Buenos Aires for the numbers to work (unless by some fluke the populations in Shanghai and Buesnos Aires happened to have exactly the same average life expectancy) – BUT, we’re being asked to assume that once modified the Blessing then applied a local setting to the whole planet. I must be missing something here. What is it?

Bad: This is just Phase 1. Look, I think on the whole I’d like to see another series of Torchwood, but I really not interested anymore in what the Families are planning. Can we not just stop the Miracle and go back to shagging/killing aliens please? (I know, I’m failing to judge this on its ambitions, but if it wants me to care about this conspiracy, it’s failed okay?)

Good: The whole will-Charlotte-be-unmasked drama. And her extreme solution to the problem of the trace that’s about to name her as the mole.

Better: The few minutes of screen time John De Lancie gets as Shapiro. To Esther: “Remind me to arrest you when this is all over.”

Good: The door at the back of the Chinese lady’s shop does manage to look properly sinister. (Following Mr Graham’s other piece of advice not to be sarcastic in reviews, I will not be inserting a snarky joke here. You will have to do that for yourselves.)

Not quite believable: Eve Myles does a great job of looking spooked by the alley behind the sinister door. It’s a shame the red tarpaulins and tatty fish sign that are eventually revealed to the viewer don’t really match our expectations.

Good: Any scene with Bill Pullman in it. He is mesmerising whether as the full-on monster or the pathetic man you actually feel sorry for occasionally (when Jack tells him how small Danes’ has made his own life, for example).

Good: PC Andy Davies back for a few minutes too and not just as a mechanism to get Rhys next to Gwen’s father’s deathbed. He’s the one with the heart to sit with the Category One Jane Doe in her last minutes before she’s sent to the ovens and to hold her hand. His small act of humanity does more to drive home the horror of the ovens than any of Gwen’s ranty speeches in past episodes.

Good: Rex and Esther showing Torchwood spirit after the suicide bomber destroys the suitcase with the reserves of Jack’s bloods inside (not to mention most of the special forces team) and formulating a stupid-against-the-odds Plan B.

Bad: Buenos Aires threatening to kill Rex and Esther. Weak on so many levels. Jack and Gwen already thought they were dead. Torchwood is a high-risk career move – since episode one the writers have killed off four members of Torchwood (not including Jack’s many, many deaths or his even more numerous la petite mort…), and we’re all prepared for not everyone to come out alive (especially Rex with that great big hole in his chest).

Good: Finally Danes has a purpose – as a man with nothing to lose and nothing to live for.

Good: What the Blessing reflects back at Gwen: “Enough guilt to last me a lifetime… but that’s okay I’m a working mother. I don’t need the Blessing to tell me that.”

Bearable: Working with the problem of exposing Danes to the Blessing without him going loco – I don’t have a better solution, but I can’t help feeling there must be one.

Good: This isn’t an alien problem. In fact, the Blessing wasn’t a problem at all until the Families started poking about with it. I can imagine what the Doctor would have to say if he was on that platform instead of Torchwood. Talking of which…

Good: Referencing all the other things that are supposed to reside beneath the Earth’s surface according to Whoniverse writers – Silurians, Racnoss energy, heuron particles – before admitting with a laugh that Jack has no idea what this is.

More good than bad: The explanation for the Miracle. The Families poked the Blessing with Jack’s blood, it felt under attack and trying to be kind it copied the new pattern (immortality) and share it with the whole world. This doesn’t explain why Jack became mortal with the Miracle, but gives a sort-of reason for the Blessing wanting Jack’s mortal blood so it can flip everything back to normal.

Not subtle but appeals to my leftish ideology so kinda good: Ooh the Families are Conservatives – wanting a shiny world full of happy, healthy, young and rich people.

Good: The bad guys laughing in the face of Jack’s willingness to exsanguinate for the sake of the human race, because Jack’s blood has to enter the Blessing from both cities simultaenously… and the supercool twist that wipes the smugness of their faces and jumps up and down on it in big boots. Rex carries Jack’s blood in his veins…

Good: Torchwood making me cry again as Gwen steps up to save Jack from suicide (if not death) and John Barrowman reminding us all that he’s a powerful actor when given the right moment. His tear-streaked face as he awaits Gwen’s bullet and an end to that very long life had me crying too.

Good: The feral desperation of Frances Fisher as she tries to bribe Danes to let her live. Not to mention Gwen giving Jilly a damn good kicking at last.

Brilliant: The moment Jack gasps back into life. Have I mentioned how much I love Captain Jack?

Good: That someone had to pay the ultimate price for victory. It simply isn’t Torchwood if a team member doesn’t die. That you think you know whose funeral this is. The horror at seeing Charlotte Wills next to Jack, followed by the shock that Rex is still alive.

Better: Charlotte isn’t getting away scot-free after all and that her escape attempt sets up a classic RTD “What? What? WHAT?” climax. I love that newly immortal Rex has perfected that gasping re-entry to life too (even as I’m in two minds as to whether I like the idea of Rex becoming immortal too – as Jack has stressed so many times it’s not as there’s anything special about his blood per se. It was Rose’s inability to control the time energy from the TARDIS that made Jack a fixed point in time, not some biological experiment gone wrong.)

Ultimately? I think it’s fair to say that Miracle Day has been distinctly hit and miss, but despite that I’m still willing to stick my next out for a fifth series. Preferably one without the Families in it. In the meantime, it’s back to the boxed sets with their fish-headed aliens, copious snogging scenes and Ianto’s deadpan innuedos for me.

Posted by Jo the Hat

3 Comments

Filed under Drama

3 responses to “Torchwood: Miracle Day – Saving the best for last?

  1. Tim

    “Hit and miss” sums it up for me, although I err more on the side of miss. This finale wasn’t bad by any means, but I found the pace of it somewhat lacking, particularly just as we hit the home straight ready to burst into a gallop … only to come grinding to a halt for 5 minutes of exposition which joined the dots we’d pretty much all joined up already.

    There were some lovely Gwen & Jack moments, and it was good to see Oswald get a proper send-off, although that also underlined how under-used this potentially great character was through the third quarter of the story.

    And now Rex is immortal, presumably because he had transfused Jack’s blood. But why? We know Jack’s blood isn’t why he is immortal. Was this just a manifestation of the polar-whatsit thing? Or was it just a transparent way of setting up a US-only version of Torchwood after RTD’s alleged two-season deal expires, with Rex replacing Jack as the central character? Or am I just being cynical? Please, God, if it ever does happen, let it not become another Life On Mars USA.

    In summary. A really neat initial concept, but I wish we had seen a closer examination of the dystopian society it created, rather than it just being constantly alluded to. Some great guest stars, who were jettisoned with unseemly haste (John De Lancie, Nana Visitor, C Thomas Howell, Mare Whittingham). Too many side-plots which felt like padding (most of the first five episodes). It was okay in the end, I suppose, but it could have been great. An opportunity missed, and not half as good as Children of Earth.

  2. Jen

    The only Torchwood I’ve seen. This series. I kept watching but it didn’t grip me. More the ‘nothing else on’ kind of watching than ‘OMG get the kettle on, we need to be ready’ watching.
    The Blessing was just downright lame. As stated in the review the really interesting elements of such a phenomenon weren’t explored. Political, economic, social and religious issues.
    I think the American associations positively detracted from the whole enterprise. Boring old CIA/FBI/whatever.
    I would watch another series but, if one is not forthcoming, won’t rue its absence….

  3. Morgan Hamilton

    This has to be one of the more even handed reviews that I’ve seen. And I’m another one who thinks that on the whole MD is more of a ‘miss’ than a ‘hit’. They dropped so many interesting plot threads that could have made it a much more sastifying viewing experience.
    The best thing about this review was you caught what was, for me, one of the highlights of MD — Sgt. Andy being totally awesome. Other reviewers seemed to have gotten caught up in justifying their viewpoint on wether MD was *Awesome* or *Total Crap* that they miss this touching scene. Thank you for that.
    I actually found myself agreeing w/ most of your points. My quibble is entirely subjective & has to do w/ the fact that I loath Rex just as much at the end as I did at the beginning and I *never* felt a single SHREAD of sympathy for Oswald at anytime.
    I think if Gwen ever has another exposistion-laden monologue I’m gonna sew the character’s mouth shut. But one of my big ‘they goofed’ moments was not spreading the Angelo plot thread through out the series a bit at a time instead of having it all in one episode & then killing him off the next episode.
    Any way, thanks again for an even handed look at Miracle Day.

    Morgan

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