Torchwood: Miracle Day (1 & 2/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (Part 3)

I’ve been debating whether to commit to writing about Torchwood, the series.  It’s too bloody brilliant not to, and I love writing about it.  So this is my first proper post.  I’ll recap a bit on what I wrote here and roll it all into one post.  I hereby recant my previous reservations about the damn Yankees messing with one of my favourite science fiction shows.

The simple idea driving the story arc has huge implications.  If nobody dies then world population will increase to unsustainable numbers, with many people unable to look after themselves (because they should be dead).  Four months, according to one of the characters, and it’s the end of the world.  But still nobody will die.  As apocalyptic scenarios go, it’s a doozy.

The opening scene in part 1, with pedophile rapist murderer Oswald Danes on the execution gurney, catapaults you right into the action, and it doesn’t let up.  Gwen, whose indomitable Welshness is going to be the standard bearer for everything I loved about the previous series, is living with her husband, Rhys, and baby, in a rural idyll on the Welsh coast.  But it doesn’t last, as the CIA are first alerted by the appearance of the word “Torchwood,” on their information systems, then by its abrupt disappearance from all electronic records.

The principal agent of their discovery, in both senses of the word, is the thoroughly irritating CIA operative, Rex Matheson.  His suspicion about a link between Miracle Day and Torchwood, sharpened by the fact that he also should be dead, drives him to engineer Gwen’s extraordinary rendition to the US.  He’s helped by Esther Drummond, a CIA colleague at Langley, Virginia.

Meanwhile, Cap’n Jack shows up at the cottage to rescue them all from a black ops helicopter that’s trying to kill everyone associated with Torchwood.  If there was any doubt that Gwen has been secretly yearning for her old life, it’s blown away in the scene where she brings down the chopper with a rocket. “Who the hell are you people?” asks Rex.  “Torchwood,” replies Gwen, and there’s a look in her eyes that says she really enjoyed that.

You know Russell T. Davies is great scriptwriter from the way he gets all right thinking British people really pissed off at the rendition, with Gwen the main channel for their ire.  At one point on the flight to America, she calls Rex “a stupid, tiny, bloody little man.”  Mind you, this is after he has compounded the grievance by leaving Rhys and the baby in the UK.  Not good for Rhys, either, because she and Cap’n Jack are now in it together, and even Rex thinks they argue like a married couple.

There have been other changes.  Another CIA agent, the steely-eyed Lynn, is assigned to the flight, thus annoying Rex who wants all the glory himself.  But he needn’t worry.  Lynn has been planted by her boss to keep an eye on things.  And, joy of joys, it’s none other than Newman, the nemesis of Jerry in Seinfeld.  He does have a name, but I can’t think of him as anybody other than Newman.

And when Cap’n Jack starts telling Rex about the theory of morphic resonance as it applies to Miracle Day, Lynn pricks up her ears and texts Newman.  Who consults his unseen superiors, and texts back “Remove.”  So Lynn poisons Cap’n Jack with arsenic, which is unfortunate because he’s the only person in the world who can die.  She’s found out, and the antidote involves ransacking the plane for industrial cleaning agents and ripping up the cabin floor to find the orange tube that carries degreaser.

It’s a terrific scene that puts Gwen in charge, barking orders like a regimental sergeant-major, and bringing everybody in to help, including the cabin crew (with obligatory gay steward) and Rex’s doctor friend, Vera, in Washington.  All the wit, repartee, self-reference, and quirkiness I’ve come to expect from the series. “Be careful with his coat,” she says, preparing to inject the vile concoction.  This coat being the iconic WWII Air Force greatcoat he’s never seen without.  You have to wonder what will happen when it wears out, unless the coat is as immortal as the man.

In another lovely moment, Lynn manages to free herself from the handcuffs, but makes the mistake of sneering at Gwen’s supposed Englishness.  “I’m Welsh,” she says, and decks the woman with one punch.

The agents at the airport secretly slip Lynn the key to her cuffs, and the prisoners are escorted through the terminal.  Until Rex gets a call from Esther, who has escaped from CIA headquarters after realizing that the CIA is out to get her and Rex.  In the ensuing fight, Rex breaks Lynn’s neck, but of course nobody dies so there is a farcical element as she tries to block their getaway car with her head on backwards.  Think Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her.

The getaway is as brilliant as the scene in the plane.  Esther has stolen her friend’s blue Mini in order to make her escape. When she meets them outside the terminal, Gwen is incredulous:  “What sort of a getaway car is this?  I thought you Americans drove these big SUVs.  This is rubbish!”  I’m coming to think of these lovely bits of dialogue as Gwenisms, much as I treasured Sipowiczisms when I watched NYPD Blue.

Nor is she the only Torchwood ingrate.  Jack also is not impressed with the ad hoc nature of their getaway.  “Rex,” he says, “You’ve got to work on these escape plans.”

All round this central plot strand, there are subplots.  Vera Juarez, Rex’s doctor friend, who shows up at the airport to bring him painkillers, is shaping up as the one who will lead the medical fight against the consequences of Miracle Day.  Which have become more dire if that were possible.  The should-be-dead are still aging, leading to the prospect of a life of eternal pain and misery.  Another intriguing character is Jilly Kitzinger, an amoral PR agent, who is trying to get Oswald Danes and Vera Juarez as clients.

Oswald Danes is fast becoming one of the most interesting characters.  Freed by a legal ruling – after all, sentence was carried out – he breaks down in tears in a television interview and says, “I’m sorry,” when confronted by a picture of his 12 year old victim.  Is he sincere?  Could it be that immortality brings greater horror at the thought of mortality?  Danes is the moral darkness at the heart of the plot.

Must-see television at its best.

27 thoughts on “Torchwood: Miracle Day (1 & 2/10)

  1. Like a fruit salad, or a cottage garden, it’s a rather random mixture of characters and sub-plots making for fun, but frothy entertainment along the ‘something for everyone’ line. By episode 2, you realise all these threads will come together into one hugely improbably connection. Jilly Kitzinger is one to watch now – note she was not a PR agent for the doc – she offered her card as a drugs rep: I tell you that lass is up to no good. Your man the pedo is 24 carat cliche, but the characters are not to be taken very seriously. I prefer the homely familiar clashing with the downright weird that is the Torchwood signature; this is somewhat lost in the USA. Gwen is fabulous as usual and I especially enjoyed her ‘Malcolm Tucker moment’: don’t you ever call me English! Let’s have more of that kind of thing. Much more.

    • You’re right about the homely clashing with the weird. That’s what I liked about the Cardiff ambience. But this Torchwood is a different animal, and as long as Gwen continues to deliver, I’m happy to see what they make of it. Also Jilly Kitzinger. That crazy smile and red coat promise something quite unusual. As for Danes, I think it’s down to Bill Pullman’s acting chops that he’s more than a cliche. Trailers for an upcoming episode suggest he becomes some kind of guru/evangelist. He’s definitely going in an interesting direction.

      The only thing that pisses me off is that we get Torchwood 6 days later in the UK. So I can’t read any blogs for fear of spoilers.

  2. Having just watched the second episode of Miracle Day it saddens me to see what was an original idea become yet another American secret service drama. The actors who have made Torchwood work since it’s inception deserved a better story, and we won’t go into the script.

    I fear both it and it’s cousin Dr Who have had what made them so very unique ripped out of the hearts of both programmes.

    The writers and producers should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. I fear I agree with Spinny Rourke; I was surprised that the BBC had left it such a long time after ‘Children of Earth’; it’s still a far better programe than many that are thrown out for our ‘entertainment’. Then to be taken over in this way as the BBC have allowed it to be makes for a bitter viewing experience. I only hope it starts improving. My thoughts are that a ‘Torchwood’ base will be set up in the US and Jack and Gwen will be used occasionally as advisers in future series until they disappear altogether.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘Supernatural’ and was a fan of ‘Buffy’ so I don’t think the US always churn out bad sci fi programes; I just think, as has been mentioned before, that part of Torchwood’s signature was the fact that it was based in the UK.

    But I hope I get proved wrong because I really don’t want to see such an excellent programe go to waste.

  4. I love Torchwood but find it slightly irritating that the scriptwriters don’t research things properly. Captain Jack is poisoned with arsenic, not cyanide and EDTA is not an effective antidote for arsenic. The toxic dose of arsenic for a human would be more than would fit into a capsule by a factor of 10 or 100 depending on which arsenic salt was used. The scene where they make EDTA from materials available on a plane is highly unrealistic, e.g ammonia is no use, ethylenediamine is needed; methanol doesn’t oxidise to formaldehyde but to formic acid and the silver catalyst isn’t any use either. In any case if I had to poison someone and I had arsenic and cyanide I would go for cyanide every time!

    • Thanks for catching the mistake. I changed cyanide to arsenic in the post. As to the scientific accuracy, Torchwood is fiction, and it’s much more fun to watch them tear up the plane in search of ingredients for the spurious antidote.

      In the same sort of vein, I was quite offended by Jack talking about Sheldrake’s morphic resonance bollocks. Particularly as it might be an important factor in the plot. They tried to kill Jack merely on the supposition. Why on earth shouldn’t people on 2
      different islands come up with the idea of stone knives?

  5. @Spinny Rourke & @homeofthesmiths

    I really enjoyed the Cardiff ambience of the old series. But this a different animal, and all the old wit, irreverence and quirkiness is there, just in a new setting. No alien sex, though, and it doesn’t look there’s going to be room for it in this series. Shame.

    After killing off Torchwood, and all the team members except Gwen and Jack in Children of the Earth, I don’t see how they could have returned to the old formula. The dramatic arc calls for something different – more of the same would seem like an anti-climax. It does beg the question, however, of whether RTD already had this series in mind when he so definitively ended Children of the Earth.

    homeofthesmiths, I don’t think there’s any chance of Gwen and Jack being sidelined. They’re so central to the Torchwood universe that there would be an outcry. I certainly wouldn’t watch it anymore.

    Spinny Rourke, I’m curious about when you think the rot set in with Doctor Who.

  6. not the best series, in fact very disappointing so far. the acting is wooden and the plot is slow slow slow. the gay sex seems completely gratuitous. No way as good as children of the earth. I will give it one more episode before I give up on it.

    • I have to agree with you, Children of earth was really good, but killing off Ianto was rather disappointing. You can tell this was taken over by an american director (appart from all the americans and cia and what not) but theres a whole lot of going somewhere but not getting anywhere. Too much bang not a lot of boom.

  7. Completely lost it now. After watching the third episode I have no idea what this is all about – seems to be too many sub plots trying to compete with each other. Shame really since Torchwood used to be such a good “British” sci-fi programme – American bias may get viewers in the USA but will almost certainly lose viewers in the UK.

  8. I was quite shocked at that. And her a doctor. You don’t see much of it even on American TV. The X-Files used smoking as a sign of moral degeneracy i.e. Cancer Man. Good writing from RTD, though. He likes yanking people’s chains.

  9. I have been with this from the beginning. I do not like the over the top ‘good old USA’ feel the show now has. Lost me im affrayed

  10. I am losing interest in the show mainly due to the Rex Matheson character played by Mekki Pheifer. He is arrogant and an all around jerk. I just don’t like him at all. He is rude and it makes me ill just to watch him. Unless he grows up and becomes more of a team player I’m going to stop watching the show.

    • That’s sort of the point – that he’s not a team player – or that he’d prefer to root for the CIA team. An arrogant and abrasive character should piss off the viewers. Dramatically, he’s an important part of the plot, with Torchwood falling apart as they become fugitives. And he’s the other alpha male, in opposition to Jack, who is all that but a bit more versatile.

  11. I have given up on this series – I liked the first episode, and the ideas are good science fiction. But the third episode had very slow plot movement, and a lot of gratuitous violence and sex. The violence I found particularly disturbing, and I really don’t want these sort of pictures in my head.

    I’ll stick to the radio plays, and concentrate on looking forward to Dr Who.

    Sorry Russell – this one doesn’t get my vote.

  12. So disappointing. Had waited and watched old Torchwood reruns until it finally arrived. Really had High Hopes. What was good and unique about Torchwood in Cardiff and the UK has gotten lost once in the US. Too many stray characters, too many crowd scenes, too little of the main characters, and please more of Rhys! It just seems that the main things that brought us all on board as fans and kept the interest high on Torchwood are melting away. Where is the Hand of Dr. Who that Jack always has with him? All the technical gear that Gwynn used in Cardiff is no longer in evidence. The young blonde girl whose sister is now in the Psych Ward! of what interest? I think the main premise of Torchwood is getting lost. I will continue to watch, but let me just say , it’s not as much fun and I find myself not looking forward to the next episodes with much interest. At this point I just want to see how you extricate Jack and Grynn. Sorry.

  13. What was my 2nd favorite Sci-Fi show is now my least. It’s painful to watch. I’m an American and it’s just like every other American Sci-fi secret government agency show at this point. The storyline is so horrible “I’m in the air at 35,000 feet and have to McGyver an antidote!”. Sad. I’ll keep watching until it’s completely unbearable and the sad thing is it’s quickly getting there.

  14. I think we would be able to understand the plot a lot better without the irritating music constantly in the background…it’s like interfeerance from another channel….who else finds this a distracting?

    • I don’t have a problem understanding the plot, but the background music can be irritating. It’s like the soundtrack in 28 Days Later, which was written to induce a sense of unease. They could definitely lose the soundtrack.

  15. For full cast list check IMdb.com.

    Last couple of episodes came closer to the Torchwood ethic, and Jack even mentioned The Doctor once. The ending is a nice surprise!

    • Thanks for that resource. When you say the ending is a nice surprise, do you mean the final episode (assuming you’re in the US, based on the sbcglobal.net address)? I’m looking forward to it. It’s been an endless frustration not being able to look at other Torchwood reviews or blogs, just because America gets their episodes 6 days earlier than the UK.

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