Torchwood: Miracle Day part 1

A death scene from Torchwood
Until Miracle Day, all I had seen of Torchwood was Children of Earth, the five-part finale of the previous season.  It was to be Torchwood’s final gasp, one last push before it got cancelled.  But it was so well-received that another season was co-produced with American network, Starz.

The new season sparked up on my google box, looking very different.  The Yankee dollar is apparent from the get-go, with Miracle Day looking more like an episode of 24 than anything by the BBC.

People aren’t dying.  For a yet-unknown reason, people of Earth have become invincible.  They can still be burnt (hilariously, more on that later), speared with metal, whatever, but can’t die.  All over the world, people have the cheek to live when they shouldn’t, with population booms and resource shortages as looming consequences.  Somehow, making people invincible has made the previously immortal Captain Jack (John Barrowman) susceptible to injury and possibly worse.  Is this enormous, globe-spanning change part of a ploy to kill Jack?  I hope not.  Because that would be stupid.

Showing its US connection, Miracle Day has appearances by both Bill Pullman and Mekhi Phifer.  The show opens with Pullman as a bland murderer and bad man, about to get a lethal injection.  Obviously the people in charge didn’t know this was Miracle Day.  Pullman survives.  Given that he survived a death sentence, he’s now a free man.  Damn this undoubtedly completely accurate depiction of the American justice system.

Phifer starts out the episode by being an arsehole.  As brilliantly-named CIA agent Rex Matheson, he’s celebrating the fact that another agent’s daughter is sick, which puts Phifer in line to replace him.  This is surely a set-up so Rex’s character arc can take him from d-bag to good guy.  It is, however, an unrealistic way to do so.   His character does become more interesting and likable as the episode continues, simply due to the omission of stupid comments like his first ones.

Top-heavy Welsher Gwen (Eve Miles) makes an appearance.  She’s hiding out now in witness relocation, or whatever it would be called in Wales.  We see how she misses Torchwood, telling tales of adventure to her baby.  Esther Drummond (played by Alexa Havins) is another CIA agent, who may eventually play a bigger role than Phifer.  She seems to be taking the smart, data-driven approach to CIA work, contrasting with and helping Rex as he spurts testosterone everywhere.

If I was writing this episode, my inner-geek would struggle to resist referencing Wolverine, on a day where all are invincible.

A number of points throughout the episode show how ill-fitting the score is.  Rex frustratedly tries to leave his hospital bed, while some out-of-place guitar plays.  The fact that Phifer is starting to look like Tracy Morgan, particularly at low angles, doesn’t help the seriousness either.

The ‘American action show’ look is so prevalent here, and generally so commonplace on TV, that it could actually work in Torchwood’s favour.  The contrast between the US and Wales would be so blatant that it would create two distinct visual looks for the show.  Alas, I can’t help but feel that the show will end up almost entirely taking place in America.

Time for a classic example of a scene that’s good in theory but bad in execution.  An explosion has left a chap, well, chargrilled.  His ‘body’ is mostly just ash.  Yet this is Miracle Day, so he’s still alive.  And Barrowman’s well up for some experimentation, of the decapitation variety.  “Off with his head”, he kind of says.  And the man lives despite this.  The concept here is interesting but it just looks stupid and hilarious.

The show goes badly downhill over the last ten minutes.  Phifer arrives at Gwen’s house.  He collapses from his injuries, and awakes tied to a radiator.  He quickly escapes because, sigh, Gwen let her man, a civilian, tie him up.  It gets worse as a helicopter turns up.  A rocket is fired, going through a window, along the hall, and out another window at the back.  The crew make an escape.  Somehow they think the best way to go, trying to avoid a helicopter with rockets, is driving a jeep down a completely exposed beach.  All those hills we can see in the background are apparently of no use.  Then Barrowman uses, sigh again, his own rocket launcher, and the chopper goes down.  Stupid.

Rex, being a rascal, then gives us the twist: he called the popo.  The Torchwooders get arrested.  But Rex has more: this isn’t an arrest after all, it’s a rendition.  Torchwood is going to America.  End.  Same time next week folks.

I’m left with a bitter taste, as the US shown as the UK’s bigger brother.  A CIA agent can immediately get a gun, no questions asked, soon as he lands here.  He can also organise a rendition too, with no clear reason for taking the subjects to the US.  It’s hard to imagine that happening if the show was purely funded by the BBC.

Mostly a good episode, Miracle Day certainly looks like something to build on.  The concept of an immortal population, and the effect of that, is a particularly good idea.  Hopefully, Torchwood won’t be sanded down into resembling some 24 meets X-Files Americanised show.  I don’t want to paint US involvement as a negative, their TV is light-years ahead of us.  But for Torchwood to stand out it’ll need to hold onto its British roots.


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