Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 9

Wow, that was really something.


Time has passed. The UK has gone into what the news are calling the Great Depression. Despite continued protest, the camps have been reopened. Gwen has ceased open defiance in favour of clandestine raids on pharmacies for drugs people are now too scared to go to the doctors to access. She and Rhys are living with her mother in Wales, protecting her father, who is alive, but unconscious, hiding in her basement. But she’s under surveillance and subject to regular checks, suspected of harbouring her father, who is known to be missing.

Esther and Jack are in hiding Scotland. Apparently Jack survived his wound, and Esther is regularly harvesting his blood, trying to figure out how he’s linked to the Miracle.

Rex has a lead – the Families are untraceable, but he finds a short story that seems loosely based on what happened to Jack in the meatlocker. The writer’s younger brother was killed, and the murder weapon, covered in his blood – his DNA – has escaped the Families’ record scrubbing. Unfortunately, Charlotte persuades Rex to use analysts under Family influence, and manages to stub Rex’s lead.

Jilly has been working in her new position under the Families, but it isn’t all she imagined, until, that is, she gets a summons to Shanghai, to see The Blessing for herself.

Meanwhile, Oswald has tracked Gwen down as a person who has access to Jack. He wants protection in exchange for information. Information about who Jilly is working for. Only it turns out that ‘Harry Bosno’ is a code world for a certain sort of spin, and not a man at all. Nonetheless, Oswald’s information isn’t entirely useless. They track the Families by working out what exactly Jilly has been spinning, and why. They find the Families have interests in both Shanghai and Buenos Aires… which happen to be on exact opposite sides of the world.

As Jilly is visiting The Blessing in Shanghai, Gwen’s father is discovered and taken from her house. She vows revenge and seeks to take the fight to the Famillies in Shanghai.

Once there, it is revealed that Jack’s wound is not fully healed, and actually getting worse. And Oswald notices that the blood is being drawn off in a particular direction – towards The Blessing.

How awesome was it?

Very awesome. Originality and talent have come together in these last few episodes, but never more so than now. If only the fat could have been trimmed from some of the earlier episodes this would have been an indisputably awesome piece of television. As it stands, this is certainly the most original and imaginative science fiction I have seen in a very long time on the small screen, maybe ever. No arguing that it cannot claim the sort of polished across-the-board high standards of the early seasons of the new Battlestar Galactica, but it must be confessed that BSG was not this original in science fiction terms. This episode in particular contained the realisation of so many interesting ideas that my little plot summary can’t even hope to do them justice.

The actors are also all on top of their game. Mekhi Phifer has been disappointing throughout, but ensconced solidly in a CIA world of flashy tech, performing subtle inferences, and having tense, charismatic conversations with the wonderful John De Lancie, he’s right at home.

Similarly, Bill Pullman has struggled throughout to bring the complexity of Oswald’s character to screen. He’s been caught up playing ‘creepy’, struggling with the more human aspects the script wants to inject. Tied-up and beaten and surrounded by people none of whom are prepared to pretend he’s anything but a monster, Pullman seems to have been freed from the responsibility of making clear to he audience that Paedophiles Are Bad. With this safely clear, Pullman brings a personality to the role and confronts us with the uncomfortable reality of Oswald’s intelligence and skill as an online predator.

Meanwhile, Jilly’s reaction to The Blessing, in the context of the revealtion that it can send you mad if you have something to hide, is enigmatic, terrifying, and wonerful. I really, really hope they explain it, but it’s a nice end point. What exactly was she right about? She seems both satisfied and upset. It’s been clear from day one that there must be something in Jilly’s past that’s broken, something that reforged her into the sort of woman who could deal with the job that was required of her, caring for Oswald Danes.

Gwen continues to be nothing but sheer pleasure on the screen. If she doesn’t at least get a BAFTA for this, Eve Myles will have been robbed. Can I start a campaign? The scene of her beating on Oswald without hesitation in response to finding him holding her baby is a thing of beauty. As is Rhys’s intervention. I love that Torchwood has quietly reversed the gender roles between Rhys and Gwen without in any sense emasculating Rhys. There’s no question of his status as a large, hulking, physically intimidating man as he turns back to Oswald and issues his own threat. The fact that he has not been trained to fight and chooses to refrain from violence makes him a good man, and not weak. I can think of several large-yet-loveable men that Rhys reminds me of strikingly – the sort of men that we almost never see on screen, except for when someone needs to be unlucky in love. I’m loving his representation.

Yet at the same time Rex dismisses Rhys’s comments (even though they are relevant) as those of ‘the husband’ in the way another programme might have dismissed Gwen as ‘the wife’. Rex does this because Gwen is the known entity to him – proven useful – and it’s in Rex’s character to be somewhat over-directed, focusing on the elements he perceives most likely to be successful. What’s really nice is that he’s still wrong to dismiss Rhys on the basis that he’s the primary carer for their child whilst his wife takes on the world. Gwen’s presentation as a strong woman is not reduced to an over-simplified role-reversal that still roots value in the stereo-typically male role.

It’s not without its flaws. The Blessing turning out to be something that looks like nothing so much as a giant rock pudenda, giving life to some, but threatening to suck the world inside it to destruction… almost certainly not intentional, but very unfortunate, and someone should have noticed. I’m also annoyed by the ridiculousness of the ‘hole straight through the Earth’ phenomenon. I really hope they give a nice bit of technobabble to explain that. Can’t help but feel if something like this had existed in the Earth all this time, it would have had even more alien visits than it has under the Doctor’s supervision.

But with so much yet to play out, and with the admirable rigour and imagination with which the consequences of Miracle Day have been unfolded, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief until next week. Looks like it’s going to be good.

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 8

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Talk about pay off!


Torchwood are taken by Kira Nerys Angelo’s granddaughter, Olivia Colasanto, to his swanky mansion. Angelo’s managed to extend his life by eating right and ‘keeping his temperature down’ or something, but he couldn’t halt aging. He’s an old, old man, and not even conscious. Apparently he has nothing to do with Miracle Day, but he does know the people who are involved. Three families – those of the three men we saw ‘buying’ Jack in the meat locker: Ablemarch, Costerdane, and Frines. As I speculated, they didn’t have Jack, but they did collect his blood (although Jack is convinced his blood is normal). Angelo’s been watching Jack for years – apparently Olivia didn’t get Gwen to kidnap Jack to kill him, but to keep him safe (Gwen and me both think this is a bloody crazy way to go about it). With the names, Torchwood hopes to find the Families, but there’s no trace of those names anywhere (incidentally, I looked, this is not true of our world).

As this is resolved, the CIA arrives – Rex has engineered to make a ‘slip-up’, letting them know where Torchwood is. Brian Friedkin (Wayne Knight) charges in and Rex catches him admitting he’s working for the Families on the lens cam. Allen Shapiro (John De Lancie) is the man in charge, he arrests Friedkin and ships both him and Olivia off to the ‘safe house’… or he would have done, if Friedkin hadn’t triggered a bomb once he was in the car (apparently the Families have his family). Much verbal sparring occurs between Shapiro and Torchwood -i t was a thing of beauty to watch! But alas, Gwen loses this round and winds up getting packed off to the UK.

While Jack is paying his respects to Angelo, though, Angelo unexpectedly dies. It turns out that Angelo has obtained a ‘null field’, which can cancel out the morphic field that caused Miracle Day, and placed it under his bed. Naturally, the CIA are very interested in this thing, but Jack refuses to tell them what it is, knowing its potential uses. He persuades Rex and Esther to help him escape with the ‘Alpha’ panel. (There’s some hint that the null field requires both this panel and Jack’s DNA to make it work, but it’s not clear.)

Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well for Oswald Danes. Oswald requests a prostitute: an adult one. He wants to change. But she freaks out when he wants to talk rather than just engage in something more mechanical. She reveals that there has been talk of classifying Oswald ‘category 0’ – i.e. a bad enough criminal to burn alive with the category 1s. Oswald confronts Jilly about this and she admits it, revealing her personal disgust with him. He hits her and she responds in kind, fighting him off. She chases him from her room, promising revenge. A man from the Families then shows up to praise her and shoot her assistant, who was a CIA spy.

Back with the CIA, we learn that Charlotte Wills, Esther’s friend, is a Family spy, although Torchwood doesn’t know it yet. Jack et al make their move, but Jack is shot and Esther is seen helping him escape. She has to go with him, and the episode closes with her driving through the desert, not knowing what to do next, as Jack lies dying in the seat behind her.

So how was it?

Stonking. Let’s start with the awesome SF alumni that has passed through Torchwood: Miracle Day. In order:

Wayne Knight – Brian Friedkin (Torchwood)/Denis Nerdy (Jurassic Park)

Brian Friedkin Dennis Nerdy

Dichen Lachman – Lyn Peterfield (Torchwood)/Sierra (Dollhouse)

Lyn Peterfield Sierra

Nana Visitor – Olivia Colasanto (Torchwood) Kira Nerys (Star Trek)

Olivia Colasanto Kira Nerys

John De Lancie – Allen Shapiro (Torchwood) Q (Star Trek)

Allen Shapiro Q

And I gotta say: John De Lancie was the icing on the cake. Him and Nana Visitor facing off against each other was electrifying. I am in full geeksquee mode, my friends.

Apart from that, though, I have to say that the episode generally held together exceptionally well. Good dramatic tension throughout. I even enjoyed the Oswald/Jilly plot. The moment with the prostitute was very nicely handled. Bill Pullman is still struggling a bit not to make Oswald a caricature, but the script is doing very nicely in handling something extremely complicated and controversial. The category ‘0’ element could feel gimmicky or obvious, but the way it’s introduced, presaged by an under-breath comment by Jilly about not having to deal with Oswald much longer, worked for it. It’s melding in with carefully developed layering of character. Jilly is so much about image and polishedness, the hints to the under-surface and what she really feels, yet is prepared to ignore to get the job done, have always been so fleetingly handled that they did not impair her immaculate veneer. But there’s always the hanging question: ‘If she really feels that way, why is she doing this? What’s under that surface that makes this possible?’ And here we get another hint – she does have her limits, she’s clearly disgusted at the thought of getting Oswald a child, but prepared to do it – unprompted, she asks ‘how old?’, and clearly doesn’t believe him when he says he wants a woman. But when we find out that she knows there’s only so much longer she has to do this we see just a crack further into her psyche. Somehow the timeframe allows her to excuse it to herself… yet that’s not much of an excuse. She genuinely seems prepared to procure an under-age girl for him.

Oswald is also proving interesting. We see that he unquestionably does have a violent rage – in particular, that he expects women to be cowed by it, as though he has a right to expect them to bend to his will, and any knock to that sense of entitlement nearly drives him over the edge. Yet he, too, has been restraining himself. He does not attack the prostitute. That the anger and entitlement is there is evident, and, however much he may want to change, those attitudes emerge in his inability to refrain from the body-language and tone of intimidation. But Jilly, he cannot restrain himself from. Her calm assumption of safety in his presence has been impressive throughout. Despite being beautiful and coiffed within an inch of her life, Jilly walks at all times in Oswald’s presence as though it is simply taken for granted that her beauty is not for him. In every moment where she refuses to behave in a way that acknowledges his threat she robs him of power. It’s quietly awe-inspiring, especially when contrasted with the behaviour of the prostitute, who is firm in her client-boundaries, but cannot conceal how uncomfortable and afraid interacting with him as a human being makes her feel. Where at first Jilly felt like a cookie-cutter evil corporate redhead, I now think she’s a bit of a feminist icon – not least because her moral ambiguity as a character is not compromised for the sake of showing her strength as a woman. She manages to control and display her beauty without, at any time, using it to manipulate her charge with sexual power.

Not that this doesn’t have an effect. Jilly’s attitude has clearly created an interest and frustration in Oswald, as evidenced in his preference for a red-headed prostitute as well as the way he cracks and responds violently when he learns that she has known he was to be categorised ‘0’ – a sort of betrayal, although she’s correct that he should have seen it coming. The thing is, Jilly has in no way provoked him with her sexuality – she has never used it to try and control him, she has not ‘led him on’. Even when he breaks and attacks her she responds not by cowering, but with rage. She fights back – first physically, and then with words, as he flees both her and his own aggression. Her veneer is bloodied, but it does not break her – she is not cowed, she reveals the strength that accompanies the emotion she usually keeps so carefully contained.

In other words, she responds in the way a male character would, without ever once having to present as ‘unfemale’. Reread as male actions: the aggressor attacks and he responds with violence, giving as good as he gets; having fought the monster off he voices his rage at his foe’s fleeing back, promising revenge. Even the fight is good: it is neither a hand-bags-at-dawn cat-fight, nor a super-polished when-exactly-did-she-learn-a-martial-art stunt-artist showdown. She neither has to be Harmony flailing comically at an equally skill-less Xander, nor a Buffy empowered with physical abilities beyond the ken of normal women. Don’t get me wrong – she doesn’t have the physical strength or skill to hold off a sustained attack from a man the size of Oswald, but she doesn’t have to. The mere fact of her unrestrained resistance is enough – as the prostitute says: he’s not used to women who fight back.

So anyway – you remember when I said I didn’t think I could ever be interested in these two? Well, yeah.

The rest of the plot is also well-handled. I love the contest of force-of-personality. I love that Angelo has not stayed young, and Jack doesn’t care. I love Jack using the null-field to have a private conversation with Esther and Rex, thrumming with tension because we know that at any moment someone could notice that their mouths are moving and there’s no noise coming out. I love that Jack could say ‘You have to get me out of here’ without losing his machismo. Very rare that a male character gets to say that without seeming impossibly weak, but in this situation it’s a must not only because Jack is mortal, but also because his being there is a danger to others as well, because he can be exploited. He is both expressing his vulnerability and his wish to protect. Nicely done.

And in the background the world is in an economic melt-down that’s eerily familiar.

People often tell me that they find immortal characters boring – that they would neither want to read, nor write about them, nor would they want to play them in an RPG. I love that Torchwood: Miracle Day has taken this much maligned trope and proved that it is anything but dull. Just takes a bit of imagination, that’s all, and these writers certainly have that.


This episode was also great for the hints and speculations. Couldn’t miss hearing the Master’s drums in the beeps of the machines registering Angelo’s death. But, of course, they’re not really the Master’s drums, they’re the sound he heard in the time vortex. Then there’s the fact that the badies are called the ‘Families’. ‘Family of Blood’, anyone? They were looking for immortality, also. And we saw in the trailer for next week further talk about feeling like something there but being unable to see it, which makes me think ‘Silence’ again, but it’s not really their MO. I dunno if the writers are just playing with us or if any of this connects. I’m sure we’d have heard about it if the Master were coming back, but the sound of those drums is certainly a very Time Lordish thing.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 7

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

So, let’s talk Torchwood.

Plot: (standard spoiler warning)

Last episode ended on an adrenaline high as Gwen learned that her husband, mother, and baby are being held hostage in exchange for Jack. This episode is the fallout. When it comes to Jack vs her child, there’s no contest. Gwen kidnaps Jack, and most of the episode consists of a flip back and forth between Gwen and Jack, and events from Jack’s past that we assume must be relevant to his current status as ransom.

In 1927, Jack meets a young immigrant, Angelo Colesanto, as both try to enter New York illegally at Ellis Island. Jack’s on a mission for Torchwood, but he likes Angelo’s style. Getting Angelo out of jail, they get an apartment together. As the moody lighting and sad music has keyed us up to suspect, Angelo turns out to be gay and attracted to Jack. Jack, of course, is attracted to everyone, so they go to bed and have moody sad sex. Jack decides to let Angelo into his life and gets him involved in his Torchwood mission. They get into trouble with the police, and Jack gets shot and killed. Angelo believes him to be dead, until he gets out of prison and sees Jack on the other side.

Angelo is understandably freaked, but seems willing to accept Jack’s peculiar undying status. In truth, though, it’s a bit much, and Angelo’s conflicted Catholic upbringing takes over, leading him to think Jack must be the devil, tricking him into sin. He kills Jack again, and Jack resurrects in front of the distraught Angelo and their landlady. The secret is out, and everyone has to see it: the man who dies and comes back to life. Jack is strung up in a meat locker and killed over and over again. The landlady and her family and friends regard this as a miracle, but their zealous response seems more fueled by blood lust. At some point three sharply dressed men come to see him and seem to agree on a deal to purchase him together. Fortunately, Angelo can’t take the violence and frees Jack, but Jack can no longer trust him, and leaves him behind.

Meanwhile, in the present, Gwen and Jack see a little bit of each others’ steel – Gwen will kill Jack if it protects her family, and Jack will do whatever it takes to survive. Fortunately for them both, Esther has finally levelled, having killed the Big Bad of the previous episode. She notices the extremely obvious fact that Gwen is spooked and thinks to check the cached messages on Gwen’s contact lenses. She then works her awesome computer skillz to save the day.

But not before they get to meet the people who wanted Jack, and they tell them the name of the person who wants to see him… Angelo Colesanto.


In many ways, this was excellent, in some ways it was disappointing. The main difficulty is that everyone else on screen is acting the crap out of John Barrowman (Jack). Eve Myles (Gwen) has been consistently strong all season, and the tension between her and Jack is a test of wills where she’s undoubtedly the winner. With the history they have, Barrowman performs passibly well, but the main storyline of the episode – in the past – requires a level of nuance and passion that he struggles to rise to. It’s an interesting and engaging tale that demanded a level of subtlety that Barrowman’s big bold style just doesn’t sit well with.

All season they’ve been front-loading Jack’s homosexuality at the expense of his omnisexuality. It felt like the writers needed to make sure that new viewers understood that Jack likes men over Jack’s the biggest flirt in all the worlds. The writing this week (ignoring the unlikely good fortune of the first guy he meets in New York being a gay guy who fancies him) lurched back to a treatment that was much more sympathetic and deep. Daniele Favilli (Angelo) rises to the occasion, but it’s just not Barowman’s style.

Oh well, can’t have everything. The conclusion of the storyline in 1927 New York is startling and awe-inspiring. The scene in the meat locker – music, writing, concept – is powerful and probably deserves awards. Eve Myles also deserves something for her absolutely stunning performance that is never less than spot-on. I love the writers for giving her such lines, and I love them for making her the sort of badass that is such because she knows to properly tie up a man who’s bigger and stronger than her, to think with her head to do what her heart requires. You may recall me mentioning the conversation I had with a friend who was concerned that Gwen’s separation from her daughter would not be treated with sufficient depth. Well, they’ve done more this season for strong mothers who genuinely care for their children than any other show I can think of.

And now all I can do is wait for next week and SPECULATE. I’ve gotten over my The-Silence-Are-Behind-It theory. I think it may even be true that no aliens are involved. Can’t help but notice that Angelo must be a very old man by 2011. I also recall an old woman taking a sample of Jack’s blood as a sort of relic. And let’s face it, Jack may have escaped, but he’ll have left a lot of his blood behind in that meat locker. Wanna bet that those three gentlemen made the best of what was left? And let’s not forget that this all started with a mass-release of Torchwood files that called Jack back to Earth. Angelo knew about Torchwood and Jack’s wristband. Knew he’d be in the future. Is this all just an elaborate booty-call?

Who knows? But we’re starting to see the pieces of the bigger picture. Hurrah.

Oh, and as a special GEEKGASM aside, did you recognise this lady at the end:

Olivia Colasanto

That’s FREAKIN’ Nana Visitor, whom you may also know as KIRA NERYS of Deep Space 9:

Kira Nerys

Torchwood is rocking the sci-fi alumni! Keep up the good work!

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 6

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

I know I owe you guys some RAWR action, but I’ve only read one and a half chapters, and, in comparison to the chapter I’m stuck on, Torchwood is kicking A Dance with Dragons‘ behind. (Oh yes, I said it. It is chapter and episode specific, though.)


So, at the end of last week (and do I need to say ‘big honking spoilers ahoy!’?) Vera Juarez gets burnt alive, making Rex very, very angry. Because he was such a happy chap before. But rather than starting straight back at his rage, we start with a new character, Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson), someone inside of PhiCore, someone who doesn’t know the Secret, but who is starting to get damn curious about something. He orders a dude in Hong Kong to go investigate something. The dude looks like a tough guy, but whatever he sees is enough to make himself tell Stuart that he saw nothing, before throwing himself off a building. Closest thing to death in this brave new world – a jump off a tall enough building is said to bring brain death.

Cut back to Rex taking video of the modules and what happened to Vera and saying about how he’s going to expose it all. Meanwhile, Esther doesn’t know Vera’s dead yet. Her shift is just ending, but she’s worried about Vera because she won’t answer the phone, so she bluffs her way into staying on. In the meantime the camp-boss, Colin Maloney (Marc Vann), is going mega-paranoid in response to his guilt and puts the camp in lockdown.

At the same time in Wales Gwen is trying to get her father out and facing a bureaucracy both cowardly and desperate. In LA, Jack uses the creepiest come-on ever to persuade the mistress of Stuart Owens to help him get to the guy. Presenting her with emails that show Stuart to be a bit of a dickhead her persuades her that it will be revenge. But Jack finds Stuart surprisingly co-operative. Stuart can’t tell him much, but his reasons for that are interesting in themselves. Whoever has been stockpiling the drugs has been doing this for a long time using a lot of different systems. The real evil is hidden behind a wall of bureaucracy. The only true piece of information Stuart can provide is a single, enigmatic word: the ‘Blessing’.

Back at the camp, things are going crazy. They locate Rex and the camp boss goes to ‘question’ him. Esther does a passable job of nearly saving the day, but ultimately it’s the Maloney’s reluctant side-kick, Ralph (Fred Koehler) who cracks and decides the killing has to stop… by ‘killing’Colin Maloney.

The story wraps up as Gwen and Rhys save her father and Gwen blows the camp in Wales to Hell, capturing it on tape and sending a message to the world. A message that does not receive the resounding response they expected.

How was it?

It was stonking. Torchwood is well and truly back on form, despite killing off one of my favourite characters. The pace was fast throughout, without sacrificing the moral complexity that is starting to make this genuinely interesting. Although I’m still finding Mekhi Phifer’s performance somewhat weak, everyone else is bringing it.

They’re doing surprisingly well with the well-worn theme of how appalling it can sometimes be to just ‘follow orders’ – perhaps because they look really closely at the good reasons that might sometimes lead people to do bad things. I particularly loved Gwen’s railing against the doctor who refuses to reclassify her dad as category two, despite apparently being aware of what it means to be category one. I liked it because you could sense that the doctor was also angry – she wasn’t just following orders, she knew there was a crisis the extent of which Gwen is unable to comprehend because she is too emotionally involved in the very personal effect it has on her family. Not saying the doctor’s right, but they do a passable job of presenting her point of view without belabouring it. I especially like Gwen’s closing remarks to her, as she pulls back from her almost hysterical rage to a quieter, more terrible one. The reference to ‘not calling yourself a doctor anymore’ [sic] is call back to the Doctor’s comments in ‘The Beast Below’ and its maybe a little heavy-handed, but the final ‘shame on you’ is beautifully understated.

Relatedly, Ralph’s comeback to start saying ‘no’ is an effective counter-point to the doctor’s resignation. You can say ‘no’, but it doesn’t come cheap. He’s killed a man, and his youth-like appearance underscores the loss-of-innocence theme. Nothing is easy. Esther also has a loss-of innocence moment. They set this character up badly. In the first episode I took her for a badass, and have been wrong-footed ever since by the apparent ret-con of wimpishness that allowed Rex to take the lead from the CIA side. I’ve still got problems with that, but her arc over the last couple of episodes has been nice enough to help me ease into this other conception of her. I suspect she’s meant to be the one who gets ‘forged’ by her experiences this season, and who will come out hard on the other side. I can live with that. Not everybody should be a badass. Especially as Gwen is well and truly holding up her end.

They say that cool guys don’t look back at explosions. Maybe that’s so, but Real Badasses don’t look back at explosions whilst they’re driving away from them on their badass motorbikes. Where did Gwen get a motorbike from? Don’t care. How exactly does blowing up a module help all those people not get burned alive… care slightly more about that one, but I’m going with ‘she was blowing up the power supply or something – shut up it looked GOOD’.

She was a complete idiot to then go through an airport having completed an act of terrorism, but hey. It made for a nice contrast moment to see her in her casual, vulnerable, ordinary mum-gear as someone types directly onto her eyeballs that they have her child. Very powerful, very nice.

The political and media reaction to the message Gwen records is also very well observed. Any other year you might have been tempted to think otherwise – to think that governments would be shamed when faced with their complicity in mass murder and would act immediately. It’s by no means clear that they won’t react in the end, but it’s naive to think that governments can’t be dwarfed out of their morals by catastrophes, or that they won’t stick to ideals in the face of wide-spread public disapproval. Consider the slow reaction to the Arab Spring. Consider the stalemate over the US debt rating, or the backlash after the English riots. Consider the human rights abuses that have been widely ignored for years, simply because they are an inconvenience, but also because we have neither the resources nor knowledge to find solutions to all the world’s problems.

I’m impressed by this series of Torchwood. Granted, it’s been pretty rocky in places, but when it’s good, it’s really good. And despite still being ludicrous and fun in some ways, it’s actually dealing with some pretty significant and up-to-the-minute issues. Rock on!

And now for some WILD SPECULATION

So, who’s behind all this, then? Sounds like maybe not PhiCore after all. The Crazy!Theory side of my brain is screaming out for a Doctor Who tie-in. Like, maybe the Big Bad is all shadowy because it’s the Silence, which has found subtler ways to get its revenge on humanity. Maybe it’s all a big plot to draw the Doctor in after all. I don’t think so, though. It’s clearly closely tied to Jack in some way, anyway, as underlined by the Jack-flashback in the trailer for next week. Is someone using Jack as a battery for this whole Miracle Day thing? Might other people actually want to kill Jack to save the rest of humanity from the horrors of immortality? I just don’t have enough clues yet, but if you’ve spotted something I’ve missed, feel free to speculate away in the comments.

American viewers, though, please note: I am a Brit lass and I often don’t get to watch this until Friday – nearly a whole week behind you guys. Please don’t spoil me for next week!

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 5

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Now that’s more like it.


Governments around the world agree on emergency measures to place people in three different categories: three, two, and one… alive, ill, and dead. Categories two and one are shipped off to camps for containment and treatment in the face of rampant disease in the hospitals, Gwen’s father amongst them. Dr Vera Juarez sets her doubts aside and joins the Torchwood team in disgust at the actions of the governments of the world. Living people are being categorised as dead, disposable, objects.

Torchwood discovers that hidden ‘modules’ are a part of the camps around the world, and they infiltrate two camps – one in the States and one in the UK. Gwen tries to free her father, but the stress of the escape triggers a heart-attack, relegating him to category one. Rex infiltrates the State-side camp as a patient, whilst Vera uses her position on the medical panels to pose as an inspector and Esther enters as clerical staff.

Meanwhile, Jack tries to appeal to Oswald’s conscience to persuade him to use his media attention to expose PhiCor.

How was it different?

Suddenly Torchwood seems like biting political commentary. Healthcare being turned over to big business under the radar. Political freedoms being curtailed in response to a crisis. ‘A new age of care and compassion’ sounds very much like the sort of thing our current Prime Minister might say whilst categorising groups of people cleanly away so that they can be disposed of.

And yet the cutting undercurrent of this is that it is a genuinely desperate situation. It’s entirely understandable that people would agree to any plausible solution that sought to bring to control a situation rapidly becoming apocalyptically chaotic. It’s telling that the writers tacitly recognise the remarkably terrorist aspects to Torchwood’s activities. They’re operating outside and against governments to infiltrate and sabotage in the cause of freedom. It’s a surprisingly balanced and intriguing view that encourages us to weigh up the options and the sides and identify with aspects of disparate groups. I’m even warming to the presentation of Oswald Danes in his uniquely challenging fight for survival. He’s still a repulsive figure, but they’re starting to move him into a depth he lacked at the beginning, and I approve. I suspect we’re setting up this human complexity against a complete othering of an Alien Evil, but it’s still an unusually nuanced take.

I haven’t talked about it much, but Miracle Day has also been delightfully and understatedly inter-racial throughout. Yes, there’s a predominance of white main cast members, but we also see multiple black, Asian, and Latino people. I’ve mentioned before that the treatment of women is pretty good – there are lots of them, and the frequently kick ass, but they’re also vulnerable and believable in turn. Esther’s character’s had a rough ride, but Gwen and Juarez are consistently both interesting and strong. Perhaps the most peculiar thing, for Torchwood is that one of the least comfortable aspects of the show is its treatment of homosexuality, which seems to have been reduced to Jack making bad jokes to make Rex uncomfortable. It’s forced and unnatural and a little uncomfortable to watch.

Quite apart from the themes, though, this episode was fast paced, tense, and believable in a way the previous two episodes weren’t. Someone spoiled the ending for me by Googling key terms that brought them to my blog, if you would believe it, but it was still shocking and rather impressively horrible. Everything feels like it’s coming together, and I’m eager to watch the next episode next week. Hurrah!

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 2 (Contains Spoilers)

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Torchwood: Miracle Day, episode 2I’m continuing to like this, but it’s not without its problems.

Recap: In episode 1 someone released something at the CIA that flashed up the name and files of Torchwood before swiftly being deleted. Moments later, something happens that means that no one can die. No one that is, except Jack, who is usually immortal. Rex is on the phone to Esther at the CIA who has just witnessed the puzzling appearance and deletion of the word ‘Torchwood’. He’s in a car accident that ends with poles skewering him straight through the chest. He should be dead, but he’s not.

Esther investigates Torchwood and manages to find some photos of the crew just as Jack finds her… and some mysterious figures in black find Jack. Jack tells Esther about Torchwood, then wipes her memory. But somehow a file about Torchwood winds up on her desk anyway, and she tells Rex about it. Rex gets up off his not-so-deathly bed and charges across the Atlantic to chase down Gwen just as the mysterious men in black launch an attack. Jack arrives to provide Gwen with the means to save the day, but Rex somehow gets the British police to arrest them all anyway so he can take them back to the states.

Meanwhile, a paedophile on death row survives his execution and is freed on a technicality – theoretically, he’s already received his punishment.

Episode 2:

Why recap all this? Well, there are a few things about the start of episode 2 that bug me. First off, even though Esther gets her memory wiped by Jack, chasing down Torchwood is her baby, yet suddenly she’s in a position of asking if she can be on Rex’s team. Rex’s ludicrous actions may have captured Torchwood, but I’m deeply puzzled at the way no credit is being given to Esther for putting him on to this.

We also have the odd moment when, having arrested Rhys and dragged him and baby to the airfield, Rex decides to let them go, forcibly separating Gwen from her child. And the British police seem to have no problem with any of this.

I’m less fussed with this last point – as I said in my review to the previous episode, it’s Torchwood, I expect it to be a bit silly. Besides which, it does make for a nice dramatic moment. I had a really interesting discussion with a friend of mine about how Gwen’s role as a mother affects how my friend views her as a character. I have no children and no maternal feelings whatsoever, so this is a perspective I don’t naturally have access to. My friend found the prospect that Gwen was inevitably going to have to be separated from her baby if she was to continue kicking ass as she had in the first episode hit a bit close to the bone. She also couldn’t feel good about Gwen as a character if she was willing to do that without much fuss. What I really like about the opening to this week’s episode, then, is that we’re given an opportunity to see that this is a thing Gwen does not do easily at all.

Eve Myles has come on a lot as an actor over the last few years, and I found her distress and anger at being separated from her baby utterly compelling. I like this, and, on reflection, it also makes sense of what initially seemed, to me, to be an overly harsh reaction from Gwen where she blames Jack for all the trouble that’s brought down on them. Although she goes on to pull herself together and be consistently awesome throughout the rest of the episode, I’m glad to see this moment of emotional realism given to her feelings as a mother – again, in a way that does nothing to detract from her inner strength.

I also greatly enjoyed Dichen Lachman, whose appearance I was anticipating with glee last week. She did not disappoint as the cold and self-possessed Lyn. Although, it must be confessed that secret double agents of whatever people she’s double-crossing the CIA for have the slowest. IM. Ever. I mean, seriously, even if you’re supposing that they can’t use MSN for obvious security reasons, if they’re communicating that way at all you’d have thought it could have been both swift and encrypted. Movie tech has a habit of looking unrealistic, but I’m happier when they create stuff that looks more advanced than we could achieve, rather than less.

Anyway. Lyn. I like her. I like what happens to her at the end. It’s deeply creepy and a wonderfully nasty thing to turn your beautiful starlet into. It’s a moment that sells the horror of the situation in a way that even the still-living corpse of the man who got exploded in the previous episode didn’t quite touch on.

Speaking of building horror: I am in love with everything connected to the Dr Vera Juarez plot about what the medical profession will need to do in the changed circumstances. If other elements of the plot haven’t been sufficiently thought through, someone has clearly spent time on this, and this is where the real science fiction lies. They present all kinds of things I’ve never even considered. I really like that.

The Oswald Danes plot, on the other hand… I just don’t know. I’m not sure whether we’re meant to believe he’s sorry for what he did or not. And I’m not sure if I’m meant to be unsure, or if Bill Pullman is just utterly failing to pull off contrition. His conversation with the unpleasantly false Jilly Kitzinger seems to indicate that he isn’t actually trying to fool people. If so, that’s a really interesting take on how the prospect of not dying could change someone’s point of view, but at this stage… I’m just not convinced by the portrayal. Similarly, I found Jilly herself grating enough that I’m afraid there’s really nothing about this plot that has me wanting to return to it.

On balance, however, I’m still finding the Miracle Day has a lot to offer, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of where it’s going with this. It’s an odd mix of dull cliché and really interesting and original content, wrapped up in the fun and action-packed Torchwood package I have developed a fondness for.

Torchwood: Miracle Day

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Torchwood: Mircale DayIt was amusing, on Thursday night, to see the gaping divide on my Twitter feed. People either thought the first episode of the new series of Torchwood was stonking-awesome-great-fun or godawful-shit-why-would-anyone-watch-this. If you were in the latter camp, this review is not for you: I loved it, and am going to talk about how much I loved it at length. However, I also have to wonder why people who don’t like Torchwood were watching the first episode of its fourth series in the first place. I suppose it’s possible that there were some genuine Torchwood fans who found the latest edition disappointing, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it so far. For the most part, the comments were to the effect of ‘that doesn’t make sense’, ‘if it were that big a deal, why wouldn’t the Doctor show up?’, ‘this is completely implausible!’. To which I feel inclined to reply:

‘Of course it’s implausible – it’s Torchwood.’

I suppose it’s possible that the unexpected success and critical acclaim of Children of Earth last year made a few people tune in who otherwise wouldn’t give Torchwood the time of day, but these can’t be the same people who are wondering why the Doctor didn’t turn up. There was a strong undercurrent of bitterness in Children of Earth about the Doctor’s failure to pitch up and save the day, and I pretty much took it that this was establishing a bit of independence for Torchwood, stipulating for future series that this is now known to be a world where the Doctor doesn’t turn up for everything, and sometimes we must fend for ourselves. I liked that about it. I love the Doctor, but he’s a walking McGuffin, especially for a spin-off series where any appearance by him is not going to focus on his personal struggles and imperfections. It seems to me that distancing itself from the Doctor a bit is a wise and healthy thing for Torchwood to do.

As it happens, I did feel that Miracle Day was much more in the vogue of Children of Earth than its earlier series. Torchwood has always been a silly, implausible, fun, more adult, lower budget sibling to Doctor Who. It wouldn’t be Torchwood if it weren’t a bit silly and implausible, with a side-order of penis jokes and bisexual flirting. It’s a bit like a sci-fi version of The A-Team, only with more gore, women, and double-entendre. (Incidentally, I particularly enjoyed the ‘No, not “Touch wood”, Torchwood’ joke.) But it felt like the show had grown up a bit and found its footing all the same.

The trans-Atlantic move is definitely working for the show, as is the bigger budget. The show has a great affection for its roots in Cardiff, but there’s no denying that the first two series were rather a mess, and the events of Children of Earth provide the perfect excuse to step out into the wider world, shake free the debris, and do something really exciting with the big, fun core. Torchwood is by nature somewhat larger than life, and giving it a larger stage to play on allows it to move beyond the running gag that a secret government organisation that regularly fights monsters all over Cardiff isn’t going to stay secret for very long. Now they can set some of the elements that didn’t work behind them and start anew as an elite team on the run, ignoring the incompetencies of the past.

Gwen Cooper fires gun whilst holding her babyI am particularly a fan of the new, kick-ass Gwen Cooper. As she coolly advances out of her house, her baby in one hand and firing a handgun at a helicopter with the other, I finally feel like I have a twenty-first century heroine to look up to. Yeah, she’s the momma-bear protecting her kid, but unlike even the formidable Sarah Connor, her strength doesn’t originate in her need to protect her child, she’s a momma who’s protecting her child with the skills she already had. She doesn’t need to be super-human like Buffy, or uber-trained in martial arts beyond the attainment of mortal women, like the Bride in Kill Bill. And though I am sure the Bride could kick her ass in no seconds flat, Gwen exceeds her in not being defined by her motherhood and her relationships to men. Yet, equally, she doesn’t need to sacrifice being a loving, caring mother and wife in order to display her strength. No, I can’t fire a handgun accurately or shoot a helicopter out of the sky with a bazooka, but those seem like things an ordinary woman could be trained to do. Granted, the stunts Gwen pulls may be deeply implausible for other reasons, but they’re no more so than the stunts of any male action hero I could point to.

I also loved seeing my team get discovered and hunted out by people on another continent. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of recognition when something they love goes a bit more global? And I think this move worked. Granted, the CIA agent who gets off his deathbed to go chasing across the Atlantic in search of Gwen and apparently has magical powers of Summon British Police is deeply implausible, but I don’t care. It’s Torchwood, they do things like that.

About the only thing I really didn’t feel terribly keen on was the subplot with the paedophile on death row who is somehow let out of prison because he was ‘executed’ but, because of the events of Miracle Day, isn’t dead. Given the way the US has been happy to keep Guantanamo going indefinitely, I’m pretty sure they would have found a way to work the law to keep this guy banged up. I have no interest in him as a character, and feel fairly sure I’m going to get more and more annoyed with his plot as it goes on. It’s predictable and dull, and isn’t offering me enough of what I enjoy for me to overlook the plausibility.

Other than that, though, I’m full of the squee for what looks to be a cracking series. I’m especially pleased to see Dichen Lachmin (of Dollhouse fame) in the trailer for next week. She deserves more work, and Torchwood will benefit from having her in it. Awesome, too, to see a bit more Torchwood/Whedon cross-over, after James Marsters’s cameo as Captain John. No, Torchwood’s still not as good as Buffy or Dollhouse, but that’s OK – it’s not meant to be, it’s a different kind of show.