The Blue Box Blog

Emma Lou's adventures in Doctor Who fandom

Reflecting On…. Torchwood: Miracle Day

Posted by emmahyam on September 15, 2011

WARNING THIS POST HAS EXTENSIVE SPOILERS FOR ALL OF TORCHWOOD AND DOCTOR WHO POST 2005

Welcome dear readers to a new feature here at The Blue Box Blog, “Reflecting On…”. In this occasional series I’ll be looking back on past series of Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and maybe some shows outside of the Who-niverse if the mood takes me. Rather than writing a long essay I’ll be breaking down the points of interest in bullet point form as the fancy takes me. Besides, the thought of writing an essay is giving me unpleasant University flashbacks.

So why start with Miracle Day? Well, despite the fact I was reviewing each episode on transmission I feel it deserves an overview as a whole 10 part series, which is clearly the way it intended to be viewed, as a lot of the plot developed and only (sort of) made sense as the whole saga went on, I feel I’ve missed some points which I’d like to address in a longer format. So here we go, I think the best place to start would be…

  • Lets rate those episodes out of 10…
  1. “The New World”: AKA “Talkwood” My new contender for “The Worst Thing RTD Has Ever Written” award, all my hopes for Miracle Day were dashed in a brutally tedious 50 minute re-write of “Everything Changes” mixed with “The Silence of the Lambs”. What made it worse the fact there were little glimpses of good in there, the horrifying autopsy of the still alive suicide bomber and the helicopter Vs Land Rover beach chase. That couldn’t fight against the constant info-dumping, the plot holes and the baffling decision remove the concept of “logic” from the series. 4/10
  2. “Rendition”: AKA “Exposition Part 1” We’re introduced to two things that are about to become our new best friends in Miracle Day, padding and talking in dark rooms. They really should have just called this episode “Exposition”, because thats about all we get for our trouble, as for padding, are you seriously telling me most of what happens in this episode couldn’t have been handled in about a third of the time? Oh yes Jack’s poisoning scene is amusing, three problems though 1) I’d seen it all in the BBC’s preview clips, thanks Auntie! 2)Its a massive rip-off of The Doctor’s poisoning scene in “The Unicorn And The Wasp” and 3) It makes not a jot of sense. 5/10
  3. “Dead of Night”: AKA “Exposition Part 2”, the first episode in which we do nothing but tread water until we get to the final scene, which I think is meant to shock us, but then once again it was in all the bleeding trailers as well. Another issue, Oswald Danes, who killed a kid, and he liked it (yeah). What the bloody hell are we supposed to do with him then? I thought they would somehow try for a redemption angle with him, apparently not though. Utterly baffling from start to finish. 3/10
  4. “Escape To L.A.”: AKA “Its Always Sunny in L.A.” Stuff actually happens, the things that are meant to be funny are actually funny, some of it even makes some sort of sense. However taking Miracle Day as a whole nearly every second of this episode is rendered invalid by later revelations. Oh well, it wasn’t awful so 7/10
  5. “The Categories of Life”: AKA “This Makes NO Sense Part 1” AKA “So, So Sorry Doctor Basil Exposition”. Good Lord whose idea was this episode and the next one? Its like they realised they had to entirely change the overarching plot of Miracle Day and set about systematically tying off all the strands set up previously in the most boring, baffling way possible. Worst of all? Vera’s utterly pointless, stupid, pig headed death. 2/10
  6. “The Middle Men”: AKA “This Makes NO Sense Part 2” AKA “Pulling Up The Handbrake”, in which we learn all six episodes we’ve sat through were totally pointless, Vera’s death achieved nothing, Oswald Danes disappears out of the story for no reason, PhiCorp are  revealed as a shell company and workers  in The Overflow Camps do not know the meaning of the phrase “Criminal Trespass”, I’d give this 1/10 but Gwen looked hot as hell in her biker leathers and stuff exploded so 2/10
  7. “Immortal Sins”: AKA “Captain Jack’s Big Gay Adventure” AKA “Bullshit In Old New York” The best episode of the series by a country mile, a shame this was episode 7 instead of maybe episode 3 when it would have made some bloody sense. Despite being a  beautifully shot, intriguing story it was hamstrung by John Barrowman’s limited acting ability, the fact it changed the entire plot of the story arc 3 quarters of the way through and the decision by the writers to make Jack gay seemingly because they’ve just gone ahead AND FORGOTTEN HES SUPPOSED TO BE OMNISEXUAL (RAAAAAAAAAGE) so taken on its own 8/10 as part of the arc 1/10.
  8. “End of the Road”: AKA “This Is Not The Plot Line You Are Looking For” an enjoyable episode even though once again it mostly consisted of introducing plot threads that end up going no where and chit chat. I give it props for introducing my second favorite character of the whole series, John De Lancie’s hilariously gruff  Allen Shapiro, oh how I wish you’d been in it from the start  6/10.
  9. “The Gathering”: AKA “Gwen Vs The Gestapo” oh hey, Miracle Day should really be starting to wrap up now, so lets spend two thirds of an episode in Gwen’s Mum’s kitchen! *headdesk*… oh yeah and “The Blessing” is revealed to be a nonsensical geological fanny. 3/10
  10. “The Blood Line” AKA “Hey Audience, Go Fuck Yourselves!” Maybe the least satisfying series finale ever committed to television, everyone you’ve come to love dies pointlessly, all the bastards get away with it and just to add insult to injury it was boring as hell 1/10

What about the characters:

Lets have a chat about the main characters, how did the newbies do? What about our returning veterans? For the sake of some sort of brevity in this post I’ll confine myself to the main characters in the show.

  • Captain Jack Harkness/John Barrowman – Dear old Captain Jack, they still don’t know what to do with you do they? His main problem is that when the character moved over to Torchwood someone thought that his previous persona of cheeky, saucy space rouge wouldn’t do for the new dark and gritty Torchwood so they made him a broody, violent douchebag. Ever since then no one has been able to decide which way to write him, so most go for an uncomfortable mix of the two, which is what we get in Miracle Day. As for John Barrowman he was his usual self, sometimes great, sometimes utterly appalling, I think hes a good actor but limited, as long as being asked to play himself (Doctor Who style Captain Jack), when playing ‘dark’ he struggles.
  • Gwen Cooper/Eve Myles – I’ve got a great deal of admiration for Eve Myles, I think shes a great actor and is totally believable despite whatever scenario shes asked to play, the problem is she has to play Gwen Cooper. Gwen Cooper might just be one of the most dislikable heroines in TV history, shes a whiny, ungrateful, screechy, narcissistic cow who put her own selfish desire to be a part of Torchwood again above the safety of her entire family. Its tremendously hard to root for her, even when shes doing exactly the right thing, while its nice to have characters that have shades of light and dark, your heroes shouldn’t be so dark you want to throttle them.
  • Rex Matheson/Mekhi Phifer – speaking of wanting to throttle characters lets discuss Rex Matheson, for me the second most infuriating character in Miracle Day. A problem thats always plagued Torchwood is that when they want to write a character which is dark and complex, they just make them a massive douchebag. Enter, Rex who the very first time we see him is basically laughing himself insensible at the news of a colleagues wife’s Leukemia diagnosis. Rex’s most irritating trait is that he is in turns tremendously clever and tremendously dumb. In the space of 25 minutes he goes from cleverly entrapping Friedkin using some Torchwood tech to nearly giving away Jack’s ruse to disable the Null Field because he refuses to believe in the power of a different piece of Torchwood tech! I believe Mekhi Phifer is a decent enough actor but the writers didn’t help out at all with their contrary approach to the character… and oh yeah now hes immortal, thanks writers!
  • Esther Drummond/Alexa Havins – poor old Esther, she was by far my favorite character in this series of Torchwood and despite RTD’s best efforts to makes her a poor mans version of Gwen she absolutely shone, her compassion and good heart were a breath of fresh air amongst a bunch of cynics. I was truly upset when she was killed off, I think this was a really poor decision on the part of the writers. I loved Alexa Havins’ portrayal of the character, she was totally believable and tremendously sympathetic.
  • Oswald Danes/Bill Pullman – I absolutely hated this character, not just because of his past but because of Bill Pullman’s bizarre choices is portraying him and because there was absolutely no point in his character being there. Is he some sort of commentary on the modern media? A reflection of Captain Jack’s guilt over his murder of his own grandson? An extended job interview for Jilly? I have no idea, and I don’t think any of the writers did either. two lines of dialogue could have fixed it but no one bothered. I also don’t understand the decision to make him a pedophile, if he’d been guilty of virtually any other crime there could have been some chance at redemption and some sympathy from the audience, it seems the writers just decided to go for shock value. Bill Pullman seemed to have no idea what to do with him, starting off a pound shop Hannibal Lecter, then becoming a confident media mogul, finally settling on shifty slime ball. Bad idea all round.

Its time to talk plot(holes) Fundamentally the plot of Miracle Day is a great, simple one. “What if one day, nobody died”? The problem is, they didn’t just stick with resolving that storyline. Miracle Day’s run was at least 5 episodes too long for a plot the Torchwood members we see in Children of Earth could have knocked off in an afternoon. The level of padding on display in the show was quite astonishing, the first 4 episodes were full of newscasts which recounted plot information that we’d hear several more times from various of the cast, sweeping shots of landscapes and characters staring into middle distance looking concerned. The genius of Children of Earth was that it trimmed away all the fat and left a lean, mean story told at breakneck pace whereas Miracle Day seemed determined to do the exact opposite. I’m sure what they were actually aiming for was a sense of “world building”, adding a sense of depth to the universe but all they actually succeeded in doing was boring the arse off me.

The padding caused Miracle Day two enormous problems, firstly was the tremendous amount of story threads that were started and then left either unresolved or forgotten about entirely and secondly the gaps in logic on display which has the effect of making Torchwood (such as it is now) look like a bunch of morons and the audience wonder if the writing team had an impromptu lobotomy mid-script. I followed Jane Espenson’s live tweeting of the finale over here in the UK and judging by some of her responses to questions asked by audience members she didn’t have clue what was going on either. So let examine the first issue, dangling story threads, heres the ones I can think of off the top of my head;

  • “The Soulless” – in I think 2 episodes, nothing is made of this cult, I thought they’d be connected to Oswald eventually, seems not.
  • Esther’s sister Sarah – After Esther puts the authorities on to her we see nothing of the plot until episode 8 where shes about to incinerate herself and her children. Then shes at Esther’s funeral… and that it.
  • Rex’s Dad – seen once stealing painkillers then disappears forever.
  • Ellis Hartley Monroe and the “Dead is Dead” campaign – something that apparently conceived just to inconvenience Oswald for an episode, neither is heard of again after episode 4.
  • “The 45 Club” – Mentioned just to set up a gag in the pre-credits sequence of “The Middle Men”, no further information after this.
  • The device under Angelo’s bed – the super powerful null field, in episode 8, sod all else after.
  • “Category Zero” – intriguing idea, dropped like a hot potato after its one and only mention in episode 8.

Now lets talk about the much more irritating problem (in my opinion) the removal of Mr. Logic from the building, again, examples below are ones I thought of just while sitting and writing this;

  • When Gwen and Rhys’ safe house is first buzzed by the mysterious and threatening black helicopter why don’t they bolt the second it leaves? After all they broke out the shotguns at the sound of a knock on the door.
  • How on earth is Oswald Danes released? Even if the courts ruled in his favour I’m pretty sure that about 15 years worth of lawsuit, I mean after all the average stay on Death Row in the US is around 12 years while legal challenges and appeal are heard before anyone thinks about executing an offender.
  • Why does Lyn bother with the farce of poisoning Jack? Its not to avoid detection, it pretty clear Jack has been poisoned from the get go, and shes the only possible suspect on the plane. The Families seem to be pretty good at getting suicide bombers into tricky places, why not blow the plane out of the sky and solve all your problems in one fell swoop?
  • Speaking of which how exactly have The Families managed to not assassinate Jack by the time he comes face to face with them? He could have been killed about half a dozen times over, while he out in the open in Cardiff, picking up the bartender in DC or wandering around in broad daylight in LA to name but a few.
  • Why does Rex smuggle himself into The Overflow Camps using his real name when the CIA are still after him?
  • The Miracle means that no one can die… except if they’re totally incinerated. But then what happens? Surely you’d be left with a load of sentient ash flying around.
  • How are Gwen and Rhys allowed to stay in the Cowbridge Overflow Camp after attempting to get her Dad out?
  • Why recruit Oswald Danes as a spokesman for PhiCorp at all? Is he just there to see if Jilly can hack a job as The Families PR agent?
  • How exactly does Esther prevent Jack from dying from his bullet wound and despite this obvious handicap smuggle him into the UK?
  • If they didn’t want to take Oswald to Shanghai why didn’t they Just RetCon him so he forgot everything he’d heard about their plans?
  • If The Blessing was changed by feed it Jack’s blood over a long period (but only since 1998, the date given for The Blessing’s discovery) how does the sudden injection of about 20 pints of blood (the average blood volume of two humans) reset it back to “mortal”?
  • If Rex is immortal why does his old wound over his heart heal at the same time as his bullet wound from Charlotte?

I’m sure theres more where that came from as well.

Wherefore, RTD? Frankly at this point I’m at a total loss to explain to myself just what RTD and the writing team were thinking when they committed “Miracle Day” to paper and then to celluloid, they’re not novices at the art of scriptwriting, they must have realised at some point that the show just was not working, hence the abrupt changes seen at various point in the tale. Is it a case of “too many cooks”? There are 7 different writers listed on the Wikipedia page compared to 3 on Children of Earth. Was it restrictions placed by Starz? Miracle Day certainly seemed less explicit or violent than any previous Torchwood series or indeed the vast majority of Starz productions. The only thing that makes any sort of sense to me is that RTD’s heart just wasn’t in it, he’d brought Torchwood to an effective end with Children of Earth, he’d left Doctor Who behind and made for L.A. to make his fortune. Problem is he needs to get his name established out there before he can write whatever he likes. Theres nothing doing until Starz ask him to come give Torchwood another whirl and reluctantly he bashes out a story to fulfill his obligations so he can go and write his “kitchen sink” drama hes always wanted to do, and all the other writers just contented themselves to write down to his level. 

Talking Continuity: Just a brief note on this issue, the events of Miracle Day are taking place on modern day Earth, problem is, so is Doctor Who, so theoretically the events of Miracle Day are occurring while Amy and Rory are on Earth, you would have thought that would have come up in conversation. Torchwood and Doctor Who’s continuity have always been very closely intertwined so this throws up all sorts of odd little issues. Still sad RTD isn’t in charge of Who?

OK then hotshot, you’re in charge of Torchwood, what do you do? The eternal question of all armchair showrunners, well if I’d been totally in charge I’d have never made it in the first place. As I mentioned earlier I very much feel that Torchwood came to a natural conclusion with the climax of Children of Earth, but seeing as Starz are backing a dump truck full of cash up my drive way lets make Miracle Day. First step, I’d cut the run from 10 episodes to 5, this is plenty of space to allow the plot to unfold but cut away a lot of the subplots which went unresolved. Then I would have entirely removed Oswald Danes from the equation, his character just didn’t work. Now we’ve streamlined the plot down, I’d keep the PhiCorp/Families angle but incorporate sub plot of Angelo and Jack much earlier on in the proceedings, then have a series of flashbacks filling in information as the saga went on. I’d have also showed a lot more of the goings on in The Overflow Camps and have used Jilly in the role as The Families PR agent from the beginning.  Finally I’d have killed off Rex rather than Esther and certainly made The Blessing much less vagina like, that was a bit weird.

How about Starz? Will Torchwood be back? Was it right that Starz took over production of Torchwood? Well as John Barrowman has said several times in interviews that if Starz hadn’t stepped in there would have been no more Torchwood. Again maybe in retrospect it should have been a sign that after the BBC and Fox decided to pass on making new episodes that Miracle Day was a bad idea from the get go. Undoubtedly the injection of cash from an American network enabled the production to attract fairly big name guest stars for pretty minor roles, and in a couple of cases it paid for action sequences that the beeb wouldn’t have coughed up for. Mind you at times the distinct whiff of cheapness came over in the production, the sets for Shanghai and Buenos Aires looking particularly shonky. So will Torchwood be back? Well Starz have apparently signed the main cast into multi season contracts, however apparently Starz are unwilling to proceed with another series if RTD isn’t involved, he doesn’t seem to want to come back. What of Jane Espenson, who frankly seems to have done most of the donkey work? I’ve heard conflicting reports in regards to he continued involvement. So in my opinion it all comes down to whether RTD can be persuaded to return to Torchwood writing duties, while the ratings have been fairly impressive for a Starz production this doesn’t seem to be much protection these days, Starz canceled “Camelot” even after record ratings and good reviews. The future seems fairly bleak to me, while the cast are willing, the writing team and network seem weak.

In conclusion: A very wise person on the internet once said “Superman 4 makes Superman 3 look like Superman 2”, this maxim describes Torchwood Miracle Day pretty well, did it ever have a chance of standing up to Children of Earth? Maybe not, but could it have been a series 2 like attempt to relay the foundations of Torchwood for a whole new audience, very much so and it failed at that, badly. Speaking very frankly if this show had been under any other banner I would have turned off somewhere around episode 3. Genre fiction abounds on TV these days and while Torchwood is happy to coast with and very average cast, budget and plot line it will surely fall by the wayside. By moving to America I feel Torchwood has lost with it it unique charm, atmosphere and humour. I desperately wanted this to be good but it was not meant to be, however, all this being said I think there is yet hope for Torchwood. There were glimpses of greatness in this series, if  Torchwood can get back to its roots, tell a smaller story and put the expanded budget on the screen instead of in the pockets of the principals they might just have a shot.

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One Response to “Reflecting On…. Torchwood: Miracle Day”

  1. Very interesting. It makes me even more glad that I didn’t watch it.

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