Torchwood: Revisiting MIRACLE DAY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Torchwood: Revisiting MIRACLE DAY

Moo wants a miracle but not if it looks like this.

The first episode of Torchwood series four, collectively titled Miracle Day, premiered not on British television, but U.S. premium cable channel Starz on July 8th 2011. It had a lot to live up to. Torchwood had gone from BBC Three to BBC Two to the third series being one single five-part story broadcast across five night prime time on BBC One. Children of Earth, came out of nowhere and showed just how good Torchwood could be, putting every single drama series to shame in the process, whatever came next had to be brilliant. The momentum was there and a fourth series would have to carry that momentum further.

Unfortunately what we got did not do that. What we got was Torchwood reimagined, almost rebooted, for an American audience (because that worked so well when Doctor Who tried it). Instead of the alien incursions and temporal stuff we got The Miracle. The basic idea of The Miracle is that suddenly one day nobody on Earth can die. Nice concept, interesting idea. Shame we don’t get to see much of it. The most fundamental rule of good storytelling is “Show, Don’t Tell” and this rule is broken. We meet paedophile/murderer Oswald and see him survive a lethal injection. We see Rex get an injury that should be fatal, yet it isn’t. We see a suicide bomber who succeeds with the bomb but fails at the suicide part. Otherwise that’s it. We are told that there are similar incidents worldwide, and that Earth is being plunged into chaos by it, but we don’t get to see it for ourselves. Lazy, lazy writing.

That’s not to say that the first episode of series four, The New World, is a bad 50 minutes of television. In establishing the new setup of Torchwood’s fourth season it certainly succeeds, swiftly taking the action to both sides of the Atlantic while introducing three new cast members, Mekhi Phifer as Rex, Alexa Havins as Esther and Bill Pullman as Oswald, as well as catching up with the only three remaining originals, John Barrowman as Jack, Eve Myles as Gwen and Kai Owen as Rhys. These characters are brought together in an engaging way as this first episode plays out. When, and how, the secluded Gwen & Rhys are forced back into action with Jack and the CIA it is totally believable. At one point we see Gwen holding a gun in one hand, shooting down assassins with the weapon, while holding her baby daughter in the other – Sure, why not?

The issues that drag down Miracle Day and give it its deservedly-bad reputation are not there yet. They are present but this is the opening episode so it’s okay, it’s when the story drags out to wafer thin and we get stupid subplots involving Esther’s sister, Dr Juarez’s whole storyline and so on, then the rot sets in. We’re not at that stage yet. However there are issues.

Take the new characters Rex, Esther and Oswald for example. We don’t really get any time to get to know them and so we don’t feel invested in what happens to them. It’s only made worse that the majority of this episode’s runtime is devoted to following them around rather than Jack and Gwen, the people we are here to actually see. Lots of time is spent on meaningless action set-pieces rather than developing these characters or their motivations.

But worst of all is how Americanised it all is. The New World is filled to bursting with explosions and gunfights and gory bits, in place of character development and storytelling. You only care what happens because of the previous three seasons of Torchwood and the sense of loyalty you have to this show. To be fair these action sequences are very well done and you can see where the budget has been spent, but they get in the way of the story. As awesome as the sight of Gwen with her baby in one arm and a gun in another is, as exciting as that bit with the helicopter is and as tense as Jack and Esther’s encounter with a suicide bomber is, these moments are there because, apparently, American audiences need things to go boom-bang-a-bang (Hands up who gets that reference?) every few seconds or they’ll get bored. I don’t necessarily think that’s true but that’s what the producers of this episode seem to believe.

The New World looks great and has some excellent action sequences and brilliant acting all round, but it suffers from trying too hard to appease an American audience in place of the realism and humanity that made the first, second and (especially) third seasons work so well. That’s the problem with the opening episode of Miracle Day. It’s not as big a problem as the ones we will encounter once the series really gets started, but it’s a problem nonetheless. With the benefit of hindsight, The New World is arguably the best episode of the fourth season of Torchwood, but it's hardly a classic. After the near-perfect levels of Children of Earth, this was a disappointment – and it’s only going to get worse from here.

When the season ended by revealing that the Earth has a giant vagina inside it (Yes, really, that happened!) it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that a fifth season never came about.

While I’m sure there are a few people out there who could enjoy Miracle Day, and that’s good for them, I’m of the opinion that Torchwood should’ve quit when it was ahead and ended with the sublime Children of Earth. It’s a shame because I really wanted to be able to like this season. If you watch Miracle Day again then I suggest that you watch it for the concept, not for the execution. I don’t have anything against American television but Torchwood is something they should never have got their grubby hands on.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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