today I ramble a bit about the BBC television series Torchwood: Miracle Day. Sean and I had really looked forward to this season after Children of Earth in 2010. I’ll introduce the show and then dissolve into thoughts about this year’s Miracle Day. A lot of interesting conversations could be had from Miracle Day, believe it or not, I hardly touched on a fraction of these. and this post is fairly –spoiler-free–. mind the character discussions (sigh).
If you are a fan of the Russell T. Davies 2005 revival of Doctor Who, than it is likely you are familiar with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the time-travelling immortal human (thanks Rose) who cons and flirts his way in and out of story. Davies created a spin-off called Torchwood where Harkness heads up an elite group of professionals based in Cardiff, Wales who monitor, track, and often fight alien activity on Earth.
Torchwood is nighttime television for adults. There is profanity, steamy sex scenes, and the show is prone to greater violence and gore. The stories can be really exciting and Sean and I have recommended it around, but with some caution; there seems always some caution with Torchwood.
Sean and I finally finished Torchwood : Miracle Day, the fourth season of the BBC sci-fi television series. I say season, but really Torchwood has morphed into more of a series. Miracle Day is a 10 episode series released weekly from July to September 2011. The third series Children of Earth was released nightly in the span of a week in 2010—it was marvelously intense. This year, Torchwood comes to America with Starz! Yeah, we were skeptical, too. And I think, in the end, rightly so.
If you’ve not seen Torchwood you can begin* with Miracle Day because the allusions to previous story/characters are light. Everything you really need to know, including some of Harkness’ history with The Doctor, is explained. Torchwood: Miracle Day is a pilot for American audiences essentially. Most of Miracle Day is set in the Los Angeles, with the introduction of several key American players before introducing the name Torchwood and bringing those who remain of that clandestine agency back.
Miracle Day asks: What would happen if no one could die? One day no one could and this first day of no one dying is dubbed Miracle Day around the globe. As the show thoroughly illustrates, no matter what the (would-be-)fatalities circumstance, they cannot die. However, they can feel the pain of their wounds, or illness, etc. How do you medically and culturally treat the living dead? The global population sky rockets. Legislation must be reviewed, amended, and enacted quickly. And Life must be redefined, quite literally.
Miracle Day’s scope is enormous.** They explore multiple scenarios and track immediate and global implications as they progress. The cast is extensive, though many move in and out of story in a single episode or over the course of two or three. The primary cast involve a convicted homicidal pedophile, an ambitious public relations woman, a CIA agent, a CIA information analyst (or 3), a medical doctor, and of course, Torchwood (x2+1). And not only must Miracle Day ask what would happen, but how did it happen and who or what is responsible?
The scope of Miracle Day would be managed by strong characterization (both development and consistency), by encapsulating each episode and a few key character storylines with theme, and by taking leaps along the timeline to maintain credibility and interest. Still, the series feels too big, as if it feared the sci-fi fanatics who would send essays on how the writers forgot this causality, this effect, this probability. And while their question and its implications are fascinating, as well as their challenge to weave them into a compelling story, it was exhausting. When you find yourself asking, ‘How many more episodes to go?’ you know there is a problem. Not everyone will have this issue, but even Sean, reader of epic tomes within epic series, had to express real determination in order to finish Miracle Day. We took a break. Sure, our discussions after an episode (or during) were great, but the sequences of intense action (at least one per episode), the dramatic interludes, the 10 minute sex scenes, the long explanatory conversations; there was a lot to juggle and keep in balance. Torchwood: Miracle Day was necessarily ambitious. It is a police/government procedural, medical drama, family drama, romance, soft porn, action/adventure, detective mystery. Except the mystery kind of gets bogged down, and it is the mystery that would compel me the most.
Miracle Day as well as the people of Earth must first come to terms with what is happening with Miracle Day. The first 5-6 episodes are steeped in this. The latter episodes are what occur after everything comes to a head, especially in the lives of the main characters. The shifting of gears is very evident. It is now that something has to be done. They really must figure out what caused Miracle Day and how to stop it. We were really hoping it was something good. Doctor Who and Torchwood have proven imaginations that convince, if not enchant, despite their fantastical nature. With the build of anticipation, so did our expectation. And really, if we had to suffer [insert annoyance here] than it better be good!
[annoyances yet mentioned] : Mekhi Phifer may be a good actor to many (and who didn’t like him in “O” (2001)), but I didn’t care for him here. I became less and less enamored with him and CIA Agent Rex Matheson as the series progressed. He felt cliché, flat, and he never recovered from it. If you need a way out of a seemingly impossible plot corner, he will perpetrate it. It is amazing really what he can and cannot anticipate. But a bigger part of the problem is how he is set up next to Captain Harkness and he lacks John Barrowman’s charm, guts, and conceivable brilliance. Agent is Harkness’ counterpart, and he isn’t convincing enough in the role.
Now, if you need to get into an impossible plot corner in order to create conflict/adrenaline, CIA Analyst Esther Drummond will do it. She is gifted in a few areas, but is the initiated, the inept. She is not a field agent, and is also guaranteed to completely ignore anything Torchwood veterans Jack Harkness or Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) tell her not to do. She is well-acted by Alexa Havins; it is the necessary character who is annoying. And her one opportunity to show believable growth was undermined by how late it comes, and by final scenes where she is still manages frustrate plans.
While on the subject of cast/character: I was in awe of Bill Pullman as the clever and conniving pedophile, somehow I didn’t dread watching that scary monster in an episode, because While You Were Sleeping Pullman as a monster was fascinating. He was a brilliant casting choice.
I really enjoy John Barrowman as Jack Harkness. I like him best on Doctor Who, and I had major anxiety issues in Miracle Day, because a major plot point is———. Torchwood just isn’t Torchwood without Barrowman/Harkness, especially if they were to hand off the reins and a spin-off to Rex Matheson/Mekhi Phifer. Barrowman is looking older, despite his fit physique (with which everyone becomes quite familiar). After Children of Earth and with the turns Doctor Who takes…after every episode this series I worried over Harkness’ fate. It was he and Gwen Cooper who were one of the main reason’s we had to get to the end of Miracle Day and some answer as to how they would fare.
It has been fun watching Eve Myles develop her character on Torchwood and her performance this series was fantastic! She was appropriately bad-ass. She moved convincingly through her multi-faceted role as Gwen Cooper: risk-taking Torchwood agent, fierce mother, devoted daughter, wife, and friend. And I also like how Torchwood has grown Kai Owen as Rhys Williams in character and role. If were unsure of this character/actor before, Miracle Day elevates him to an adoring degree.
Torchwood as a television series has always been unpredictable. They aren’t afraid to kill of major characters, they confront difficult subject matters, and they have their crazy alien creatures. They are inventive and flexible. They took a gamble on the one-week stretch of episodes in 2010 to great success. Creating stories/mini-series’ that keep spinning off of the spin-off in 2011 is cleverness. In a way, Miracle Day reads like fan fiction, even as it reads Pilot. What is going to happen next?
Well, the ending of Miracle Day alludes to probable futures. And did the ending satisfy? I think so, at least up until the very last few minutes–and a major allusion part. But I won’t spoil it. Some will be happy enough though, so note that the opinion is mine, and Sean’s, and likely a few die-hard BBC Torchwood fans.
* You could begin w/ MD but I wouldn’t recommend it.
**The television show FlashForward (2010,w/ Joseph Fiennes) came to mind.
Torchwood: BBC, IMDb, Wiki, (Miracle Day Wiki). please check these sources (among others) for more information, especially those behind the creation of this series, and the listing of this extensive cast (there are many familiar faces and good performances).
a trailer, which is pretty exciting.