Episode 3 - Miracle Day


456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed

Quick recap - at the end of Episode 1, I thought 'right now the new team's together'. At the end of Episode 2, I thought 'right NOW the new team's together'. And thank Rassilon, at last this week not only are they all together properly but actually get stuck into to some action! Yes, this week we have some honest-to-goodness investigating going on rather than just reacting to enfolding events.

Making her Torchwood scripting début, Jane Espenson lands with a big splash - the writing and plotting is far tighter this week, and I for one am glad she got the lion's share of episodes to pen. Dead of Night we get a nicely weighted show that continues to build up the story, but delivers the developments as drama and action rather than the talking head info dumps we've had in the previous episodes. It really feels like the show is getting somewhere now after a somewhat slow start.

Character-wise, the team is gelling together nicely, with some nice interactions between our transatlantic band of fugitives. As I suspected, Esther fits in very well, and there's a marvelous scene with her and Gwen. However although there is nuggets of character emerging, Rex is still too much the obnoxious shouty one and little else most of the time. Elsewhere, Bill Pullman continues to shine as Oswald Danes, who is rapidly becoming the most intriguing character in the show, while Lauren Ambrose as Jilly Kitzinger is shaping up to be a tempting Devil in red. And if Dr Arlene isn't going to end up the fifth member of the new Torchwood, I'll eat my multi-coloured wooly scarf.

However, despite the show making pleasing progress, I did still have some niggles. I wasn't completely convinced by the introduction of the Souless cult (as pictured above). For a start, it seems to this reviewer at least, that it isn't entirely believable that such a sect would spring up in such numbers so quickly. And while the masks make for a striking image, I'm not entirely sure that so many people would be wearing them so soon. Similarly I am finding my credulity slightly stretched with the rise of Danes as a media figure. Minor points to be sure, but I think these concepts could have been bedding down more believably with some tighter plotting throughout the opening trio of episodes.

Unlike the preceding two outings however, we get to see more of the effects of Miracle Day on the wider world.; scenes that show the impact of the Miracle beyond the TV inserts and conferences. But I couldn't help thinking that perhaps the chunk of running time occupied by the two concurrent sex scenes (apparently you'll have to see the US version for the full naughtiness) could have been better employed doing a bit more of this kind of street-level world building. However judging from the direction the narrative appears to be taking, in fairness I think I can better understand the choices in how they have portrayed the Miracle up to now.

Now as I'm keeping this spoiler-free, I'll limit my remarks on the plot twists and turns to simply saying that it's starting to head in some interesting directions. And although the last two episodes had led me to believe that Miracle Day would be something more like Series 2 than Children of Earth, the unfolding narrative threads this week show signs we may well be heading in to scifi with biting social commentary territory.

But that said, and despite Espenson's stronger scripting, Torchwood is still showing a tendency to clank along like a man with a bucket stuck on his foot at times. On one hand we get a well crafted scene like the aforementioned one with Esther and Gwen, but on the other we have some sex chucked in to show off how 'adult' it is, and some patronising dialogue for audience on both sides of the pond over the difference between the American and British versions of the English language. It's like the US writers have only seen the first and second series and are trying to capture that same lurches between quality and drivel. This episode is smoother, but you can still hear the clangs. Is this the infamous RTD factor at work? Possibly - I'll weigh that one up in a few episodes time.

But also this week some lines from Captain Jack crystallised a vague feeling I've had since the start of this series. In a conversation with Gwen he remarks that now Torchwood is just them - and that's the root of my nagging feeling. In turning them into an adhoc cell of fugitives, we've lost the big and grand scifi setting of the Hub, the links with UNIT and other covert operations, and the massive collection of alien artefacts/plot devices. Now admittedly as an ever mutating show, Torchwood never really established a mythology of its own, but there was a strong flavour of outer space spookiness inherited from its parent show Doctor Who, and which in its better adventures made its own.

However now we don't have that cosmic backdrop so much, or the history of the Torchwood Institute. The edge of weirdness is gone in favour of more conventional spy antics, so it's feeling a little like having the Doctor ditch his TARDIS and join Jack Bauer's counter intelligence team. However as the brief scenes with the Souless proved there's still a hint of spookiness. Hopefully there'll be more to come, and it is still early days... but that excuse is going to be worn to a whisper next week.

Finally I think I know who's behind the mysterious triangle on Wayne Knight's phone... It's bloody Chocky! No, honest - watch this, it's a dead giveaway!

Alright, so joking aside, maybe not. But I'd lay good money on this classic piece of telefantasy having inspired Big Russel creating that cryptic logo... And I think it's a safe bet that whoever is behind Miracle Day hails from off world...

Further reports to follow....

JIM MOON, 21th July 2011