Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 3

Dead of Night

DeadOfNight

Right then, here’s all that sex we were promised, apparently crammed into one episode as if to make up for the lack of it in the last two. Torchwood has always had a rather adolescent desire to show how ‘grown up’ it all is, and in the first series at least, this seemed to consist of all the team having sex left right and centre, their sexuality changing from week to week as the plot demanded. At least Miracle Day has been consistent there so far; Jack went to bed with a guy, and Rex with Dr Vera, though the latter did seem to smack of plot convenience. There’d never been anything approaching chemistry between them before this, but a bit of shagging and she’s all ready to infiltrate shady drug company Phicorp on behalf of Torchwood. James Bond would be proud of Rex’s ‘shag and recruit’ skills.

Mind you, with events starting to move on – we discovered that Phicorp had been stockpiling painkillers because they knew the Miracle was coming, a new cult of ‘the Soulless’ has emerged and murder as a crime no longer exists – it seemed a bit of an odd time for Jack to suddenly dive into a convenient gay bar and randomly go on the pull. It’s as if Mulder was about to uncover the Smoking Man’s agenda, but decided a quick break with his porn collection was suddenly more pressing.

Still, the sex scenes were interestingly interwoven, presumably to keep both straight and gay audiences happy. And it is of course the first time we’ve seen Jack himself get down to some explicit rumpy pumpy, with Russell T Davies previously having decreed that, even in Torchwood, a regular Doctor Who character shouldn’t be seen to be doing the deed. That philosophy seems to persist at the BBC though; it’s become a bit of minor showbiz news that the British showing won’t include – at least in as much detail – Jack’s random shag. John Barrowman’s been in a bit of a tizz about that, insisting that the scene isn’t gratuitous but vital to the plot. While the Rex/Vera hookup does have this argument in favour of it (just), I’m not seeing any plot advancement in Jack finally being seen to put his money where his mouth is (so to speak). Maybe it will all become clear in later episodes. Perhaps the cute barman is actually an alien being…

Speaking of which, are aliens actually going to come into it this time? Besides the sex, there was some genuine plot advancement going on. The discovery that Phicorp (which sounds a bit like ‘Pfizer’ funnily enough) knew about the Miracle beforehand and are linked to ditzy but dubious PR lady Jilly Kitzinger, not to mention the CIA and Oswald Danes, makes this start to look like an entirely human conspiracy. We’re roughly a third of the way into this now, and by that point in Children of Earth, we already knew for sure that it was the work of aliens. Here, all we’ve had are some murmurs that the Miracle couldn’t have been worked by any technology on Earth, and Jack’s continuing babble about ‘morphic fields’ (an odd scientific philosophy espoused by biochemist Rupert Sheldrake that sounds suspiciously like The Force out of Star Wars). I suppose there’s also that nifty red cellphone the team nicked from Dennis Nedry Friedkin, which has a screen that shows a mysterious rotating triangle. Triangles are pretty alien, right?

So, no aliens yet, but things are starting to move along a bit, if at a rather leisurely pace. The team’s investigation into Phicorp’s mysterious warehouse was a nice scene, with the Raiders of the Lost Ark/X Files revelation of acres of shelves packed with painkillers. “Bigger on the inside,” says Jack sagely, though I don’t think he meant it literally – I’d be surprised if all of this has been caused by the Time Lords. Elsewhere, after an encounter with some rather violent police officers, Jilly Kitzinger has finally got her claws into Oswald Danes. Oswald’s clearly important – he seems to be the first to experience the Miracle, and now he’s hooked up with Phicorp. Jack, unfathomably, has already worked out that Oswald is significant, leading to an electric confrontation between the two in a TV station green room – all the more electric because we can’t quite work out why Oswald seems so important to Jack. All right, they’ve both caused the death of a child, but Jack at least is genuinely repentant, while Oswald chillingly reveals that all his crocodile tears are fake and, far from regretting it, he considers the murder his greatest moment. It was a well done scene, though I still can’t get used to Bill Pullman’s peculiar delivery, all slurred words and oddly placed pauses. Perhaps he’s in training to play Rupert Murdoch.

I was hoping for great things in the dialogue with Jane Espenson on writing duties this week, but I have to say I was mostly disappointed. The clumsy British/American slang misunderstandings (chips/crisps, ATM/cashpoint etc) were obviously there to establish a bit of friendly banter between the newly formed team, but instead gave the impression that Gwen had never seen an American film or TV show in her life. I think they do show those, even in Wales.

Still, Jack’s sex scene did yield up a couple of nice lines. The obligatory reference to safe sex (every gay sex scene has to have one to show how responsible we all are) was met with a “what’s the point?” attitude, which gave Jack the excellent rejoinder, “a lifetime of regret just got a whole lot longer”. And we were into “oo-er” territory as Rex complained about Jack nicking his painkillers – “Did you get impaled too?” “You should have seen the other guy”. Perhaps he came so hard he forgot where he was…

We did get some nice character development in Jack’s post-coital phone call to Gwen, which actually was germane to the plot. There’s always been this not-so-subtle subtext that Jack and Gwen are attracted to each other, and this looked like Jack actually trying to admit that to her. This was nicely juxtaposed with her video call to Rhys, as she seemed to just ignore Jack as soon as she saw her husband and her baby. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this particular subplot.

And Esther and Rex are now a proper part of the Torchwood team, much to Rex’s annoyance, since they plainly have nowhere else to go. It’s a shame though that, since a strong introduction, Esther seems to be becoming a bit of a whiner. All right, it’s quite realistic that with everything that’s happening, she’d be so concerned about her sister, but it made her seem pretty ineffectual this week as she barely talked of anything else.

Top marks, character-wise, have to go to Jilly Kitzinger, marvellously portrayed by Lauren Ambrose as someone whose ditzy exterior and bright red lipstick mask a cold, bitchy corporate shark. Unlike Pullman’s weird mannerisms, Ambrose is taking the character to blackly humourous but convincing extremes, and that glamourous look combined with deadly serious intent mark her out as the most fun character here yet.

But it’s all still seeming a bit too leisurely for my taste. Children of Earth, with its five episode runtime, started out at full throttle and never let up; Miracle Day, by contrast, seems to be stuck at a slow idle speed. The longer run time does allow for deeper character development, but without a fast moving plot, that makes it more like a soap opera than a science fiction thriller. It’s maintaining my interest without thrilling me; let’s hope as the series progresses that it moves into a higher gear.