Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 6

The Middle Men


It’s a tighter, more focused episode for Torchwood this week, once again in the scripting hands of X Files veteran John Shiban. Having revealed the new world order’s Holocaust re-enactment plans last week, the team turn this week to action and how best to deal with the new death camps. The only other story strand this time is Jack’s continuing investigation of Phicorp, which means that there’s no room for Oswald Danes or Jilly Kitzinger this week.

But it’s fair to say that there’s enough going on here for that to have little effect; indeed, my other half Barry didn’t even notice their absence, only asking some while after watching if we’d seen Oswald or Jilly this week.

As some consolation for the absence of everyone’s favourite child murderer and PR shark, however, we did get another of those rather good one episode guest shots. This week it was Ernie Hudson, exhibiting considerably more charisma than he did as ‘the forgotten Ghostbuster’ Winston Zeddmore (Winston does actually get the last line in Ghostbusters, yet no one mentions him in the same breath as Venkman, Spengler and Stantz). Hudson was convincingly commanding (and a little sleazy) as adulterous Phicorp chief Stuart Owens; the part effectively required him to appear in only two scenes, but he made an impression.

As did Jack’s sting operation on him, achieved by opening the eyes of his starstruck mistress and secretary Janet. John Barrowman was at his campest here; as he used his insider knowledge of Stuart and Janet’s affair to suss what drink Janet would like in her glass, he offered her the option of getting back at her duplicitous lover, “or we could sit here all night drinking appletinis and discussing men”. Later, he once again displayed his coat’s uncanny ability to woo cute service staff, suggesting to a camp young coat check boy that, “maybe the three of us should get together… you, me and the coat”. Damn. I’ve got two military greatcoats, but I have to say, they’ve never been helpful in the way that Jack’s seems to be. Perhaps he’s sprayed it with alien pheromones…

Fortunately he wasn’t wearing it when he crossed to Stuart and Mrs Owens’ table to put his plan into action – perhaps the coat check boy was sniffing it in the cloakroom. Ably dispatching Mrs Owens in short order by dropping her husband right in it with news of his affair, Jack got to sit down and have a good old chinwag with the bloke who he thought, logically enough, could give him all the answers. But John Shiban used to write for The X Files, and he knows the tricks – you only provide answers if they’re going to lead to more questions. Thankfully Miracle Day only has a ten episode run; after nine seasons’ worth of this in The X Files, it had grown more than a little tiresome.

So Jack’s meeting with Stuart, played as a kind of conspiracy version of My Dinner with Andre, led us to the knowledge that he was “just the middle man”. So Phicorp are only a part of the rotating triangle people’s plan, and it’s much bigger than that. Stuart knew nothing of the “specific geography” mentioned by ‘the Gentleman’ in Episode 4, but he was earlier seen to send a Phicorp operative to investigate some mysterious land purchases in Shanghai. Said operative duly wandered around whichever part of LA they’d dressed up with neon to resemble Shanghai, before peering through a fence and seeing something that apparently motivated him to jump off a very high building in some kind of trance. He seemed to be an early adopter of a new trend known as the ’45 Club’ – people jumping from 45th floors in the attempt to get themselves as nearly dead as is currently possible.

Stuart passed this information on to Jack, along with confirming that this had been in the works for a very long time, “at least since 1990”, and dropping hints about something called “the blessing”. As it seems unlikely that the Catholic Church are behind it all, who knows what this could mean? Certainly not Jack, who decided the best approach to finding out would be to Google it.

With the investigation and exposition falling to Jack again this week, the rest of the team filled us in with some actual action. Rex and Esther were still trapped in the San Pedro overflow camp, under lockdown in the aftermath of Vera’s ‘murder’. And Gwen and Rhys were still trying to get Gwen’s dad out of the Welsh facility before they had to do so in an urn.

With the Holocaust analogy presented so starkly in last week’s episode, comparatively little time was spent dwelling on it this week. We did get an impassioned, and rather well-written, exchange between Gwen and Dr Patel, a medical functionary at the camp portrayed by Hollyoaks’ Lena Kaur. Dr Patel (presumably no coincidence that she was non-white) was yet another ‘middle man’, her “just following orders” philosophy deliberately reminiscent of the defences at the Nuremberg trials. A wordless exchange between Gwen and an obviously conscience-stricken cleaning lady helping her escape was a nice touch, their looks conveying far more of the staff’s moral dilemmas and courage in resistance than any amount of dialogue.

Meanwhile in California, Rex was similarly moved by righteous anger, though Mekhi Phifer’s conveyance of this was rather more overplayed than Eve Myles. Staring into his little camera, he angrily disavowed his loyalty to the CIA in favour of Torchwood – finally. Unfortunately for him, he fell foul of the increasingly skittish Colin Maloney (Marc Vann again superbly loathsome this week). Colin completes the triumvirate of ‘middle men’ to which the episode title refers, and he got a really nasty bit of business in which he decided to downgrade Rex to Category 1 by means of sticking a pen in his still open chest wound – a sequence that actually made me wince.

Luckily for Rex, the redoubtable Esther was on hand to rescue him by killing Colin as much as she could. Which turned out not to be enough, as he re-enacted every Friday the 13th movie’s cliché of grabbing her ankle in a shock moment to reveal that he wasn’t as ‘dead’ as he looked. He hadn’t counted on his aide shooting him though – Fred Koehler did well as little Ralph finally found some balls. Nice move shooting your own boss (and perhaps boyfriend – anyone else get that vibe from the two of them?).

Gwen and Rhys had slightly less trouble escaping from, and somewhat improbably actually blowing up, the Welsh camp. Nevertheless, it made for a cool action movie image as Gwen zoomed away from the exploding hangars on a motorbike, and Rhys charged the gate in an army truck that the sentries seemed unfathomably unable to shoot at with any accuracy. A bit of honest action was a nice counterpoint to all the exposition and moral angst, though it did feel that the tone was veering wildly from ‘dark examination of humanity’s depths’ to ‘let’s blow shit up’.

Finally returning to LA – do these people never get jet lag? – Gwen was somewhat disturbed that this week’s cliffhanger involved the rotating triangle people having hacked into the magic contact lenses to inform her that they had captured her entire family, and if she wanted to see them again, she’d have to bring them Jack.

So Jack’s still instrumental in all this, and as yet we don’t know how. We don’t even know yet (it’s episode 6, remember) whether the rotating triangle people are aliens or some dark conspiracy of humans – though it’s worth remembering the exchange in episode 2 about this involving “no technology on Earth”. Also, we’ve refreshingly seen no more gratuitous sex since episode 3, though I wonder how long that can last. Next week, perhaps more answers. Or more shagging. But hopefully, a definite return for Oswald and Jilly – I would miss them if they were absent for two episodes in a row.

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 3

Dead of Night


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.