It's really hard to pin Torchwood down. Like the old story of the blind men describing an elephant (each one feels only one part of the animal and relates something totally different from the others), what the show is like depends on which episodes you've seen. The first season it was an average, predictable, monster-of-the week episodic show then, in season two, it had a fair bit of continuity and told more of a story. The third season consisted of a single five-episode adventure that was some of the best SF television has to offer. A tight, tense, tale that kept viewers guessing the whole way through and had a lot of surprises, Torchwood: Children of the Earth was broadcast for five consecutive weeknights in
That brings us to the fourth season of Torchwood, subtitled Miracle Day. Once again this Doctor Who spin-off has shed its skin and looks different. Now it's a 10-part single story told in weekly installments and, equally important, it is no longer solely a BBC production. The
At that same time, every member of the CIA gets a one-word e-mail: Torchwood. They look it up and find some cryptic references to a British agency that's been disbanded, but that's all. Desk jockey Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) is talking with field agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) while the latter is driving down the freeway about this mysterious Torchwood when all of a sudden the computer system crashes. When it's rebooted, Torchwood can't be found. Anywhere. All references to it on the entire Internet have been deleted. Esther is giving Rex this astounding news when he gets into a fatal car accident.
Or it would have been fatal, a steal pipe goes through his chest and heart, except that he doesn't die. No one dies that day... in the entire world. It's called Miracle Day. Nor does anyone die the next day, nor the next. The entire human race has become immortal. It's not just that people can live longer, they can not die. If their head is severed from their body, the head and the body both continue living. A man blows himself up with a bomb, but the pieces all survive, and he's still conscious.
While the CIA is actively investigating Miracle Day, Esther is curious about Torchwood, which has obviously been put on the back burner by the agency. She starts searching through paper records and discovers that the members of the agency had a very, very short life expectancy and that they are all dead, except for two: Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) both of whom have disappeared. While searching the archives however, Capt. Jack finds her, and some assassins find him.
Everyone on Earth is immortal, except for the immortal Captain Harkness. Ironically, he's now the only person who can die. He doesn't instantly heal like he used to, and he feels a lot more pain. He wants to find out what's behind this miracle, and so he tracks down Beth, about the same time that the still wounded Rex Matheson does. Rex wants to know what's going on, and he figures the Torchwood e-mail is the best clue that they have. The two CIA agents and the remnants of Torchwood, together with occasional help from Rex's doctor, Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) start to track this miracle down. But with moles filling the CIA, Rex and Esther are soon wanted fugitives. On top of that, society is about to collapse with the population exploding and resources remaining fixed. The governments of the world start taking action, some of it very extreme. Then there's Oswald Danes who, with the help of his PR agent Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) has become an incredibly popular and influential speaker. And just who are the mysterious people pulling Jillian's strings?
The first episode, penned by Torchwood creator Russell T Davies (who also co-wrote the final episode), was excellent and he had me hooked from the start. The concept was interesting, the new characters had potential and the higher budget was clearly evident. The show slowly went downhill from there, and by the end of the serial I was pretty disillusioned.
The main problem was that the story was way too long. It would have worked much better as a five-episode season. Most of the time is spent following red herrings that don't really advance the plot. In one of the commentary tracks Davies mentions that it was his intention to write the season like that. After all, people don't always find the right path to follow the first time. That's true, but in a TV show you don't show someone sleeping for an entire eight hours either. Watching the team track something down for four episodes only to have them come up empty handed was a let down. And these false trails took up more time than it did to track down what was really happening once they were onto the scent.
There were several extraneous characters that got a lot of air time too (I'm looking at you Jilly and Dane). I don't mean characters I didn't like, but ones that if they'd been left out of the script the plot wouldn't have changed. Why were these people included? While I was watching the show I was expecting something meaningful to happen with them. After the fact it just seemed like padding. Since they were the least interesting characters in the show the program would have been a lot stronger without them.
It was hard to connect with some of the new characters too. Russell T Davies and John Barrowman give introductions to each episode (warning: these intros contain mild spoilers along the lines of "someone dies in this episode and you'll be surprised at who it is!") and they often describe Danes as the man "you love to hate." I didn't love him or hate him. He was very bland. Yeah, he was a killer, but the person we saw on screen didn't seem evil and wasn't lusting after children. In fact the time he portrayed the strongest emotion was when someone had given him a prostitute and he wanted to take her to dinner instead of having sex because he'd never been on a date with a girl before. He comes across as pitiful and lonely.
One of the problems is that the American cast, the actresses in particular, weren't that good. They weren't bad, it's just they were picked because they had huge tits, great hair and lovely faces first, and their acting talent was a far second. Alexa Havins is a good example. We're supposed to care about Esther a lot, but I couldn't really. She does a lot of really stupid things, especially for someone who is supposed to be a CIA analyst, but I couldn't make an emotional connection. When her sister goes a bit crazy and she's worried about her nieces, she reports her to Child Protective Services. The actress went through the motions as if it was a hard thing to do, but I never felt it. Compare that to Eve Myles who has to leave her baby daughter to go and save the world. You can feel her heart breaking as she does it. Myles is a great actress, though she won't win any beauty contests, and the series is much better with her in a strong role rather than some pretty face.
Most of the time the group is fighting a faceless conspiracy, and that's never exciting, but dragging it out for as long as this series did I was hoping for a good payoff. Unfortunately, the ending was a real let down too. I won't spoil anything, but suffice to say that when all is said and done, a lot of what happened early in the series (the original e-mail for example), while explained, turns out to be pretty stupid and the ultimate explanation wasn't very convincing. There are more than a few plot holes too, so you'll have to be willing to overlook those.
That's not to say that the whole series is worthless. It's not. Much of it was enjoyable to watch. Torchwood is a SF/horror blend, and they do a great job with the creeps in this story. There are a lot of horrific scenes in the show that are quite effective. When the doctor is talking over a covered body about the assassin who blew himself up with a bomb, everyone figures that it's going to be pretty gross to see what's underneath. When he lifts the sheet and viewers see the burned, charred parts underneath it's not really a shock, but it is when the head, attached to part of a torso an a bit of one arm, opens it's eye. There are several sequences like that sprinkled through the show that remind people that TV can do horror too.
Some individual installments are excellent too. Episode seven is a prime example. This is mostly set in 1927 and recalls Jack coming to
Davies is a great idea man and he came up with a dozy for this serial. The strength of the show is watching how society deals with the fact that nobody dies, but people can still become very sick and horribly wounded. One of the things that they have to do is reverse the way hospital triage patients. Instead of treating the people with life-threatening wounds first, they go last. There are no life-threatening wounds, but beds are in short supply so they help the people that they can get out of the door the quickest first, so that they'll have more room.
How would the economy work? What about pension plans that now have to pay out benefits eternally instead of for several years? They go under. That means more people are looking for jobs. Higher unemployment. Soon there's a worldwide recession that turns into a depression. And that doesn't even address what you do with the people who as so wounded that they can never recover, but are still alive and using resources. It's some pretty interesting stuff and this series is worth watching just to see how they hypothesize how the world would adapt and react.
The Blu-ray Set:
This series comes on four Blu-ray discs in a foldout booklet. There are two overlapping discs per page and the whole thing is held by a slipcase.
The show comes with a DTS HD 5.1 audio track which sounds very nice. The full soundstage is used and several scenes are particularly effective in putting the viewer right in the middle of the action. The subwoofer gets some work, but not too much. Overall a nice sounding show that I can't really complain about.
The 16:9 1080i image looks very good too. (It's a British show and due to the video format in the
The extras are okay, but not fantastic. There are commentary tracks on the first and last episode with Russell T Davis and executive producer, Julie Gardner. I didn't have time to listen to them in their entirety, but what I heard was interesting. They discuss the genesis of the series and talk about some scenes that weren't filmed that sound interesting. I just that some of the actors had been brought in to give their take on the show, especially Barrowman and Myles.
As mentioned earlier, there are introductions to all 10 episodes by Davies and Barrowman that automatically play before every installment. I actually didn't like these. They contained mild spoilers and are a bit too over-the-top. Both of the presenters are just too excited about the show and it seems a bit artificial, and they're talking to the viewer like he's a challenged eight-year-old. You can hit the chapter skip button to jump past them.
There are two Torchwood: Declassified featurettes, one on the special effects, and one is a behind-the-scenes special. In addition there's a motion comic that runs about half an hour, Web of Lies, that originally appeared on the Starz web site. Finally there are some deleted scenes. After viewing you'll realize that the right decision was made to excise those bits.
The Torchwood team is back with some new members, but it's not as good and the last season's story. While Miracle Day is overly long and ultimately isn't as satisfying as it should be, there are enough interesting ideas and good sequences to make it worth watching, especially for fans of the show. Just don't go in expecting something on par with 2009's Children of Earth, you should be fine. Make it a rental, just to be on the safe side.