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Torchwood: Miracle Day

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // April 3, 2012
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 4, 2012 | E-mail the Author
The Show:


 


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 w:st="on">England,
an unusual way of showing an entire season's worth of shows that worked
wonderfully.  It was acclaimed by critics
and fans alike and though that story wrapped up the series, it gained a
second
life due to the strength of that serial.
 


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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 w:st="on">US
premium
network Starz is a co-producer and that means higher production values,
American locations, and American actresses with large breasts who
aren't nearly
as good at their craft as their British counterparts. 
But the big question is: How does this longer
serial compare to the high
point

created by Children of the Earth? 
Not very well unfortunately.  It's
overly long, bloated, and has some oddly
extraneous characters that get a lot of screen time but ultimately end
up
adding nothing to the plot.


 


In Kentucky,
Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) is about to be put to death for raping and
killing
a 12-year-old girl (at his trial when asked why he did it, he said "she
didn't
run fast enough.")  They put the lethal
chemicals into his arm and he goes into convulsions, but he doesn't die.


 


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.style=""> 
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.style="">  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.


 


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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.style=""> 


 


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:style="">  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.style="">  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.style="">  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?


 


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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.style="">  In one of the commentary tracks Davies
mentions that it was his intention to write the season like that.style="">  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.


 


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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.style="">  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.style="">  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.style="">  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.


 


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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.style="">  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 America
and meeting an Italian immigrant who he ends up falling for.style="">  Their story is touching and interesting, and
thought it does have a lot of gay sex which may turn off some viewers,
it's one
of the best episodes in the season.


 


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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.


 


Audio:


 


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.


 


Video:


 


The 16:9 1080i image looks very good too.  (It's
a British show and due to the video
format in the UK
it's not practical to convert the image to 1080p.) 
The level of detail is very good to excellent
and the colors are fantastic.  In episode
seven, the one that takes place in 1927, the scenes in the past have a
slight
sepia tint that works very nicely to give the picture an old-time feel
without
marring the presentation.  There was some
crosscolorization in one of two scenes in the background that I
noticed, but it
was minor.


 


Extras:


 


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.style="">  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.style="">  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.style="">  Finally there are some deleted scenes.style="">  After viewing you'll realize that the right
decision was made to excise those bits.  


 


Final Thoughts:


 


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.
Buy from Amazon.com

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