Prosecution: It’s coming up to a year now since Torchwood ’s gamechanging fourth series, which arrived in blaze of excited hype and wimpered out with a national shrug of, “Oh, was that it?” Yes, in the dock this week, M’lud is Miracle Day .
Defence: Why all the hate and bile? Because it wasn’t Children Of Earth ? As stellar as series three was, can we say it was really Torchwood ? Where was the fun? Where was the sliver of silliness? Where was the man-on-man humping?
Prosecution: Ahem. We put forward that Torchwood: Miracle Day was a fantastic concept in search of a better execution. And five fewer episodes.
Defence: So, what’s your beef? That it wasn’t direct enough and it didn’t tell its complex, layered story in the fewest amount of episodes, to cater for your sluggish attention span?
Prosecution: There’s nothing wrong in a 10-episode story, it’s just that Miracle Day – or at least Miracle Day as storylined by Russell T Davies – wasn’t up to the task. What experience did Russell T Davies have in keeping a single story afloat for that amount of time? Miracle Day is stretched so thin at some points it starts to resemble Lady Cassandra.
Defence: Oh, don’t be so... conventional. We love a series that can have so many flavours within it, that can wander off on so many tangents. You watch episode six of a Breaking Bad or a 24 , and it’s broadly the same as episode one or episode 12. Miracle Day , on the other hand, had the confidence to flit across from the main story for one week to have a gay-themed flashback episode like “Immortal Sins”. People have lambasted about how little overt science fiction there is in Miracle Day , but what other series could flashback its hero to 1927?
Prosecution: How many would want to? It’s all very well to applaud its “bravery”, but what’s the use of courage when half the audience is either bored, confused or has switched over? Anyway, let’s talk about this new Americanised Torchwood : did the much-vaunted transatlanticism give it a new lease of life? No. It just looked like a shotgun marriage of a mismatched couple, a sad fusion of season one Torchwood with Fringe and 24 .
Defence: Again, name me any other series that could jump from a terraced house in Cardiff to Los Angeles in a heartbeat?
Prosecution: Oh, so you think The Walking Dead would be made better for the occasional scene in Huddersfield? Or that the next series of Dexter should have its serial killer from Taunton?
Defence: What I’m saying is that this story felt genuinely global. We love the home-baked familiarity of Cardiff sitting alongside the sun-baked gloss of the American locations. All that felt cheekily original. If anything the series didn’t make enough of it. How amazing would it have been to see an actor like Bill Pullman in a Splott boozer or on the beach at Mumbles?
Prosecution: We’re glad you brought Bill Pullman up there. Why didn’t somebody try to reign that guy in? He’s a brilliant actor normally, but seems to have decided to do Oswald Danes like he’s playing a baddie in an episode of Chucklevision.
Defence: What’s wrong in seeing an actor enjoy his performance? Anyway, he’s a child murderer who gets a kick out of being perceived as evil incarnate. He probably had blu-tacked pictures of Hannibal Lector on his wall in prison, while doing his best Anthony Hopkins in the mirror. He’s a nutter who knows he’s a nutter and loves being a nutter!
Prosecution: While we’re on the subject of rocky performances, we give you Mekhi Phifer’s turn as Rex Matheson. One day he may master a facial expression doesn’t look as though he’s chewed a wasp’s nest. Given the old Torchwood’s shunning of action-adventure archetypes, in favour of geek-friendly characters, played by actors who looked like real people, Miracle Day ’s casting choices – particularly Phifer and Alexa Havins as Esther Drummond – are disappointingly generic.
Defence: But isn’t that part of Miracle Day ’s strength? That it’s a welding of the old Torchwood , with a different kind of show? There’s something so funny about seeing Phifer’s shit-chewing CIA agent next to the amiable PC Andy, or seeing Esther Drummond shooting plot points with Gwen Cooper. It’s like putting a bottle of Daddy’s Sauce next to a Key Lime Pie. Brilliant. And mad.
Prosecution: But one of the defining characteristics of the old Torchwood was plonking big, great science fiction monsters onto streets we recognise. Where were the aliens in Miracle Day ? Were Davies and co scared of being seen as silly sci-fi show with monsters? Because that’s what Torchwood used to be, and we loved its confidence in being that.
Defence: So, you don’t like a television programme to evolve? To grow up? Without Torchwood burning its potty, we wouldn’t have had Children Of Earth . Miracle Day took a sizzlingly original sci-fi concept, and explored its ramifications on a wide and dramatic canvas. Sorry if there wasn’t a horned beast to satiate your inner eight-year-old. Maybe grown-up SF isn’t for you.
Prosecution: Well, maybe tightly-written, sharply focused SF that delivers on its promises isn’t for you ! So, how can you stand there and defend Miracle Day ’s wimpy conclusion, that after nine weeks of waiting, we spend the episode looking at a giant vagina. And not in a good way.
Defence: How hokey would it have been to solve the mystery of Miracle Day with a gang of aliens cackling round a cauldron? This was a sophisticated SF answer more informed more by the Gaia hypothesis than anything from Star Trek: Voyager .
Prosecution: After nine weeks, we’d have loved a Dalek in there. Just to cheer us up. But we contend that Miracle Day was a failure. Children Of Earth could have been the triumphant full stop on the Torchwood series, yet it came back. Now, with a cliffhanging finale of Rex being revealed as immortal, it looks like Torchwood ’s dead in the water. Russell, you’ve done this the wrong way round!
Defence: But what a fantastic end! We love it when a series ends up in the air like that. It’s part of Twin Peaks ’ enduring mystique that its final cliffhanger was never solved. Or Sapphire & Steel ’s last episode. If it is the last we’ve seen of it, we can live with that final scene as Torchwood ’s TV bow.
Prosecution: Well, we hope that this is it now for Torchwood . It had its chance to wow us with its new American friends and blew it.
Defence: Don’t write it off too swiftly. Like Captain Jack and Rex, Torchwood has been pronounced dead before, and has risen from the grave. Give it a few years and we may yet see the fifth coming of the Torchwood team.
Prosecution: Hmm. No, let’s hope, like Gwen’s Dad, it’s finally dead this time.
Defence: Whatever your opinion of Miracle Day , you know that any Torchwood take five would be very different again. Would you really want to deny us that?
Read previous Isn’t It About Time? articles