Revisiting Torchwood: Miracle Day

Feature Andrew Blair 3 Jan 2013 - 07:31

Andrew's Torchwood look-back reevaluates the often maligned Miracle Day, a series that's far from being without merit...

This feature contains Torchwood spoilers.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a short article, but, as it turns out, I would watch Miracle Day if someone paid me to do it.

Considering the series' reputation you'd be forgiven for thinking it has no redeeming features (it has), had poor AI (it didn't), and was critically panned (it wasn't). Its viewing figures were solid, but unexceptional. Its Audience Appreciation Index scores were firmly in the 'Good - Excellent' range, but it is regarded as being overlong, inconsistent and lacking in aliens. So, what does Miracle Day do well? 

It's best to think of Miracle Day as being another series one for Torchwood. It's a first attempt, a series that would doubtless improve if given the chance to focus on its successes, as series two did before. The intertron has no time for romantic notions of exploring new territories and expanding horizons, we want commodity and we want it now. 

The most obvious positives from Miracle Day are its characters: the regulars/survivors are all present and correct, albeit with a surprisingly low-key Captain Jack. If you don't like them by now, then that isn't going to change. Just for variety, and because everyone else is dead, Miracle Day introduces us to Rex Matheson (Mekhi Pfifer), Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) and Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman). 

Mekhi Pfifer is given a much better charismatic dickhead to play than Burn Gorman. In contrast Bill Pullman, Russell T. Davies and his fellow writers really don't soften how horrible Oswald Danes is at all, all the while setting him up as a new saint via careful deployment of Jilly Kitzinger, the modern Prometheus. 

Kitzinger is happily complicit in the promotion of the miracle via Danes, whom she despises. Outwardly dippy and blathering, suppressing her own feelings to do her job, Jilly is driven by ambition that, if not naked, is definitely performing the dance of the seven veils. The fact that Danes is set up as a figure of benevolence, inspiring almost religious devotion is one of the best aspects of Miracle Day: the media can generate reverence in anyone, even the most loathsome individual whose crimes are widely known to the general public. That Danes' character is unforgiveable - yet charismatic and captivating  - is an indictment of a media capable of sanitising absolutely anything to further an agenda. 

Rex Matheson's character also addresses Torchwood's cheerful disregard for common sense and strategy (we witness plenty of their 'Hiding in Plain Sight' style of espionage), mainly by telling them that they're wrong and stupid. Throughout Miracle Day Rex is usually right when he warns people not to do things, but no-one listens to him, because he's really angry and it's fun winding him up (and besides he'll probably shoot at it later). Imagine how much shorter series one and two of Torchwood would have been if Rex been there. 

In Escape to L.A. Esther Drummond (the new Tosh) is proving herself classic Torchwood Agent material: during a top secret mission she makes a highly personal call and is upset when she gets her sister incarcerated and her children placed into foster care. This ever so slightly compromises things. Then Gwen gets a call from Rhys. Textbook. Fortunately Mekhi Pfifer is snarling and on the case: A surly, pill-chugging, cocksure wise-ass with a soft underbelly, Rex is like America: The Guy. 

Miracle Day suffers from following the most popular series of Torchwood. The idea of avoiding an alien big bad and focussing on human exploitation of the paranormal is a sound one. A situation develops where idealism and hope aren't enough, and people are reduced to living in a world not unlike Stalinist Russia: purges, repression, acceptance. The gamble of doing something different for the series' underlying mystery doesn't entirely pay off, but that isn't to say the concept is bad. Indeed, it's taking some of the most successful elements from Children of Earth and trying to put a fresh twist on them. 

The scenes of the British Cabinet trying to establish a procedure for selecting children is just a bunch of people in a room, talking, but put into an impossible position. Miracle Day seems to have been extrapolated from this idea, increased in scale to a point where there is public support for death camps. Whereas the public fought back in Children of Earth, here they are overwhelmed and complicit. The episodes featuring these are where the Biblical scale comes to the fore. New messiahs, new communication channels to preach down, new Jesuses with unwilling PRs. Aliens and villains are a means to an end, plot-wise, like the crop-destroying plague in The Death of Grass. It's how people react to things that makes them interesting, right? Ideally the plot device will be intrinsically interesting too, but that doesn't mean it has to come from outer space. 

Also, theoretically, it is considered a plus when science-fiction predicts future events, yeah? 

For example, in the wake of the NHS Bill in the UK and the ongoing Obamacare issues in the States, Miracle Day seems very prescient. There's a death camp run by the kind of man you expect to see played by Ricky Gervais, a man who snaps and immolates people alive because he can't handle criticism. There's a pharmaceutical giant run by whatsisname from Ghostbusters that's using the situation to sell more drugs and is getting a death-fixated paedophile to act as a spokesman. Extreme, perhaps hyperbolic, yes, but it's easy to read this as a critique of privatised medicare especially with the benefit of hindsight. 

With the co-production from Starz hoping to win new viewers overseas, we are also treated to another demonstration of how immortality and long-term relationships are awkward bedfellows. Angelo and Jack are in love, and Angelo has received some character development: he is surely going to die. The only surprise is that it's of old age, and after a Daniel Day-Lewis cosplayer troupe hack Jack up in a basement. A largely self-contained episode, Immortal Sins has a gleeful abandon more akin to something from the original run and demonstrates that the serial can progress while an episode has its own internal story going on. 

At the time of writing, we do not know if Torchwood will return to television. It has been continued in the form of audiobooks and novels in the meantime. If another series is ever made with Starz, more episodes along these lines would be welcomed, although I for one would welcome a series based entirely around Jack, Gwen, Rex and Jilly travelling around in a van solving mysteries. 

Either way, it might give people cause to re-evaluate Miracle Day as a series that is far from being without merit.

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It had a lot of very nice ideas, it had a quite solid concept and it mostly wasted them, you had a huge cult of mask wearing people for a bit that just vanish, there's a unexpected and unexplained time jump of months the entire premise was never really sold that well.

Sorry, but the series was rubbish. The main guys were crap and their plan ridiculous.

Sorry, but Miracle Day wasn't very good at all.

I did enjoy parts of this series but I just couldnt get my head round why they made one of the major characters a paedophile, after brutally killing off Jacks grandson at the end of the last series too, its hard to believe its a spin off of Doctor Who.

One thing you never mentioned is Murray Gold's appalling score (and before anyone says anything, I am usually a fan). Ben Foster, the regular Torchwood composer, did a fantastic job with Children of Earth. It's a shame because Torchwood is defined by its bombastic nature (and by extension the music) and I feel a score from Foster would have helped define Miracle Day.

That being said there is a lot to like about Miracle Day. The characters are uniformly strong (even a slightly subdued Jack works), the helicopter chase across the beach shouts to the viewer: Welcome back!, the scale is ambitious, episode 5 (The Categories of Life) is superb and the general ideas/themes are all strong. Admittedly it does drop the baton several times - some episodes are redundant, sluggish and sloppy. It's also a couple of episodes too long.

It's meant to be a dark series.

i loved torchwood but the quality was really bad/good depending on the scene for me. plus the actual creator of miracle day is a massive earth sized vagina....

Is this the one with the giant vagina?

Ive got no problems with dark and watching Jacks grandson die with blood pouring out of his head was as dark as it needed to go that was right on the edge of being too much but it worked and provoked a strong reaction in me when watching. Oswald didnt he was a vile character and I was never comfortable watching a paedophile being pushed forward as a main character and even being a bit heroic in the end, it was uncomfortable to watch. The show is suppose to be entertaining too and the whole plot strand felt unnecessary.

I would have no issue with Torchwood introducing a paedophile, but the problem was this character was played as a pantomine villian most of the time and ended up serving no purpose at all. Take Oswald Daines out of the equation and the story wouldn't have changed. It was like "oh look, we have a pedo in our show! Ain't we dark!" This character would have worked much better if he was a convicted murderer who wanted to change but was extremely mixed up, and sacrificed himself at the end as an ending to a redemption arc. But, ya know.

It was ludicrous. Too much reliance on the cliche of 'badly focused tv news clips' and a massive let-down of a final episode. The 'gay episode' was completely unnecessary to the story and blatantly there to serve the writer's indulgence. I think Torchwood had a promising future after Children Of Earth but Miracle Day has scuppered it.

While I enjoyed TW:MD it was indeed longer than needed, which made it drag in the middle.

Wat I would like in Series 5 is that Torchwood returns to be a institute like it was before Doctor Who Series 2: Doomsday. Minus the imperial ambitions of course. Until now the orgnisation bled to death in the aftermath of that DW episode.

There are a lot of things that need to be resolved on screen. First of course is the cliffhanger of Miracle Day. Second is the Rift in Cardiff. The Rift has been closed in a pre-MD radiodrama from the BBC, but a mention of this event on screen would be helpfull for the (lot) people who didn't listen to that. Third and last: fix the continuation errors! Torchwood is as good as dead at the moment, while in the future Torchwood should have had a lot to say as an institute and later as an archive. Example: the disappereance of the entire public of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in DW: Fear Her. Torchwood made a public statement on the event. How are they going to do that without a being a organisation let alone without an PR department?

If they are going to travel around in a van, can I put in a vote for them having a dog, maybe one called Scooby?

I wonder if the Doctor will ever address the Magic Vagina running through the centre of the Earth?

"Miracle Day suffers from following the most popular series of Torchwood" - nah, Miracle Day suffers from being too afraid to explore its own concept, too keen to delve into gratuitous violence, nowhere near enough story for its run time and, most of all, from being a Doctor Who spin off.

The great shame of Miracle Day is you have a fantastic concept with a TON of potential for asking morally-unsolvable questions and they utterly waste it. They raise a few of those questions (the camps and disposal of the 'dead' f'instance) but then rather than explore them and realise there isn't a good answer to a terrible problem it comes over all Big Damn Heroes and we're supposed to accept that Torchwood does everything right and the government are the bad guys. This was something CoE did brilliantly well, yes the decisions made were terrible but... you could see both sides of the argument. Not here.

The violence thing I'll freely admit to being a very personal thing but for me far too often they showed violence and horrifying injury when not only was it not necessary but it would have been far more effective to leave it to the imagination.

And then there's the Doctor Who connection and this is where, to me, it all falls down. CoE you could sorta buy as a very short period and a problem that didn't technically need Timelord intervention. But Miracle Day... it affected the whole planet, thousands (if not many many more) people would suffer and die as a result and it went on for months. There's just no way that the Doctor wouldn't have become involved in that sort of crisis. Hell isn't he ON EARTH during the time period of Miracle Day with Amy and Rory in Leadworth?

Frustratingly there was the seed of a good idea here but it was ultimately wasted. In some ways they may have been better off developing it as a totally new show as the Torchwood connection really doesn't add much. Massively disappointing.

This series killed Torchwood. It was utter rubbish. The american influence was too strong and made the share a sad, sad laugh at best. Children of Earth should've ended Torchwood. That show had depth and heart and pain and meaning. This Miracle Day crap was just that. Ranking the series in order of awesomeness, 3, 1, 2, and a long way back, 4. It's no wonder there's been no 5 after all this time.

The ideas behind it were brilliant, but the way it was presented and played out were awful. A world where no-one dies? Brilliant! Love it! But it all happened because of something to do with Jack...not very exciting. Why not bring in an alien, or someone like Mrs Wormwood? I would have loved that. It needed to use more DW elements, and be influenced by it a bit more. After all, this is a spin-off of DOCTOR WHO. Where was my alien? Where was my classic story? Where was my non-crappy time travel? Where was my big finale?

I actually enjoyed most of Miracle Day. Unfortunately, the journey to get to the resolution was a lot better than the resolution actually was.

Excellent premise poorly executed. Bloated and self-indulgent, it was finally the series in which my hatred of Gwen Cooper became so bad I wanted her to die painfully. Lost the culture of Torchwood by moving it to the US.

Awful. Just awful.

Yes, they wouldn't have commissioned the show without Barrowman.

Agreed. That "gay" episode was totally out of place, and was mostly filler. It was like the producers said, "Wait, Capt. Jack hasn't had any gay scenes this season, let's put the story on hold, and give him a whole episode." It didn't really serve the story at all.
And before people start getting all in my face about the gay comments, I would've had the same opinion for any sex episode (gay or straight) that takes away from the story.

He did. He sorted Amy's crack in Series 5

My views seem to mirror that of the majority.

It had so much potential. The premise was very strong and so were many of the concepts. I can remember thinking after 'the categories of life' (I think, the one where one of them died in the chambers) that the show had finally realized itself and was going to become as excellent as Children of Earth, but it didn't even come close. The Oswald story arc was interesting but manifested into absolutely nothing, the cult sub-plot was a great idea, but was never developed even slightly, there was potential for new, interesting people, but Vera, who was a good character, was killed off, and Rex and Esther were terrible. I liked Jilly though, and despite the lack of any fruition, the Oswald arc did start off quite well. I've forgotten the majority of it now, and I have no intention of remembering it, but it is a real shame that so much potential was wasted towards the long drawn-out crap fest we were witness to.

If we do get another season, and I hope we do, we better not get 'the family' again, possibly the worst villains ever, and Rex should be gotten rid of ASAP. We need characters are strong as Ianto was, and Owen and Tosh were in season 2. Not people as dull as Rex and Esther were. Torchwood has the potential to be extraordinary, just look at Children of Earth, and if not extraordinary, still very, very good, like season 2. But if RTD is planning on anything like Miracle Day or season 1, I hope he doesn't bother. I'd like a return to a rebuilt Torchwood base, back in Cardiff, with no Rex and decent new characters. That's all I want really. I'd like Jilly, but if I remember correctly she was pretty evil.

I think the consensus is that the writing/storytelling has been wildly inconsistent, like RTD is paying attention, now he's not.

We had the best times, we had the worst times. MD falls in the last category. I've never thought that it would be possible for a creator to ruin his own show so thoroughly in one stroke, but RTD didi it. Rex was one of the worst characters I've ever seen and who had the idea that a pedophile would make a good messias? Don't get me started on how they treated Jack in his own show. He was just back on the sidelines and good for some sex and/or gay jokes, because saint Cooper is oh so brilliant and needs to be the center of the show. And who the f**** said,oh let's forget about Jack being immortal because of the Vortex, it is all in his blood. That was just plain WRONG!

People often argue this, but MD could've easily been 5-episodes. Half of it was just tiresome running around.

Plus, TW finally spins off into its own world and cuts most ties with the Whoniverse. It doesn't really match up to Earth as seen in Who Series 5, and the whole MD plot is just weird - Jack becomes mortal because of a huge alien vagina in the Earth? Okay then.

Another thing about MD is the lack of familiarity. Owen's gone, Tosh's gone, Ianto's gone, the base has gone. There's a danger of it feeling like, well, this could be any show now with big Super Hero People.

what i think was the issue with it was the disregard of the audience Jack was a family character so kids will stay up and honestly that 7 minute sex scene just way tooo long

You're right. The exploration of the concept was far more interesting than the ultimate resolution of it. That said, I don't think they needed a ridiculous alien race to be behind it. Children of Earth worked because the aliens weren't the thrust of it: humans were, and they were the moments where Miracle Day worked best.

His "heroic sacrifice" was supposed to be uncomfortable. He went out warning his victim that she had better start running in hell. On the one hand he was sacrificing himself to save the world, but on the other hand he was still the despicable creep he had always been. His death was supposed to leave you conflicted.

I agreed with your Doctor argument. It was too big an event for the Doctor not to notice, and if it was a fixed point in time, we could at least got a mention in Doctor Who of some sorts? Besides, I don't know what David Tennant is doing these days, but we don't really need the current Doctor Who Doctor to come along, do we? The Tenth Doctor could sweep in the time period before The End of Time story.

A fifth series is still a possibility. The BBC and Starz! where satisfied with the results and are waiting for Russel T. Davies to write a new storyline. The trouble is he moved back to the UK because something personal. So his US projects are on the backburner. Personally I wonder why he doesn't give Torchwood to a new showrunner. He is just to busy with too much.

I loved series 1 and 2, series 3 just went a bit far I thought and Miracle Day was just a bit to dragged out. It could have probably fit in 2 - 3 hours realistically. I also felt Miracle Day hadn't enough reference to Doctor Who which is the parent show! In the first series, the rift, appearances from dw companions and the TARDIS kept it relevant to DW. But Miracle Day saw the show move away from this which ruined it for me. I watch it because I love DW and it's great to see the side stories to the Doctors adventures. I'd love to see it return, but I'd prefer a collection of different stories that make a series rather than one big storyline. Much like series 1 and 2.

Personally, I had no problem with the American influences. The series-layout didn't really suit the UK...we don't exactly have the scale that the US do. It was the production and the resolutions that I didn't enjoy.

the BBC as far as I know have remained very sillent about MD apaart from answering some homo phobic complaints

The acting was overdramatic throughout and they actually managed to ruin Rhys for me.Gwen was way over the top and Captain Jack was left to wander around like an actor looking for a lucid plot or better still an alien.Owen was at least amusing and intelligient,Rex was none of these.Much of the exploration of the premis was oversimplified,obvious or pretentious and there was to much extraneous material.The current fashion for killing off as many of the cast as possible is becoming boring but even more so when the lack of good/interesting characterisation means you do not care.Without the British wit and quirkiness the " cheerful disregard for common sense " bordered on farce.Oswald Danes was irrelevent at best;insulting to victims of child abuse at worse and sorry but the acting again was overdone-all those sneaky looks and grimaces,Basically it was Torchwood with out its heart and soul.I saw it through to the end out of loyalty but if Torchwood returns in this format again i will not be watching--i have pretty much moved on to better things anyway.RTD said in a recent interview he was not planning to return to the USA -so hopefully this is either the end of the Starz collaboration or the end of Torchwood

The first sex scene was titilating cheese and nothing more--i just rolled my eyes-the second was better but lacked any real passion-both were way too long

i so agree about the violence-some of the scenes just felt like they had been included for shock value-but that was what Starz 's reputation was built on

i just felt embarrassed that the charactor was suppose to have originated in the UK-when she walked out having a tantrum whilst knocking books off a table I cringed--personally i blame the script and the direction-

strange i had been thinking the reverse-he admits in his book that the main focus had been on WHO-i always got the feeling season 1/2 has been left in the writers hands a bit more-it was about the time of COE which which as good as it was deemed that the changes that lead to MD began.I had hoped that the newseason would find away to merge the best of all three seasons but it failed

I wanted to love this like Children Of Earth which was taut, emotional, hard core and gut wrenching (and as others noted-small in scope timewise to not need the Doctor's intervention). In particular, the Doctor is really a character in CoE because he's NOT there. The episode where Gwen is recording the video for the future and notes Jack's friend who doesn't always show up and having seen humanity's lowest point she now knows why he sometimes doesn't come help us (true or not it was really amazing). And Jack "playing Doctor" and confronting the alien and it failing horribly shows just how much power/skill the Doctor has after 1,000+ years compared to Jack's few centuries of life (at this point).

Then we come to Miracle Day that was vast in scope, characters and locations and Jack/Gwen were diminished, it was FAR too slow to start and ultimately I kept wracking my brain to come up with a Doctor Who/Torchwood mutual explanation. And then we got this giant gash in the Earth... That apparently has never been noticed by anyone (including the Doctor) and a global event that sadly is during the very specific series 6 events of Doctor Who (Lake Silencio). It strains credulity that Amy/Rory wouldn't have mentioned this to the Doctor (or that they did during the start of the picnic and we just missed that bit) and River Song showing up would also have been impacted probably.

The lack of cohesion was really jarring and while the plan was for this series to let Torchwood set out on its own that's really not a valid plan-it's part of the Doctor Who universe so unless they are shot to another universe or planet they HAVE to abide with the rules/history of Doctor Who and can NOT do things that are absent from the other.

To me, the perfect solution would have been this secret cult group using the Infinity Gate from the Doctor Who "End of Time" episodes. In that 2-parter, it was established that the Infinity Gate was something recovered by Torchwood (at the base of Mount Snowden) and after the events of Miracle Day, it fell into private hands. So here you have a device that can globally update the world instantly (as the Master did to change everyone into him) AND is referenced as something Torchwood had had in its possession.

I realized the aliens in the episode were supposed to recover it at the end, but I think having yet ANOTHER thing that can instantly and globally update the world and then cause all kinds of unintended consequences is just too much (especially because it was only a few years after "End of Time" aired).

Jack and Gwen - always amazing. Overall Miracle Day had good bits, great individual performances and bold choices (I was stunned that they killed off Arlene Tur's Dr. Vera Juarez she was awesome) and I love that Bill Pullman was just unapologetically an evil bastard.

So it wasn't Children of Earth which I loved, I liked a lot of it, loved bits of it and overall felt it should have been shorter and tighter and more in line with Doctor Who which like it or not has to rule the day in terms of where it can go. It can't violate the world of Doctor Who without an impact (and vice versa).

Hated it wholly. It was patently not Torchwood and was such a low, stereotypical, godawful series that it is almost embarrassing to admit that I watched it even once - and the majority of people I know feel the same. Ugh. I'd rather see Torchwood cancelled than have to sit through something so boring and utterly lacking in everything that I loved about TW in the first place.

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