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TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The Middle Men”

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As this season of Torchwood: Miracle Day crosses the halfway mark, we come to reflect on the first half of the season and the changes that the show has undergone while wondering whether they’ll ever reveal who is behind the miracle. 

One day, at precisely 10:36 p.m., people stop dying.  What is initially thought to be a miracle, rapidly becomes a disaster of global proportions as the Earth hurtles towards overpopulation and the collapse of the healthcare system.  In an effort to relieve hospitals of the burden of caring for patients that should have died but are simply hanging on, overflow camps are set up in major centres across the globe. 

Life and death is redefined as humans are divided into three categories of life: Category 1 belongs to those that should have died, Category 3 is healthy, functioning people, and Category 2 is everybody in between.  The sinister function behind the overflow camps was revealed in the last episode, “The Categories of Life”, as it turns out that the modules where Category 1 patients are to be kept are in fact ovens, designed for the mass incineration.

This season pairs the last remaining Torchwood members, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) with CIA agents Rex Matheson (Mekhi Pfifer) and Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins).  Matheson initially aims to apprehend the Jack and Gwen but soon, he and Esther find themselves to be targets and a new Torchwood team emerges.  Rex is assisted throughout by Doctor Vera Juarez, a member of the medical boards who joined the team in the last episode.

In the meantime, convicted paedophile and child murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) survives his own execution and is freed under a cruel and unusual punishment technicality.  He quickly becomes the spokesperson for the Miracle Day and is courted by Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) on behalf of the pharmaceutical giant PhiCorp. 

Instead of pursuing a different story arc per episode, as was the case with the first two seasons of Torchwood, Torchwood: Miracle Day has stuck to one major story arc across the full ten episodes.  The pace has been extremely slow to date and this has been compounded by the use of a different writer per episode.  The result has been a disjointed storyline where interesting concepts are often raised but simply dropped the following episode.  I am not referring to the Families (“Escape to L.A.”) or the mysterious blue-eyed man (“The Categories of Life”) (as I am sure that they will return) but what happened to the visually stunning protest marches from “Dead of Night”, for example?

“The Middle Men” opens with PhiCorp CEO Stuart Owens asking a colleague in Shanghai to investigate a PhiCorp construction site as he wants to know whether PhiCorp has anything to do with Miracle Day.  Having suspected since “Dead of Night” that PhiCorp was behind the miracle, it turns out that they may be nothing more than middle men, despite the profits that the miracle has afforded them.  The colleague Zheng Yibao sees something that disturbs him so much that he jumps from the top of a building.  Just minutes earlier, Owens had been watching a television piece on the “45 Club” where people had reinvented the notion of suicide and eternal oblivion by jumping from buildings of at least 45 stories high.

At the San Pedro Overflow Camp, Rex Matheson records all that he is seeing, compiling proof of the modules and mass murders while Esther becomes suspicious of camp director Colin Maloney and wonders where Vera Juarez is.  In Cardiff, Gwen and her husband Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) race to rescue her father from the modules at Cowbridge Overflow Camp and in Los Angeles, Captain Jack Harkness confronts Stuart Owens.  Owens reveals to Jack what he knows and when Jack tells him of his only clue, that the miracle involves geography, Owens informs him of a mysterious document originating from the Council of Ministers in Italy that made reference to The Blessing.

This is the first episode in Torchwood: Miracle Day that does not feature Oswald Danes and also the first since “Rendition” that does not feature Jilly Kitzinger.  The episode was written by The X-Files alumni John Shiban and certainly had a darker feel to it.  Perhaps the usual inclusion of Danes and Kitzinger serves to lighten up the show with all of the hype and media frenzy, not to mention Kitzinger’s ambition and Danes’ ruthless manipulation? 

In “Middle Men”, the spotlight shines on the path to genocide as the focus seems to move from Category 1 patients to illegal immigrants.  Darkness descends as we realise that above all, the governments of the world are sanctioning these camps and the extermination ovens within.  The level of terror that was introduced in the final scenes of “Escape to L.A.” are raised once again in the final scene of “The Middle Men” as Gwen realises how personal this has become and the price she might have to pay to save the Earth.

John Shiban has written a dark and terrifying episode and it has left me wishing that he had written the whole season.  My favourite episodes of this season were “Rendition” (written by Doris Egan), “Escape to L.A.” and “The Middle Men” (both written by John Shiban).  Apart from the season opener “The New World” which was written by show creator Russell T. Davies, my worst episodes were “Dead of Night” and “The Categories of Life” which were both written by Jane Espenson.  The bad news is that Jane Espenson has written or co-written three of the four remaining episodes, the last one with Russell T. Davies.

There are aspects of Torchwood: Miracle Day that are brilliant and show the vision, imagination and talent of Russell T. Davies and the writers on the show.  But there are also parts that are terrible or cheesy and I still have difficulty caring about either Rex Matheson or Esther Drummond.  The factors that seem to have contributed most to a shaky season are the single story arc, multiple writers and extremely slow pace.  I really would like to see Torchwood: Miracle Day renewed for a further season but they’d have to follow the example set by the writers of Veronica Mars after their second season and split the season up into more story arcs in future, with more consistent writing or perhaps one lead writer per story arc.

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About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is a blogger, serial expat and eternal tourist living and working in London. Aside from writing at Blogcritics, she blogs about travel and London at Emm in London, entertainment and media at Addicted to Media and war crimes, genocide and social justice over at A Passion to Understand.
  • Pat

    I am still resentful that they killed Ianto during last season and hence I don’t watch this season but I nevertheless hope for a new season with smaller arcs (also easier to rewatch compared to a 10 episodes long one) and, of course, Ianto back to make captain Jack smile again (as far as I can see he looks as sad as in COE in the promo pics…I want my dashing captain back…).

  • jean

    This Torchwood has lost it’s irony and humor. I’ve loved the cracking up/scary balance in previous seasons. Anyone remember Gwen’s wedding? Now it’s just preachy and plain dark. I actually turned it off when Rex was getting re-stabbed in the chest.

  • Scrummy

    Interesting how the example for writers “dropping” interesting themes was the Soulless march from the third episode, despite the fact that they’ve been confirmed to reappear with a greater role in the second half…