Torchwood: Miracle Day 3 "Dead of Night" Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Paul Brian McCoy
Torchwood goes on the run and finds a new enemy, but as they launch a raid on PhiCorp headquarters, Jack must confront the mysterious Oswald Danes.

Torchwood airs on Friday nights at 10PM on STARZ. In a bizarre marketing move, the BBC will air the episodes the following Thursday nights, with the cable channel's naughty bits cut and replaced with longer character bits.

As the BBC airings will have approximately 5 or so minutes of different material each week, I will try to update these reviews when I can, so check back this weekend for more Torchwood talk!

One of the benefits of writing these reviews later in the week, aside from the fact that it gives folks a chance to catch up on last week's episode just before the new one airs, is that I get a chance to see the rest of the Internet's reactions and comment on that as well as the show.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Torchwood: Miracle Day, I don't seem to have my finger on anybody's pulse. Take this episode, for example.

"Dead of Night" has more narrative movement this week than last, and this seems to have pleased a lot of viewers. In fact, in a totally unscientific survey of typical fan reaction, it seems that this was the best episode of the new series yet. IMDB has it ranked at 8.3 out of 10, puts it at 8.8 (Great), and lots of website comment threads are talking this one up as the one where the show gets on track.

Well, I thought it was bloody awful.

So much so, that I take back everything I said last week, comparing this to classic Quatermass. I was judging the potential of the series when I wrote that, and I suppose I could still come back around to it, but "Dead of Night" was filled with so many nonsensical plot developments and absurd expository moments that I was very disappointed.

Miracle Day is rapidly losing the goodwill purchased by the quality of Children of Earth.

I understand that with his new-found mortality, Captain Jack (John Barrowman) is interested in experiencing life more vividly than he's been able to in centuries. I don't have a problem with that. It makes sense and could be used as a way to really explore the character and his decision-making process.

I don't even have a problem with the fairly graphic (as in lots of butt-shots and kissing) sex scene between drunken Jack and his bartender hook-up. Again, that's Jack. He's a randy future man who always has time for some flirting while he's saving the world.

It was the abandoning his teammates to go drink it up at a gay bar, then his late night drunken phone call to Gwen (Eve Myles), accompanied by practically sobbing about what a great team they are, that bugged me. The call is, predictably enough, interrupted by a stealth video chat with Rhys, sitting with their baby on his lap.

That's just clumsy and obvious writing that undercuts the seriousness of the main story. I might have liked it better if there had been any set-up, but it was just out of the blue and clearly only served the obvious purpose of attempting to create some sort of emotional tension between Jack and Gwen.

The only non-stupid thing Jack did this week was demand that he and his hook-up use condoms. That "lifetime of regret" line was nice.

But other than that, the rest was just awkward and poorly written.

That was most of this episode, particularly the hook-up between Rex (Mekhi Phifer) and Dr. Juarez (Arlene Tur). Whereas Jack's sexual exploits are par for the course with the character (although extremely inappropriate given the gravity of their current situation), Rex and Juarez just cheapened both characters, making Rex seem even more like a dick and Juarez just kind of irresponsible.

I understand that STARZ apparently has some sort of nudity/sex requirements for their shows, but I would prefer they were worked in less mechanically and as natural plot points or character moments.

Another example of just how, yeah, I'm going to go ahead and say it, stupid the writing was this week is the couple of twists that Oswald Danes' (Bill Pullman) story takes, especially when it's combined with the kind of silly calls for removal of prescription drug regulations. But more on that one in a minute.

I want to talk a little about Danes.

Pullman's performance over the first two episodes had me on the fence. I loved the audacity of the character, but Pullman's eye-rolling and vocal affectations put me off. I'm sure he's basing this on some sort of research and not just pulling this character out of the ether, but it's annoying and has become one of the most irritating elements of the show.

Making Danes a national spokesperson for unlimited access to prescription drugs and symbolic of the media's embrace of his redemption and forgiveness is, again, just stupid. It follows no logic, and the bare-bones attempts to provide motivations are hollow and forced.

He knows about drugs and the benefits of open access because he was almost put to death by lethal injection? That's about the only connection I can gather. Please explain it to me if I've somehow missed something, because it's really starting to ruin the show for me.

And then there's Danes' late-night escape to get some crappy diner food.

This is a monumentally stupid decision by the character and serves no purpose to the overall story except to provide an opportunity to showcase that even though the media has forgiven him, some people haven't.

In this case, it's two sleazy looking characters working the street punk chic look who chase him through the streets and into the waiting arms of two police officers. I can think of no logical reason for Danes to believe he would be safer with the cops than he would with the dirty punks. It's a lapse in judgment on the part of the character that is another sign of poor writing this week.

It's especially egregious given the smug look of superiority on his face as he climbs willingly into the backseat of the police cruiser. The entire audience knows he's going to be taken somewhere private and get the shit kicked out of him. It's blatantly obvious.

If anyone should know what was going to happen it should have been Danes, and that bugged me a lot.

Although not as much as Jack's solo confrontation with Danes in his hotel/green room/wherever that was.

Instead of "Dead of Night", this episode should have been called, "Bad Decision Plot Contrivances".

There was absolutely no reason for this confrontation other than to make sure that Danes and Jack meet. If the story didn't apparently call for Danes to know that Jack is out there looking for him, there would be no logical reason for the confrontation. Especially given that Jack just slips away from the Torchwood hideout in the middle of Gwen's infiltration!

What the hell?

He has problems with the way Rex tries to run things and then he leaves Rex and Esther (Alexa Havins) alone to monitor and back-up Gwen on a mission? The sheer stupidity boggles the mind.

And we won't even mention the way Rex handles the mysterious phone call from whomever's behind it all. The strange red phone rings and he just answers it with "Who is this?" over and over again? And then thinks that it will have them worried? Worried about what? That there are simpletons who allow their positions to be traced asking nonsensical questions and wasting their only real link to the Big Bad?

The alien overlords, or whatever they are, have nothing to fear from this iteration of Torchwood. They are all stupid and useless.

Well, that's not entirely true.

Esther is okay. She's just inexperienced. She also isn't really being given any real opportunity to shine. It's as though the writers don't know what to do with her. So she sits and waits or taps on a keyboard while correcting Gwen's word choices. And Gwen continues to kick ass, slipping naturally into the role of elder statesperson for the team. And someone has to, since Jack is being written like a useless putz.

I like Dr. Juarez when she's actually talking medicine and paranoia, but shoehorning her into the sexually compromised spy role is a dumbing down of the character's potential and a misuse of a good performance.

Lauren Ambrose as Jilly Kitzinger is growing on me. She didn't seem to have much focus in those first couple of appearances, but this week she came into her own, providing a bubbly, energetic, and faintly disconcerting form of evil. It doesn't hurt that she's just so darned adorable.

Plot-wise, there were two real developments that didn't rely on characters doing stupid things that they would never do if the plot didn't demand it. The first was the introduction of this new cult, The Soulless.

They're pretty summarily dismissed by Gwen as kooks, which of course means that they're going to be important. Essentially they're a group of people who believe that if there's no death, then human beings clearly don't have souls, or something like that. It's not a very well thought out motivation, but it's suitably creepy the way they just loiter around staring at you with their cute little masks.

I can't tell if those masks are supposed to be unnerving or just silly. There's a weird combination of V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks and Mr. Quimper from The Invisibles going on there that I can't decide if I like or not. I think it's a missed opportunity to provide a really disturbing visual if these people actually mutilated themselves rather than wore cute masks, but that's me.

The other intriguing development this week is the revelation that PhiCorp has a monstrous stockpile of painkillers that they're waiting to release onto the market once world governments remove restrictions on access to prescription drugs. Sure, we already knew that the Big Drug Company was going to be Evil. That was a given, right?

I suppose that there's some sort of social criticism going on here, and that's all fine and dandy. I wish it were something a little more nuanced, but maybe I've just been setting my sights too high.

When this episode was over, I turned to Dr. Girlfriend and asked her if she thought it was as horrible as I did. She said, "Enh, it's as good as Torchwood always was." And she was right.

So far, despite the bigger budget and pre-filming focus on writing, despite the relative freedoms that producing the show for a pay-cable channel imply, despite having the opportunity to really do something ground-breaking, this is turning out to be just like Torchwood always was.

Now that we're almost a third of the way into Miracle Day, it's looking more and more like Children of Earth was a fluke.

This episode gets from me. Here's to hoping that this week picks it up a bit.

For more Torchwood action, check out our previous reviews:
Episode One, "The New World"
Episode Two, "Rendition"

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to What Looks Good and Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, tentatively titled Damaged Incorporated. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, sci-fi television, the original Deathlok, Nick Fury, and John Constantine. He can be summed up in three words: Postmodern Anarchist Misanthropy. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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