Friday, 16 September 2011

The Miracle is Over

This is a review of Torchwood- Miracle Day and as such it is full of spoilers. However since I find this series quite shambolic, this warning isn't very sincere. 

“Why? Why? Oh why? Russell T Davis, I ask you, why?” Is my official respond to the Torchwood- Miracle Day.

I generally love RTD. We don’t always see eye to eye, but he got my attention with Queer as Folk, and it is because of him that I am now a fully fledged Doctor Who fan. 

True the first series of Torchwood was quite a disappointment, and for a while I thought it was all over for us, but as I recently discovered most of it wasn’t RTD. Then came the second series of Torchwood and my faith was restored, and nothing like deep depression and misery such as in Torchwood- Children of Earthe to secure RTD's place as one of my favourite TV makers today.

It wasn’t always easy to love RTD with some ridiculous Doctor Who Christmas specials and I didn't agree with some of his female lead choices (I never really liked Rose, Martha could have been but didn’t, and don’t even get me started on Gwen) but I was able to put our differences aside when he created Dona, one of my favourite Doctor's companion, or when he created such wonderful Doctor Who episodes like Midnight, Utopia, The Sound of Drums Turn Left and more. When Paul Cornell, who wrote one of my favourite double episode story of Doctor Who: Human Nature and Family of Blood, confessed in SFX panel that the powerful monologue of the brother, at the end of Family of Blood was written by RTD, all was forgiven.

I think what pains me most about Torchwood- Miracle Day is the sense of abandonment. His name is on the credits but Russell T Davis has left that building long before I got there. I waited all by myself in the lobby of that building for him to arrive, but he never did, and he didn't even call to explain. I would have preferred it if he left Torchwood after Children of Earth and handed it to someone else.Then CoE would have been his legacy rather than this mess.

There you are! I've been waiting here for 10 episodes!

I don’t tend to get too involved in the behind-the-scene-politics of television. I try to focus on a creators work on the screen rather than their career choices and struggles. Great TV should push all the skulduggery (oh, shiny new word. I like it) aside and laugh with contempt at all the gossip and turn them irrelevant, because all that matter is how wonderful TV can be despite or sometimes because of everything around it.Since Miracle Day didn’t feel to me like the RTD I have come to love, I had to find out what on earth or on Gallifray happened there. I asked, on The Terrible Zodin Facebook group If RTD is going to do another Torchwood series after this one and I was told he doesn't really want to continue, but American television wants him to continue and the situation was stalemate. 

Stalemate is what Torchwood- Miracle Day has become. I don't think RTD's heart was in it, I got the feeling he wanted to move on to a different project, which sounds quite good by the way. Fair enough perhaps it is time for RTD to let go of Torchwood, I just wish he would have done it sooner. Miracle Day should never have happened. 

The fact that the only surviving member of Torchwood other than Captain Jack is one of my arch nemesis’ Gwen Cooper, a crime to TV women everywhere, was a bad omen. However I was encouraged by the promise of new exciting characters, new locations and a shiny exciting name for the series, after all the last time Torchwood named a series we got Children of Earth. Most of the new character were thin and uninteresting at the best of times. I didn't care about them, I forgot them the minute they died and sometimes I wished they would die sooner.

To my great surprise I found out that UK was showing the episodes a week after it was aired in the US. However RTD promised there will be differences. “Differences?” I wondered “This could be brilliant” thoughts of double meanings and multiple interpretation possibilities ran through my head. It was all a lie and I was furious! Like a good excitable fan I watched every episode twice. I didn’t want to believe that Russell would lie to me like that. Surely there is going to be a dramatic difference in one of those weeks, which will shine a new light on this whole palaver. With every week my fury grew. I felt so betrayed, so used as the differences were the result of politics and technicalities rather than any kind of creative choice; it seems the creator of Queer as Folk, one of the first series' to show gay sex scenes, deems the British public too gentle hearted to watch Captain Jack having gay sex.  
I didn’t hate Miracle day right from the start. The main concept of the premise was potentially brilliant: one day suddenly the world becomes immortal and Captain Jack mortal; what a great idea! Even if it takes liberty regarding Jack being a fixed point in time and space and therefore shouldn't be affected. Keeping the whole thing a mystery till the end could have been thrilling and suspenseful if I hadn't stopped caring. 

With this kind of premise I was sure I will learn something new and dramatic about the mysterious Captain Jack, another side to the already complex and interesting character will be revealed. Imagine my disappointment when not only have I learned nothing about Jack, everything I did learn in this series made my beloved Captain so superficial and almost boring. 

After centuries of immortality suddenly Jack is mortal. This is huge, it must mean something, Jack's life would never be the same. How does he react to that? Clubbing and having a one night stand. Seriously?! The man who lived for centuries, who may or may not become The Face of Bow and who is a fixed point in time and space, and this is what mortality reduced him to? His life didn't  change nor his behaviour and no light was shed into his character. This, in my opinion is the biggest worst miss of Miracle Day. All it came down to in the end is a simple case of blood for blood, without it having any noticeable impact on Captain Jack. 

Similarly Jack's sexuality has been infuriatingly simplified and reduced to the banal. In Doctor Who Jack was established as an omnisexual. I wrote about the innovation of the idea behind his sexuality on issue 9 of TTZ. In previous Torchwood series' it was also insinuated that not only his sexual preferences are unique, but also the way he is "doing it" is not like anything we have ever seen or heard of before. 

There has been quite a bit of stir and discussion about THAT gay sex scene that was cut for the gentle souls of the UK, it is interesting that making love with Angelo wasn't prevented from corrupting the Brits, it's just one night stands they need protecting from . As much as I love man on man action with my science fiction, I was very disappointed that no room was left for imagination with regards to Jack's sexuality, and it seems that from omnisexual he turned into mostly gay. In the stroke of one scene the concept of Jack's sexuality turned from innovative and subversive to conventional. Shame. 

Moreover I didn't understand what was the point of Angelo and his and Jack's love story. On its own that episode was my favourite and it could have been developed into its own plot line if it came a lot sooner, or was a different series. However as a part of the whole series and at the point it came, it seemed like the whole Angelo and Jack love story was only there to explain how the families got hold of Jack's blood. Though it was a lovely episode, in the context it just didn't work and looked like pushing a gay agenda more than the story.

Another great disappointment was Oswald Danes, and he showed such promise. There was so much build up around his character right from the start; a pervert psycho rapist and killer sentenced to death and "saved" by the miracle at the last minute. It was an unusual role for Bill Pullman and he played it disturbingly well. For a large chunk of the series there was so much focus on his character, combined with Pullman acting his heart out, it is no wonder I believed he had some connection to the miracle, or at least that he was in some way special. Alas he turned out to be neither. Like Angelo, I am not sure what exactly was his point at the end of it all. Great talent has gone to waste. 

While In Children of Earth the absence of the Doctor was used in a tragic and bleak way to expose humanity's ugliness, in Miracle Day the endless and constant mentions and references to the Doctor just made me disappointed that he didn't show up at any point and released us all from the misery of the miracle and the misery of the show. 

Finally I must address the issue of Gwen; yes I have hated Gwen from day one, but she really outdid herself this time. While previously I had Toshiko, Owen and Ianto (ho Ianto I miss you so much) to distract me from her, here I had the incompetent and whiney Esther, or the shouty and unpleasant Rex. Why they tried to replicate Tosh's unrequited love for Owen with Esther and Rex is beyond me, and of course it didn't work. 

In Miracle Day we get to meet Gwen's parents again. Her dad dying at the same time as the miracle happened, was what I consider to be a cheap device to make it all personal for Gwen. As if the choice of killing her already dying father could in anyway be even close to choice Jack made of killing his grandson. Nevertheless, somehow, and I am still not clear how exactly, Gwen manages throughout the whole series to make it all about her. It's as if I am being forced to care about her. What happened was that I resented her more than ever before. Could she be full of herself any more? 

Both in Children of Earth and in Miracle Day Gwen got to do a concluding speech, always very dramatic and deep, towards a cam- corder, or the air. I don't know why she gets to do those end-of-the-world-speeches, I suppose she is meant to be the sensitive one (excuse me while I go and throw up for a minute). I may be a cold hearted bitch, but I couldn't care less about Gwen's father dying. I hardly knew the guy, I think Gwen herself only just met him recently. If it was Reese that was dying the impact would have been a lot stronger and more interesting. Since I care about Reese a lot more than I do Gwen at least we will have saving his life as a common interest between us. 

While her speech at the end of Children of Earth points to the dark side of humanity, her end speech on Miracle Day is all about her and how she is killing her father and SHE is the one bringing death back to the world. Ummm... Excuse me Gwen, please get off your high horse and let me point out that you not only have done no such thing, but you have been quite useless through the series and quite frankly I think things would have gone a lot quicker or at least about the same without you. Just because she volunteer to shoot Jack, something she does out of a combination of friendship and revenge I guess, doesn't make her the "bringer of death". Jack and Rex are the ones who bring death back, they are the ones who sacrificed everything. Gwen was...well... just there. 

It really saddens me to say that Torchwood- Miracle Day and Russell T Davis have been my biggest disappointment on television this year. All the things I love about RTD's writing: strong emotional plots that tears you apart, suspense, strong moral questions and bleak look of the world have dissolved into this messy and over- stretched Miracle Day. Those of you who know me and/or read my blog know the television shows are like good friends to me, and Miracle Day made me feel abandoned by RTD. It will be very hard for me not to hold it against him. 

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