This week saw the difficult second episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day hit out screens, and what a punch it was. Faster in pace, more intense than the series opener, its smaller scale made it feel more like TV than an attempt at making something cinematic for the small screen. As such, it was an improvement; Torchwood is going the right way.
The episode starts with a new graphic explaining the concept of the miracle day before showing the expanding world population. It’s a bit Battlestar Galactica, but the effect is a good one; the world is filling up, and fast. I wonder if this is something we’ll see very week, and if it will ever start counting down again? This is followed by a quick review of last week’s happenings, an edit that nicely summarises what has gone before; anyone who missed the first episode can jump safely on board for this ride.
The action resumes at what is supposed to be Heathrow airport, but looks more like the airfield from Top Gear (the American version doubles for Dulles airport later on, but anyone who’s seen Die Hard 2 won’t be fooled), where Gwen and Jack are being extradited to the USA by CIA agent Rex Matheson and another, sinister-looking female agent. It’s a gut-wrenching scene as mother is torn from child, played brilliantly by Eve Myles; in fact, she’s a revelation this week, but more on that as I go.
Titles follow, and then we’re in the aeroplane with Jack and Gwen. At rest, the two share a moment; Gwen’s understandably upset about what’s happening – seeing Jack as the source of the troubles – but the two are genuinely pleased to see each other alive and well. It’s a tight and compact scene, but well-written, and reveals the relationship between the two; again, this is perfect for the newer viewer. Contrast this to Rex, who wants nothing but a drink and some pain-killers; there’s a danger that he may be over the top like last week, but Mekhi Phifer has developed a more subdued approach. His wry humour, while remaining scathing, is genuinely amusing and there’s a scene in the toilets where he ponders what has happened to him. Here is a man who should be dead; when all is put right, what will be his fate?
Just as Rex is starting to grow on me, so is Esther, and it’s not purely because her boss is the bad guy from Jurassic Park. Esther (like Rex later) finds that a huge amount of money has been mysteriously deposited into her bank account. She’s being set up and, during her escape from CIA headquarters, we’re shown a young woman using her wits and charm. She garners our sympathies by being a humane individual having to fight the system, one who will undoubtedly swell the ranks of Torchwood.
Oswald Danes is back, this time a TV chat show guest rather than prisoner sentenced to death. In his interview, Danes breaks down and apologises for his crimes, an attempt to create sympathy for the character. Personally, I found the scene cringeworthy; there’s not a tear shed, and Bill Pullman looks like he’s trying to win a gurning competition. Watching the scene again, I can’t decide if it’s his poor acting, or him playing a man who isn’t a very good actor. Nevertheless, he does gain my sympathy in having to be interviewed by the most annoying man I’ve ever seen on TV. Still, other characters seem prepared to give Danes their forgiveness, as shown in the response of the ‘common person’ runner behind the scenes. Danes also attracts the attention of the seemingly ditzy Jilly Kitzinger, a PR agent who seeks to represent him. Danes rejects her offer; Oprah wants him on her show already, so why does he need her. Yet, there’s something sinister about this young woman in the red coat; her mentioning the devil piqued my interest, and I wonder how far the religious connotations will go, considering the series is called Miracle Day.
Jilly also appears in a scene with Doctor Juarez, who - like Rex and Esther - has a meatier role to play this episode: she cleverly re-assesses the rules of triage before attending a conference of seemingly all-male doctors and scientists; here, Juarez is the voice of common sense and reason, one who uses her new team to formulate the cure that will save the poisoned Captain Jack. It’s possibly all a bit much for one episode, but at least it’s believable.
Let’s go back a bit – Captain Jack poisoned?! That’s right, by the sinister female CIA agent we’d met at ‘Heathrow’. She’s told to do so via Esther and Rex’s boss, who in turn has been given the order by a mysterious triangle logo on his computer (perhaps the emblem of some shady corporation?). This is done while Gwen and Jack begin to bond with Rex, who promises Juarez she will be allowed to examine the only mortal man on planet Earth. Jack, meanwhile, theorises that the Miracle Day is the result of a morphic field, but from where?
Before Jack can assume anything else, he’s in a critical condition. Only Gwen can save him; with the help of the airline staff, Rex and Doctor Juarez, she concocts a potion that will be the antidote to Jack’s poison. It’s a scene – a long one – worthy of McGyver or The A-Team, in which Gwen uncannily finds all the ingredients she needs within the confines of the aeroplane. Yet, it’s also charming and amusing, one that had me laughing out loud. Very tongue-in-cheek, but exactly what the episode needs; again, Eve Myles shines, getting the tone absolutely spot on. I’m not sure if it’s the right tone that Torchwood should be taking, however, but it worked for me.
When the plane lands in ‘Dulles’, Rex receives a call from Esther, who tells him what is going on. Sure enough, he’s now a rich man. Unhappy with being set up, Rex frees Gwen and Jack, twists the neck of the sinister agent, then the trio escape in Esther’s mini. It’s another Gwen moment as she berates Esther’s choice of getaway car, followed immediately by the hilarious look she shares with Jack on seeing the sinister agent with her head on back to front. Gwen’s even given the final line: as Esther wonders how crazy her situation is getting, Gwen gives a knowing smile and says “welcome to Torchwood”.
Welcome to Torchwood, indeed. If this is how every episode is going to be, then I’ll be happy. Not as ecstatic as I hoped to be following Children of Earth, but certainly good enough. I enjoyed this episode much more than the first, but it still has its flaws.
Pullman’s acting, for one. Danes is coming across as Hannibal Lecter meets Jim Carrey, and it’s just not working for me. We’ve know he’s a vile man, that message is hammered home, but I’m not convinced that he’s genuine enough for the characters to have any sympathy for him. Hopefully, this will be corrected in future episodes. As will the music; I was stunned to see Murray Gold’s name on the credits. There have been a few scenes where I’ve found the music jarring to the point of distraction, a contrast to the events seen on screen. Tonally, this episode sees many shifts; while this works in isolation, I fear too much of this will create a mess.
Let’s face it, though, this is an improvement on episode 1. It’s a tightly-plotted, well-executed slice of sci-fi, one where all of the characters fulfil their purpose in the story. To be honest, it would have made a cracking first episode, but – with the Torchwood universe having had such previous form – the scene had to be set last week. With the introduction of Jilly Kitzinger and shady CIA overlords, the intrigue has shifted up a gear, and I’m looking forward to episode 3.
Well done, Torchwood. I’ve seen you deliver this episode, keep up the good work.