While watching episode three of Torchwood: Miracle Day, I heard a noise in the background. Not the cat trying to get outside or the grinding of my teeth in frustration; this was the simple clicking sound of everything falling into place, and what a joy it was.
From the off, Torchwood are go! Agent Rex breaks into his CIA boss’s home and puts a gun to his head. It can’t kill him, Rex admits, but could damage his brain. Picture immortality with no memories, Rex threatens, and it’s enough for the boss to give him his mobile phone. Outside, Captain Jack waits; he’s getaway driver, assisted by Esther who’s sat at a computer, monitoring the locations of police cars. As Jack and Rex drive away, Gwen runs interference by throwing a stinger across the road; tyres burst, the police car can’t continue on, and team Torchwood return to base, job done.
It’s good to see the four of them working together, but even better is the banter once they return to their rotten-apartment hideout. Gwen and Esther debate the variances in language on each side of the Atlantic, and there’s genuine warmth between these two. Rex even joins in; sure, he’s loud and crass, but less of a caricature than he was in the first episode. While he and Jack are somewhat confrontational, there’s a friendliness lurking behind it all, along with the underlying suggestion that Jack and Rex aren’t that different after all – men of action, but from two different eras. Watching these scenes put a smile on my face, seeing the characters are all finally settled in their roles within Torchwood. Writer Jane Espenson has captured the essence of these individuals brilliantly, blending all four together in what could prove to be an ideal combination.
Back in plot land, and our team have a lead. After stealing a car (a nicely shot moment in which everyone tries to be subtle before Gwen simply smashes a window – “got one” she says while the alarm blares) they pay a visit to the warehouse of pharmaceutical giant PhiCorp. Difficult to believe that such a place would have only one guard, but he’s taken out so well by Gwen, the wit glosses over the fact. So far this episode, I’ve smiled and I’ve laughed. Wow.
Inside, the warehouse is full of… drugs. Why this comes as a surprise to the team is beyond me; it’s almost as if they’d expected teddy bears or sporting goods. Fortunately, they’ve got Rex there, who can identify the contents as… drugs. It’s all very generic, but we are at least told they’re pain killers (Rex is the expert, after all). There’s a moment of humour when another warehouse is revealed, one that appears “bigger on the inside”.
After this great revelation, how do our team react? They argue in an alley. It’s a dramatic moment, as Rex accuses Jack of killing the old Torchwood team. Jack argues that they were his friends. “Dead friends” Rex counters before driving off to visit Doctor Juarez for some painkillers and a shag. Jack does much the same, wandering into a gay nightclub, where he cops off with the barman who likes his coat. Gwen and Esther have a chat, and it’s good to see Gwen’s motherly instinct shine through as Esther tells her how scared she is; Gwen can sympathise, having been in the same position as newcomer to Torchwood. We’re even treated to more emotional moments as Jack phones Gwen for a heart-to-heart, only for her attention to be usurped by a satellite link-up with Rhys and baby. It’s contrived timing-wise, but touching nonetheless.
Doctor Juarez now comes to the fore, finally accepting Jilly Kitzinger’s invitation of PhiCorp as well as Rex’s request to spy on the corporation while she’s there. Rex returns to Torchwood’s base (along with an amusingly hungover Captain Jack) and a plan is formed. It’s good to see tech from old series’ being used here in the form of the contact lenses, and Gwen’s lie that only she can use them did make me chuckle. The meeting turns out to be more like a lecture, as PhiCorp reveals its plan to allow all prescription drugs onto the open market; while making them accessible, it will handily increase their profits.
Meanwhile, Gwen is inside the building (let in through an unguarded side door by the good Doctor Juarez) and then into Jilly Katzinger’s office. As only happens in TV and movies, she’s able to access and download files with great ease and speed (although there is a moment of tension as Jilly returns to her office) then get out of there. Rex, meanwhile, has set up a meeting his old mentor – The Only Man He Can Trust – but even he is being monitored; fortunately, Rex is stood outside their arranged meeting point when the hordes of armed police arrive. Back at base, the stolen cellphone rings; although there is no voice at the other end, the mysterious triangle logo appears on the screen. Rex is delighted as they pack up to move to another location, “we’ve got them worried”, and for Torchwood the game now certainly begins.
It’s a hallmark of all good stories that villains should be active while the heroes are moving forward, and this is the case with Oswald Danes. Like the rest of the episode, Bill Pullman’s acting has shifted up a gear. Suddenly, Danes isn’t the bleary-eyed, slack-jawed ex-con (perhaps his diet of junk food is working wonders on him?); instead, he’s coherent, conniving and – for a short moment – almost sympathetic.
Danes sneaks out from his motel to a coffee shop, where he is promptly identified and chased by a punk-ish couple. Danes asks two policemen for help, but after driving him away they beat him up “not the face, so you can still look good for TV” and dump him outside the motel. Jilly Katzinger is there – right place, right time as always – in all her red-coated glory, and Danes accepts her offer. He too meets with PhiCorp, but as it’s not a conversation we are shown, the mystery is enhanced.
Despite all this, it’s in his confrontation with Jack that Bill Pullman really shines. Here, he’s genuinely creepy as he tells Jack how he felt when committing his crimes, the pleasure he took from them is apparent on his face, and he’s clever enough to get Jack to understand him before calling for his new security boys to rough the Captain up a little, while he goes off for his next TV appearance.
Fortunately, the now-vulnerable Captain Jack is only given a brief kicking before being flung onto the street. From the pavement, he watches Danes’s broadcast; the man telling the world he has been forgiven his sins, now strikes a blow for PhiCorp and calls for the release of antibiotics to the general public. “Did you touch him?” a woman asks Jack, who’s now horrified that Danes is growing into a messiah figure.
I enjoyed this episode. It’s a great combination of plot and character, one that has it’s moments of tension and emotion. But it’s not just the writing that impressed me; this episode looks good. There are shots that reminded me of The Matrix, colour is used lavishly throughout the episode (the alleyway and the scene where Danes encounters Jilly outside his motel in particular), and the acting is excellent, allowing the words to leap from the page onto our screens. Perhaps controversially, I found this to be better than some Doctor Who episodes of late.
Perfect, then? Not quite. I still find the music annoying, and in some cases it actually pulled my attention from what should have been a gripping scene. While the episode works tonally, it still doesn’t feel as ‘grown up’ as Children Of Earth; three episodes in, and it’s been different every time, as if it’s struggling to find its identity. I’m still not convinced with the cult of The Soulless, yet to see their place within the story. Finally, there’s a distinct lack of otherworldly presence for a sci-fi series, and it's coming across more like an updated version of The X-Files.
Still, after a weaker start than I’d have liked, Torchwood has baited me, hooked me and – if it continues like this – will start to reel me in. Nine o’clock Thursday night is becoming a time to look forward to.