It’s taken a few weeks, but Torchwood matured with episode 7 of Miracle Day. Not only that, but we were also treated to our first alien of this series, as well as seeing Captain Jack step from the shadows and take the centre stage he deserves. In less than an hour, the series had been transformed from what felt like a twisty spy drama to proper sci-fi. At last.
Anyone who’s been keeping up with these reviews (and thank you for reading) will know I’m not the easiest to please. I expect much from this show; having seen flashes of brilliance this series, I can’t help comparing it to the previous Children of Earth arc, the five-parter that was a tense, shocking and tightly written adult drama – everything Torchwood promised from its initial concept. Episode 7 of Miracle Day takes us a step closer to that; while heading in the right direction, however, it does fall a little way short.
Much of the episode is set in 1920’s New York, Jack’s history revealed in huge chunks rather than bite-sized, digestible pieces. We see Jack meet the immigrant Angelo, and the two immediately hit it off. The two find a room, share a bed, and make love. We know it’s love rather than lust thanks to the music that plinky-plinks its way through the entire scene; as Jack and Angelo taunt each other with cagy whispers, the background score swells above their words, almost drowning them out in its mission to help us understand what’s going on here, just in case we missed it. Torchwood’s never been a subtle show, but do we really need the music to emphasise the point?
Back to the present, and Gwen’s in trouble. Our mysterious bad guys have captured her family and will exchange them only for Jack. As family comes first, Gwen kidnaps Jack, driving him to the meeting point; it’s on this journey we are given more highlights from Jack’s past, while in the present the relationship between him and Gwen grows ever more tense. The juxtaposition between the two timelines is handled well – the old-fashioned typeface used to name the location in the 1920’s is simple but effective – but it’s in the past where this episode has its best moments.
It’s good to see the old Jack Harkness back in action; he’s on a mission, tracking down some gangsters who are unwittingly smuggling alien brain worms. Aided by companion and lover Angelo (here, Jack himself draws a comparison with the Doctor), they find the gangsters, locate the alien and destroy it, 1920’s Torchwood style. Unfortunately, it’s not all plain sailing; Jack is shot in the head, while Angelo is carted off to prison. Visually and plot-wise, it all works very well, although the music is poor, a punky electro-pop score that is utterly incongruous to what is happening on screen. While Jack and Angelo argue their roles before the mission, we’re assaulted with screeching chords that set teeth on edge between every line of dialogue. Can’t have everything, I suppose.
Fast-forward three years. Angelo walks out of prison and is met by a dapper Jack, obviously unharmed by his ‘death’ earlier. They return to their former apartment, where Angelo murders Jack, who he now believes is the devil. He’s not the only one; Jack is killed again and again, each time in front of more and more witnesses. It’s a painful, powerful couple of minutes to watch, brutally written and excellently acted. It’s unnerving to see an old woman holding up a vial of Jack’s blood, while those around her can’t decide if he’s saint or demon. Finally, three men arrive to examine Jack. Liking what they see, they shake hands to form a triangle – presumably the creation of the same-shaped logo we’ve seen spinning on various screens the last few weeks.
Luckily for our Captain, Angelo’s had a change of heart. He cleans blood from Jack (one of many religious motifs we see this episode is Angelo washing Jack’s feet) then the two abscond to the roof, so that jack can rescue his beloved coat. Jack refuses to let Angelo follow him and jumps from the roof, arms extended in a crucifixion pose; by the time Angelo can take the stairs to the ground, Jack has gone.
Gwen and Jack arrive at the rendezvous. Far from being the best of friends, there’s enough left of their relationship for them to share a moving moment. Jack admits he doesn’t want to die, and when Gwen asks him how many lifetimes he’s lived, Jack simply tells her it’s never enough. The acting here is perfect, and even the hardest of hearts can’t help feel sympathy for Jack. Bad guys arrive in a suitably bad guy style vehicle, and out pops Major Kira from Deep Space Nine (hopefully, Nana Visitor will last longer than C. Thomas Howell and Ernie Hudson). Fortunately, our heroes have the edge – the ever-improving (not hard, I know) Esther has realised something’s wrong and tracked them down with Rex, who is armed and in a bad mood. It’s about time Torchwood got their act together, he grumbles, and he isn’t wrong. Gwen’s family are saved, and at last our heroes have the upper hand. But not before Major Kira reveals that Angelo is still alive.
I liked this episode. Despite Jack’s first flashback dragging on somewhat (I’d have preferred it in smaller segments over the previous weeks, just to keep Jack out of those shadows he’s been skulking in, as well as suggest his ‘involvement’ in Miracle Day) and a twist that my cat could have seen coming, it’s all entertaining stuff. It’s a smart script – Jane Espenson again – and the 1920’s scenes look authentic for the most part. There are several religious metaphors in there (I’ve mentioned but a couple, spotting the rest could make for an interesting game) showing that Torchwood can have its moments of subtlety when it wants to.
Not only that, but it’s got my mind racing. Angelo told Jack that some people thought he was a blessing – is this The Blessing that Owens told Jack about last week? I think so. For me, though, the enduring image is the old woman holding up a vial of Jack’s blood. Not only is there something sinister about it, but I have the feeling it’s going to play an important part in what comes next – the blood is the life, after all. It’s a shame the previous episodes couldn’t have been as good as this, and I wonder how much padding has had to be done in order to extend this story into a ten episode run.
That aside, it’s well done, Torchwood; I’m not only impressed, but eager to know what’s coming next. Admittedly, it looks like the weakest trailer yet, but I’ve fallen for that trick many times before. Equally admittedly, I’m pleased I’ve stuck with Miracle Day, if only to find that episode 7 has shown a vast improvement, while proving that my hopes for the series can be realised. Keep up the good work.