Another week on the Torchwood rollercoaster. After the relative high of last week’s episode, would we continue to the top, or had we already reached the pinnacle and Episode 8 of Miracle Day would see the series plummet back down, arms flailing and lungs screaming? Unfortunately, it was to be the latter.
The trailer for this episode didn’t promise much, but if there’s anything I’ve learned while watching this series, it’s that these little snippets of things to come can be tricky and misleading. Take the one we’ve seen this week, for example; an evil corporation is threatening to ruin the world, but we’re treated to a stereotypical evil civil servant looking for Gwen’s dad? Oh, the tension. Let’s hope it plays out better in the episode.
My apologies. I’m bitter this week, as my previous cynicism for Torchwood had returned. It’s strayed back into the almost X-Files territory again, although now our crew have teamed up with the CIA to crack the riddle of what’s going on. Answers apparently lie within what looks like a sample of linoleum flooring, but Jack assures us it’s alien tech – the gentlest caress enables him to mute his conversation with Esther and Rex, while he begs them to allow him to escape. Why? We don’t know, only the fact that he’s desperate to leave with the control device before us humans can use the technology for evil. Jack does escape, but it’s bungled and he is shot in the process. I pity the man; bleeding from a stomach wound with only the (less so, I admit) inept Esther to look after him, it’ll be another miracle day if he survives.
This is all happening within the vast grounds of Angelo Colasanto’s mansion, which Jack and the others have been taken to. While Esther is kept outside to track everything via phone and laptop, while not noticing the guards around her are being silently despatched, the others are taken to meet Angelo, who is now an old man tied to a life-support system. Much plot exposition follows, and then the bad guys attack, including a return for Brian Friedkin, who nicely twists Rex’s holding him at gunpoint from a few episodes ago. However, Rex expected trouble; he’d made a call on his phone so he could be tracked and wears Gwen’s contact lenses, which he’s reprogrammed to appear on the nearest TV screen. Friedkin’s confession is seen by the real CIA, who clap him in irons.
Our heroes now team up with the CIA, led by Allen Shapiro, who is played brilliantly by John De Lancie. Shapiro is a real presence who gets all the best lines while he’s on screen, and even gets to deport Gwen from the United States. It’s amusing, but a shame to see her reduced to a shouting harpy after the tense dialogue she shared with Jack last week. Still, it’ll get her to Wales so she can fight the evil civil servant. Ah, how I yearn for an alien; even the fishhead guy from series 2 would do.
Admittedly, it’s not all bad. As has so often been the case this series, there are glimpses of what could (should?) be. Shapiro is a character I liked almost instantly, a combination of dry wit and flashes of sympathy who takes charge and injects common sense from the off. Jack’s final moments with Angelo are admittedly touching, and it’s good to see John Barrowman get his teeth into a big emotional scene at last. Not only that, but it’s well shot, too, with Jack in silhouette while light spills in from a church-like window behind.
Then there’s Oswald Danes, back on our screens after a short hiatus. Bill Pullman has done well with this character, making what could have been a cliché into someone genuinely creepy, even more so this week. His tour of the USA continuing (we know this, as he’s mentioned in dialogue) he arrives at his latest hotel in a sinisterly playful mood; “get me a girl,” he tells Jilly Kitzinger, “a redhead,” he adds, much to her chagrin. While the interplay between these two is always worth watching, it feels more macabre this week – even more so when the said lady of the night arrives, telling Danes she will act like a child for him. Danes, seemingly wishing to turn over a new leaf, is angered by this and, as the woman leaves, she informs him about Category Zero. Danes then turns his frustration on Jilly before leaving the hotel; alone and bleeding, Jilly is approached by a representative of the three families who are behind Miracle Day, and accepts their offer.
Yet, perhaps the most disturbing scene is Esther’s sister telling her that she has volunteered for Category One status, then adding that she has done the same for her children. It’s a well-acted, emotional scene – very reminiscent of Children of Earth, which was Torchwood at its best – one that, in a few minutes, gets right to the heart of the matter in the way several hours has, so far, been unable to do.
I was concerned from the beginning that ten episodes would be too much for Torchwood, and episode 8 is another example where 60 minutes of viewing has yielded approximately a quarter that of solid, grown-up TV. There’s much that could have been taken out (remember the 46 club? The Soulless? ), trimming the eight episodes so far into a tense, quality drama.
With two more episodes to go, I’d like to see some more science-fiction in this science-fiction series. At the moment, it feels like a poor imitation of The X-Files (hey, it looks like there’s a conspiracy in the CIA), and that’s not good enough. I want to believe the two final episodes will prove me wrong, yet my hope is starting to fade. Torchwood can deliver – especially with the talent involved – but so far it has done so without any consistency.