Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 3: “Dead of Night”
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Airs Fridays at 10pm (ET) on Starz
Torchwood, a series about British agents tasked with defending the Earth from alien attack, has had an uneven run, to say the least. It started as an over-sexed, under character-developed Doctor Who spinoff and grew over two seasons to be a solid, if underwhelming, sci-fi actioner. Then the third season, dubbed Children of Earth, came out and was a revelation. It’s a gripping, intense miniseries (5 episodes), that sits alongside Battlestar Galactica and Firefly as some of the best sci-fi of the past 10 years. Now, in season four, we have Miracle Day. The premise of the season is that one day, everyone on Earth stops dying. People are still aging and being injured, but no one dies. At the same time, the Torchwood team is forced out of hiding and back into action by CIA agents Rex Matheson and Esther Drummond. Soon the team is on the run, trying to figure out who and what caused the Miracle while the world copes with the fallout from the death of death.
Episode three, “Dead of Night”, sees our intrepid heroes holed up in a DC squat. Jack and Gwen, the remaining members of the original Torchwood team, are kicking butt while new recruits Rex and Esther complain and offer tech support, respectively. Oswald Danes, a convicted pedophile and murderer whose execution didn’t take, is becoming a media icon and PR whiz Jilly Kitzinger is there to help, so long as it also helps her mysterious, and of this episode, nefarious employer, Phicorp Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Vera Juarez is working to deal with the medical implications of the situation and is the only person who believes Rex’s assertions that he and Esther are not the double agents the CIA claims they are.
Unfortunately, as promising as the above description sounds, Torchwood: Miracle Day has a lot of problems. Bill Pullman, as Oswald Danes, is chewing the scenery, reaching a critical mass of overacting. Mekhi Phifer is also rather weak as Rex, though he is much less of a distraction. Alexa Havins, Esther, is doing her best with an underdeveloped and rather stock character and Arlene Tur is giving a solid performance as Dr. Juarez, but her character is one of those high-heel and cocktail dress wearing ER docs that are usually only pop up on soap operas. The strengths of the season are definitely John Barrowman and Eve Myles as Jack and Gwen. They’re great, offering character moments and humor while ably handling expo-dumps and action alike. Lauren Ambrose, as Jilly, has also been a pleasant surprise. She brings a breath of fresh air to all of her scenes and exudes an effortless intelligence which is much appreciated.
The season premiere was uneven, the second episode was an improvement, but here in the third episode, it’s unfortunately back to Torchwood as usual. The world is a mess, but one character takes the night off to hook up with a stranger. Two other characters, who barely know each other, hook up for seemingly no reason, other than that they’re both attractive and single and because the Starz sex scene quota hasn’t been met. Esther has slipped easily into the Tosh role (a character from the first two seasons). Too easily, in fact- she’s practically the same character, down to the crush on her brash, cocky partner who ignores her. Children of Earth dropped all of the extraneous, illogical hookups and gave the characters realistic and honest reactions to a terrifying situation and did so to great effect. Here logic has been thrown out the window and the show has suffered massively. Flashes still remain, however, of the show Torchwood became last season. Here’s hoping the writing will improve and Torchwood will get back to being the great, philosophical sci-fi it can be.