A little TV whinging • 12 September 2011 • The SnowBlog
A little TV whinging
Have you been watching the Torchwood series Miracle Day? 10 x hour-long episodes comprising a single epic story, made as a joint US/UK production and shown on both sides of the Atlantic. For a writer like ex-Doctor Who top-bod, Russell T Davies, it's an incredible opportunity. What couldn't you do with a canvas like that to express yourself upon? More than that, he's been able to rope in writers like Jane Espenson (of Buffy and BSG fame) and assemble a cast with quite a few impressive names in it. If successful, it could open the way to lots of UK-originated shows making it to the US and perhaps some of their talent working here. Lots of possibilities; lots of opportunities. Or course none of that is likely to happen, given that the whole thing is rubbish.
(Only read on if you've seen the first nine of the ten episodes as there are big, blatant spoilers.) It's nicely shot and acceptably acted (with a few flat spots and occasional howlers). But to what extent does the story we're being told make the blindest bit of sense? Or even obey its own rules?
Take, for example, episode 9. Half the episode revolves around keeping Gwen's persistently-vegetative dad safe from SWAT teams. Is there any reason to think her father will recover? Well, if there is, they haven't shared it with the viewers. From what we can tell, he's still breathing (because of the miracle) but in all other ways he's dead and gone. If there's a reason to think otherwise - and thus a reason for the viewer to care about him - we need to be told - which we haven't been. So why is it important to 'save' him? Granted, the authorities would burn him if they got hold of him, but that's what they used to do with dead bodies which weren't breathing, so now that corpses continue to respire is there anything wrong with cremating them once higher brain functions have ceased? The scandal is that borderline cases are being burnt as well, but that's not what Gwen is devoting her time to. (Except she did blow up a building a while back - did she kill the workers inside? was the camp instantly replaced? where did she get the bomb and the motorbike from?)
We're told that resources are scarce, the social fabric is coming apart and there are shortages of everything. But that hasn't affected the Category One Police. They still have the manpower, equipment and resources to mount raids on any home even suspected of harbouring a peacefully-respiring comatose OAP. Why? What's the urgency? Couldn't those police be tackling the decline of law and order throughout the land? It's not obvious why rounding up Gwen's dad gets the same sort of attention as international terrorism - except that the Needs of Drama require armed police to keep bursting in. In a saner world, Gwen's dad seems to be on a par with a house-plant when it comes to his impact on society which surely means the SWAT teams could be deployed elsewhere.
Then there's the business of Jack's blood. Esther (for some reason I still can't remember her name, despite having spent nine hours in her company) has latched onto the fact that Jack's blood might be important to... something... somehow. Jack assures her it's not, but that doesn't bother whatsername (dammit, Esther). Jack is shot; he's injured and bleeding, and his life is in danger, so what does Esther do? She starts draining his blood and storing it in a fridge in cool-looking blood-bags. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that she knows it's going to prove vital in episode 10. But what reason does her character give? She sort of doesn't, from what I can tell.
Similarly why is evil paedophile Oswald tagging along on a Torchwood/CIA mission to Shanghai? They don't trust him, they don't like him and they don't need him; so why smuggle him into China on a secret mission? Well, apparently Gwen had 'no choice' but to bring him. Because otherwise Owen would have killed him. And we wouldn't want that because... Actually, why wouldn't we want that? He's been sentenced to death and Gwen was actively trying to kill him until Owen intervened. To recap: Oswald comes to Gwen's house, Gwen tries to kill him, Owen says "Let me kill him instead", then Oswald says "Take me to Shanghai or Owen will kill me" and Gwen - and the team - capitulate. Why? Well, again, the reason is clearly because they need him there for episode 10, but that's not the same thing as the Characters Making Any Sense. At All.
In fact the most damning thing I read about this series - and it was from a review which was semi-positive - was that you could just jump in at episode 7 and skip the previous six hours. Of course that was before we found out that most of episode 7 didn't matter either. It was enjoyable to watch: all about that nice boy Angelo and his affair with Jack. It was a good story, up until Angelo knifed Jack in mid-snog and then allowed him to be chained up and hacked to death for weeks. After that point I felt as though Jack should probably have cooled somewhat towards Angelo, but apparently we were supposed to feel that Jack had actually let Angelo down. In fact, given how peripheral Angelo apparently is to what happens thereafter, the point of the entire Angelo two-parter simply boiled down to telling us that three families knew that Jack was immortal and they'd collected some of his blood. Angelo appears to have been irrelevant.
And given that, I'm still mystified as to why Gwen's family were kidnapped by Olivia Colasanto. It seems that she just wanted to talk. And I'm hazy about how her people hacked into the alien contact lenses - or even knew of their existence. Maybe I need to watch those episodes again (shudder!). But it did give us an opportunity to see that Gwen would sell out Jack with no questions asked in order to save her family. We might have expected that she'd enlist Jack's help in order to rescue her family, but that didn't even seem to occur to her. And we already know that Jack is a scheming liar who will - on occasion - make bargains with the devil. Maybe that whole kidnapping and betrayal episode was just about making sure we didn't get too invested in the survival of our 'heroes'. Which would be the same reason why Rex is unpleasant about 70% of the time.
And finally, I'm still trying to work out the wisdom of giving so much screen time to two characters, Jilly Kitzinger and Oswald Danes, who remain enigmas to us. It's difficult to follow unpleasant characters for two whole months without knowing Why The Hell We Should Care. So far they're both irrelevant (unless Oswald's TV speech really was pivotal - though I didn't quite understand how or why). We have one episode left in which to find out why we've been dutifully paying them any attention since some time back in July. Will they retrospectively become interesting/absorbing?
In fact is there anyone out there who thinks that the final instalment is going to reveal that it all makes brilliant and blinding sense, when all the jigsaw pieces will fall into place, and with hindsight the hours of not-very-much-happening followed by exciting-action-for-confusing-reasons will be revealed as tightly-plotted dramatic gold?
And equally, is there anyone who feels that, given a healthy budget and ten hours of transatlantic primetime television to fill, they couldn't have done better?