Monday, September 12, 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day - The Debate 2

I have never watched a scrap of the first three seasons of Torchwood. I have also never seen more than a dozen of so minutes of the sixty-odd seasons of Doctor Who. First impressions are made early, and I remember trying to watch the show when I was just a kid-- it was in black & white and consisted of endless scenes of a fusty old Brit climbing around an abandoned brickworks or whatever.

So I took in Torchwood: Miracle Day as a complete newbie, having to fill in the gaps as I went along as to who the supercilious gay guy with the wartime coat and the resentful Taff with the freckles were.

Oddly, I think this perspective put me in a position to really appreciate what a remarkable series it was. Russell T Davies and company (notably former Buffy and BSG showrunner Jane Espenson) cooked up a series that is centered an a hard science-fiction concept so simple, so profound and so rich I can't figure out why nobody had done it before.

And moreover, this simple concept (one fine day, for no apparent reason, people stop dying everywhere) is explored thoroughly and realistically. Yes, Miracle Day would seem like just that for most people-- until you start thinking about the consequences of getting injured or incapacitated or shot full of holes or crushed in a car compactor. Play these things out and you get economic collapse, moral panic, and the eventual re-classification of those incapacitated but undying into a category to be disposed of. Immortal life, which is something we mere mortals can only hope and pray for, becomes the stuff of unending pain and horror. That's good, well-thought-out speculative fiction.

Death is a inextricable part of the human condition-- one which everyone would very much love to banish. But take it away-- and watch the chaos spread. It's such a powerful idea to explore somebody wrote a New York Times Op-Ed about it.

I've lost track of how many TV shows that have introduced a world altering concept and were either too lazy or hidebound to thoroughly explore the ideas they are promulgating. The late reboot of V on ABC was a prime example of this-- after a while, it felt like the the Visitors were nothing more than annoying new neighbors everybody had to just put up with.

So I came away impressed by this show. Sure, it was a bit talky here and there-- and the season finale, though it wrapped things up well, was just plain bad. Without spoiling, in the last two acts the baddies, though they are in an unquestionable power position, stand around like a bunch of potted plants while the intrepid Torchwood team undoes all their grand plans basically right in front of them. And of course, they wouldn't be bad guys if they didn't get in some epic monologing beforehand. (And I'm with Dan, we want more Lauren Ambrose. And John DeLancie had the best parting line ever.)

I'd venture to say that the Miracle Day effect was so rich an idea, it made the precedent Torchwood adventures irrelevant. I feel no need to review past episodes. In fact, since it was a BBC Wales show before the infusion of US cash from Starz/Encore for Miracle Day, I'm sure they're just endless scenes of fusty Brits (and a resentful Taff) climbing around an abandoned brickworks or whatever.

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