Monday, September 12, 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day - The Debate

Russel T. Davies' Torchwood series is kind of a gauge of your geek cred. I proudly claim to have seen every episode and for the most part, hated all of them.

The premise of show, a spinoff from Davies' reboot of Doctor Who (attention anagram enthusiasts!) is that  the UK government has a top-secret intelligence agency devoted to tracking down and neutralizing extraterrestrial threats, headed by Captain Jack Harkness, an immortal humanoid alien with a penchant for WWII fashion and an unmistakable American accent. And he's bisexual, though lately only interested in men.

In the last two series, Torchwood has been dismantled (aggressively dismantled) and instead of saving the Earth on behalf of the government, it has been saving the Earth because Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper, the only two original team members not assassinated, simply refuse to leave the Earth to its own devices. The latest series, Miracle Day, has just completed its 10-episode run on Starz. It was epic in scope and, as usual, frustrating.

The series, first of all, seemed about 5 episodes too long. The plot engine in Miracle Day is that suddenly, one day, nobody dies. All around the world, at exactly the same time, everybody is immortal, except Captain Jack. Sounds great at first, but of course the devil's in the details. Overpopulation becomes a problem inside of a week, along with the disturbing proviso that mortal wounds never heal. You're just kind of alive, stuck with this oozing gunshot wound or flesh-eating virus or what have you. Good premise but the longer you have to think about the implications, the more holes you're going to find. And there are a lot of them holes. For example the phenomenon seems linked to Harkness, but when he takes a bullet, he just heals. Hell, they blew him up last year! He was encased in concrete for the better part of century once, and it's no biggie. So why not the new crop of immortals?

And my biggest beef with the series is definitely on display this time around: it violates the prime law of procedurals. Okay, it's my law, but it seems to hold: if you do a show about people with a job, they must be really really good at that job. If it's about bus drivers the plots must be how they solve bus driver problems that would flummox ordinary bus drivers. And they have to care about the bus so much that it takes precedence over their personal lives. A bus driver who is neglecting his kids because he's putting in so much extra time to keeping the bus running is a hero in a procedural.

In Torchwood, it's always been a conceit that the team members are people! With needs! So when Captain Jack literally takes an evening off from saving the world so he can pick up a bartender, it sticks in my craw. A good dozen of the plots in the first two series revolved around Earth-threatening conflicts caused by the Torchwood staff. If I were the British government, I'd have taken those guys out around episode 5.

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