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Torchwood: Miracle Day

A new TV series airing on Starz.

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Miraculously, MIRACLE DAY Misses the Mark

  • Sep 26, 2012
I’ll have to confess to missing most of the TORCHWOOD phenomenon.  Oh, I’m experienced enough in the world of DOCTOR WHO to know that Russell T. Davies conceived of it there, spun it off from there, and I know it had two seasons and a mini (“Children of Earth”) before it was rescued from relative obscurity by the STARZ (Entertainment) Network stateside and given a new lease on domestic life.  One could make the argument that that’s the perfect destination for Davies’ all-too-thoughtful rumination on all thing supernatural with a cosmic angle, even though this first (and only?) season produced mixed results at best.
Oswald Danes (played by Bill Pullman) is a convicted child killer who – due to circumstances beyond explanation – survives his execution.  Suddenly, the truth is an even greater revelation: worldwide, no one is dying!  Simply, people keep on living, despite illness or infirmary, and planet Earth is experiencing a population boom like never imagined.  Enter CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer).  He believes these recent developments maybe be tied to an ultra-secret British organization known only as “Torchwood.”  Matheson locates Torchwood regulars, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles); whisks them off to the United States; and attempts to unmask the puppetmasters behind the conspiracy while the fate of Earth hangs in the balance.
It’s a noble premise with all of the sci-fi trappings common to the works of Mr. Davies.  In fact, the new stateside setting might’ve been “just what the Doctor ordered” (pun intended) to bring new life to the Torchwood happenings.  With a focus on action and more than a healthy investigation of Captain Jack’s curious ‘sexuality,’ TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY would almost seem to be tailor-made for American cable.
Almost …
There’s an interesting puzzle at the heart of MIRACLE DAY, and that’s this: how is it that on any given day an immortal could be turned ‘mortal’ whilst the lowly mortals are suddenly blessed with life everlasting?  The show works best when it peels back the layers associated to this central mystery.  It does so early on in these ten episodes, and it refocuses in the final installments, but, in between, there’s an awful lot of gobbledygook that could’ve easily been trimmed.  After being relocated to the United States, there’s barely the bat of an eyelash, and Gwen Cooper is summoned back to the England to deal with personal developments; sure, they’re related to the events of the Miracle, but quite a bit of them unfold way too conveniently and way too circumstantially to believe that they were a necessary component of the greater story here.  Also, there are a handful of side characters introduced here – additional CIA officers and agents, a pharmaceutical company with its representatives – that, as much as Davies and the other writers try to establish their importance, they’re just not given enough substance for the audience to authentically care about them.  As a result, they’re reduced to stock characters you either love or hate, depending upon the needs of the plot.
Also – and I very rarely harp on actors – could they find no other established commodity than Bill Pullman to play, of all things, a child killer?  Along with fresh-faced Lauren Ambrose as a pharmaceutical rep, he’s horrifically miscast here, seeming more like a disillusioned kindly uncle than a murderous villain who becomes the new AntiChrist.  Sadly, as characters they essentially keep hitting the same ‘notes’ – commerce is bad, televangelism is bad, corporations are bad, government is bad – so neither addition, while significant to the story, appear legitimate.  Because of that and the fact that the secondary events seem passable, much of MIRACLE DAY mires down with excess.  I’ve no doubt some trimming and tighter focus would’ve made this a vastly more successful program.  It started strong, it struggled in the middle, and it never faithfully regained its legs in its finale, perhaps leaving more threads dangling than it should have.
But … let me be perfectly clear on this point: the first episode here – “The New World” – is stellar on absolutely every level.  Viewing it, I can say that I’d honestly expected the entirety of MIRACLE DAY to be a much different series, one with much more action and intensity, than what is inevitably delivered.  Is that a bad thing?  Certainly not.  The strength of this introduction encourages every viewer to hang around for things to come; however, the end result with the inevitable climax was far more meditative and reflective for its own good.
TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY was produced by BBC Worldwide for BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Worldwide, and Starz Entertainment.  DVD distribution is being handled by Warner Home Video, Inc.  It looks and sounds splendid, as any television production could.  The release is chocked full of extras including audio commentary, character profiles (definitely helpful for newbies to the franchise), an obligatory feature of the special effects of the series, some deleted scenes, and a “Web of Lies” motion comic.  It’s a great package for anyone hoping to explore the program from behind-the-scenes, though I doubt you’ll find anything particularly Earth-shattering here.
RECOMMENDED.  It ain’t perfect, but, as television fair, TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY hits a lot of solid moments, though I’m not sure it’ll win any converts to the whole DOCTOR WHO/TORCHWOOD franchise.  A bit overlong and overwrought at times, MIRACLE DAY could’ve been trimmed from a bloated ten episodes down to, maybe, six or seven, and there still would’ve been plenty of meat to deliver a terrific meal.  As it stands, it feels a few hours overcooked – with a few unnecessary sides – and delivers less nuance than any good drama should.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good folks at BBC America provided me with a DVD screener of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
Miraculously, MIRACLE DAY Misses the Mark

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