Is Torchwood: Miracle Day Unfairly Criticised?
Guest contributor Thomas Field believes the divisive fourth run deserves another chance.
There’s no denying that Torchwood’s fourth series Miracle Day reaped a large amount of criticism from fans after it aired back in 2011. It was a real mould breaker for Torchwood as, along with largely being set in America, rather than in its home grown roots of Cardiff, much beloved characters Ianto, Owen and Tosh were not present (well, they were dead), and this was quite a blow for the fans.
Many people’s first experience of Torchwood was Miracle Day’s series opener The New World and a small minority of Brits thought it was great, a feeling that was most likely shared by a great amount of Miracle Day’s American audience, many of whom were also watching Torchwood for the first time. This was most likely what caused problems with older fans of Torchwood, because as this opener needed to introduce a new audience to the show (it was the show’s first big broadcast in America and therefore needed to accommodate for incoming viewers), it became weighed down by the reintroduction of the Torchwood Institute and its (remaining) team members.
I think most of us can agree that the best series of Torchwood by far is 2009’s mini-series Children of Earth, and, although some people may have missed the single episode format of Series 3’s predecessors, there is no doubt in my mind that the development of characters, the emotional progression and the thematic undercurrents were handled in a way that made this series far superior to Torchwood’s debut and second series and although Miracle Day would never have been able to exceed the quality of Children of Earth, some fans think it still stands up well as a solid series. So were Miracle Day’s criticisms justified, or was this fourth outing for Jack and Gwen better than people thought?
A Further Insight Into Jack’s Past
Before Torchwood we really knew very little about Jack Harkness’ long history, but over Series 1, 2 and 3 we gradually learnt more and more. Miracle Day told us another of Jack’s many tales, exploring his relationship with Angelo Colasanto in 1920s New York in the series’ 7th episode, Immortal Sins. Not only did this instalment provide a great set-up for the following episode, it also presented important themes involving homosexuality. Jack, being an omnisexual, all over the place, anything goes time agent, is totally cool with being gay. But Angelo, being a man of the 1920s, a time when people were not as accepting as they are today, is not so sure about what he’s doing. His main reason for feeling guilty about being gay is because of his religious beliefs, which go on to influence his opinions about Jack when his resurrection abilities are revealed. He is a classic example of the effect that religious beliefs can have on your views, and these views even drive him to selling out Jack as a circus act. This episode revealed that, as with Children of Earth, something in Jack’s past is related to events happening in the present day, and in Miracle Day’s case, Jack’s blood was of paramount importance.
Good New Characters
After the departure of Tosh and Owen in Series 2 and Ianto in the following series, many fans felt that Miracle Day would be far worse without these characters. Others felt that, although the deaths of three important members of the Torchwood team were sad, this move was justified, as it was shocking and proved the worth of Exit Wounds’ villain – Jack’s brother Gray – and Children of Earth’s alien menace – the 456. To make up for the absence of these beloved characters, Miracle Day introduced us to CIA field agent Rex Matheson and his partner in crime Esther Drummond. Esther, from the get go, is a really likeable character. She is the underdog, the office girl who dreams of being a field agent, and we automatically route for her. Rex is the opposite, he is an annoying, self centred CIA agent working exactly where Esther wants to be.
To begin with, Rex gathered a lot of of criticism from UK fans for just being an annoying character. This was ridiculous. Just because a character is portrayed to be on the good side, it doesn’t mean that they have to be a totally perfect human being. Rex is fighting for what the audience thinks is good, but he does have some human flaws. This is part of what makes Rex a good character, and it’s his development over the course of Miracle Day that turns him into a hero, and a character that we can truly love at the end of the series.
Esther, being one of the nicest characters ever to appear in Torchwood, was probably doomed to die from the beginning. As with Ianto, Esther was the heart of her series, and, to show that the stakes were really high, it made sense to kill her off in the finale. One continuing theme throughout Torchwood’s four series is sacrificing someone for the greater good of humankind, embodied in Children of Earth by Jack’s grandson Steven, and in Miracle Day by Esther.
A Global Setting
One of the main criticisms about this series was the distinct lack of Cardiff and the majority of it being set in America. Although I can see why some people didn’t like this, is it not true that a lot of the much beloved Children of Earth was set in London? In addition to this, as Torchwood is a show that is constantly changing and evolving, (whether that is its graduation from, the soon to be lost, BBC Three, to BBC Two, to BBC One, or its re-shuffling of format) so it makes sense for it to try out new things, like being set in different countries, or having new characters.
Without the cooperation of American network Starz, we may not have ever got any more Torchwood, so it was fair enough that some of Miracle Day was set in the USA. Admittedly, however, that the ‘banter’ between Gwen and Esther about lemonade and crisps/chips etc was a complete waste of time and lacked any purpose, but apart from that, the American setting brought with it a new interesting feel to the show.
Along with a new country to play with, Miracle Day spotlighted a new American supporting cast, most notably Lauren Ambrose as Jilly Kitzinger and Hollywood star Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes. These two stellar performances were remarkable and really made Torchwood stand out in the sea of other Sci-Fi dramas.
A Better Use of the ‘Adult’ Rating
Throughout Series 1, our favourite alien fighting team were still finding their feet, and each episode seemed to be trying to fulfil a check-list to make sure the show was ‘mature’ or ‘adult’ enough. You can just imagine the tone meeting: “Ok, so we’ve got some blood, and some sex, good. But someone hasn’t sworn yet!” By Series 3 and 4, however, Torchwood had progressed, and made more constructive use of its post-watershed status, rather than just throwing things in for the sake of it. Torchwood: Miracle Day, like it’s predecessors, had it’s fair share of adult content, but this time it made sense, it was embedded in a strong story, and had a point to it, rather than just being included for no obvious reason other than to make it more ‘grown-up’. As with Children of Earth, Miracle Day, rather than just spilling over with in your face violent scenes, had a dark subject matter, and used its violence in moderation to make a point.
An Ongoing Mystery
The Blessing, the three families and the mysterious double agent Charlotte Wills, these three intriguing mysteries were one of the best things about Miracle Day. It kept each episode interesting, and helped to bring viewers back every week and, although the threat, in the end, wasn’t at all alien, there was still a satisfying pay off in The Blood Line. The fact that the final episode heavily hinted that the three families’ escapades were only just beginning, suggesting a future storyline, was exciting, and many fans were left wanting to find out more about this organisation, and what they were up to. The Blessing is an interesting idea, and the fact that there is not much detail regarding its origin and capabilities helps to shroud the miracle causing tube in mystery. As for Charlotte Wills, her story is wrapped up nicely in the finale, providing a fitting end to the character, with Rex getting the revenge he deserved, and a full explanation of her connection with the plot.
Although Torchwood: Miracle Day,as with all things, has it’s faults, it battles through these to tell a compelling, serialised tale that explores many important themes like sacrifice, power and peoples views on homosexuality, whilst embedding this all in a dark, science-fiction world. The amount of dislike that Miracle Day procured was, on reflection, undeserved and, although it will never be held in the same place in fans’ hearts as Children of Earth it still holds up as a better series than Torchwood‘s début, with a more focused, precise and defined storyline, in contrast to the all over the place, jumbled collection of episodes that was Series 1. So grab the DVD box set, sit down, and give Miracle Day another chance.