Wednesday 24 June 2020

Torchwood: Miracle Day

In which, one day, no-one dies. CIA agent Rex Matheson discovers this when he is involved in what should have been a fatal road traffic accident - a scaffolding pole going through his heart. When he and his colleague Esther Drummond look into this, they find the word "Torchwood" amongst the associated files. This secretive UK organisation no longer exists, however. The world's authorities are concerned about the phenomenon, as without people dying the population will exceed essential resources in a matter of months. Rex traces the whereabouts of one of the members of Torchwood - Gwen Cooper. She and Rhys live with their baby, Anwen, at a remote cottage in Wales. When Rex arrives there, Captain Jack Harkness turns up as well, as the cottage comes under attack from unknown assailants in a helicopter. Gwen shoots the aircraft down with a bazooka. Jack and Gwen are extradited to the USA by the CIA, but on the plane Jack is poisoned by one of Rex's colleagues, and he discovers that whilst everyone else can no longer die, his immortality has gone and he can be killed. Gwen saves him and the rogue CIA agent is struck by a car at the airport - but of course cannot be killed.

Once in America, Rex and Esther join forces with Jack and Gwen to investigate a global conspiracy involving an organisation known as the Three Families, who appear to be behind the phenomenon. At the time the phenomenon began, a child murderer named Oswald Danes was about to be executed by lethal injection. He becomes an unlikely media star, groomed by a PR executive named Jilly Kitzinger. She is employed through a pharmaceutical company named PhiCorp, which is run by the Three Families. Jack discovers that they have been stockpiling huge quantities of medicines in advance of the "Miracle Day", as thought they knew it was going to happen. With no-one dying, yet still falling sick, they will make a fortune. Governments across the world initiate a categorisation process, which identifies those people who are so seriously ill that they form a surplus population. An associate of Rex and the Torchwood team, Dr Juarez, discovers that camps are being set up in remote areas to incinerate the most sick. When she challenges the camp's controller, he has her locked in one of the incinerators after shooting her and she is killed. Back in Wales, Gwen's terminally ill father Geraint, who has suffered a series of heart attacks,  has to be hidden from the authorities. Her mother, Mary, is helped by Rhys and Gwen's old colleague Andy Davidson, who is now a police sergeant.

It transpires that Jack is unwittingly responsible for Miracle Day happening. In the 1920's when Jack had been in New York City he had fallen in love with a young Italian immigrant named Angelo Colesanto. During this time it was discovered by Angelo's friends and neighbours that Jack was immortal, and they stole samples of his blood. This was the origins of the Three Families. Gwen is deported back to the UK, where she endeavours to help her father. Public opinion turns against Oswald Danes and he finds himself vilified once more. He flees to Wales to find Gwen. As more CIA staff turn out to be secretly working for the Families, Jack discovers that Angelo is still alive. He dies of old age, and they discover that he had used a null field generator to allow this to happen - giving Jack and Rex a clue as to stopping the Miracle. When Geraint Cooper is taken to an incineration plant, Andy and Owen help to free him, and Gwen destroys the complex. Jack learns of a natural phenomenon known as the Blessing, which runs through the centre of the Earth from South America to the Far East. The Three Families have fed his blood into this and this has caused the Miracle, as it generates a life prolonging force-field. Destroying both ends of the Blessing simultaneously should bring the phenomenon to an end. In Shanghai, Jack allows himself to be shot - deducing that if immortal blood can sustain the Blessing, then mortal blood will cancel it out - and he is the only mortal left on Earth. This works, and Danes sacrifices himself to blow up the Families base - sealing the opening at the same time Rex seals the one in Buenos Aires. The Miracle ends, and Geraint dies. There is one last attempt by the Families to kill the Torchwood team and Esther is killed, but Rex discovers that he remains immortal like Jack, having had a transfusion of his blood...

Miracle Day is the overall title for Torchwood's fourth and, to date, final season. It was a co-production with the Starz company, after a deal with the Fox Network fell through, and each episode premiered on Starz some 5 days before the UK broadcast (though some of us managed to watch it on-line on the day). Some sex scenes were cut from the UK transmission. There were 10 episodes:

1. The New World (8th July 2011), written by Russell T Davies
2. Rendition (15th July 2011), written by Doris Egan
3. Dead of Night (22nd July 2011), written by Jane Espenson
4. Escape to L.A. (29th July 2011), written by Jim Gray and John Shiban
5. The Categories of Life (5th August 2011), written by Jane Espenson
6. The Middle Men (12th August 2011), written by John Shiban
7. Immortal Sins (19th August 2011), written by Jane Espenson
8. End of the Road (26th August 2011), written by Jane Espenson and Ryan Scott
9. The Gathering (2nd September 2011), written by John Fay
10. The Blood Line (9th September 2011), written by Russell T Davies and Jane Espenson

After leaving Doctor Who, Jane Gardner had moved to the USA to develop projects which could be co-productions between BBC America and US companies. RTD joined her, and the first project they had in mind was a continuation of Torchwood, which had last been seen in the UK as a single storyline shown over five consecutive nights as Children of Earth. This had proved extremely popular, and RTD had decided that the show would never revert back to a monster-of-the-week format, as it had been for its first two series. A US co-production would also inevitably mean a move away from the usual Welsh locations. RTD came up with the overall concept of the series, and wrote or co-wrote the opening and closing chapters, but other writers were brought on board to develop their own episodes within the overarching story. In its early stages, it had been thought that this series might act as a complete reboot for Torchwood, but RTD instead decided to build on what had already gone before.

Children of Earth had ended with Jack leaving Earth following the sacrifice of his grandson and the death of Ianto Jones, with Gwen expecting a baby with Rhys. We had last seen Jack in an alien bar, with the Doctor setting him on a date with Midshipman Frame, in The End of Time Part 2. RTD reasoned that only another global threat would bring him back to Earth, and bring Gwen out of retirement.
As well as the return of the regulars John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Kai Owen, other links to previous series included the return of Andy Davidson (Tom Price) and Gwen's parents Geraint and Mary (William Thomas and Sharon Morgan), who had first appeared in Something Borrowed in Series 2.
The three main US actors to join the cast are Mekhi Phifer, as Rex Matheson, Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes, and Alexa Havins as Esther Drummond. They feature throughout the series. Phifer had been a regular on the medical drama ER, whilst Havins had featured in the soap All My Children. Pullman's biggest role to date had been as the US President in the sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day.
Set up as another regular, but shockingly killed off at the halfway stage of the series is Arlene Tur, who plays Dr Juarez.
Two of the guest stars are well known to Star Trek fans. Playing CIA chief Shapiro is John De Lancie, best known for portraying "Q" across the franchise, and Nana Visitor (Major Kira in ST: DS9) plays Angelo Colasanto's granddaughter.
Jilly Kitzinger is played by Lauren Ambrose, well known to fans of the HBO series Six Feet Under.

Initial reaction to the series was mixed, with many fearing the "Amerification" of Torchwood - that it would lose its unique Welsh identity and look like just another generic US sci-fi drama (with a reliance on guns and car chases. The first couple of episodes helped to assuage these fears, as we were reintroduced to familiar characters and much of the first episode was set in Wales. Things went downhill rather rapidly after this, however, as the action shifted Stateside. Fans and critics were not happy that there appeared to be no alien involvement, and many complained that it had divorced itself too far from Doctor Who, in which Amy and Rory were seen to be living happily in England whilst the events of Miracle Day were supposed to be taking place. Whilst always being a separate programme, Torchwood continuity had thus far managed to remain closely connected to the parent programme. Other complaints concerned the number of supplementary characters being introduced, many of whom remained undeveloped - arriving merely to be bumped off. The motivation of the main villains remained obscure for too long, and other characters the audience found it hard to engage with. It was generally felt that the 'writers' room' style of production did not do the series any favours.
By its conclusion, many felt that Children of Earth had been much the more satisfying season, with many pointing out that it had ended with a decent conclusion where the series could have been brought to a close, but with the door open for a return later. Miracle Day, on the other hand, ended with too many threads still hanging - with Rex now immortal like Jack, and the Families still active and working on another scheme. If the plan had been for a second co-production series, this was not to be. Torchwood exists only as a Big Finish audio range these days, although Captain Jack has finally been brought back into Doctor Who with a cameo in Fugitive of the Judoon - and supposedly featuring again in Revolution of the Daleks.

Overall, a brave experiment that just didn't quite work out in the end. Miracle Day is too far removed from the previous three series - meaning that they might as well have come up with an entirely original production. If the series ever returns, hopefully it will be back to basics.
Things you might like to know:
  • "Torchwood: New World" was the original overall title for the series before it became Miracle Day.
  • Initially Rex was to have been played by a Caucasian actor, and Esther by a BAME one, but they decided to swap the ethnicity of the characters.
  • Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones) and James Marsters (Captain John Hart) both expressed a wish to be included in this series.
  • The brain parasites which had featured in Series 2's Fragments reappear in the episode set in the 1920's. These were the creatures responsible for the death of Owen Harper's wife. It is stated that they are part of the 'Trickster's Brigade' - referencing both The Sarah Jane Adventures and the Doctor Who story Turn Left. The parasite, called by Jack a Brainspawn, was to have been used to prevent the USA from remaining in World War II.
  • Other continuities include the use of Retcon, and the appearance of the special contact lenses which allow messages to be sent to the wearer (first seen in Reset).
  • A photograph of Jack which the CIA have is a publicity still from The Empty Child.
  • A lack of continuity with Doctor Who exists with the whole notion of the Blessing running through the entire planet. We had previously seen that Torchwood had burrowed down to the centre of the planet in The Runaway Bride, and never encountered such a thing, and the Silurians have underground shelters all over the Earth,
  • Jack uses Owen's name as an alias at one point, and later he uses the Doctor's usual alias of John Smith.
  • The CIA code for the suppression of information about Torchwood is the '456 Regulation' - a reference to the alien species of Children of Earth.
  • Gwen Cooper is said to have joined Torchwood in October 2006, which is when the first episode of Series 1 aired. However, all the first and second series stories are supposed to be set one year ahead of broadcast, thanks to the events of Aliens of London.
  • Whilst masquerading as a chauffeur, Rhys takes the name Mr Sloane. This is a reference to Joe Orton's stage play Entertaining Mr Sloane, in which the title character is taken on by one of his sibling lovers as a chauffeur.
  • There is a reference to something called the "Vivaldi Inheritance". This comes from RTD's 2004 series Mine All Mine, in which a man named Max Vivaldi (played by Griff Rhys-Jones) discovers that he is the rightful owner of the city of Swansea. Gareth David-Lloyd had appeared in this, as a character named Yanto Jones.
  • There's a cameo from RTD as a radio announcer's voice in the penultimate episode.
  • Australian fans were in for a disappointment when a caption at the end of The Blood Line announced that Jack would be back in January 2012. This turned out not to be the start of Series 5, but a reference to a themed month of Torchwood related programmes.