by Sherry Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Torchwood – Miracle Day on Blogcritics.org.
The popular BBC show Torchwood was transplanted to America for its fourth season. Broadcast on the Starz network, Torchwood: Miracle Day is part continuation and part reboot of the series. While the previous three seasons of the show were set in Cardiff, Wales, Torchwood: Miracle Day is set primarily in the U.S. Only two of the existing primary characters, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), take part in the new story. Despite the presence of Captain Jack and Gwen, Miracle Day bears little resemblance to the first three seasons. The new setting is jarring, while the storyline is a confusing mess that does not fit well with the original concept of the show. Torchwood: Miracle Day is a disappointment on all levels.
The first episode is admittedly somewhat promising. The concept of Miracle Day is established when convicted child rapist and murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) fails to die during his lethal injection execution. Danes is not the only one to defy the odds that day. It turns out no one has died in the past several hours. A CIA agent, Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), is impaled through the chest during a car accident. He doesn’t know why he survived, wants to find out. His partner, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), suggests they find Torchwood, beginning a search for the whereabouts of Captain Jack. The absence of death is an interesting mystery. It’s enough to bring Captain Jack out of hiding. Somehow he finds Esther and heads back to Wales to reenlist Gwen for a new team. The catch is that while the rest of the world can’t die, Jack – previously established as immortal – has become mortal. He must solve the mystery of Miracle Day while keeping himself from getting killed or seriously injured.
While the setup to the story is decent, the execution is poor. Miracle Day attempts to ask what life would be like if we couldn’t die, but it never really examines the answers. Part of the problem with Miracle Day is that the concept seems way too big for the show. Episode after episode is loaded with exposition. People talk endlessly about the problems of an ever-expanding population, but there isn’t enough action. As the story moves on, it becomes increasingly preposterous. There are several plot holes that don’t jive with previously established Torchwood mythology, making the whole thing unsatisfying for long time fans. New viewers are likely to be confused by the bits and pieces of mythology that are present but never fully explained.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of Torchwood: Miracle Day is the entity of Torchwood itself. The original Torchwood was a secret UK government agency established by Queen Victoria. Its primary purpose was to protect the Earth from alien visitors. Captain Jack Harkness is an immortal being working for Torchwood, but he is not the leader of the agency. That is part of what gave the first three seasons of Torchwood its charm. The Cardiff headquarters were almost a fringe offshoot of the larger Torchwood agency. Captain Jack and his team dealt with aliens more or less unbeknownst to society at large. Captain Jack was the coolest guy around. His presence commanded respect from everyone he encountered. He could figure his way out of seemingly any situation while making the tough decisions that no one else wanted to make.
The Captain Jack of Miracle Day is only a shadow of his former self. Part of that is due to his new mortality, not to mention the devastation he endured during the previous season, Children of Earth. However, most of it is due to the fact that Captain Jack has become a supporting player in Miracle Day. He hardly seems a part of the show, and he certainly doesn’t do anything cool. He has a few goods scenes, particularly those with Oswald Danes, but they’re not enough to sustain the series. What’s even more disappointing is that Oswald Danes’ function in the show is never fully realized, leaving those scenes unsatisfying in the end.
Overall Torchwood: Miracle Day is an unsatisfying viewing experience. Captain Jack is emasculated. Gwen has become a shrieking shrew of a woman with none of the level-headed appeal she possessed in previous seasons. The whole basic concept of Torchwood has been abandoned. Though the characters continually repeat, “This is Torchwood,” its true purpose is never explained. The new characters seem to be out of a different show. The problem is we are asked to accept the new team at the outset. Had the show taken the tactic of episodically building a new team, letting the viewer slowly get the know them, things might have been different. There is no real reason the show had to focus around a ten episode story-arc where nothing happens other than what pertains to the “Miracle.” Personally, I think the show would have been much better off rebooting a new Torchwood team along the lines of the first two seasons. There are so many things that don’t make sense, or are not fully explored in Miracle Day, that the whole thing feels like one big mistake.
The HD presentation of Torchwood: Miracle Day is good, though I didn’t find it spectacular. The detail is good overall. For example, early on the badly charred bodies are depicted in all their gory nastiness. The generally muted color scheme is realistic. Skin tones look natural. One of the scenes that stood out was an action sequence set in a nearly all white room, with Captain Jack dressed in all black. The deep black levels of Jack’s suit didn’t drown out the textures of the fabric, while the white walls remained well-defined. The sound is presented in 5.1 DTS HD. The audio is mixed for television and doesn’t have that big movie sound, but it does make good use of the rear speakers. Ambient noise like city street activity and office chatter is present. Gunfire erupts nicely in the background at times, creating an immersive feeling.
There are quite a few extras on the set, which should please fans. One of the more unique features is the animated “Web of Lies” motion comic, which originally aired on the Starz website. The motion comic features the voices of Barrowman, Myles, and Eliza Dushku. Among the features that I found disappointing are episode intros from Barrowman and show creator Russell T. Davies.
These intros are automatic, meaning they have to be watched every time you watch the episodes (though they are given their own chapter). Barrowman is over-the-top in his enthusiasm, which is kind of annoying. The intros also give away minor details, which border on being spoilers. I would have much rather had these intros as an optional feature. Other features include commentary tracks on the first and last episodes, a selection of mostly boring deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, an FX special, and character profiles. Overall the features are pretty good, though the behind the scenes is standard EPK fare that offers little insight into the show.