Torchwood: Miracle Day, “Rendition”

Posted on July 16, 2011

Ah, there’s the Torchwood we remember.

Not that we were complaining about it being missing, but the somewhat wacky hijinks of the original Torchwood crew got lost in a rash of character deaths and the decision to take the franchise in a totally different direction with Children of Earth. And while the gruesomeness of that series is still evident in Miracle Day, with that utterly ridiculous (in a totally awesome way) rescue of Jack from the jaws of death, we got a welcome return to the kind of completely loopy science and breakneck pacing that characterized the otherwise deeply flawed first two seasons of the show.

And that’s good, because when we realized that almost the entire episode was going to be centered around that plane ride, it occurred to us just how much time the creators have to stretch out their story, which made us momentarily nervous that we were going to be subjected to a lot of filler in this series. You can say what you want about the idea of Gwen concocting an arsenic antidote by screaming at gay flight attendants and ripping up carpets, but it sure wasn’t filler. Or if it was, it was damn fun filler. We’ll take more of that.

But there’s a flipside to the idea of the show returning to its roots: it also feels like its recycling some tropes. Watching Esther tap keys excitedly while staring at a monitor and nervously walking down government agency hallways sure felt familiar to anyone who’s seen Children of Earth. Goodbye Lois Habiba and hello Esther Drummond. And let’s face it: the idea of government agencies determined to wipe out anyone associated with Torchwood, while simultaneously dealing with a worldwide crisis of (possible) alien origin (with the possibility that Jack has something to do with the crisis) was a major component of Children of Earth.

Wait, what are we saying? That was the entire plot of the previous series.

But if there’s one thing showrunner Russell T Davies is known for (aside from bombastic storylines, overloud music cues, and deus ex machina climaxes) it’s pulling the rug out from under your expectations. The elements in the first 2 episodes of this series are so similar to the last series that we’re willing to entertain the idea that it’s deliberate and at some point, just when you think the show’s gotten repetitive, it’ll veer off in some completely unforeseen direction. At least, that’s what we’re hoping will happen.

We’ve noticed some comments from British viewers and reviewers bemoaning the loss of the show’s “Britishness,” (or at least, “Welshness”) and that’s not an unfair complaint.  However, if we may speak to that from the American point of view, while the show has gotten bigger and louder and more definably American in tone, anyone paying close attention can see that the series, with its explorations of the death penalty, fundamentalist religious cults, the chaotic, ill-prepared healthcare system, secretive U.S. agencies (and agents) who act like they own the world, and fast-talking amoral publicists who can represent murderers (named “Oswald,” no less) and pharmaceutical companies at the same time, can see that it’s clearly making some rather wickedly delicious commentary about how America is perceived in the rest of the world. Trust us, that’s not something you encounter a lot on American-produced television. In other words, it’s subtle, but the Britishness is all over this one. The show’s creators have embraced the idea of big helicopter explosions while using the opportunity to skewer American culture subtly. It’s clever, and deviously subversive.

As for the actual plot, we didn’t get much movement, really. We got confirmation that elements of the CIA are not as friendly or wholesome as our heroes might like, but it’s 2011; audience members are going to assume the big bad government agency is corrupt before any evidence is presented. And at the end, outside the airport, we got a brief glimpse of what looks like it’s going to be the new Torchwood: Jack, Gwen, Esther, Rex, and Dr. Juarez. That’s not a bad setup at all. Rex is a total dick and acted like one all episode until he realized he was backing the wrong team, but Esther and Juarez are really likeable and smart. It’s practically a given that one or more of these characters will be dead by the end of the season, though.

But shuffling Rhys off the scene so quickly bothers us tremendously. Not just because it makes Rex look so bad it’ll be hard to root for him, but also because we really like Rhys and because it possibly removes one of only two people in the cast who don’t have American accents (thereby offending the British fans even more), and it really makes Gwen’s actions a little questionable. A mother forcibly separated from her baby doesn’t just get over it and get on with it only a couple of hours later. The Gwen we know would have been as feral and frightening as a mad Welshwoman can possibly get until that baby was safely back in her arms. Granted, she was pretty distracted all episode, but it still rung a little false to us. We’re assuming that Rhys’ story isn’t over yet. After all, he and Anwen seem to have been delivered into the hands of the wrong people. Maybe we’ll be getting some parallel action over in Britain with Rhys (and Andy, please) working to get Anwen back while Torchwood deals with the worldwide threat. That would be the best possible development, so here’s hoping.

Oh, and that last special effect with the “Death Becomes Her” pose was cringe-inducing and awful.  They should have shaved some dollars off that exploding helicopter from last week and spread it around the FX budget a bit more.


[Picture credit: Starz]

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  • MilaXX

    Still no major complaints from me. I have some minor complaints. I find the thought of Oswald knowing he is so hated and going on the talk show for free puzzling. Especially since he seemed so savvy with getting himself released. He knows he hated by 99% of the viewing public so why go on tv unless it was for the cash?
    I’m not disliking Gwen either, which makes me nervous because in the first 2 episodes of CoE I really liked her as well. I’m holding my breath hoping I’ll continue to like her the rest of the series.
    Only other complaint was the casting of Wayne Knight as one of the corrupt and/or possibly alien CIA people. He looks like a slitheen. I kept half expecting him to start farting and unzip his human suit.
    I am still loving the series, so I can let these things slide for now, but more Rhys and policeman Andy would be nice.

    • Anonymous

      I thought Oswald went on the show to fake the apology and gain sympathy. Funny observation on Wayne Knight. Whenever he did something evil, even just a nefarious glance, my family and I would say in Seinfeld’s voice, “Newman!”

      • MilaXX

        But Oswald faking an apology doesn’t make sense either.  Obviously he knew they would ask about the child he murdered, but how could he know they would show the picture of her which seemed to be the thing reacted to?

        • Anonymous

          I hear you. I’m sure this type of debate is what the writers had in mind. The Oswald character  is written to be  cryptic intentionally. That’s what keeps us watching!

  • Anonymous

    The chick with her head on backward walking toward the car made me laugh hysterically. I thought it was supposed to be funny.

    I’m really glad you’re blogging this series. I didn’t watch Torchwood previously, so the recycled story lines and characters obviously don’t bother me. (I am watching all the old Tochwoods on Netflix streaming now…Damn you!)

    I’m looking forward to seeing how the plot and characters develop. I’ve found the show to be pretty exciting so far. I do need to cover my eyes during some of the gore, though. I’m kind of a pussy that way.

    • This scene (which resonates of the Autons from Doctor Who) and the casting of Wayne Knight (a Slitheen in Doctor Who) may be clues as to the alien baddies who are behind the Miracle Day plot.  Maybe a strategic alliance between the Slitheens and the Nestene Consciousness, two groups who have tried to take over the earth before?

      • Anonymous

        Ha! Hadn’t really drawn those Dr. Who comparisons. It is probably more of a nod to Torchwood’s origins than a signal that crossover will be happening. It is fun to think about though. After reading this comment and others here, I’m clearly not watching as closely as other minions!

  • Anonymous

    LOVE the new Torchwood.  Love the subversiveness of the commentary on US institutions–it’s deliciously vicious in a subtle kind of way.  And, like you, I worry that Rhys and Andy are shoved aside, but I have a suspicion that they’ll be on the next plane over to the States.  Gwen (the ever-inventive) will find a way to be reunited with hubby and (especially) her baby.  And whatever way she finds to do that will no doubt be as over-the-top crazy-good as concocting an arsenic antidote by pulling up carpet and ripping out the innards of planes in mid-flight.  (Would YOU have the guts to do that???  Huh.)

    I’m thrilled that you guys are blogging this series.  Go Torchwood!

    • Anonymous

      Personally, I’d be a little concerned over draining the fluid from the landing gear before I landed the plane. Interesting that the pilots apparently never even noticed. Need a few more sensors in that plane.

      • Anonymous

        It’s not like they were draining hydraulic fluid from the landing gear, it was degreaser. Why there are lines of degreaser on a plane is another matter entirely. The last time I checked, landing gear needs grease.

        Whatever. ‘Tis a fun, ridiculous ride through teh Whoverse, so just relax, stop picking it apart and wait for Rhys to appear shirtless.

  • The Death Becomes Her effect was ridiculous, but I found it tremendously creepy and disorienting, too; because in the previous 80 minutes of show, I think the producers have succeeded at defamiliarizing us to what being dead means; so I actually found it effective, and creepy as Dichen Lachmann collapsed on the road as the team pulled away: being not dead doesn’t mean not in pain, etc. I know they’ve shown us that several times, and perhaps it’ll get old, after a while, but for now, I’m still caught up in it.

  • I find most of the skewering of American culture you mentioned to be annoying, not the political aspects of it, but the more obvious “obnoxious American” and “angry black man” stereotypes.  I get the feeling RTD doesn’t like us much. 

    I hope this version of Torchwood doesn’t go back to its roots, the first season was unwatchable and I didn’t bother with the second.

    • Anonymous

      Not very much fun when we’re the ones being skewered is it?

      I wholeheartedly agree season 1 was unwatchable. Season 2 was better, but not great.

      • lol.. well we’re usually the ones being skewered. I wouldn’t mind it if it was actually subtle and clever, but it wasn’t, it was over the top.

        • I wasn’t really getting an ‘angry black man’ vibe off of
          him. I just thought that ‘arrogant dick’ was his default setting and quite
          separate from his race. They did establish in the first 5 minutes of episode 1
          that he’s both ambitious and insensitive. Like TLo said in their first recap;
          point may be that the injury he’s sustained combined with the stress is
          amplifying his negative personality traits.

        • Anonymous

          So American movies/TV never feature stereotypes? No cold, urbane English villains, angry drunken Scotsmen, emotionless Germans or shambolic Frenchmen? But then we only notice these things when it’s ourselves.

          I agree with Nimith’s assessment. Arrogant character, irrelevant of colour. And I think I’d be a bit pissed off if I’d had steel rods run through me and didn’t know whether I was about to fall down dead!

          • Did I say American movies and TV never feature stereotypes? I don’t think I did. I actually do notice when it’s done badly, regardless of who’s being stereotyped.  Sometimes stereotypes can be used as a way to make a point, and sometimes they’re just there because the writers needed to push the plot in a certain direction.  I merely disagreed with TLo’s opinion that the “skewering” was subtle and clever.

            It’s only a small disagreement, don’t get too excited.

          • Anonymous

            Lol – I’m not! I’m merely disagreeing with your comment; ‘well we’re usually the ones being skewered’ that’s all! Because it seems to me that’s just perspective, and that the ‘skewering’ is pretty much across the board, But we’ll all think our own nationality gets the brunt.

  • Anonymous

    Did anyone else think that Lauren Ambrose’s PR woman character was a slightly over-the-top wink to the Devil, what with the fire red blazer and the showing up to get key characters to sell their souls? 

    • Anonymous

      Oh!  Good catch!  Very symbolic.

  • Anonymous

    I clearly fail at staying away from posts 😀
    I think the fear of Americanisation is only partly for the current series, on which the points made make sense, especially after watching ep.1 on Thursday which I thoroughly enjoyed. But even more so for the future as from what I’ve read the intention is for it to be passed to American writers at some point in the future, should it last past this series and Davies will no longer be main writer. Although I assume he’d retain some control as I know he still owns rights on some Doctor Who characters, he was credited for The Ood in The Doctor’s Wife episode for instance. If and when that happens then what? Would it just turn into an X Files under a different name? I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that the cord between Torchwood and Doctor Who would be pretty much cut.

    • MilaXX

      I hope not. I enjoy the crossover episodes and I really want Captain Jack to meet 11.

      • Anonymous

        Me too. I can’t see 11 taking to him too well LOL!

        • MilaXX

          Like or dislike Jack clearly lusted after 10, so it would be interesting to see how he reacts to 11.

          • Anonymous

            Jack had good taste 🙂 
            Maybe he’d do what most people have done with Matt. Initial distaste then warm to him.

      • Anonymous

        RTD has made it very clear that the Doctor will never crossover into
        Torchwood (though Jack could come back to Doctor Who) because he does
        not want children watching Torchwood, which is an adult sci-fi show.  I
        think it is admirable.  both Davies and Moffat got their start in
        children’s TV and I think they have very firm ideas about

        That having been said, a visit back to DW by Jack would be great!

        • Anonymous

          To be honest I don’t see it happening anyway as Moffat seems to have drawn a pretty clear line between Davies era and his. Jack may make an appearance at some point but it’s a longshot I think. Also from watching Doctor Who Confidential, there seemed to be a generally good rapport between Barrowman and Tennant just as there is now with the new team so it might be something that just wouldn’t appeal. A bit like going back to an old workplace and it’s all new people there.

          The link is getting tenuous anyway, as the bigger the stories and catastrophes get, the more you think…hey shouldn’t the Doctor be turning up to help fix this! 🙂

    • Anonymous

      I dunno. The Doctor has made his own foray to the US. They could keep some crossover storylines going.

  • Anonymous

    Rex still annoys me. If any character is going to get killed off,  I hope its him. And the CIA, operating with police powers and in the US, is still ridiculous, but the rest of the storyline is promising. Although I hope they don’t overdo the OMG! Jack is mortal!! stuff. Watching Gwen save his life every episode could get real old, real fast.
    Watching Gwen deck the CIA bitch would never get old…..but damn did she telegraph that punch. CIA bitch needed some better self defense classes.

  • I loved that last “Death Becomes Her” scene, so jarring and hilarious! It is so bizarre to see Capt. Jack sick. And I do love the subversive British-ness of the plot. Awesome episode and recap!

  • Anonymous

    Does John Barrowman always look like Rob Lowe now?  Or was it just that picture.

    • Anonymous

      To me he looks like a mashup of Mark Harmon and Chris Noth (though better looking than either one), but I can see a bit of Rob Lowe in there now that you mention it. 

  • r0ckmypants

    Love love love this show so far. Never watched any previous seasons, but I’m hooked on this one.  Especially loved Lauren Ambrose’s two scenes!

  • Anonymous

    I’m so glad you guys are blogging this. So far I’m thoroughly enjoying the show though, as MilaXX pointed out, Oswald’s tv appearance (for free!) made absolutely no sense given that he knows he is a deeply hated man. 

    For now I’m enjoying the American bent on things, but I wonder if I’ll tire of it soon and start to pine for Cardiff, especially since we’re likely going to continue to be aggressively thumped over the head with American stereotypes. But then we do that all the time here (to everyone else) in the good ol’ U.S. of A don’t we? 

    The Death Becomes Her scene had me laughing out loud. Ridiculous, but in a good way.

    I too hope to be seeing more of Rhys (and baby Anwen) and Andy. Thanks for the recap!

    • Anonymous

      I think Oswald’s free appearance on a news show is being portrayed as a terribly clever manipulation of the system.  Jilly tells him it is dumb, after which he gets the message that Oprah wants to talk to him and he turns to her and says something like “I think I am doing just fine without you” implying that it was all intentional.   
       I do like the fact that both Danes and Suarez are shown in this episode turning down Jilly’s offer of representation, and she is definitely being set up as the character that looks flighty but turns out to be brilliant underneath.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for blogging this TLo!  Definitely a wasteland of summer TV!

    I think that you are right about the recycling of ideas, but I think that one of the strongest RTD “tropes” is actually the  story of Oswald Danes, which has yet to play out.  The idea of a flawed figure who is seized upon by the public for salvation in an uncertain time is not just Davies, but he does have a fascination with what types of social movements would arise in response to a big spritual type event.  Children of Earth was one example of this, but I think the more direct parallel is to “The Second Coming,” a TV movie starring Christopher Eccleston as an ordinary man who suddenly realizes that he is the son of god and has a short time till the next apocalypse.  That movie is probably most interesting for its depictions of the actions of the people around him to this amazing new event.  So, the Oswald Danes story may seem strained now, but it is merely a setup for the larger tale that he wants to tell.

  • Anonymous

    I almost forgot–I think the make-an-antidote-from-common-household-objects scene on the plane was the thriller version of the achingly funny scene from Doctor Who episode “Unicorn and the Wasp” where the doctor is poisoned and runs around the kitchen instructing his companion to bring him items to ingest that will negate the toxicity of the poison in his body.

    I like the idea that it is also a mashup of a reality-tv challenge in the middle of a sci fi thriller — like making a dress from the contents of your apartment on Project Runway–but way scarier….

  • Anonymous

    Totally disappointed with the second episode. Cannot STAND Mekhi Phifer’s character or his acting. Too little Gwen and Jack screen time… the only reason for watching. It feels like a trite, throwaway action series that won’t last for more than half a season.

  • I’d add the young guy with the iPad from the medical panels to the new Torchwood team as well. They spent a lot of time on him and he had lots of good ideas. I have a feeling he was there for more than exposition.

  • My husband and I called Persons Unknown “What the Hell Just Happened?” and have taken to calling this show simply “What the Hell?”

  • Anonymous

    A. Are we the only ones that feel a creeping bit of homophobia in this one? Up until now, it was all “We’re dudes, we’re hooking up, no big deal”. Now they spend an inordinate amount of time bashing on (not) gay steward Danny. It just feels a bit off and a little ugly.

    B. Derrick (the husband) turns to me and says “It feels like we’re watching ’24’ again.” I concurred.

    C. Mekhi Phifer appears to be playing the same dick he played on “ER”.

    D. If you want real outrage at the lack of Welshiness, check out the
    “Guardian” TV blog (It doesn’t help that the UK is getting the show 2 weeks
    (aka a fortnight) after it airs in the US).

    • Anonymous

      We’re getting it a week later. We had episode one last Thursday. 

  • It’s probably just the funk I am in, but although this show was closer to the TW I love, it just doesn’t feel the same as before.  Maybe I too am missing the Welsh accents?  Big pharma behind everything?  There better be an alien something behind the drug company, or I will be super disappointed. 
    I agree that they are subtlely skewering American culture and ides.  I didn’t fully put that together until you mentioned, so thank you!
    And yes where is Rhys?!  Bring him back please or save him and the baby.
    Also adore Dr. Juarez so I hope they don’t kill her off by the end either; or Esther (CIA Barbie) for that matter.  I say get through one season without killing a team member and do so next season. 

  • Anonymous

    To answer your point about UK viewers being bothered by only being left with one non-American accent. Speaking, only for myself of course, as a UK viewer, I really don’t think of John Barrowman as American. I think of him as a boy from Uddingston with a pretendy accent. 😀

    And after all, half the time David Tennant has a pretend accent too so it’s not much different.