...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 3889: TORCHWOOD: Manacles Day: The Porn Ultimatum


Well here is a secret I bet you did not know. Auntie Helen has only watched Torchhoot TWICE, and both times she turned on during the RUDE BITS!

So she turned off again quickly.

My daddies did NOT turn off. Bad daddies! Bad!

Okay, this is, hopefully, going to be quick. The last episode of "Miracle Day" is on a at nine tonight and I want this up before then. I don't want to fall further behind!

This was a really good episode. It was even a really good episode of Torchwood. It was just in entirely the wrong season.

This, or something like this, would have greatly strengthened "Torchwood's" first year, showing us Jack in two time zones but also two times in his life: the younger Jack recognisably closer to the Jack who met the Doctor in "The Empty Child" and this story helping to bridge the gap both in our knowledge of what happened to him after the Game Station and in his emotional journey from the grinning, running, happy-go-lucky omnisexual of "Doctor Who" to the brooding Angel-a-like of "Torchwood". A century of disappointments, where trying to live your life like the Doctor ends in pain and murder again and again would start to take the perkiness out of anyone's strides.

This year, I'm afraid, it slightly has an air of taking us away from the plot again. Even though it is very obviously central to the story, and is done pretty much beat perfect in itself, "Miracle Day" is seven weeks in now, and the story ought to be picking up the pace, not slamming on the brakes to deliver us the exposition.

The reveal that the villains behind the Miracle are human after all, and not aliens, is a moderately interesting development, but it's no kind of shock twist. That, even more mundanely, they appear to be the Mafia, is verging on silly. I'm not sure why, but slamming the "spy-fi" genre (the genre of "Torchwood" and "the X Files" and even some "Bond") into the old-fashioned gangster genre just doesn't quite gel.

More importantly, this adds nothing to our understanding of the plot. Introduced earlier in the series, maybe around episode three, perhaps even two, this would have provided a solid grounding for the series to springboard from. They might even have got away with the swerve last week revealing that the mission to the modules had been a colossal waste of time. This late into the series' run, there's a sense that we've been strung along with the mystery of these Triangle people for ages now, and the answer is a big "so what?"

And, it has to be said, after "Children of Earth" featured a flashback to Jack's past revealing his "surprise" involvement in the conspiracy, this felt a little bit "samey".

That said, it is a gorgeous episode, beautifully written by Jane Espensen. I can't say if the period details of 1927/28 are right, but they certainly look lovely, and there is a wonderful sense of culture clash running through the episode where Angelo's inter-war conservative Catholicism conservative Catholicism rubs up against Jack twenty-first century metrosexuality. (Sure, he's a fifty-first century boy, but his cracking-wise about sex adn sexuality is so much of the "now".) It's much better done than the crushingly obvious Welsh-English/American-English culture clash between Gwen and Esther in Espensen's earlier "Dead of Night".

Daniele Favilli delivers a beautifully tortured performance as Angelo, stricken with guilt even as he is drawn more and more into his "devil" Jack's world. And, as has been said, he looks good too.

There are moments where the pair of them are running around shooting alien brain worms and escaping the mafia goons and they look like they are having such fun, and fun in a "Doctor Who" sense, the running and adventure. And then "Torchwood" slams Jack's failures into them in a brutally cruel, but exactly right sort of way. Because "Torchwood" is the fallen angel of the "Doctor Who" universe. And naturally, Jack – with his flaws – picks a companion with flaws, one who freaks out, and that leads to an incredibly powerful, and toe-curlingly gruesome sequence of Jack's repeated murder in the meat locker of the family butchers. It's not overdone with gore, but the repeated point of view shots as Jack revives only to see more and more people standing over him ready and willing to kill… Earlier in the episode, Jack being "out-and-proud" had told Angelo, "I don't care what anybody knows"; how those words come back to bite him.

If anything, Jack's excuses for leaving Angelo are too kind. Never mind the Doctor's line of "you'll grow old; I won't" – how about: "you failed the test, kiddo, when you murdered me seventeen times running. Bye, then!"

We are, of course, supposed to contrast Angelo's betrayal with Gwen's in the present day. But there's no comparison, is there. Angelo is wound up like a spring with guilt and fear and confusion and goes mental with admittedly pretty appalling consequences. Gwen, on the other hand, has ages to try and scheme her way out of this, to save Jack and her family, but no, she just goes to hand him over like the self-confessed selfish bitch she is.

(In fact, she only gets away with this because Nana Visitor's little gang are even more inept than Torchwood themselves. "We are watching", Gwen is warned. Yeah, everything except the other two Torchwood doofusses. Or Gwen's known PC associate in Wales. How totally on the ball is that? And then, Ms Conspiracy basically finishes the episode by saying: "well, sorry, that was actually just our really over-complicated way of saying, why not come over and discuss a few answers to this whole business." 'Cos it's not like Torchwood weren't right out of clues at the end of last week.)

This is really a cathartic moment for Gwen and the audience, who've been saying since year one (and the unspeakable affair with Weevil-boy Owen) what is it with Gwen's narcissist syndrome? "Say yoofa-give me!" she hollered into Rhys's face in one episode after she'd confessed all but before retconning him to forget the whole confession again: a selfish shrieking banshee who wanted to feel good for having confessed all but didn't want to handle the consequences. And that's how she's been ever since. So here the series actually faces up to the fact that Gwen is a deeply flawed, troubled even, individual.

But, again, this would have worked so much better back in series one, as a payoff for her frankly reckless and self-indulgent behaviour (and again, the affair).

If series one of "Torchwood" had had this and "They Keep Killing Suzie" (and let's face it not "Cyberwoman" or "Countrycide") it might have been a whole lot better remembered.

So, I'm relieved and grateful to Jane Espensen for showing us what American "Torchwood" can actually do and what a really decent version of the series looks like. It's just a shame it's so late.

Too late? We'll know after tonight's climax. Now I'd better go and pack for Conference!

Next Time…After an episode that blends romance, tragedy, backstory and genuine alien thrills in perfect measure, what do you think is called for? A tense thriller that takes the pace up to the next level? Or more padding? "Torchwood" reaches "The End of the Road" (but if you've any sense you'll skip to the end and watch tonight's finale instead).
"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm (yes, that's in an hour!) on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then you can still try the iPlayer, but frankly by this point you're probably gonna have to buy the DVDs! .

No comments: