As the final, terrifying scenes unfolded in last week’s episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, it seemed as if the story was finally going somewhere and that the great alien threat was about to be exposed. By the end of this week’s instalment, “The Categories of Life”, this had still not happened which means that viewers have sat through five episodes of scene setting, weak plotting and no mention of aliens. The pace is excruciating and I have no doubt that this season should have been dispatched in three or five episodes.
The slow pace is compounded by the use of different writers each episode which works in Doctor Who or the previous incarnation of Torchwood when there was a new storyline or villain each week. The effect in Torchwood: Miracle Day is an inconsistent and jumbled story with several false starts and no real build up. “The Categories of Life” was written by Jane Espenson who wrote “Dead of Night”.
The episode begins with Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) entering the city hall in Washington D.C., only to discover that all of the other medical panellists have left as their work is done. The three categories of life have been decided and are being presented to the President. Vera calls Rex to announce that she is joining their team and flying down to Venice Beach. She is horrified by the categories as she claims that government have taken control over life and death and that nobody should have that much power.
Meanwhile, Gwen Cooper arrives in Cardiff under a false identity and is met by husband Rhys Williams (Kai Owen). We learn that the overflow camps are located in old army barracks and when Gwen tries to visit her father, we learn that they are not letting healthy people anywhere near the patients.
Once Vera arrives in Venice Beach, the team gets together to pool their intelligence, with Gwen attending via video link. The nature of the categories is discussed with category 3 being healthy people, category 1 being those with no brain function or those who should be dead, and category 2 being everyone in between. I know that this was a pivotal point in the plot of Torchwood: Miracle Day but I found this idea to be weak and poorly executed. Many of the moral and logistical dilemmas surrounding the miracle had been explored in interesting ways in previous episodes but this just seemed contrived and overly simplistic.
The team discovers that certain modules in the overflow camps are being masked and that their true function is therefore hidden. Much of the episode then consists of Gwen and Rhys trying to break into the overflow camp in Cardiff to rescue her father, while Vera Juarez, Rex Matheson and Esther Drummond enter the facility in San Pedro to gain more information on the hidden modules.
Captain Jack Harkness (or Mortal Jack, as he is now jokingly called) is left behind during this exercise and decides to attend the Miracle Day Rally in Los Angeles as Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) is giving a speech. Convinced that Danes knows his own nature and wills his life to end, Jack seems to persuade Danes to expose PhiCorp and end the miracle. A mysterious blue-eyed man (Teddy Sears, The Defenders) tells Jilly Kritzinger that she is doing a good job and being noticed by the right people. All of that hangs in the balance, of course, as we wait to find out whether Danes will, in fact, expose PhiCorp.
The next scene is remarkable in that it was obviously intended to be moving and powerful and it all fell flat. Oswald Danes rambles on about humans evolving from animals and now into angels and once again, the audience is expected to believe that a stadium full of people (and viewers around the world) are being moved by a paedophile and child murderer. Not only that, but the Dead is Dead proponents at the rally are so persuaded by this ridiculous rambling that they are willing to forget that he is a dead man and suddenly support him too? Danes utters the carefully placed keyword ‘revelation’ as suggested by Jilly Kitzinger and the scene closes with people chanting the name of Oswald Danes.
I have to admit that the next two scenes were so disturbing that it took me some time after the episode to resolve my feelings about them. In these scenes, both Rex Matheson in San Pedro and Gwen Cooper in Cardiff realise that the modules are ovens, intended to burn category 1 patients alive. I found this direction quite disturbing and I could not help but be reminded of the ovens in World War II death camps. I really hope that the writers intend to whip up some phenomenal storytelling to justify such a gruesome storyline, but I fear it might just be arbitrary and gratuitous.
Worse still, it could be swept under the carpet once we remember that the category 1 patients are not dead after all but are now some living, non-breathing cloud of ash hanging over the world. At this point, the only good thing I have to say about Torchwood: Miracle Day is that the season is now half way through. Hopefully the pace will pick up in the remaining five episodes (three of which are written or co-written by Jane Espenson). One can only hope for a miracle.
All images © 2011 BBC Worldwide Limited.
Article first published as TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – "The Categories of Life” on Blogcritics.