Torchwood: Miracle Day (2011) a (mildly) belated review

Let’s start with this:  I’m a BIG fan of Torchwood.  In fact, for a while there I thought this spin off of the new Doctor Who was actually better than the already pretty damn good series it emerged from.

Torchwood retained the oddball energy present in the modern Doctor Who episodes but added a wild adult kinkiness to the mix.  In our protagonist, the immortal Captain Jack Harkness (John Borrowman), you had a very liberated bi-sexual being who was willing (most willing) to sleep with anything with a pulse.  Jack Harkness presides over the Torchwood organization, a super secret group whose function it was to find and deal with the extraordinary.  His motley crew of agents in the first few seasons of the show would change, though principle among his group was Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), a woman who was, essentially, the viewer’s proxy.

Though there were a couple of clunkers here and there, the first two seasons of the show were -again in my opinion- delightful.  The show was episodic yet there were stories within the stories that continued throughout the seasons.  Then, for the third season, the makers of the show did something different.  Instead of presenting several episodes, they offered a five part, one main story mini-series entitled Children of Earth.  The general reaction to the series was very positive, but unlike Doctor Who, it appeared that getting further Torchwood episodes off the ground was a more difficult prospect.

However, in 2011 the U.S. cable channel Starz decided to fund a new Torchwood series.  Like Children of Earth, this would be one single story presented in a mini-series format.  Unlike Children of Earth, this one would be presented in not five episodes, but in ten.  The series was titled Miracle Day and, after waiting far longer than I intended (being such a big fan of the series, after all), I finally got a chance to see it.

Going into the series, however, I was worried.  The fact of the matter is that those who saw the series when it originally aired on Starz were, to put it bluntly, not all that impressed.  In fact, for the most part the reviews appeared mostly negative and, a year after the show aired, I find it fascinating how little anyone -even Torchwood fans- is talking about this series.  But, as I said before, being a fan of the series meant I’d give this one a try.  Even if Miracle Day wasn’t as good as some of the other Torchwood seasons, there had to be some enjoyment to be found within it.




Miracle Day, if nothing else, is an ambitious work.  It attempts to present some very big story ideas/concepts in the context of a science fictional setting, from media manipulation to the potential evils/abuses of big pharmaceutical companies to an exploration of how modern society could devolve into one not unlike 1930’s Nazi Germany.  And while I certainly can appreciate the ambition the writers had in creating this work, the fact of the matter is that once its all done, you can’t help but feel that this is a misfire.

To begin with, the two characters we most want to see in Torchwood are the two principles, Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper.  Unfortunately, for large portions of the series we’re forced to follow the other (new) characters presented, and I’ll be brutally blunt here:  They were a chore to watch.

The two most important of these new characters are CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) and CIA computer specialist Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins).  They’re meant to fill up the Torchwood group and provide us with American heroes to follow, but Rex Matheson is presented for the most part as an arrogant jerk while Esther Drummond is more often than portrayed as an exasperated/melancholy/confused/scared person who always a few steps behind everyone else.  The other two main characters we’re following are wild cards:  Child molester/murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) who “miraculously” survives his scheduled execution and Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), a P.R. rep who wants to make Danes a (in)famous celebrity.

Yeah, that’s just the motley bunch I as a viewer want to spend time with.  Especially the child molester/murderer.

The plot of Miracle Day is as follows:  One day, everyone on Earth stops dying.  The population of our planet, therefore, rises exponentially.  Worse, those who were/are about to die or suffer some kind of accident(s) (life threatening or not) continue living…in pain or crippled or what have you.  Thus, the “Miracle” of Miracle Day is ironic.  Resources (food, water, medicine) are in threat of being quickly used up.  And, added to all that, the immortal Captain Jack Harkness realizes that while everyone else has become immortal he has become…mortal.

The mystery is thus set up:  How is Jack’s status related to this sudden immortality on Earth?  And, further, how can we get back to the status quo?  And should we?

As I said before, the series was most certainly ambitious in its scope, imagining this new society of immortals and presenting all the potential problems inherent in a world of immortal beings.  But, as I said before, too much time is spent with the “new” characters that, frankly, I found little reason to root for or care about.  There were times, in fact, that Captain Jack and Gwen seemed to be guest stars in their own series.  And as the show progressed, it also felt like ten episodes were simply way, waaaaay too many to spend on this story.

Once we got to the resolution, most of my initial euphoria of seeing a new Torchwood series was gone, and rather than enjoying a rip-roaring conclusion I just wanted the series to end.  The final twist involving the character of Rex Matheson made me cringe.  Did I want to see more Torchwood episodes featuring that character?


Given the muted reaction by the masses to Miracle Day and the fact that I’ve heard nothing about more Torchwood series coming in the future, I suspect this might well have been the series’ last hurrah.

If so, its a shame.  I can’t say every minute of the entire ten hours of Miracle Day were terrible.  The mini-series certainly had its moments here and there (I really, REALLY liked the way Captain Jack appeared before Gwen Cooper toward the end of episode one).  But, ultimately, Miracle Day was a series that could –should– have been much more.

So, unless you’re already a big fan of Torchwood and, like me, have to see Miracle Day to complete your Torchwood viewing, you’d be better off catching any of the first three series and ignoring this one.