Quick Take: James kicks off his first review by jumping into the new Torchwood on Starz.
My biggest complaint about the Russell T. Davies’ years of Doctor Who was that while the individual episodes were brilliantly put together, there was a distinct lack of grandness and scope when it came to season-long story arcs, especially compared to the Stephen Moffat years. A couple episodes into Torchwood: Miracle Day and it is clear that he has completely overcome that shortcoming.
Jane Espensen did a great job with ‘Dead of Night’, bringing in the same subtleness and complex layers she brought to Battlestar Galactica and Caprica without coming off as too heavy. There really isn’t one bit of wasted dialogue, and at the same time none of it is just boring exposition. Espensen seamlessly weaves together massive amounts of religious allusions, Robert Frost poetry, humor, and even some Doctor Who throwbacks (“bigger on the inside”).
I can’t tell whether Lauren Ambrose’s Jilly Kitzinger is an evil character akin to Satan tempting Christ, or a naïve pawn like Davros ended up being to the Daleks. At any rate, Ambrose has definitely brought her A-game. The way she delivers her lines while sitting on the steps outside the N.I.H. meeting with Dr. Vera Juarez, it is as if she’s a little fly buzzing honey dipped promises in her ear, saying just the right things at just the right moment to drag her in.
I’m enjoying the pairing off of Alexa Havins’ Esther Drummond and Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper. It isn’t a trite Cagney & Lacey wannabe pairing of two female characters, but rather an opportunity for the actresses involved to branch out and add complexity to their characters’ personalities. Gwen looks at Esther as innocence, something she lost during her time with Torchwood while Esther sees the strength of Gwen and envies her command.
Bill Pullman is fantastic. He brings the most charisma he’s ever brought on screen to a character that is his most vile. His performance does tread very closely to being a caricature of itself, so it remains to be seen if he’ll go into over-indulgence-actor-land or stay the course and toe that line.
The continuation of the power struggle between Captain Jack Harkness and Rex Matheson is well done through their slightly combative banter as well as the dueling love scenes during which each character takes the opposite of their personality. Jack is very gruff and rough while Rex is gentle and, at one point, a lot like a fumbling teenager during their first time.
There is also a wonderful little bit of business right after in which Jack drunk dials Gwen, espousing his emotions to her. He completely opens himself up and you get to see the utter rawness of his emotions, how he’s lost everyone and everything that has ever meant something to him, except Torchwood and Gwen. Gwen’s response, or lack thereof, shows the growth of her character since the BBC days and how she doesn’t need Jack anymore. Even though their together again, Jack has never felt more alone.
While John Barrowman is at the top of his game right now, Mekhi Phifer seems to be the only weak character link in Torchwood: Miracle Day thus far. His character has become, aside from the aforementioned love scene, very one dimensional. He seems to have his LOUD, ANGRY, AND UNTRUSTING knob stuck on 11.
What makes it more frustrating is that Phifer is a very talented and accomplished actor. He’s shown his range in Clockers, Homicide: Life on the Street, and ER, but here he just seems to be channeling Samuel L. Jackson and Nick Nolte’s DNA spliced love child.
As for the story, it is pacing along nicely. It isn’t too chock full of details where you’ll get overloaded by mid-season, but it also isn’t holding in too much so that when it lets it all out in the final two episodes you’re blasted to the point where none of it makes any sense.
The only thing that I hope they quit doing is the whole “Things are different in the States” thing. I get that it is an allegory to explain the differences between the BBC version of Torchwood and the Starz version, but really enough is enough. They seem to be setting the viewer up first by making it seem that the government or a Black Ops groups is behind The Miracle, now a Pharmaceutical Company is the lead suspect.
Next week? Who knows. That is the brilliance of this episode and of the series thus far, because I am dying to find out.
– James Zappie