Torchwood: Miracle Day (season 4) is widely accepted as the Americanized, watered down chapter in the dark, adult Doctor Who spin-off’s canon. While I hold this to be true, there are very classic Torchwood themes and moods. It’s got the old “It’s the humans, not the aliens who are the monsters” shocker. And you know that tingling feeling you felt in season 3 when (spoilers) they discovered the 456 were using children as drugs? Season 4 manages to mimic that sensation exactly when we find out what the military is doing to the “category 1″s. Of course, Jack Harkness is at the center of everything, just like the old days.
You can see them trying to capture that old Torchwood way of using flashbacks to establish character traits meant to move us. We’re privy to a never-before-seen sequence of Jack’s affair with a God-fearing immigrant fresh off Ellis Island, but what do we really learn about Jack that we didn’t already know? It isn’t exactly the same as revealing he has a daughter and grandson, or that he still visits an old (literally old) girlfriend, or even that he was a carny freak. No, it’s just there to introduce “the three families,” a villain that turns up right at the end to explain everything away.
And what of Gwen? Having a baby should open a whole range of new facets, but instead, her single-track focus distances us from her. It’s not that it isn’t believable that she’d kill Jack to save her baby–It is–or even that we won’t forgive her for saying so–we will–but the baby becomes more of a mere obstacle (keeping her quiet when in hiding) and comedy device (earmuffs while mommy’s shooting bad guys) than a complexity to Gwen’s character.
Another issue is Torchwood’s inability to introduce new main characters. Season 4 is not the outlier here. Lois Habiba in season 3 was no Toshiko or Owen; and Rex, Vera, and Esther are no better. Why can’t any of Torchwood‘s new characters ever live up to the depth and emotional complexity of Tosh, Owen, and Ianto? (The one exception here is season 3’s Frobisher, and no, that’s not a bias with Peter Capaldi being cast as the new Doctor. It is quite simply a brilliantly scripted character supporting an equally brilliant performance.) We’re supposed to care about Esther because of her tough decision in betraying her sister to save her nieces, but she’s so distracted by this, she annoys us by taking us away from the plot. The final decision the heroes must make is whether to save the world or save Esther, and as a viewer, this was not as tough a decision as it was for Rex. Ah, Rex. We’re supposed to feel for Rex and Vera as they explore their love-hate relationship, but their opposing strong personalities and general unpleasantness toward each other rub us the wrong way. This isn’t the sweet, unrequited love of Tosh for Owen. It’s something much trickier to pull off and I’m not sure that they did.
And don’t even get me started on Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose–two talented actors who brought a magnetism to their characters, but could you make them a little less wicked? A little vulnerability goes a long way in a show all about the gray areas of morality. You almost thought they were going to make Oswald, the pedophile sentenced to death, a little human as he is faced with his own execution for the second time and winds up joining the Torchwood team. But no, as the world crashes around him, he’s screaming that he’s going to be a pedophile in Hell, too. And Jilly’s just wicked to the end. What’s with the cat fight between her and Gwen in the lift, and Jack’s expression while watching it?
Finally, the plot points are extremely forced. The moment when they decide to take Oswald to China is terribly contrived. They’ve built up his character so much throughout the season, and now they have to make stupid excuses just to keep him in the story. How will they find The Blessing? Let Jack’s blood lead the way as it magically floats across the city. We also have two episodes that end the same way: I can take you to the one behind it all. Of course, the first one turns out to be almost nothing at all and a mere diversion from the mystery at hand.
Maybe Rhys and Andy should get their own spin-off. That I would watch.
Also check out the American band Sunspot’s song about Jack Harkness, Alive Day.