“We have been helped. We have been purified. We have been given life unending. We are the first angels on Earth.”
Miracle Day seems to have a bit of a divisive reputation among the Torchwood fanbase. Whenever the show comes up in conversation, a lot of fans are quick to dismiss this fourth and (so far) final season. After watching it all again, it probably is the weakest of the four seasons of the show, but it’s still pretty damn entertaining – with some really standout moments, and one episode in particular that’s up there with the best the show’s ever produced.
The hook for this season is simple; one day, people just stop dying. They’re not invincible, mind. Just immortal. So they can still get injured in the same way. The only difference is that however severe the injury, people will keep clinging onto life (as we discover in a few effectively gory sequences throughout the ten episodes). But the show doesn’t stop there. Russell T Davies and crew decide to delve into the logistics of this new phenomenon. First and foremost, the overpopulation that comes as a result. Then you have things like resistance to antibiotics, the fact that putting people away for ‘life’ has suddenly become ethically questionable, not to mention the religious questions it raises. Miracle Day spends a lot of its initial episodes delving into this new world.
Sadly for Gwen – who is living a happy, if paranoid, life off the grid with Rhys and her daughter – somehow this miracle connects to Torchwood. This throws her back into the mix with her old boss, Captain Jack Harkness, who is back from his interstellar wanderings after the sacrifices he made in ‘Children of Earth’. Whatever they’re doing, whatever the problem they’re solving, it will never not be fun watching Eve Myles and John Barrowman doing the old Torchwood routine. The alien mumbo jumbo, the guns and explosions, the bombastic Murray Gold score, it’s undeniably excellent TV material. And they’ve got a lot of Torchwood-y action to catch up on as it seems the miracle is linked in some way to Jack. When the world became immortal, Jack became a mortal man once again.
That premise – of the immortal man turned mortal – could fill a couple of episodes on its own. But Miracle Day has a few new characters to introduce first. The main two are the new good guys (basically the new members of the Torchwood team), Rex and Esther. I was a little sceptical of these new characters. The show was made as a joint production with US channel STARZ, so these guys initially feel like a byproduct of American interference. But it doesn’t take long before you warm to them and begin to enjoy the dynamic they produce with the original Torchwood duo. And sure, the show does feel a lot more glossy and American, but it doesn’t take long to get over that. It helps that half of the plot is usually happening in Wales, meaning it more often than not feels like Torchwood of old. And having quite a substantial amount of Rhys in there doesn’t hurt things either.
The real big addition to this series is Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes. A murderer and paedophile, the show begins with his execution on death row, right as the miracle kicks in and spares his life. His journey from this point forward gets very strange. He’s thrown into the media spotlight as the face of the miracle, resulting in him entering Torchwood’s orbit. But the weird part is that he’s a complete bastard, and there’s never any attempt to humanise him. TV shows like bad characters, only to turn them into a reluctant hero down the line. But Danes is evil through and through, right until the end – even when he’s kind of helping the good guys. He’s also treated very badly by the world around him. But he’s a paedophile so it shouldn’t matter right? But it’s still hard to watch him get beaten up, despite his past. This might have something to do with Pullman’s performance, which is as watchable as it is strange. But I think it’s really RTD giving us a dastardly character and refusing to exonerate him. He’s the worst kind of evil, but that doesn’t make his treatment right. I think? The show leaves it up to you to decide.
And it wouldn’t be Torchwood without a message, without saying something about the state of our world. The American angle comes into play again here, as the show takes aim at the ridiculously unfair healthcare system they have over there, as well as the way the media is wont to sensationalise the latest hot topic with almost religious fervour (Oswald Danes in this case). But like ‘Children of Earth’, its chief concern is the treatment of the vulnerable and less able in our society. It doesn’t take long into the ten episode run for the governments of the world to set up camps to house the sick, from there it’s only a matter of time before the very ill (the ones who would ordinarily have died) are thrown into ovens and burnt alive. You may think that’s a big step, but I think the show presents a frighteningly realistic look at how quickly the governments of the world would turn to such tactics – again, look at the current handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s one line where a character remarks that the president is about to announce an end to all immigration, and how the USA is one step away from being a dictatorship. Well, look at the recent news and don’t say Torchwood didn’t warn us.
There’s no denying that the series would have benefited from a few less episodes. ‘Children of Earth’ said all it needed in five excellent episodes. Miracle Day has ten, and it’s difficult to argue that ten hours was needed for this story. I think seven or eight would have done it. But on the flip side, they’re all entertaining and varied. In the ten-episode run there are some of the best moments in the show’s entire history – and one episode that is really outstanding. Episode seven, ‘Immortal Sins’, is shown mostly in flashback to Jack’s time in New York in the 1920s, and his relationship with a man named Angelo Colasanto. This episode deals with a lot; the gay struggle, the resulting Catholic guilt, mobsters, alien parasites, and some very revealing tidbits about Jack’s life. Basically, it’s classic Torchwood and I think it’s one of the best hours the show’s produced. On top of that, it gives Eve Myles and John Barrowman the opportunity for a real one on one, as they dig into one another and discuss their roller-coaster of a relationship. ‘Immortal Sins’ moves the plot forward in a clever way while also delivering a great, standalone, tragic love story.
So altogether, Torchwood: Miracle Day does not deserve the ire it receives from some fans. It’s not as clever as ‘Children of Earth’, and the double amount of episodes does hurt it somewhat, but it has more than enough to say and plenty of issues to address. It’s both smart and silly, over-the-top but also grounded in a sad reality. The real shame is that it sets up quite few plot points that will probably never be dealt with – unless Big Finish decide to do an audio drama about Rex, and god knows they’ve done weirder.
If you’re rewatching the show, or watching for the first time, don’t skip this season. It has moments of real excellence and at the end of the day, it’s just nice to see the characters we’ve grown so fond of. Speaking of, here’s hoping Jack shows up in Doctor Who at some point again – New Year perhaps? Or maybe the BBC could just make another series of Torchwood? If that ever happens, see you back here for my review.