‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’: Episode 4 spoiler-free review

Wow, it’s Eighties week in Torchwood! The fourth instalment of Miracle Day features appearances from ex-’80s movie “stars” C. Thomas Howell (“handsome” Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders) and Mare Winningham (the “virgin” in St Elmo’s Fire), whilst there’s another tip of the hat to The A-Team and we even get a Knight Rider-esque talking car. But more of these anachronisms later.

Captain Jack, Gwen, Rex and Esther have travelled to the sunnier climes of LA to take up arms against the conspiracy which, at the moment, lies at the collective feet of pharmaceutical company PhiCorp (who appear to have been preparing for the “miracle”).

Sadly for 2011’s Torchwood team, CIA gal Esther (Alexa Havins) has been less than diligent and, as Rex called her last week, she’s been “stupid” again. A quick visit to her sister has meant that a mysterious man in black (played by the aforementioned Howell) has tracked down the renegades. Just to make sure you realise this, he tells the Green Triangle (now residing in his car, a la KITT) in the most ridiculous husky fashion, “The path to Torchwood is open and clear.”

Howell’s portrayal is, we’re sure, going to be the focus of some discussion. His phone calls throughout seem like he’s auditioning to be the next movie trailer voice-over guy; whilst the dialogue from writing duo Jim Gray and John Shiban does him no favours. It’s a very heightened performance (which would not look out of place in any 80s TV action romp) that will divide fans. By the scintillating finale – and it is just that – his rasping and husking begin to make some sense as he’s clearly unhinged.

Another odd performance comes in the form of PR beauty Jilly Kitzinger, played by Lauren Ambrose. We say “odd” because, where once she courted Danes seductively, this week she is totally hostile towards him. Jilly lets her feelings known to him as rising star Ellis Hartley Monroe (Winningham) captures the media’s consciousness with her ‘Dead Is Dead’ campaign. It’s almost as if the writers weren’t aware of how she acted towards him in the previous episodes.

But Danes is no slouch and launches his comeback (his second, really) with some genuinely shocking scenes. There’s more shocks to come regarding the Green Triangle Gang, as we now refer to them, and other characters – notably a gruesome nod to ’60s Bond movie Goldfinger – but we shan’t spoil these delicious nuggets for you.

The intriguing developments with Danes and Kitzinger (despite her initial character change) coupled with the electric denouement save this episode from being almost completely forgettable. We hope that the closing sparks help fan the flame to come in the proceeding instalments.

Airs at 9pm on Thursday 4th August 2011 on BBC One (UK) and at 10pm on Friday 29th July 2011 on Starz (US).

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