‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’: Episode 3 review

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Three instalments in and the new series of Torchwood is already suffering from homesickness. Caught somewhere between its desire to be American enough for us to see where the dollars have been spent but not so American that the US audience regards it as being little more than a litany of transatlantic TV tropes, Miracle Day has become more mundane than miraculous, and hiraeth – that peculiarly Welsh longing for being back home – lingers around the episode like the smell of daffodils in springtime.

‘Fizzy in the U.K., flat in the U.S.,’ Esther Drummond remarks – and while she’s talking about lemonade rather than the show, it equally applies to Gwen Cooper. The Gwen we know from previous series is feisty, funny and earthy, but she’s not stupid – and yet in this episode we’re expected to believe that she doesn’t recognise the differences between the most basic of English and American colloquialisms. Not recognising ATMs and cell phones (as opposed to cash machines and mobiles) is one thing; not knowing that ‘pants’ is a US expression for ‘trousers’ is utterly ridiculous. Gwen just isn’t this parochial, and to expect us to believe otherwise is patronising towards the viewer and the character alike.

But it’s not all bad. There’s a moment of team bonding in the street that is both touching and funny – ‘The poets are the ones who are really going to suffer,’ Gwen gently mocks Esther after the former CIA. blog-watcher quotes a line of Robert Frost – and establishes a workable dynamic between the two principal females.

Similarly, a later cell phone (sorry, mobile) chat between Gwen and Jack is very much in the best traditions of old school Torchwood, with the late Ianto Jones getting name-checked and Jack left hanging, drunk and very much alone (despite the buff barman in bed beside him), while Gwen has a satellite link-up with husband Rhys and baby Anwen. Eve Myles is superb in these scenes, which makes the earlier scenes of her blundering through the Anglo-American phrasebook like a chav in a china shop even more difficult to stomach.

Speaking of bedded barmen, the much-vaunted (and controversially-edited) sex scenes aren’t much to get hot under the collar about. Jack gets to openly rue an apparently laissez-faire attitude to contraception in the past when he, rather than his immortal, drink-dispensing conquest, demands that they practice safe sex (‘A lifetime of regret just got longer’) while Rex and Vera’s highly-sanitised, post-wound-dressing-quickie is equally unremarkable. Neither was particularly necessary or memorable – but at least they weren’t teeth-grindingly embarrassing or utterly unbelievable like some of the awkwardly teenage hook-ups between Torchwood team members in the past. (Gwen and Owen’s baffling, fuck-enemy frolics will surely never be topped in either of those stakes.)

Thankfully, there’s always Bill Pullman. Oswald Danes has been creepily interesting in the past two episodes but now he falls over the edge of disturbia and ends up disgustingly, vilely, wonderfully watchable. As unlikeable as he is, and as much as he deserves the violent beating he gets from two cops – ‘You should have run faster,’ one says in parody of the paedophile’s dismissal of the twelve year old girl he murdered – he’s the character that you keep coming back to; and Pullman’s performance when Jack has him at gunpoint, demanding he confess the truth about his supposed repentance, is as brilliant as it is unsettling. At the moment, he’s carrying the show on Oswald’s shabby shoulders.

Airs at 9pm on Thursday 28th July 2011 on BBC One.

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