‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’: Episode 3 spoiler-free review

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And so along comes the much-touted Jane Espenson (Buffy, Caprica, Game Of Thrones) and her first episode for Torchwood: Miracle Day. But will the incredibly experienced genre TV writer come up with the goods?

Sadly not. The rails somewhat come off the fourth series of the Doctor Who spin-off in this third episode where one of the main themes seems to be the differences between the US and the UK; resulting in some immensely patronising dialogue and ill-conceived gags. But more of this later.

The conspiracy from last week becomes more of the focus for the gang with CIA man Friedkin (Wayne Knight), revealing that those behind it all are “everywhere and they know everything.” This leads Captain Jack and the gang to a grizzly discovery at PhiCorp, a global pharmaceutical company (including a rather amusing reference to Doctor Who).

But, just as the story gets going, as it were, the brakes are put on for a spot of lurve – in the form of two rather clunkily-placed scenes of what can only be referred to as “raunch”. Yup, the heavily-discussed sex scenes (edited in the UK version, it should be noted) are here with Jack teaming up for a one-night stand with a barman whilst two of the regulars decide they need to express themselves erotically.

It feels shoe-horned in, contrived, and woefully out of place. The flow of the episode is really battered and you’ll be frustrated at the moves away from the action that take place. Thankfully Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose, playing the villain of the piece Oswald Danes and Queen PR gal Jilly Kitzinger respectively, are present to divert your interest as the convicted murdering paedophile and his delicious red devil plan their collaboration.

The two really do blaze across the screen in the most delightful of fashions, while Pullman manages to become even more creepy and unsettling in the terrific final moments of the episode where he reveals some incredibly unsavoury revelations that will send shiver your soul.

But the main problem here is the endless bang-over-the-head moments of exposition and linguistic nuances. There’s much made, in a comical fashion it has to be said, of the differences between the “languages” of the US and the UK (mobiles/cellphones, crisps/chips, cash machine/ATM). It’s just hard to quite believe that Gwen Cooper, a policewoman in her thirties, did not know that “pants” in Yank-speak is, in fact, what we tea-drinking, Empire-building Brits refer to as “trousers”. To further compound this idiocy, Gwen is driving on the wrong side of the road.

It’s patronising in the extreme. As is the way in which Esther Drummond, a CIA operative (of sorts) suddenly loses her professional mind and has to be reminded not to use her phone for fear of being tracked (for example, I’m not in the CIA, but I would guess using your own phone is a no-no when you’re on the run). There are a number of these brain-scratchingly obvious moments during the episode from various characters that will infuriate no end.

It is still fun though. Torchwood has so much humour and life to it – a trope missing from almost all sci-fi telly – that it’s still refreshing, even when it’s being dumb. And there are the ongoing concepts of murder (and what it really means), issues of suspending births, and old diseases returning to pique the mind into the reality of the “miracle”.

There’s also the introduction of The Soulless in a wonderfully eerie opening that will have you wondering if this cult, formed as they believe mankind has been “robbed of its soul”, will form a larger part in this story. In a more thoughtful moment, a phone call between Jack and Gwen display the heart of their relationship as they remember old friends – a lovely touch for fans.

In essence, Episode 3 is a bit of a mess, due largely to frequently poor dialogue and slightly off performances. It feels different, markedly, to what has preceded despite some intriguing developments and conspiracy hints. The core, however, is still strong with the overarching theme still striking various chords, mesmeric performances from Ambrose and Pullman and heart from Barrowman and Myles. It’s these facets of Torchwood: Miracle Day that’ll keep you watching.

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

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