5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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MIRACLE DAY: THE GATHERING
Well, hallelujah! Something actually happened in Torchwood!
We have to say we’re a bit surprised at the arc development. Dawdling along for eight episodes only to zip into high gear at the last minute leaves rather a lot to be desired in the suspense-building department.
Oh well, we’re here now. In fact, it’s gone from one extreme to another. Danes, Jilly, Rex’s wound, Jack’s wound, Jack’s blood, Jack’s mortality, Three Families, Blessing, people not dying, CIA mole, overflow camps: they’ve got such a big bunch of stuff to resolve we can’t see how the finale’s going to be anything other than one long explanation.
We’ll see. Meanwhile, we actually got out of one room. Can’t be bad. For once we were interested in what was happening rather than nobly suffering through the episode. We feel almost pathetically grateful.
Hold on, though. Happy though we are to have scrabbled out of the usual Torchwood mire of tedium, that doesn’t mean we think it was all fantastic. Lay aside the gratitude for a second and squint at it sideways, and the holes and tatters instantly come into focus.
For a start, “Two months later”? Come on. That’s 100 percent pure cheating. Yes, it solves pesky questions like how Jack survived the tender ministrations of Esther the world’s worst first-aider, but at the total expense of the tension they strove to build up in the previous episode. You can’t keep soft-rebooting a show and expect the audience to stay with the characters. If they’ve moved on, why shouldn’t we?
And the scenes involving Gwen’s Dad, alone and palely loitering in the basement, throw a spotlight on this show’s worst flaws. How are they keeping him fed? How, in the middle of a global depression, does the British government have enough resources for that nasty guy to track down one missing old man and surveil and repeatedly harass the Coopers? And why does he like his job so much, anyway? Other than a TV character, who would?
Oh yeah, and Gwen might look well badass and all, but what’s she planning to do with that knife? The place is infested with police! Then there’s Rhys, previously mild-mannered but here having to be restrained from attempting to forcibly introduce Danes to Category One. So much so that he can’t be trusted alone with Danes. That’s just dumb. We don’t believe for a minute that either of them are the wild-eyed killers they’re painted as here.
Meanwhile, back at the CIA, Rex is wandering the corridors futilely brandishing pieces of paper and urging people already working at top speed to work at top speed. (We know it’s difficult to make office work look dynamic, but making Rex look like a prat isn’t helping.) Smug though he is (and he is. Oh, yes), he’s no match for CIA Mole, who effortlessly stymies him at every turn. That’ll teach him to force her to do overtime, won’t it? Never mind, Rex has a plan, and this time he wisely tells only John de Lancie, who appears only for a very short period and who actually has nothing to do but still manages to steal his scenes from under Rex’s grandstanding nose.
And yay, Jilly’s back! To be honest, when we thought about it afterwards, we realised that this was actually the only storyline that really had us by the throat. Secret meetings with mysterious strangers (after the second one, one of us said “I’m going to start ending all my conversations with “You won’t see me again””), deserted airports, aliases, a cryptic Frances Farmer, a gaze into an (alien?) abyss: it’s got it all.
Compared to that, the rest is a bit of a letdown. Didn’t we spend two entire episodes a little while ago trying to save Gwen’s Dad from being toasted? With camp infiltrations and all? Yet here, they take him away and Gwen et al don’t do anything except sniffle a bit and say goodbye. Where are the heroic rescue attempts now? (Also, correct us if we’re wrong, but isn’t it Gwen’s fault that her Dad was relabelled as a Category One in the first place?)
And then Danes turns up. We liked Bill Pullman in this role at first, then we were on the fence, but here he fails the believability test: too scenery-chewing for us. Also, why is he “the most wanted man on the face of the Earth”? He’s been freed, hasn’t he? And then Esther and Jack show up, and they were there before too, only we can’t remember a single thing about them because they were bloody boring.
It does some things right, but overall it’s still not that great. We think they’re trying to do too many things at once: show the global consequences of the Miracle, show those consequences on individuals, spin out some mysteries and throw in some derring-do. It’s a lot, and in trying to keep all these balls in the air they keep dropping them. It doesn’t help, either, that on most fronts there simply hasn’t been enough story to sustain this number of episodes.
On the other hand, we definitely want to see the next one. Considering how much we’ve been dreading Torchwood on a weekly basis, we’ll count that as a win.
They’ve clearly made it their mission to fling as many guest stars, preferably genre ones, into the mix as possible, but for the stars themselves it’s not exactly the role of a lifetime. John de Lancie spins dross into gold nevertheless, but poor Nana Visitor had no chance with the infodump she was asked to spout. Frances Farmer is stuck with a bunch of exposition as well, but she manages to put a lovely creepy spin on it.
I THINK IT WANTS US TO FOLLOW IT
Isn’t Jack’s travelling blood adorable? But if a blood drop can be pulled towards the Blessing at that pace, wouldn’t you think Jack would feel it yanking him towards it?