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Season Premiere: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The New World”

“The New World”

July 8th, 2011

It’s a familiar story by now: like a large number of other critics, Torchwood was pretty far off my radar until Children of Earth (which I reviewed here), the show’s third series/season that took the critical world by storm. In fact, I saw Children of Earth before I started watching Doctor Who, so it also stood as my first engagement with Russell T. Davies and the somewhat spirited debate that surrounds his televisual output.

Miracle Day, the subtitle for the show’s fourth series/season (although I guess season might be more apt given that it is aired in the U.S. ahead of its U.K. premiere), comes with a great deal more baggage. While I believe Children of Earth would stand on its own merit, I do think that the element of surprise was part of its appeal two years ago. Not many shows suddenly make a dramatic leap in quality in their third season, and the unique miniseries structure (five parts airing over five days) made for a real sense of “Event” programming that stood out in the crowd. It wasn’t just that Children of Earth was good, it was that it seemed perfectly designed to make a real statement, a statement that creates definite expectations for Miracle Day.

In truth, those expectations are sort of unfair for two reasons. The first is that the show is returning to a weekly format, and a ten-episode format, which means that the pacing of the show will be dramatically different – this isn’t going to come out of the gates with the same swagger, which will likely dampen its impact. The second, meanwhile, is just a matter of hype: thanks to the increased attention created by Starz’s involvement in the production and critical appreciation of Children of Earth, this project has been on the North American cultural radar. Going into tonight’s premiere, I pretty much knew everything that was going to happen, meaning that “edge of your seat” was transformed into a much more passive viewing experience.

This is not to say that “The New World” isn’t good television, or that the show is heading in a weak direction, but there’s just nothing here to really make us sit up and take notice – instead, we’re meant to sit back and enjoy the ride, which does reveal some of the procedural mechanisms that get Miracle Day off and running…or, more accurately, jogging. However, at the same time, there are some questions related to the production of the miniseries that are somewhat intriguing in their deployment here, which is what I want to discuss in relation to tonight’s premiere.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Five”

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“Day Five”

July 24th, 2009

As an experiment, I don’t really know how we’re supposed to qualify Children of Earth as a piece of television. Are we supposed to be judging it as if it were a season of Torchwood? If so, I can’t really offer an opinion on that subject, as my lack of experience with the show previously would make me an unfair judge. At the same time, is it really fair to consider the miniseries as a standalone piece of entertainment when it hinged so much on both past character associations and future ramifications? While I’m ready to sing its praises from that perspective, certainly entering into the upper echelon of television that I’ve seen this year, that probably doesn’t cover the entirety of the show’s success.

As such, all I can really do is say this: while “Day Four” struggled from moving too quickly, and “Day Five” inevitably struggled with the same pacing issues necessitated by the five-episode cycle, Torchwood: Children of Earth is nonetheless ending in a way that so few shows are able to. In this final part, emotional beats range from the disturbing to the tragic, the triumphant to the tragic, the climactic to the tragic, and…did I mention tragic? The series is all about that underlying element of tragedy, an unescapable sense that whatever is about to happen in these interactions with the 4-5-6 is just another drop in the water when it comes to society’s failings – “Day Four” evoked the idea that these children had already been failed by the government, so their use as bargaining chips with the 4-5-6 was just an extreme extension of that. It’s a horrifying and chilling notion, and one that the final episode of the miniseries drives home in a number of key tragedies.

Let’s just put it this way: if this is a happy ending, Russell T. Davies is truly (as Alan Sepinwall once noted) a bastard, although one who’s crafted a brilliantly compelling series of television.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Four”

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“Day Four”

July 23rd, 2009

Earlier today, I tweeted that one of the scenes in “Day Four” of the five-day miniseries event that is Torchwood: Children of Earth was one of the most legitimately disturbing sequences I’ve seen on television in quite some time. For those who have now seen that episode, I’m curious to know whether any of you can quite easily pick it out.

Without knowing my threshold for disturbing, it’s really not easy: we get our first good look at the 4-5-6 in this episode, and that glimpse is legitimately terrifying and well-handled. However, like the previous three episodes, the best parts of Children of Earth are those which are the most human, as we see the political response to this event spiral into a place that no one would ever want it to go. It is in those scenes, ultimately, that my skin began to crawl, and ethical dilemma were raised that made me wish this was a full-on season of the show so that we could get more sequences like this one as we barrel towards our conclusion tomorrow evening.

And if I have one complaint about “Day Four,” it’s that things really are moving at a very quick speed, and something tells me that an hour isn’t going to be enough time for all of this to sink in.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Three”

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“Day Three”

July 22nd, 2009

At the heart of “Day Three,” part three of five of this week’s Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries, is the fate of the middleman (sadly, the fate of canceled ABC Family series The Middleman remains the same, just in case you were wondering). With a new (Read: old) extraterrestrial threat at Great Britain’s doorstep, what’s becoming clear is that everyone and their mother wants to distance themselves from the conflict at hand. However, for various reasons, there are people trapped in the middle of the conflict who make things easier for one side and far more difficult for those who find themselves middlemen (and middlewomen, for that matter) in the midst of a very complicated conflict.

It makes for a really intriguing glimpse into the first ambassadorial contact with the 4-5-6, however, as the cloud of poison continues to shroud their identity in mystery in a way that doesn’t feel like a budget-saving move and instead feels just as moody and atmospheric as it should. We have three separate vantage points at the inevitable conversation that everyone has been waiting for, and all of them point towards this being a situation that will not end well, and one where the middlemen and middlewomen are likely to find themselves held responsible for things they never really wanted any part of.

And good or bad, I feel for all of them.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Two”

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“Day Two”

July 21st, 2009

If I were a regular Torchwood viewer, I may have found “Day Two” to be particularly strange. Considering that Captain Jack Harkness, who seems to be the leader of Torchwood, is almost entirely absent due to the fallout from last night’s cliffhanger, this may not have been your traditional episode of Torchwood. However, in actual fact, the episode is far more successful for Captain Jack’s absence, as in the aftermath of the explosion at the docks both Gwen and Ianto are able to take matters into their own hands.

In the show’s accelerated and almost 24-esque pacing, “Day Two” manages to do two of the most important things in serialized drama: it presents a legitimate and credible threat to the progress of our heroes, here in the form of a crafty anti-terrorist squad and a whole lot of explosive, and it creates a mysterious suspense surrounding the big picture. Some shows may have been content to do one of the two, but at this blistering speed of Torchwood things need to happen simultaneously. At the rate the show is going at, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Day Five” ends up post-apocalyptic, the world ending in the span of “Day Four.” For now, though, this is one rollercoaster ride that I’m enjoying a whole lot.

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Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day One”

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“Day One”

July 20th, 2009

The trope of creepy children is not exactly new . Not only have there been numerous horror films that have utilized the form, but there have also been numerous parodies – I may have never seen Children of the Corn or Village of the Damned, for example, but I have seen The Simpsons’ parody of them when Springfield’s youth sneak into a late night showing of The Bloodening. A quick check of TV Tropes (which, if you haven’t discovered it before, is a wonderful way to waste hours of your time) indicates that this is not exactly something new, which could indicate that Torchwood: Children of Earth is at risk of being derivative.

However, like any good piece of science fiction, Children of Earth is about the reaction to a particularly strange phenomenon rather than the event itself, and where the miniseries sets itself apart is in the diversity of responses. By focusing on two very different agencies at the heart of Britain’s response to this crisis, and by introducing a combination of characters who will become more important as the series goes on as well as hints that there is more than meets the eye to this conflict, one realizes that the creepy children are an entrance point.

What emerges in “Day One” of this special Torchwood event is the way in which these creepy children are a uniting force. There’s a scene where Frobisher, a civil servant, asks a colleague whether or not he has any children of his own, and he responds that he simply didn’t have the time. However, while it may initially seem like an uncanny introduction to a broader conflict, the use of children as a central theme provides a connective thread for all of the series’ characters: all are in some way effected by children, and the result is a sense that the stakes are not only political or extraterrestrial (this is science fiction) but also personal.

With all of that out of the way, meanwhile, the show can get to blowing things up – there’s plenty of excitement to join its more subtle points of development.

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