After last week’s controversial episode of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, the question that haunted us was not whether it was okay to torture a man to death if he cannot die, but rather: who killed TORCHWOOD? For a show that fans had been clamoring for and which cheered when it was announced that it had risen from certain death and cancellation by the joint financial efforts of Starz and BBC America to resurrect it as an American television series, who knew that within such a short timeframe that one would be wishing it had never been raised from the dead.
The irony is that TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY tells the tale of what the world would look like if death ceased to exist. Miracle Day was the day that people stopped dying. Death had finally abandoned us and left the entire human race to rot for eternity. The blessing soon became a curse and TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY sought to show how horrifying never-ending life can be.
But with only 10 episodes granted for this miraculous fourth season of TORCHWOOD, and seven episodes having aired to date, I found myself thinking something appalling: I wish it had never come back.
When TORCHWOOD ended its third and final season as a British series with CHILDREN OF EARTH, it was heralded as its finest season and one worthy of accolades across the globe. It was a taut thriller that tormented us with its question of what would you sacrifice to save the human race – was the life of a child a price too high to pay?
Coming off that glorious season, the news that the show was not being picked up due to financial issues left fans and critics stunned at its sudden demise. But determined to not let his “baby” die, Russell T Davies took his series to America and secured the financing necessary to continue the TORCHWOOD saga.
But like TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has so acutely shown: dead is dead. Death may elude for a time, but sooner or later it shall swoop back in. So those who have been marked for death – who have sustained illnesses or injuries so catastrophic as to virtually render them dead – they are essentially dead. They are dead men walking. Zombies, if you will. They arise conquering death only to slowly rot away. It was no wonder that the module ovens were created to dispose of those who would simply not die, but were already dead and yet their bodies would not obey the natural order of life.
TORCHWOOD is the same. It is a living -zombie of its former self. It has risen from cancellation to be but a pale imitation of the show it once was. It was not simply the Americanization of the show, nor the addition of prevalent American characters. It just isn’t TORCHWOOD anymore.
The TORCHWOOD we all knew and loved died. We are now merely watching a caricature of a show that calls itself TORCHWOOD. Captain Jack and Gwen may be there, with brief appearances by Rhys and a few other familiar faces, but the heart and soul of TORCHWOOD is gone. Everyone is going through the motions, but it doesn’t feel the same and it is not the same.
Too much has been changed. The show not only films in America, but it also takes place in America with virtually all the actors being American, letting the American tone and voice color the story and characters. Worse yet, it seeks to cultivate and entice the American viewers who have been leery of embracing a British television series by incorporating some of the most crass elements of American television.
This most recent episode is a good example. In episode 7 “Immortal Sins,” the story sought to spotlight Captain Jack, a character who had been relegated to the sidelines for much of this season, only trotted out to remind us that he was there. Having been afflicted in reverse, his immortality stripped and made mortal the moment everyone else on Earth became immortal, Jack was pushed aside as being too vulnerable to risk his life. But in “Immortal Sins,” it was finally necessary to pull back the curtain and reveal why Miracle Day had been brought about. It was, as suspected, invoked by someone from Jack’s past – a scorned and abandoned lover who had inadvertently turned Jack over to an alien species looking to extend their own lives – at Jack’s expense by killing him repeatedly, bleeding him dry and stealing his blood with its unique healing properties. While the concept was cool, its execution was stomach-turning. The entire episode felt like a cheap horror flick, combining gay porn with torture porn. Not only was the character exploited, but the actor as well. This was not the way to tell the story of how Jack’s blood brought about Miracle Day.
For fans of TORCHWOOD prior to this season, one of the more endearing aspects of Captain Jack was his faithfulness to those he loved. Jack would always sacrifice himself for those he cared for, without hesitation. This episode violated two of those basic principles. One, Jack would have gladly given his life in exchange to save Gwen’s child and family. After all, that is why he returned to Earth — to protect Gwen. Two, Jack loved Ianto. The love story of Jack and Ianto was a beautiful relationship that fans embraced through the second and third seasons of TORCHWOOD. While it may have not aired recently, fans acutely recall Ianto’s sacrifice in CHILDREN OF EARTH. Even seeing Jack fall in love with and seduce another man in Jack’s past feels like a slap in the face. It may have been decades before Jack met Ianto, but for the fans, it feels like yesterday. Jack may not have cheated on Ianto, but it sure felt like it watching Jack portrayed as being in love so soon after such a huge love of his life had been killed. For new fans, it is like yesterday. I know I persuaded many to watch the prior seasons of TORCHWOOD before MIRACLE DAY began airing last month – and Ianto’s death is fresh on their minds as well. So while it is helpful to know that Jack had inspired someone to love him to such a degree that such a man would come back to haunt him many years later, the explicit relationship did not need to be thrown in our faces. It dishonors the memory of Ianto and the relationship that he and Jack shared.
Plus, the over emphasis of Jack’s relationship with the man who created Miracle Day did not serve to endear the character to the audience. It just felt misplaced.
And don’t even get me started on the exploitive torture scene! Is that truly what the writers think American audiences are attracted to — explicit sex and explicit violence? Speaking for myself, I have always loved TORCHWOOD because it was able to tell the darkest, most horrifying stories ever to grace the television screen without resorting to explicit sex or violence. Both sex and violence have been a part of TORCHWOOD from the beginning, but it was never used to titillate and make us a party to its glorifying excess. TORCHWOOD was about the dark side of human nature and what we will do when confronted with our darkest fears and the means to conquer them. It was a psychological thriller challenging our perceptions and beliefs. Instead, it has been resurrected in typical misconception with the strategy to simply “shock and awe.” But there is no substance in that.
When Vera died within the fires of the module oven, did we weep? No. But we should have. TORCHWOOD has always been magnificent at introducing characters in such a way that it is gut-wrenching when they die. Even the traitorous Suzy left us with a haunting impression that sent ripple-effects throughout the subsequent seasons. TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has been slapped together without finesse, insight or care. It reeks of too much money, too much ambition and not enough craftsmanship. I lay the blame squarely on two shoulders: Jane Espenson, who has written 5 out of the 10 episodes (more than any other writer this season), who writes with such a broadstroke and lack of respect to the core of what made TORCHWOOD special; and Russell T Davies, who entrusted TORCHWOOD into the care of writers who could not deliver the quality necessary to invoke the true TORCHWOOD spirit. Showrunning does not simply mean recruiting writers, it means keeping a watchful eye over them to ensure that due care and respect is given.
Echoing the millions of TORCHWOOD fans across the globe, we expected so much more. Now we can only pray the show gets a dignified death and is not cursed to live for eternity in its zombie state. It is but a shell of the show we all know and loved.
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