Torchwood Review – Miracle Day 2, ‘Rendition’

James Willetts wonders why the latest episode of Torchwood wasn’t as much fun as Iron Man or dinosaurs.
If you missed our commentary for ‘Rendition‘, find it here! 

There are two huge problems with the second episode of Miracle Day which derail an engaging and enjoyable story.

Unfortunately there are two parts of the episode which ring so false that all sense of logic, excitement and larger storyline are utterly lost. The first is the softening of the public’s attitude towards Oswald Danes, and the second is the creation of an anti-toxin to cure arsenic poisoning from the everyday contents of an aeroplane.

Let’s address the first one. In the course of an interview Danes breaks down in tears as he discusses the child he raped and murdered. Just to make this clear, this is a crime he was executed for, which he was well known to have committed and for which he has so far expressed no remorse or contrition.

Up until this point, the reaction to Danes has been a very human one; absolute disgust. I’m currently watching The Lovely Bones, a film that’s just brutal in its portrayal of a family torn apart by grief following the murder of a child. It’s the absolute mark of evil in our society, the one crime that unites everyone in their revulsion. So the fact that in the space of a single apology Danes can change everyone’s perceptions of him, make them feel he is somehow mistreated by them, and convince them that he is sorry for his crime doesn’t just seem false. It absolutely, unequivocally, 100% could not happen.

Forget about Miracle Day; unless Oswald Danes has magic powers that we don’t know about yet, it’s impossible to believe that he could convince people to look at him differently because of that ‘performance’. Suspension of disbelief doesn’t even come into it. I’ve suspended my disbelief so far as to accept that no one is dying. I shouldn’t have to accept that human nature has been rewritten in that time to the extent that the apology of a rapacious child murderer is enough to make everyone reassess their initial judgement. When you invoke Oprah you’re essentially saying that reacceptance is complete.

I’m not going to labour the point, but it’s a colossal misstep that will never ring true.

The second problem is a little bit more complex. For the majority of this episode Torchwood are trapped on a transatlantic flight, leaving Esther to manage things in America. This means that most of the cast, and the two most interesting members in Jack and Gwen, are all kept away from Miracle Day itself. When your plotline essentially amounts to the dangers of commuting with the CIA, I’m unlikely to care.

And so we get to the big problem. Jack is poisoned by Dichen Lachman, who was superb in Dollhouse and even better in Aztec Rex*, but here is given so little characterisation or personality as to make no difference. To save him, Gwen and Rex are forced to synthesise an antidote from whatever they can find on the plane.

Now, when Tony Stark created a suit of armour out of weapons in a cave, it was kind of understandable. This was the world’s greatest weapons designer, and he had the resources and talent to make himself a robotic suit. So when I say that there is less chance of being able to make anything worthwhile out of ingredients found on a plane, or in your kitchen, or ANYWHERE outside of a pharmaceutical chemist’s than there is of you or I building ourselves a suit of armour to fight crime, I want to be clear what I mean.

In a long line of impossible things that happen in this episode, this is the top one. It’s stunningly ridiculous; not only that they even managed to distil this antidote from grease, and sugar, and linoleum or whatever they stuck in it, but that they got their information from a team of doctors with nothing better to do.

Honestly; is this what these overworked, underpaid and out of their depth doctors should be doing? Having already established that there are too many sick people and not enough staff, there seem to be a lot of people at this meeting doing NOTHING to help those patients. It’s great that we’ve established a need for painkillers and all but that seems a little irrelevant bearing in mind that in a few months we’re all going to run out of food and space and eat one another. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. The usual.

I don’t meant to be so harsh here, but these are two terrible moments that the audience is just supposed to ignore in order for them to work. There’s no logical reason for them beyond being cool, in the same way that Gwen blowing up the helicopter was cool, and so that’s why they did it.

Anyway, the good bits. Well, John Barrowman does some great convulsions here. And this new talent spotter character was pretty awesome, although quite how she knows where to be at each point is a little odd. Gwen is all-round awesome again, and I love that she’s just so angry about everything.

Esther was much better developed this week, which is great considering that she has to carry most of the episode on her own. She still doesn’t feel like a fully formed character yet, but she’s getting there. The whole CIA operation still reeks of 24’s CTU, and I worry that too much emphasis is being put on making this a more identifiable programme (24, with some ER, and a little bit of Torchwood mystery as an afterthought).

Highlight of the week** however has to be Gwen tearing apart a plane with her bare hands, which was a lovely example of how to destroy a plane. Who knew it was that easy to dismantle a plane from the inside? Forget shoe bombs, or explosive bottles of water, if you want an airline taken down you should just rip the floor apart.

*Aztec Rex is a film in which the Conquistadors find a remote Aztec settlement which is revealed to be guarded by a T-Rex. They swiftly lose control of the dinosaur, which begins to rampage around South America until the two civilisations team up to take it down. It’s gloriously bad, the kind of sub-Asylum rubbish that gets churned out by SyFy on a regular basis and never seems to get shown enough. It’s one of those films that needs to be watched with a large bunch of mates and a sense of humour. Well worth checking out!

**No, wait, the actual highlight has to be Dichen Lachman again, wandering around with her neck broken and her head turned around backwards. This was the most hilarious scene for all the wrong reasons, but showed just what a bigger budget can do when compared with the head turning in Doctor Who’s Flesh episodes. I only hope that she will come back in later episodes for payback but, if not, at least she went out on a high. Brilliant.