“Dead Of Night” – Torchwood: Miracle Day

As this site is all about television, I figured it would be remiss of me not to do some actual television reviews while I’m here (also, I’m apparently a glutton for punishment and my work schedule isn’t crazy enough). So from here on in I’ll be doing a weekly review of a current TV show, hopefully picking apart how things work and what television can and can’t be and, hell, why I like it. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we might even learn a thing or two.

I’ve been thinking recently about body language. I’m taking improv classes at Second City in Toronto, and the amount of time you spend thinking about how you’re moving is disturbingly distracting. Picking up objects that aren’t there, reacting to environments that don’t exist, even just standing still without looking like a poor facsimile of a human being. When you think about it, when you have to think about it (and hopefully down the line it will become natural), there is a lot that goes into your body – just have a go at this game to find out.

Now apparently 93% of communication is through body language, which frankly I think is logically bullshit – that’s why charades is a game and talking isn’t. Body language may be 93% of communication, but it’s certainly not true that it’s 93% of useful communication. Chosen dialogue is how we portray the salient facts.

But a good lesson to be learned from body language is about the nature of personal expression. Everything you do, from the way you hold your head, to the arrangement of your presentation slides, to your accent, your choice of syllables, your haircare – it’s all some level of expression of you. I can tell you about the contents of my fridge and I will bring some level of unique me to proceedings.

And good writing – specifically good character writing – has a basic understanding of this. In scene one Mitzi finds her pet chihauhau Bon Voyage has fallen off a cliff – in scene five she orders dinner. She doesn’t need to cry or moan or say that French food reminds her of Bon Voyage; it’s just there. If you’ve seen your script go from page to screen (or stage) you get a grasp of how what comes before infuses what’s happening right now.

Also, how not to make car journeys running from the law look like National Lampoon's

Not understanding this is a trap. And it’s one that Torchwood is falling into far more than I’d like. Whether it’s the enjoyable-until-it-went-on-for-five-minutes UK vs. US etymological conference, the creepy but blunt Soulless, every reference to Jack’s past or homosexuality, or Jilly Kitzinger’s increasing slip into the Big Book Of Vague Metaphors… it’s just not strong, delicate writing of the specifics. It’s too on the nose.

That said, the non-specific is remaining intriguing. The introduction of the Soulless is obviously something that we’ll be dealing with more down the line, but even in their own ham-fisted way they represent something – the world is changing, and not just biologically. We’ve gotten a lot of talk about consequences in previous episodes, but this is the first taste we’re getting that society itself is irrevocably changing – people are taking sides, and not in the simple good vs. evil way that Torchwood and now Phicorp represent.

Phicorp itself is an interesting concept – a pharmaceutical company making huge profits off the now desperate need for painkillers. For a regular episode of old Torchwood, or for Doctor Who, this might be an interesting turn of events for a nemesis – but it’s clear that there must be something more behind this. If the big bad at the end of a ten episode season is a CEO in a pin-stripe, then you’re not doing it right.

Unless, of course, he's wearing this.

But it does give them someone to fight, as well as a reason more than blood-red neck-scarves to be afraid of Jilly Kitzinger. She seems like she might not necessarily have a handle on why Phicorp are doing what they’re doing, but it’s fair to say she’s wormed her way into the centre of proceedings.

It would be a shame to see her flip to good in a cliched way once she figures THE HORROR of what’s going on, but I wouldn’t mind seeing her cracking a tentative truce with our heroes to achieve her own means. Whatever happens, I’m still enjoying Lauren Ambrose’s frenetic take on the character.

What didn’t gel with me half as well was the back-and-forth sex scenes. As a gay man (and what good sentence doesn’t begin with that statement) it’s nice to see sex and sexuality being treated the same no matter what your tastes or gender, complete with primetime gratuity that’s par for the course these days.

"Welcome to the Rex Hotline. Here are some words that rhyme with Rex."

However the pairings didn’t work as well as I’d have liked – Jack’s brief courtship (motivated by mortality, as if he wasn’t just as horny when immortal) with moonlit buttcheek Brad was nice in its forthrightness, but robbed the episode of any urgency. So now we’re just wandering off to bars while an evil company is trying to track us down?

And as for Rex and Vera? People need to stop pretending that being a dickhead and being alluringly passionate are the same thing. It knocked my feelings on Dr. Juarez down a notch when she let Rex get on, and I was disappointed that my high hopes for a Jane Espenson penned episode were dashed by her tendency to think that sex is still exciting and dark for the rest of us (see season six of Buffy).

In fact, a lot of what happened in this episode seemed to be more inside Jane Espenson’s head than what made it on to the screen. The sex was one, and the discovery of the pharmaceuticals happened a little too easily than logic would dictate, but the final nail in the coffin (of sorts) was the scene with Jack and Oswald Danes. It was nice to see Jack finally being active, but much of this conversation felt like prose and not dialogue, and confusing prose at that.

Much like this scene made Gwen look like she'd just learned how to walk.

It also reminded us that much of the world is putting its faith in a man who’s a known pedophile and murderer, a leap too far in my opinion. Jack’s final revelation – that Oswald is seeking death, not courting publicity – may have been more powerful if it made any sense whatsoever.

As it stood, this speech – and much of “Dead Of Night” – got us to where we needed to be, but didn’t feel very real along the way.

Free Radicals

– It was nice to see Knight (SEINFELD!) being taken down right away, instead of drawing out his duplicity.

– The morphic field is too much sci-fi gobbledegook, and I’d appreciate if everyone could stop talking about it.

– “You feel everything that happened. It still hurt?” Not a great line, but Eve Myles did well.

– “There’s a poem…” Oh Jesus, Jack.

– Nice to see the return of the Eye-5s as well, though it’s not the same without the mentally challenged presence of “Lois… Lois Habiba”

– Say what you want about Vera Juarez and her dedication to her patients, but she’s never too busy to dress FANCY.

– Was good to see them address Lyn (aka Sierra from Dollhouse) not being paralysed after the neck-twisting events of “Rendition”.

– So the bruises showed right away on Susie Cabino? Hmmm.

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About alfla

Playwright, screenwriter, sometime improv enthusiast and full-time television lover. You know, in THAT way.
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