“The Categories Of Life” – Torchwood: Miracle Day

“They’re burning them alive.”

Yep, that’ll do it. And in its own ham-fisted way Torchwood has now kicked things into second gear, ratcheted up the tension, taken it to the next level, blown the head off the baby etc. etc.

But I get ahead of myself.

I read a review recently which referenced Die Hard, and specifically the suspension of disbelief of that movie compared with other films or genres. It danced around something which I’ve been meaning to write down for an age, what I like to call the Suspension Rule Of One. This is my theory (PATENT PENDING) on what amount of disbelief or, more accurately, coincidence I’m willing to allow in any given piece of fiction. The Rule Of One states that one strange – even highly unlikely – coincidence is allowable, and even expected.

If we assume that there is a whole world outside the scope of the camera (or page), then there must be a reason why we are being shown this particular person or story. It’s not a coincidence that Shaun survives the zombie apocalypse or that Katniss Everdeen is picked for the Hunger Games – we are being shown this person’s story from the beginning BECAUSE of this fact.

And also because they're an easy breezy beautiful cover girl.

I just finished an Isaac Asimov story about a world with pre-selected professions, where our initially unselected protagonist turned to be incredibly special as he was creative rather than just programmable. Is it unbelievable? No, because that’s the reason we were being told his story, even if we didn’t know it until the end. A sort of retroactive logic of selection.

The Rule Of One states consequently that any further coincidences – be they old friends, suddenly useful niche skills, or the dreaded deus ex machina – only serve to dilute the logic, and therefore the story.

I think I’m coming to an important checkpoint in Torchwood, and one that will colour the second half of the season: I have to stop considering this world as being anything like our own. And I’m not talking about hilarious blinking bomb victims, I’m talking about a world where paedophile murderers are forgiven overnight and embraced as gods who walk among us.

Or should I say dance among us.

A world where the government, made up of real people with real families, is actively torturing its population and burning them alive. A world where an undercover other-worldly spy agency can successfully use “emotional outburst” as a successful solution to any problem, no matter how delicate (I also love that the only person this backfired on was Vera).

This isn’t exactly new territory for Torchwood. Children Of Earth saw the governments of the world considering handing over 10% of all children to an alien race – but at least here there was a defined alien request from the 456 that this happen, and they were exhibiting a clear control over these chlidren anyway. Here we have the government (I say the government even though it may well be Pficor, but the government are at the very least complicit) apparently not even searching for a solution and instead opting for the “FLAME ON” approach to compassionate care.

Peg Naysayers. My Irish readers are laughing at that.

I will have to adjust my view of what a human being is to take this into account, and may instead choose to believe that Torchwood exists on a world where people look human but are instead largely devoid of compassion and logic. If I can do this, I promise to let you know.

That said, there was a lot of meat to pick over in this episode. From finding out that the camps existed last week, it was nice that we not only got to throw ourselves in there (in two continents, no less) but also managed to get the deep, dark secret that existed at the heart of them. It helped that everyone was willing to be gung ho about the whole affair, and while it did result in the death of our newest Torchwood member it was nice to see them all being so active and duplicitous.

Except of course for Jack, who I’ve now decided is entirely superfluous to proceedings – there’s a difference between intriguing and inactive, and Starz have hit the dull as dishwater nail on the head by having Jack skulk, fuck and mince his way through these first five episodes. This is especially mad when they’ve gone to such lengths to clarify that Gwen is a bad-ass.

In LA, we had Vera, Esther and Rex infiltrating the camps as a doctor, an admin assistant and a corpse respectively. The categories of life (1 is alive, 3 is dead, and 2 is carboyhdrate) had been decided, and the team were right to assume that anything that happened after that was going to be swift and not very nice. The tension of these scenes was nicely played, and it helped to give us the experience of various parts of these camps, be it death’s door patient or just working alongside Unimpressed Lady in the office (Unimpressed Lady needs a spin-off now, by the way).


While Rex did manage to maneouvre himself into the the flame chambers, it was really Vera’s show. In true Torchwood style, she shouted at someone with a gun and threatened to destroy them – but in a startling twist, she actually got what she deserved and was shot in both legs before being unceremoniously incinerated before Rex’s eyes. I now understand the reason behind the Vera-Rex romance was to get to this moment, but it would have been more subtle and frankly more touching if they’d only had a few furtive looks and this had been a case of romance dashed rather than sex interrupted.

Vera aside, though, we now know how they’re solving the problem of the Category 1’s: by turning them into so much tragic charcoal.

Which is bad news for Gwen, who’s just for-whatever-reason-I-don’t-know had her father carted off to the flame chambers. Her infiltration as nurse Yvonne was nicely done, but disembodied-eye-roll moment of the episode went to her cry for help when her father had another heart attack. I wholeheartedly believe that Gwen is enough of a bad-ass that she would have realised that he couldn’t die, and therefore they should have just thrown him in the truck and done a runner. As it is, we have to save him again next week.

Our final story of this week was Jack’s billowy shadow puppetry at the convention centre where Oswald Danes was giving a speech on “revelation”. I say this not only because it was Jilly’s word-of-the-day from Pficor but because I had no idea what he was talking about.

"Sometimes I need a-- Oh, gotcha!"

Similar to his and Jack’s tete-a-tete a few weeks back, the words were there, they were definitely powerful, but they had no clear meaning. Except that we are all angels. Or maybe some of us are. Presumably the rest of us will be princesses, because the Oswald Danes post-apocalyptic ballet The Angel Princess only has TWO ROLES.

And both require the ability to recreate the Easy Breezy Beautiful Cover Jack.

Anyway, he said things, people loved him, Jilly either cried or panicked – Lauren Ambrose is so fidgety she’s getting hard to read – and Pficor got a nice TV spot.

I am at a loss where this is all going to lead, but I will tell you one thing – two bullets and a barbecue have robbed us of the only logical character in this whole mess. Suspend, suspend, suspend.

Free Radicals

– Vera joined Torchwood, and Vera became a smug illogical fool. A virus?

– “Do you think I’m useless?” – Esther’s FIRST LINE in the episode. Jeez, girl. Calm down.

– I jotted down that the directors need to start directing. The actors. Give them motivation and pointers. Please.

– I also jotted down that my buttocks were cringing at several points.

– “Oswald Danes, the execution guy, he’s been SO amazing.” Amazing at RAPE, crazy television teeny bopper.

– I want Susie Cabino’s parents to confront Oswald immediately if not sooner. Did nobody know that child? There was definitely a woman watching Oswald be executed.

– “I hear rumours of Phil Collins.”

– Did the line “I’m gonna see you inside a prison cell you limp-dick little coward” seem like it was inserted after the fact? If so, I assume it was removed from the BBC broadcast.

– I did really enjoy, or rather not enjoy but admire, the shooting of Vera.


About alfla

Playwright, screenwriter, sometime improv enthusiast and full-time television lover. You know, in THAT way.
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One Response to “The Categories Of Life” – Torchwood: Miracle Day

  1. Pingback: “The Middle Men” – Torchwood: Miracle Day | [ par·al·lel·e·vi·sion ]

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