“Torchwood: Rendition” review

The second episode of Miracle Day gives away a little bit more of what kind of a beast this new incarnation of Torchwood is. I’m enjoying it a lot.

From last week’s episode it’s clear that, besides buying exclusive first screening rights, the US cash that has been poured in has made a visible impact on what’s on screen. But it’s also paid for some top-notch writers, and Rendition is by Doris Egan, who has written some of my favourite episodes of House (House vs. God, Son of Coma Guy etc). I was looking forward to see what she would do with the Doctor Who universe, and the lovely scene where Gwen tells Jack that she feared he would not come back until she was an old woman (and he’d look exactly the same) reveals an affection she obviously already holds for the show, so resonant is it with the powerful epilogue of Children of Earth.

Early in the episode there’s a reference to Rupert Sheldrake‘s theory of Morphic Resonance (the hundredth monkey syndrome). My teacher from school will have loved this reference (in the unlikely event he was watching). Sheldrake is a biochemist with a double first class degree and a PhD from Cambridge who has specialised in psychic research and parapsychology. He’s the kind of guy Fox Mulder would have pin-ups of. I’m not quite sure what it tells us about the developing plot, yet, but it’s becoming clear it’s not as simple as everyone gaining Captain Jack’s immortality: for one thing we discover that everyone is ageing, something Jack has never done.

Jack’s immortality is one thing that new viewers to the show will only just be picking up on where fans are already well-versed. Another is the vortex manipulator: like Rex they still have no idea what it is or why it is significant but like Jack and Gwen we know exactly what it is and why it’s important.If Jack’s immortality is significant to the plot, will the suspense for us be diminished? And how will his current mortality be reconciled (if at all) with the  way in which Rose/Bad Wolf brought about his universal permenance in The Parting of the Ways?

The sequences in American hospitals in both of the first two episodes make this series even more reminiscent, for me, of the only other American-produced story in the Doctor Who universe, the 1996 movie. But with Doris Egan writing, House is the other medical connection, and I saw a few overtones from there too. The sequence, in the plane, is reminiscent of the House episode Airborne (where House and Cuddy have to improvise to treat an outbreak on a plane) and the pacey sequence with the extemporised cure has all the tension and excitement that show brought to the art of diagnosis. It should also be mentioned that once again, Gwen’s awesomeness attains a new order of order of magnitude. That’s even before she reminds the evil Lynn of her nationality.

Meanwhile Doctor Juarez also gets a substantial and satisfying role in this episode, shaking up the panicked assumptions about managing the crisis the end of death has brought about and exploring the wider, more profound implications for disease management and healthcare priorities. That maybe sounds a little dry but it’s not, it’s refreshing to explore the social and scientific implications in this way.

That’s one major difference with early Torchwood, Doctor Who and even Children of Earth. In the the first two of those, ideas are treated as disposable and lightweight, used to pad out 45 minutes while the viewer is taken for a visual ride with a few jokes and some unresolved romances. Here we have a single idea, a simple yet substantial one, that is going to be explored over 10 hours, and after two episodes it feels like we’ve only just begun. Children of Earth explored a single idea in a similar way, but with 5 hours (so we’d be almost half way through by now) it had far less time to do so. Miracle Day is taking it very slowly, and I love the intricacy this allows. I’m completely hooked.



About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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