The middle: piggy-in-the-middle, middling, in the middle of it all. Being in the middle can be good, or it can be bad. Or it can just mean mediocre.
At the start of The Middle Men we’re midway through the 10 episode run of Miracle Day. At about lunchtime in the first series of 24 (each hour long episode represented a real chunk of time from midnight to midnight) the bad guy gets wiped out and we go back to square one with finding out who is behind him. It was an effective way of invigorating the series; and I was reminded of it in this episode with the revelation that PhiCorp aren’t the ultimate baddies. Except we knew that all along. (Perhaps it will turn out the mysterious power invisibly manipulating PhiCorp is The Silence: it certainly fits their MO; if they weren’t Moffat’s monster it would be a dead cert!) On the other hand, maybe 24 is not the best model since by around tea-time it was reduced to introducing an amnesia plot strand; let’s hope that the cliff-hanger here doesn’t indicate an equally tired hostage storyline. The introduction of Ernie Hudson’s character is a welcome way of injecting something fresh; we need new blood, but he’s not in it enough. During the pre-title sequence (perhaps the best part of this episode) I was excited at the prospect of the action moving China: a whole new perspective on the Miracle and the consequences of overpopulation, but alas there was nothing that radical. The middle was a symbolic marker only; the whole episode was essentially the conclusion of a two-parter that began with The Categories of Life, wrapping up the same three strands with Rex & Esther in San Pedro, Gwen in Cowbridge and Jack’s sideline in investigation.
I’ve also been increasingly convinced by the thesis espoused on the Doctor Who Podcast that this series is in the middle ground between the first two series ofTorchwood and the serial Children of Earth. Especially with James’ recent remark that Rex and Esther are essentially Owen and Tosh replacements. Esther’s even inherited Tosh’s tragic unrequitedness. However this is a better episode for Esther, for once, with a superbly staged fight scene: in her shock and distress, sending her back for the keys is a superbly callous twist that is entirely undermined by the disappointingly predictable undeadness (or rather, > category-1-ness) of Maloney.
Right at the middle of Children of Earth was Peter Capaldi as Frobisher. He represented the utilitarian servants of the system that in Miracle Day are embodied by Bad Mitten playing Colin Maloney and and Dr Patel. Maloney’s storyline in The Categories of Life is shocking, brutal, a highlight; but the way he’s written in this episode he quickly outstays his welcome. Miracle Day lacks a Frobisher character; Danes is the major goest role but he is a polarising figure, far from being a “middle man”. Indeed, The Middle Men is the first episode in which he makes no appearance. I’m enjoying Pullman’s performance, but I make no complaint about his absence; we don’t need him on screen to be reminded of his significance, especially when there has been so little for him to do. All the same, we need a “Middle Man” of the calibre of Peter Capaldi, and Ernie Hudson isn’t doing it for me, yet.
One of the best things about this episode, though, is the return of Gwen’s Awesomeness, which was a little subdued last week. Any story that features Gwen on a motorbike detonating explosives by remote control gets my vote. Nothing middling about that.