“Torchwood: The Categories of Life” Review

Threes. Everything comes in threes. Being alive, after the miracle, there’s three ways for that. Strands of subplot in this episode: there’s three of them. But maybe one would’ve been enough.

First of all, the category nonsense: mostly it’s been admirably clear what the effects of Miracle Day are. You can’t die, however horribly mutilated you are; you can heal too. But the brain dead? Was the suicide bomber in episode 1, who blinked, brain dead? What about Ellis Hartley Monroe in the scrapyard? And crucially, how much damage must you sustain to reach this state… Because Oswald Danes has been pumped full of potassium chloride and seems to have healed without difficulty.

The other problem is the three strands of the plot. Previously I complained that everyone was being brought together; now the opposite. You can’t win, eh? But the problem here is that two strands of the plot are definitely category 1s, and they detract from the one of them that is a category 3. The confrontation between Vera Juarez and Maloney is Children of Earth vintage Torchwood: the small minded, racist sexist bureaucrat proud to come in under budget, deadened to the meaning of the work he’s involved in is a complete contrast to Dr Juarez, an passionate intellectual. Espenson writes these showdown scenes superbly: Harkness/Danes was the highlight of Dead of Night, and and reeling from the shocking actions of a man whose whole concept of death has changed so profoundly I did not realise how horrible a crime he was committing, and indeed what he was already complicit in.

I’m currently watching, and enjoying, The Hour, a superbly executed period thriller set against the backdrop of the Suez crisis. The acting is all first rate (there are at least two actors who would make a superb 12th Doctor in it), and it’s the kind of thing the BBC is justly lauded for. It’s flawless entertainment. But despite some gruesome murders and ruthless scheming, watching it is comparatively safe by contrast to the dark depths of human nature that recent Torchwood has exposed.

But if there’s a problem with the latest incarnation of Torchwood it is the unevenness. The “miracle rally” just looks a bit feeble. It’s hardly Nuremberg. And although I was intrigued by the notion of a concentration camp in Cowbridge, the Welsh strand felt a bit redundant. The smart writing of the panels carried a feel of House or the West Wing; a shame that was so quickly dispensed with. And for all the PhiCorp mystery, the governmental angle is starting to be notable for its absence – besides throwaway references to Hilary Clinton and the UK Prime Minister (presumbably Denise Riley?). And, to return to a criticism I voiced last week, there’s still a question in my mind over whether 10 episodes were needed. Although the story is motoring again, would I have enjoyed it even more if this had been episode 3 rather than episode 5?

There’s enough in this one to give me confidence in Miracle Day. Despite a dip last week, it’s been rather brilliant so far. But I still have expectations, due to its predecessor series, that it should be outstanding. That may be unfair, but it’s probably the reason I’d pin a blue peg to it rather than a white one.

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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