Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Torchwood: Why "Miracle Day" Is No "Children of Earth"

Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen and Eve Myles in Torchwood: Children of Earth. Photo courtesy of igossip.com.

We're only three episodes into the new, Americanized season of Torchwood, but it's becoming clear that Miracle Day is in no way the equal of the tense, emotional third season, Children of Earth. After two episodes that, although rocky, contained at least two or three very tense sequences per hour, the third episode showed a marked drop in quality. There are several underlying reasons that I think are causing this drop in quality: the nature of the "miracle," the move to America, and the loss of so much of the original cast. (Major SPOILERS ahead for those who haven't seen Children of Earth or the first three episodes of Miracle Day.)

One of the best things about Children of Earth was the way that the five-episode miniseries managed to streamline the usually chaotic Torchwood. By focusing every plot thread and character arc around the problem of the 456 and their demand that they be given ten percent of the planet's children, the show ensured that the urgency would never flag, even during the quieter moments that were focused more on character development than action. Miracle Day is much more diffuse, given the nature of the mysterious phenomenon that lies at the heart of the series. In trying to show the effects of the "miracle," the writers have been forced to include many, seemingly unrelated plot threads: Oswald Danes' (Bill Pullman) media ascent, Dr. Juarez's (Arlene Tur) attempts to keep her hospital abreast of the injuries and illnesses pouring in, and the unexplained agenda of Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) all pull focus from the Torchwood team's efforts to uncover the cause of the "miracle."

In contrast to the many plot threads of Miracle Day, Children of Earth focused almost exclusively on two interrelated stories: the Torchwood team trying to out-think the 456 while on the run from the British government, and the personal trials of John Frobisher (Peter Capaldi), a low-level government official drawn into a problem with no solution. Even though Miracle Day and Children of Earth are based around a similar conceit - a mysterious problem with no solution - Miracle day is diffuse where Children of Earth was streamlined, a problem that has resulted in a general lack of tension and a sense of chaos that is the opposite of Children of Earth's focus and heart-pounding suspense.

The second problem currently plaguing Harkness and Co. is the American setting. Because creator Russell T. Davies is British, the series always felt extremely organic to its setting (at least to this American girl). The current incarnation, however, feels less like an actual American show than... well, a British show transplanted to the U.S. The images of a country populated by people like Pullman's child molester, Mekhi Phifer's gun-happy CIA agent and Ambrose's motormouth publicist, a country easily swayed by the voices of the mass media, tends toward caricature rather than realism.

Another advantage that a British setting gave Children of Earth was the (stereotypically) British idea of the "stiff upper lip." The government scenes in Children of Earth were, by and large, conducted in calm, measured tones rather than yells. The calm that pervaded meetings in which officials planned out the details of turning innocent children over to the aliens added a sense of drama and disgust that no amount of yelling could have provided, and watching Capaldi's John Frobisher slowly break down was much more horrifying, given that it was masterfully conveyed by Capaldi using merely whispers and his increasingly red-rimmed eyes. This kind of quiet madness was a perfect counterpoint to Jack (John Barrowman), Gwen (Eve Myles) and Ianto's (Gareth David-Lloyd) guns a-blazin' approach to problem solving. The American version of Torchwood generally lacks this kind of necessary quiet, with the exception of Oswald Danes. Pullman's performance is easily the most compelling on the show (despite the fact that the writing is not backing it up), and I suspect it's because the actor has turned down the volume, allowing the audience to fill in the character's madness.

The third reason that Miracle Day fails where Children of Earth succeeds is the loss of so much of the original cast. (And yes, I realize that most of them are gone because they died, but still.) I was never someone who was upset with Davies for the death of Ianto; I thought it was a beautifully played emotional moment, and contributed some desperately needed character development for Jack. However, had I known what the fourth season was going to look like without Ianto, I would have protested with everyone else. Miracle Day is missing a Ianto-sized heart, a counterpoint to Jack and Gwen's hardened action-hero facades. The absence of Kai Owen's Rhys is making this absence stand out even more, as Jack and Gwen no longer have anyone left to fight for.

Of course, I could be wrong, and Miracle Day could pull it together and end up just as good as Children of Earth. I sincerely hope it does, and I'll be watching, whatever happens. However, as of right now, the outlook is a little bleak. Maybe the tie-in "motion comic" Torchwood: Web of Lies will reveal some information that will tie together the story. Now, if only I had an iPhone...

No comments:

Post a Comment