Torchwood: Miracle Day (Series Four) Summary
Torchwood‘s fourth series was a train wreck.
The concept was pretty interesting – a supernatural event that eliminates death, driven by shadow elements and political conspiracies, and an exploration of how it affects the world – but the execution cut the concept’s hamstrings.
One thread that ran throughout the discussions of these episodes was padding (or bloating). The series lacks a sense of forward motion, even in moments of action, which is something that the BBC knew how to do while balancing the drama that we’re used to in this property. Torchwood can be slow, but even those slow moments in previous series kept the audience ready for more. Miracle Day felt like it was chained to the deck.
Another thread that wove throughout the series centered on disturbing tropes. The first episode contains the Black Dude Dies First trope – which also extends in poorly-written media to pretty much any minority because of outdated assumptions that audiences wanted/needed white straight male protagonists to win the day – and only subverts it because of the Miracle. Then Rex experiences another terrible trope twice as the series progresses: Stuffed into the Fridge.
I pointed this out in The Blood Line, but it bears some further exploration in a series-wide analysis. Two major character deaths served to motivate Rex in the ten-episode arc. First was Vera Juarez in The Categories of Life, and while her death wasn’t motivated in universe as a strike against Rex – she was murdered by the manager of a death camp to keep things quiet – it did serve narratively as a motivator because Rex was present and filming as she was burned alive.
The second was far more obvious. Esther’s death in The Blood Line was purely intended to drive Rex’s actions, and it transformed her from a character that was timid and unsure at the start of the series to a bold woman who saved Jack’s magic blood and told Rex that she was (in no uncertain terms) accompanying him to the Blessing.
In The Blood Line‘s analysis, I stated that the wrong agent had died and suggested that Esther should have lived while Rex died. I said that with full understanding of the Black Dude Dies First trope, and my thought process regarding it is pretty clear: Miracle Day tried that trope and subverted it, and then the writers spent nine more episodes building Esther while keeping Rex exactly where he was at the start. I didn’t want Rex to die because he’s a minority, but rather because he wasn’t developed in the course of the story. If he had grown, that analysis would be different, but the writers chose to transform Esther into an object after investing so heavily into her as a character. They undid all of that good will with a single narrative choice.
And in a series of episodes like this, the writers and producers needed to preserve as much good will as possible.
Enough soap-boxing: It’s time to look at the numbers. We’ve been through this thrice now, so we’re familiar with the drill: We can’t make a direct comparison between Torchwood and Doctor Who, but we can look at the scores so far to get an idea of how it fits within the Timestamps Project’s scope.
Torchwood Series Four earned a 3.1 average. That’s way down in last place among Torchwood, and is equivalent to the classic Third, Nineteenth, and Twenty-First seasons. Out of thirty-three seasons of Doctor Who so far in the Timestamps Project, that’s a three-way tie for 28th place.
The New World – 5
Rendition – 4
Dead of Night – 4
Escape to L.A. – 2
The Categories of Life – 4
The Middle Men – 3
Immortal Sins – 3
End of the Road – 3
The Gathering – 2
The Blood Line – 2
Web of Lies – 2
Torchwood Series Four Average Rating: 3.1/5
Thus ends Torchwood. It’s the first of the spinoff series to end, so it’s the first opportunity to provide a whole series rating. Keep in mind that if Torchwood should return to screens, then this will change.
Series 1 – 3.8
Series 2 – 4.0
Children of Earth – 4.8
Miracle Day – 3.1
Torchwood Weighted Average Rating: 3.79/4.00
Would I recommend Torchwood as something to watch in the Doctor Who mythos? Absolutely, but the obvious caveat is that Miracle Day does not hold up to the series. As we’ve seen, it’s also darker, gritter, and far more adult than anything else in the overall franchise, so if the light and hopeful of the main series is more your style, this might be best avoided.
The Timestamps Project is proceeding in mostly chronological order. As such, the next block of episodes will cover what remains of Doctor Who‘s sixth series. After that, the final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures is on the docket before a straight shot through the seventh, eighth, and ninth series of Doctor Who takes us well into next year.
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.