I finished Torchwood: Miracle Day last night, and I find myself more satisfied by the idea of it, than with the series itself. Honestly, that’s largely a matter of pacing. Children of Earth had particularly stellar pacing, and Miracle Day did not.
A lot of that, especially in early episodes, was the by-product of having to introduce the show to a whole new audience. But even then, I thought most of the slowed down pacing was less committed to helping us understand Jack and Gwen and the idea of Torchwood and more to the creeping horror of the Miracle. This would have been perfectly fine, it if weren’t a relatively simple concept to grasp, one that would have been more terrifying, immediate and less distracting in its allegory, at high speed.
But a five or seven episode Miracle Day would have been a different animal, one that could never have contained Jane Espensen’s brilliant episode 7. And let us be clear, I’m not a fan of the episode for the gay romance or Barrowman’s ass (which is, I think, a criticism that gets lobbed, not entirely fairly, but not entirely unfairly either at a lot of fandom and at a lot of female viewers in particular); I’m a fan of the episode for its inherent Romanticism and its narrative about loss — two central traits of the larger Whoniverse which appeared with a poetry in Miracle Day in a way that they actually didn’t in Children of Earth, despite that being the stronger of the two series.
Without episode 7, Miracle Day would also not be a story about Jack. It’s the knitting to his arc, one which many people in fandom have been writing very eloquently about coming full circle in this series (please post links if you’ve got them). Certainly, as one of those fans with a deep commitment to the Face of Boe story, to see Jack finish this series with his immortality intact and a real sense of peace and wonder with the world again, I was relieved. I was also satisfied, when Gwen shoots him to prevent him from being a suicide.
Giving up one’s life for the cause is, essentially, how heroism is defined in the Whoniverse. Jack, when we first meet him, is mortal, screws some stuff up, and is ultimately willing to give up his life to fix it. He doesn’t. Then, later, when he’s willing to give up his life to save his friends, something intervenes and he becomes immortal, robbing this con-man who had become a better man of the ability to execute on heroism as defined by the Whoniverse. This has dogged him through each and every one of his failures across the programs; all he can do is sacrifice others, and that is, we are told, the act of a coward.
When Gwen steps up to be complicit in the death he has volunteered for, she is not just expressing love for Jack, and helping (seemingly) to return to him his heroism. She is actively altering the structure of what it means to be a hero in the Whoniverse; she is taking the gun out of Adelaide Brooks’s (“Waters of Mars”) hand and saying she doesn’t have to do the right thing alone. Gwen, in letting her father go and in being willing to kill her friend, who she loves once again, tells us that maybe Jack was not a coward when Ianto died and perhaps, unsettlingly, not a monster when he sacrificed Steven.
These are some pretty fascinating and powerful ideas, littered across an intriguing landscape filled with atheistic play with religious metaphor (something I don’t think Russel T. Davies could avoid if he tried), that culminate in Jack, whose life was in many ways made smaller by his immortality (he wound up confined this this earth full of its restrictive morals about love and sex), witnessing it possibly make someone else’s life (Rex’s) larger.
Miracle Day is, in its parting shots, a return to the wonder that was Torchwood in the largely monster-of-the-week incarnation that defined its first two seasons.
But satisfying in my brain, and satisfying in front of my eyes are two different things, sadly. And of all the series, this may be the one I am the least likely to rewatch in its entirety for anything other than scholarly purposes. Aside from finding its pacing off-puttingly awkward, its attempt to unify the original show’s queer sensibility with a perception of American masculinity and viciousness was at best inexplicable and extraneous and, at worst, arbitrarily offensive.
On the other hand, I still hope there is more. I will always want to follow Jack’s story, because Jack’s story is always. I want more detail and elegance around the Families and the idea of their plan as Writing the Story.
Finally, Jilly Kitzinger? Most fun villain, EVER.