Early last September (2011), there was a movement called "Speak Out With Your Geek Out", which involved taking a week for blogging or otherwise sharing your passions in a happy and positive way. (It started from this particular blog post.) Of note, the event seems like it will be running again this year from Mon Sept 10 to Fri Sep 14, 2012 - check that first link above to see how it's been evolving.
Well, I was preoccupied at the time (I suspect with the startup of teaching), and I didn't have a blog or anywhere to really post. That said, I did write up some of my thoughts about Torchwood: Miracle Day, which had finished airing at about that time. I had a vague idea of posting it to my Facebook notes... but that never happened, so it's been idling on my computer hard drive ever since. Now that I have this site, I decided to polish the review up a bit and finally post it. Both to get it out there, as well as to potentially remind people about the upcoming #speakgeek.
It should go without saying, but... SPOILERS!
Torchwood 4, "Miracle Day"... it wandered. It didn't seem to know what it was doing half the time, it built up events that never went anywhere, and as some others on the net have pointed out, it didn't need ten episodes. But there was a lot of good mixed in with it too. I'm writing this to see if I can identify where things might have been improved, and to see if there's any agreement out there with my thoughts. After all, I do write a webseries; I should be able to identify this stuff so that I can potentially see it in my own work.
Thus, without further ado, some problems, and my personal improvements.
1) Superfluous and unnecessary characters
Jilly Kitzinger - Fairly easily removed... only served to show the audience shady people existed. All she did plotwise was bring Vera in deeper (Vera could have done this herself), ramped up Oswald (which had no payoff - he didn't even use her speech), was brought into the Families (supposedly to write history, but that's no reason to be in Shanghai), and indirectly sent Oswald to Torchwood (anything could do that). Plus she was ANNOYING AS HELL. I know that was the point, but even Oswald was annoying with some depth, she was shallower than a wading pool.
HOW SHE COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED: Make her a long lost descendant of a Families member? That gives one of them a legit reason to bring her in. Possibly have her question her own morality when she looks into the abyss, then try to hide it from the others. Anything to make her more than a talking/whining head.
Oswald Danes - Some of his scenes worked, but ultimately, he could be removed too. A bad sign when he's one of your leads (though he didn't even appear in one of the episodes). The problem is, he's built up as some grand figure in the public eye, then... well, dropped. Like the writers didn't know how to fix that thread. So, because of some senators talking about killing him (isn't that what he wanted? was it their method?) I guess like a martyr (was that his objection?) he runs out on Jilly (is there no one else who would take his case when he thought he didn't need her to start?) and goes underground (why not inform those in the public who adore him about things?) and in the end, the whole thing with him and the bomb could easily have been Gwen, couldn't it? After losing her father? (Admittedly with a workaround for the death.) Plus the whole "we want to kill you... but not yet" thing got tired REALLY fast. And it's a shame, because as I say, his scenes were pretty good, yet ultimately pointless.
HOW HE COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED: His character really couldn't be redeemed, so it's mostly the framing. There should have been SOME wrapup as far as the public eye is concerned. Also, he should have had something to actually get the group into Shanghai to warrant his inclusion, be it something stolen from Jilly or otherwise, and something more to DO at the climax - he didn't even get upset at the Families for letting Jilly yank him around.
2) Characters who got less screen time than warranted
Angelo Colasanto - Wow did they drop the ball here. First of all, the thought that he was behind things lasted all of half an episode, when it could have been a great red herring to stretch out since episode 2. They also dumped all the history into one episode, when it could have been hinted at before. Like when Jack is dying on an airplane heading into the US. Or when he's making out with that guy in episode 3 (a REVERSAL of his situation with Angelo, incidentally, as Jack was mortal and the other guy wasn't). And the bit with Angelo's sister NOT liking Jack could have gone places, but no, apparently we had to blow her up for... some reason. Angelo could have been removed too, really, which is a shame.
Vera Juarez - It's like she was forgotten. She was a main character in the start, without her they wouldn't have saved Jack on the plane for that matter, then... first of all, her death was pretty stupid. Why tell a guy that he's going to be reported and written up and whatever when i) you need him to draw out those behind the miracle itself and ii) he's mentally unstable. (Still doing it AFTER HE SHOT YOU seemed the height of stupidity.) Second of all, while I can buy that her death didn't have enough meaning to alter the entire public perception, why was there no mention of her later on? Not even at the climax or something? Rex at least could have made mention, particularly given Esther. Disappointing.
3) Wonky plot points
Gwen's Motivations - So, she's brought to the US against her will, and they do stuff there against PhiCorp. When she hears of her father, she goes back to Wales, and she blows things up there. Fine. Then she decides to return to the US? Wouldn't it help to NOT have everyone in the same place? It seems an odd time to leave the family too. (And for being so careful with time zones, her trip is pretty darn quick.) It's not even important to the plot! All she does is get forced to abduct Jack, then get deported again by the CIA!! Uh, what was the point?? Moreover, apparently after that she decided to do NOTHING in the two month timeskip after she got sent there; concern over her family? Also, why were there no consequences for her harbouring her father?! That made no sense given how they built it up. It's like after episode 5 they didn't quite know what to do with her.
The Blessing - I'm actually okay that it's meaning and origins were unclear. And the idea of the worldline through two very populated cities was quite interesting. What DIDN'T make sense was that, "when you look at it, you see your soul", or something. Because we never saw it happen!! The whole 'you can't stare at it' was built up, then Jilly's like, "No, I'm cool". And later Gwen can deal, and Jack's fine, and when it looks like Oswald might react... PSYCHE, he's cool with it too. Rex and Esther didn't seem affected. What was the POINT? It's like that one suicide at the start of an earlier episode had to be "explained" somehow, and they did a very, very poor job of it. Less a case of "show, don't tell" more a case of "the Emperor has no clothes".
4) The Evil Plan
Was... what, exactly? In the end, The Blessing was only Phase One, of... of... uhm... killing undesirables and rewriting history? Why? Because you think you're cool and there's no chance anyone will stab YOU in the back? Why did they wait *two months* before burying The Blessing anyway? And were they actually in control of PhiCorp, or was PhiCorp and their logo just a distraction? For that matter, why didn't they grab Jack when he broke into PhiCorp? (They seemed to want him if they sent out the Torchwood message! And how did they know about him being with them anyway?) Plus what was with the silly rotating triangle to symbolize the families? Why did they kill that Senator and support Oswald, only to not do anything with him later? So much made no sense!
When the villains don't seem to have a plan so much as an allegory for the current state of society, that's a problem. Plus if you're going to beat me over the head with a message, at least make it nuanced. Others have also pointed out that there isn't really a clear villain in the story. (Oswald doesn't count, seeing as he ends up "joining" the group.) That might have helped too.
I don't know, maybe the problem was all the different writers? Might be interesting to know how the whole writing process went. (I've discovered that Jane Espenson, writer of episodes 3, 5, 7 and cowriter of 8 and 10, did blog about that here. Interestingly, the plan had been for only an initial group meeting, but they did end up working together more than that.) Anyway, as I said, number of good scenes, but in the overall, it wandered too much. Also, could have interesting repercussions for Rex. Were they aiming to set up an American spinoff?
A year later, I suppose we're still wondering. As of last January, the ball seems to be in the hands of Russell T Davies.