Episode 5 - Categories of Life

456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed

So then, what does Categories of Life bring us? Well, after a decent third part and a solid if run-of-the-mill follow-up last week, the fifth episode of this latest incarnation of Torchwood hits the ground running then promptly falls flat on it's arse.

Last week's episode left us with the first passable cliff-hanger, and after some promising running about the story wades into yet another monstrous tar-pit of exposition. Yes, we've more clunky dialogue clanging like cracked bells, clearly feeding plot points to the audience rather than portraying a conservation between real people.

While still on the Dark Side, in the same scenes we have yet more tedious gay jokes between Jack and Rex. Now I'm not one of these homophobic idiots who gets all hot under the collar and spouts nonsense about Russell T Davies using his shows to further a 'gay agenda' however I do strongly object to the way our long-lived omni-sexual Captain is often been reduced to a comical camp figure.

Yes, Jack's always been ready with a saucy quip but in this series he's lost his dark and brooding side and I feel is danger of becoming a comedy sidekick in his own show. Mind you, the characterisation of Rex is still paper-thin obnoxious shouting. And the running gay jokes aren't exactly helping to endear him to me, as he's coming across as a bit of bigot.

However thankfully after this info dumping, the episode does get back on track, with the team mounting their biggest and boldest operation yet. We have the action unfolding in three different locations culminating in a triple climax that will have many of you shocked and surprised. Obviously I'm not going to reveal any details but let's just say it gets very, very dark.

However despite this the episode still manages to blow it's own toes off and if you want to know why by the end of the episode I was shouting 'bullshit!' at the screen, you'll have to brave the spoiler zone below.

So then it is something of a mixed bag this episode, as have many of its predecessors. But here we have a startling range from some of the better scenes we've had so far to some of the worst. Yes, we are certainly getting to the meat of the story now after weeks of hors d'oeuvres, with some proper big dramatic developments but I now have serious doubts about Miracle Day, and even if the second half sorts out its problems, on the evidence present in this instalment, I suspect it will continue to be a very bumpy ride.

456 Classification Revised - Spoilers Ahead

Well, as promised last week, it's half time report time! So how's the first five episodes gone? Well, it's been a bit choppy hasn't it? My polygraph machines monitoring script, acting, plotting and direction have been scribbling wildly throughout this opening half of Miracle Day despite gradual week by week improvements. But basically Torchwood is so far scraping by rather than soaring as it should be.

Now viewers from whom Miracle Day is their first exposure to the world of Torchwood may chalk these imperfections done to the usual teething troubles and weaknesses that are found in most first seasons. However for those of us who are counting this as Series 4, it's a disappointing follow-up to Children of Earth. Of course that five part series was so exceptional I doubted that Miracle Day would equal it. However what I didn't expect was that this series (at least so far) wouldn't be as solid as Series 2.

And up until this week, the intriguing concept and well executed moments had enough strength to get me over the flaws, though not necessarily forgive them. However Episode 5 has seen the show hit the skids and wheels come off the Torchwood jalopy.

So far I've been very patient, allow the show a good deal of leeway as a slow burn story, but I am coming to the conclusion that the plotting is just a dog's dinner. The concepts haven't been properly thought through and there looks to be alot of padding where there should have been plot developments and drama.

Now I discussed last week my doubts about the character of Oswald Danes and how credible is it that a man who has raped, tortured and murdered a child could ever become a media personality. So far I managed to just suspend disbelief, but in the latest episode the story assumed the mass of a small singularity and not only fell from my straining arms but ate through multiple floors like xenomorph blood. Sorry but I don't buy that, even in the altered world of the Miracle (where remember the other week he was pursued by the public and beaten by the police), such a vile monster could become a charismatic leader, whooping up a stadium of people.

And if that wasn't ridiculous enough, Jack's whole cunning plan with Oswald was frankly ludicrous. For him to think it was remotely possible, they really needed to have met and verbally crossed swords several times before and at length rather than the single brief meet we did get to see.

In short, these scenes at the rally really tipped the scales for me - it was hard to believe that you could have someone of John Wayne Gacy's ilk shilling pharmaceuticals but Ted Bundy as Jesus? For Chrisssakes! Get a fucking grip! Danes' storyline is no longer just unbelievable, it's now bollocks so badly conceived it borders on the offensive.

Less annoying but just as muddled is the Miracle itself. Ok, so no one dies and eternal youth isn't part of the deal. But for example would Rex's chest wound start to heal? What if the brain is destroyed are people still conscious? Now we've had yards of exposition over the past five weeks but the rules of the phenomena are still fuzzy. Hence this week's big reveal - that the evil plot is to burn folks in the camps - was somewhat undercut by the question of are we going to have clouds of sentient ash swirling about?

And that's another thing - I presumed that those sent to the camps would be shipped off and used as an ever living food supply for something... But no, PhiCorp are torching those who are supposed to be dead. Why? I mean presumably they, or rather their mysterious triangle masters, have engineered the Miracle in the first damn place, so what the hell is the point? Everyone who is being exterminated in the stealth concentration camps would have died anyway if they hadn't let loose the Miracle in the first damn place.

Even for Russell T Davies, who engineered many a stupid story than delivered spectacle but not coherent plotting in his tenure on Doctor Who, this plot twist is a new low - it makes not the slightest sense and left me with the impression that this whole Miracle business is a massive waste of time. Which would account for the fact that the whole unfolding situation has been consistently badly explained and explored over the past five weeks I suppose.

Also, I'll say this now, Mr Davies: if you're really expecting that forthcoming reveal that it's aliens behind it all is going to wow us all, you are sadly misguided. This is a scifi series and we're all expecting aliens anyway. So if space monsters are the only secret behind the Miracle, Mr and Mrs Kick will be paying a swift visit to Bollock-town!

And, apologies for turning into Columbo here, but one more thing... Wouldn't it have made more sense to kill off Rex rather than Vera? Who's going to attend all those talking head exposition sessions now?

Now admittedly there's still half a series to clarify and make sense of the current state of play. However there appears to be a key problem that everyone I've spoke to about the show seems to agree on - that it doesn't feel like Torchwood anymore. And indeed in the latest episode, Rex spells it out by saying 'Torchwood is just a name, a code word'. And it's not just all the background of old Torchwood that has gone, the show now has a very different tone.

Now yes, continuing shows need to keep tweaking the format and set-up to provide fresh platforms for new stories, but so far, there's little reason for the Miracle Day story to involve the Torchwood team at all. Indeed this tale could easily be told with completely new characters replacing Captain Jack and Gwen as there is so little connection to its previous incarnations. Indeed it's not like Jack is being particularly well handled at all - in avoiding any awkward references to the character's past that might alienate new viewers in the US, we're left with a hollow man.

Certainly as so much in terms of both style and setting that has been jettisoned, again presumably for the benefit of the new stateside audience, it might have made more sense to launch this as stand-alone series. For a start, all those unwelcome comparisons to Children of Earth would disappear. But on the other hand the plot developments of the most recent episode appear so imbecilic that they would damage even a stand alone show.

Having come this far I'll keep watching, if only to enjoy the most consistent and true to what has gone before element, Gwen. And while I still want to see how it all turn out, I don't have high hopes of them getting out the daft corner they seem to written themselves into. Consistently throughout his career, Russell T Davies has proven that satisfying conclusions aren't his strong suite, and I fully expect that Miracle Day will end in the usual morass of papered over plot holes that he has often served up in the past. However he's usually very good at set-ups and frankly this first half has been more clumsy and dithering rather than confidently building.

As I said I'll keep watching and even entertain increasingly faint hopes that the show is going to properly find it feet, but seriously it's truly galling seeing an excellent concept being mangled, and on the most recent evidence, being just pissed away. I suspect I'll be more watching out of completism than being genuinely captivated...

Click here to go to the report for Episode 6 - The Middle Men

JIM MOON, 11th August 2011