Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that are the most disturbing; and the single most grisly scene so far in Torchwood: Miracle Day, when it arrives in ‘The Middle Men’, is as uncomplicated as it is grimly effective.
Psycho badminton aficionado Colin Maloney tortures Rex by sticking a pen into his unhealed chest wound and waggling it about with the relief of a man prospecting for earwax with a cotton bud. It makes us shudder just to think about it, in fact; but the scene and those that surround it – Rex’s grief at seeing Vera’s name on a pill bottle, his insistence that he’ll expose the truth about the concentration camps, and Esther’s heroically misguided rescue attempt (the kick to Maloney’s shuttlecocks is her finest moment yet) – have an unexpectedly positive effect. Finally, after weeks of uncertainty, we realise that we do care about these characters after all.
That’s just as well, as it happens, because the story around them is proving increasingly difficult to remain involved in. Perhaps it’s the fact that, like some series of 24, the episodes work better in isolation than they do when viewed as a cohesive whole. The linking storyline is better looked at in a vague, nebulous sense rather than as a logical progression of events.
If you try and analyse Gwen’s jet-setting from one side of the Atlantic to the other and back again, without experiencing any trouble with customs or the police in spite of the fraught circumstances of her original departure, your head will probably burst more quickly than it would if you tried to work out why characters appear for an episode and are then gone again without as much as a mention – notably Ellis Harvey-Monroe, crushed in a car and forgotten; the nameless, Miracle-savvy murderer-for-hire shot in the throat; and (most likely) Ernie Hudson’s likeably languid Stuart Owens, chief operating officer of PhiCorp, with whom Jack has an informative dinner date. Perhaps we’ll see him again (he’s certainly a big enough name to be hired for more than a single episode) but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he disappeared off to try and patch things up with his enraged wife and never be seen again.
Yet if you put aside the rather confusing bigger picture, there’s plenty to like here – most notably in the smaller, almost throwaway moments of John Shiban’s sparkling script. Jack’s stage whisper to Stuart in front of Mrs. Owens, ‘Does your wife know?’, is pure Homer Simpson; Rhys’s winking at an officious, clipboard-wielding bureaucrat whilst attempting to describe a fictional ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ – ‘I think he took a shine to me… he had that look about him… if you know what I mean’ – is probably funnier than it ought to be; and, after almost two hours of simpering cowardice, Maloney’s unsoldierly military assistant Ralph (Fred Koehler) finally grows some shuttlecocks of his own and shoots his boss to save Esther’s life, wailing, ‘This has got to stop!’ It’s his final appearance, obviously (the camps are being closed down and, anyway, he’s been in the series for two episodes), but at least he got to go out with a bang and a whimper.
Gwen’s forgivably ludicrous detonation of the Welsh concentration camp (presumably only destroying the modules used for burning Category 1 humans, not the actual inmates of the camps themselves, as that would rather defeat the object – and what was the point of the motorbike and the leathers, besides a bit of crass titillation?) and the news reports of the closure of the other camps across the world seems to bring the middle section of Miracle Day to a close – but what will follow?
It involves something from the mid-‘90s called The Blessing, which despite sounding like one of the Britpop bands that sprung up at the time is probably alien – there’s a hint of something slimy and shrieking in the teaser for next week – and revolves around something that Jack has done in his lengthy past, as the shocking message Gwen receives through her Eye-5 contact lenses finally confirms.
The success or failure of the series as a whole will depend on how this pans out. Happily, provided one continues to focus on each episode as a single entity and keep the story arc as a manageable blur in the background, the signs remain good from hereon in.
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 18th August 2011 on BBC One.