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Dear Torchwood: Miracle Day

Dear Torchwood: Miracle Day, (BBC1, Thursdays @9pm)

Well well well, you’re certainly not a kids show any more are you? Crammed into that very decent opening hour you had kiddy fiddlers being put to, well not death, but made to shake a bit by being given a lethal injection.

The kids hadn't been this scared since unwittingly agreeing to join Gary Glitters 'secret' gang

Well, not lethal, but unpleasant without causing any lasting damage. Any way, you had all that then you had naughty words being used – which is very grown up – and a bit that you borrowed from The Terminator where the torched body still has movement and that bit you took from Final Destination where a highly unlikely series of events led to Dr Pratt out of ER getting turned into a kebab. I’m pretty sure there was also some sexy touching in there as well. All things considered the message was well and truly sent out in that first show – “We are not for kids!”

And that’s fine, genuinely. Recent events have told us what kids like: rioting, looting, arson and the occasional murder, so if anything you’d probably be a bit tame for them any way. However the difficulty I’ve had is that as you’ve progressed, as you’ve lumbered along at the speed of a tired tortoise with chronic arthritis dragging a safe up a hill, it’s become more and more apparent that only a child would buy into your ridiculous story. What started as an interesting concept with a few plot holes has quickly deteriorated and is now one giant hole with a few wafer thin wisps of plot drifting across it. To add insult to what might previously have been a life threatening injury you’ve also got a host of characters it’s absolutely impossible to give a shit about because they’re all so awful and, I presume in an earnest attempt to carry some subtext, you’ve become dull. Last weeks episode saw me looking at the clock after ten minutes and wondering if our world had succumbed to ‘the miracle’ because it felt like a genuine lifetime had passed.

The TV shouted "Torchwood, right now" the kids of London misunderstood

You had a good idea for an episode – possibly even a double or triple episode – and you threw money at it and stretched it out until it was ten hours long. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is not a good move. In an effort to help you avoid making the same mistakes again I’ve compiled a list of some of the larger failings of ‘Miracle Day’ it’s not an exhaustive list because I don’t have the ‘gift’ of everlasting life, but it should be enough to start you off. So, starting with the characters:

1) Oswald Danes

One of these men is NOT Bill Paxton

Ooooh, edgy. Yeah, get Hollywood star and former cheese coated President of America Bill “Not Paxton” Pullman to play a demented and unapologetic murderous kiddy fiddler type, and then, here’s the twist, you’re going to love this because it’s so like, you know, unexpected, then you make him like, into a hero, a sort of spokesman for the masses sort of thing. Isn’t that just the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard? Well, quite frankly, no. You see what you’ve done there is taken it that one step too far and taken a giant leap into the utterly implausible. People don’t forgive those who fiddle with or murder children. It doesn’t happen. You murder an adult then there’s some chance that you can be redeemed, you touch a kid and you’re the devil – there was a mass public outrage when Myra Hindley was allowed out of prison on a shopping trip and when rumours spread that James Bulger’s killers (only children themselves at the time) were being considered for parole much of society was disgusted – in short the picture you have painted wouldn’t happen. No way, no how.

You’ve reached, and that’s admirable. You’ve tried to be contentious, and that’s good. You’ve written  storyline that only the most deluded paedophile would allow themselves to believe for the briefest of moments, and that’s just fucking stupid.

2) Oswald Danes

Yes, I know he was point one, but this is a much quicker one, and it’s connected. You haven’t had him do anything that might even come close to aiding him in this highly implausible ressurection of his. It’s all well and good bandying around phrases like “trending on twitter” and “followers on Facebook”, we get it, you’re down with the kids (no mention of MySpace or Bebo though, where’s their love?) but it means bollocks all if you don’t have the character do anything even mildly compelling to prompt this massive sea change. If you’re going to ask us to believe the impossible at least give us something to cling on to – to just presume we’ll go with it is arrogant in the extreme.

3) Dr. Vera Juarez

Now there’s a face you’d never get tired of punching. I know what you were going for, you were aiming for the feisty maverick who’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. You missed. What you ended up with was the irritating bitch who spoke to everyone like they’d personally slighted her and treated everyone like they were incompetent halfwits not worthy of breathing ‘her’ air. I guess I was supposed to care about her, rather than cheer when she got shot (christ, she even got shitty with the bloke who’d just shot her) and holler when she got barbecued.

4) Mekhi Phifer

How did you coax such a poor performance out of such a good actor? Seriously. I mean he’s not even phoning it in, he’s written a note and stuck it to the fridge hoping we’ll read it when we get in.

5) Esther Drummond

Again, a character I’m sure I’m supposed to be sympathetic towards, but I find myself wanting to scream at practically every time she opens her mouth. Is she the wettest character ever to appear on grown up TV? She might

Esther was distraught to hear that the rats she'd called the council about had been killed

be. My favourite bit was where she seemed not only devastated but genuinely shocked when she heard that her niece and nephew had been taken away from her sister, whose been taken for psychological evaluation and put into care. I agree that this all sounds quite harrowing, but there are a finite number of things that can happen when you call the authorities telling them you fear for your niece and nephews safety because you think your sister might have gone bonkers – and this is top of the list. Swinging wildly between confident and terrified, competent and useless Esther isn’t a character as such, merely an entity with a script, an afterthought or an amalgamation of many characters the budget simply didn’t accommodate.

Now that we’ve dealt with the biggest character problems let’s have a quick look at those giant plot holes shall we? Okay:

1) Security

The world, the whole world mind, is in crisis and  yet it’s easy enough for people to walk around the most closely guarded places on the planet unhindered. No disguises, not even a costume change – Harkness doesn’t even have to take off his coat – come in, have a wander, rummage through our files, try to take your dad home. It’s all fine. Come off it. I have to provide two forms of ID to join Blockbuster but Rhys ‘Gwen’s Husband’ Williams who must be on any number of security forces watch lists and who was, let’s not forget, in hiding in the back of beyond when this all began, can get a job in a secure area that starts that day. Yes. Very good.

2) Travel

Cholera is rife, tuberculosis is spreading, typhoid and the plague are on the way, but we wouldn’t want to make it difficult for people to travel now would we? Come on Torchwood, come on Russell, that’s just plain lazy. You know as well as I do that way before it reached this point all air traffic would have been grounded in an attempt to stop the spread of these (and worse) diseases – ah, but that would have made it really hard for the irritating Juarez to get down to California or for the really very entertaining Gwen to get home to Wales wouldn’t it? Best to keep them flying. Do you know what though, I think I’ve inadvertently stumbled on another problem – assuming the authorities had taken the bizarre decision to allow air travel to continue the airlines would probably be a bit busy don’t you think? Flights booked up for weeks or even months, airports crowded and chaotic as people try to sort their lives out. Nah, that sounds too much like hard work, let’s just have people turn up at the airport and jump on a plane quick sharp.

Dust - this is how you stop international air travel. Take that Ebola virus!

3) Medical Staff

I realise that the scenario painted in Miracle Day is a tricky one – what do you do if nobody dies etc – but I’m pretty sure that what you don’t do is suddenly switch from a compassionate care giver who’s in the business of saving lives to a callous shit basket who seemingly couldn’t give the tiniest little chuff about any human life or the emotions of their loved ones. Strangely though that’s what seems to have happened to all the doctors and nurses of the world in your little drama. They no longer care, and not in a “The situation’s changed, we have to stay detached in order to do our jobs” sort of way, but in a “I really couldn’t give a shit” sort of way that is, once again, implausible.

We can only assume that The Doctor was busy settling some 'unfinished business' in another dimension...

4) The Doctor

Or the absence thereof. Are we really to believe that The Doctor, who has turned up on Earth countless times to investigate relatively piddling little problems that would have probably blown over without too much of a fuss any way, who can’t help but get involved whenever anything even vaguely interesting happens, who is inextricably linked with Harkness and Gwen and Torchwood as well as the rest of humankind, are we really supposed to buy in to the idea that he wouldn’t turn up to see what was going on? We are? Oh, right. You see there’s the problem when you create a universe with rules – you probably need to follow them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he turns up and saves the day, but you’d at least think that Jack might question where he is when he’s so clearly needed and there’s a case that’s so very much his cup of tea. If I, a mere mortal who has neither met The Doctor nor saved the Universe with him, have queried his absence then surely someone who has spent a considerable amount of time with him would do. To not is, guess what? That’s right, implausible.

5) Life

Early on in the series an unconvincing Dr Pratt said something flowery and nonsensical about people having “So much life” or “Being so alive” or some such bollocks. Which is fine. Except they’re not are they? The whole series has become firmly focused precisely on the fact that people are weak and feeble and barely alive at all. In all honesty this is probably the pettiest of my points, but it’s such a huge contradiction that it can’t be ignored. It all adds to the general feeling that the premise of the show is flimsy and ill thought out. I’ll buy into anything if you give me reason to, I love buying into far-fetched stuff – it’s escapism at its finest and I’ve got a lot to escape from – but what have you given me to latch on to? Contradiction and inconsistency – that’s not a sound investment opportunity. It’s implausible and for that reason I’m out.

Well that’s far longer than I anticipated, but this is what happens when you’ve got me riled up.

You didn’t need to take American money and confuse yourself, but you did.

You didn’t need to take ten hours to tell a three-hour story, but you did.

And you didn’t need to add controversy that adds nothing other than an extra layer of implausibility into the mix, but you did.

It’s almost like this ship has several captains and they couldn’t agree on a route so instead they just allowed it to float with the current and, unfortunately, that’s seen you hit some pretty big rocks and now it looks like you’re going to sink. And that’s a shame, it really is.

R

PS – I really like Claire out of Six Feet Under, she’s brilliantly manic.

PPS – I didn’t like the bit with Pratt and his dad, that was utterly pointless.

PPPS – Seriously, no mention of The Doctor? At all? Think about it Russell…

Dear Doctor Who,

Dear Doctor Who, (BBC1, Saturdays @ 18.30ish)

Obviously I don’t know which incarnation of you will receive this letter – you are, afterall, a regenerating time traveller and that makes this sort of thing rather tricky – but if you can try and make sure it gets to the Matt Smith incarnation I’d be most grateful.

Well Doctor, like many people I grew up enjoying your shenanigans – you were Tom Baker and Peter Davidson back then and the monsters you fought were largely rubbish but it was all good fun and the Candyman was terrifying. I digress, I think we can both agree that from the moment Tom Baker left it was an unrelenting downward spiral and that – regretful though it was – the BBC were right to ignore you for a few years until you got your act together.

The Doctors' Christmas Party turned into something of a Sausage Fest

Over that time you obviously thought about what you’d done and when you came back in the form of goggle eyed ear creature Christopher Ecclestone it was with quite the bang. He didn’t do so much for me, but it was obvious that something very good was happening inside that blue box. How good it was going to be didn’t become apparent until David ‘genuinely named after Neil from the Pet Shop Boys’ Tennant took the helm. By God he was good. Some of the episodes featuring him and toothy teen pop sensation Billie Piper were genuinely amongst the best stuff on television, it dipped a bit with Freema Agyemang – only because she was terrible, couldn’t act and made me want her to die every time she opened her stupid mouth – but then came back stronger still with thingy. You know, whotsher chops “Am I bovvered”, her, the ginger one. That was a real surprise as I didn’t like her ‘comedy’ show at all, but she was great as a sidekick. With her and Tennant (or you, if this is you) sparkling on screen and with Russell T. Davies pulling the strings brilliantly behind the scenes it was that most rare of shows – funny, entertaining, original and genuinely accessible to the whole family.

Then everybody left. Tennant went off to fail miserably in America (never mind David, we’ll find stuff for you over here, even if it is mediocre maudlin stuff like Single Father), ginger went off to do whatever it is ginger people do (hide in the shade???) and Mr Davies went off to count his giant pile of cash. It was most certainly and unapologetically the end of an era. Whoever was coming in had better go hard or go home as the Americans may or may not say, because they had awfully big shoes to fill (quite literally if the rumours about David ‘Ten Inch’ are to be believed).

It was then a great relief to see that Steven Moffat, writer of some of your best episodes (Blink, seriously that was one f$%king scary piece of TV) was going to be the head honcho, the big cheese, El Capitano, you know, in charge. With him came you, square jawed mop top Matt Smith – you, finally we get to you, the one who this is all for – and you’ve done an excellent job of making the position your own. I don’t like you as much as I liked the old Doctor, but that’s nothing personal, you’re just a) not as good, and b) giving it an altogether less charming and more arrogant approach – which is fine. You be you Doctor. The sidekicks are fine too (mighty fine one might say) but there’s something not right.

Matt Smith trying to repel the inevitable comparisons with David Tennant

It’s not the monsters – you can’t blame them for being monsters any more than you can blame Freema Agyemang for being awful, it’s just the way they are – and it’s not the Doctor, Amy, Rory or even the insufferable River Song. Nope, the problem lies with the boss man. J’accuse Steven Moffat.

We get it Steven, you’re awfully awfully clever. You’re so frightfully brainy that only the brilliant Doctor can possibly keep up with your twists and turns and machinations. Which is a bit of a problem for all the kids that watch the show. Don’t worry though, I mean they’re only the target audience, if they’re too stupid to keep up then their luck out eh? Whilst Saturday’s series premiere was visually stunning, intriguing and all that jazz (you could really see that you’ve wangled some more of my license fee out of the big wigs) it lacked, it badly lacked, any sort of charm. Mr Davies made the show clever AND charming – that’s the appeal, Mr Moffat seems hell bent on ‘out clevering’ him at any cost. It was like staring in to the untempered schism, except instead of seeing all of time and space we saw all of his ego and vanity – writ large across the very fabric of time itself.

Steven is a brilliant writer and clearly a very clever man, but not as clever as you dear Doctor, so the main reason I’m writing is to ask you a favour. Rein him in – just a little bit. Remind him that Doctor Who isn’t his show, it’s not even ours – it belongs to the kids, and they need to be able to follow what’s going on or what’s the point? Tell him that if he wants to focus on the long game, over arching plot points and character arcs then he should go into adult drama – that’s not to say none of that has any place here, but that the entertainment factor of any given episode should not be sacrificed for it – not ever.

Basically if you could ask him to stop showing off that would be lovely. If this gargantuan intellectual pissing competition between your current boss and his old boss continues I think it’s safe to say that the show will become a rambling and incoherent mess (Heroes anyone??) so just get him to put a lid on it.

Cheers and safe journeys,

R

PS – On your travels have you, at any point, jumped a shark? If you have that would save me a lot of time.

PPS – Are we really to believe that you Doctor, in your current Matt Smith form, lived for a further 200 years without regenerating? I find that highly implausible based on previous experiences.

PPPS – Please don’t travel back in time and kill me before I post this.

PPPPS – If you do travel back in time and meet me in like 2004 or something can you tell me to put all my money in an envelope and send it to Mark Zuckerberg – I could really do with a couple of billion dollars.

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