This episode of Torchwood certainly seems to be dividing opinion out there on the Interwebs. The fact that the legendary Jane Espenson wrote Categories Of Life seems to have persuaded some critics that it’s a huge improvement. But thankfully cooler heads such as Alan Sepinwall have declared the show virtually unwatchable at this point.
For me, Categories Of Life was less about the quality of writing than the fact that the already-bad acting became hammy beyond belief. Gwen’s inexplicable tantrum at a soldier, Jack’s ultra-gay farewell to Rex as he got carted away in an ambulance, Oswald Danes morphing between stroke-mouthed creep and tentative televangelist and tha bonkers introduction of Camp Colin, what I imagine to be Russell T. Davies version of a gay Hitler. Not only did he embody all the racism/sexism/general creepiness his cliched Southern character was intended to, he made Dr. Vera spew out some of the most ludicrous lines in the season so far. Check this:
I’m gonna have you prosecuted. You’re going to be prosecuted for causing harm to those people in your care, and you will be found guilty as charged.
Now, bear in mind, our Vera is undercover for Torchwood right now. She’s infiltrated an overflow camp to find out more about what PhiCorp uses them for. So you’d think she’d want to tone it down a bit. Does she? Hell, no! She hisses the following at Camp Colin:
I guarantee you’re going to jail, you stupid little man. I’m gonna see you inside a prison cell, you limp dick little coward.
At which point, Camp Colin shoots her a couple of times. Presumably for attrocious acting.
And then, in an insanely Nazi-esque twist, drives her to a Category 1 area, throws her inside a bizarre ceramic-lined building (GCSE pottery students know what’s coming next…) and incinerates her. As a distraught Rex looks on. Then realises this shit would go viral on YouTube, so he videos her being burned alive.
The Final Solution
Yes, it would seem that with mounting numbers of Category 1 patients, the world is running out of ways to deal with the critically ill. So, fire up the ovens and let’s burn those suckers!
Of course, such a brutal tactic makes absolutely NO SENSE. For a start, these kilns are in every overflow camp across the Western World. And they’re completely TOP SECRET. Except that some people must know of their existence in order to operate them. So, eventually, word of the incinerations would get out. And in the media-connected world that Torchwood inhabits, it wouldn’t take long to leak the details on the Interwebs. But for the sake of the narrative, we’ll conveniently ignore that fact, shall we?
But then consider PhiCorp. Torchwood spent a fair bit of time speculating on why PhiCorp would be backing these overflow facilities. Were they experimenting on people? Cultivating new diseases? To me, that doesn’t make sense, because the social ramifications of the Mircale Day mean that the world’s resources are dwindling and the population is growing at a rapid rate. Where will the money come from to pay for drugs when food and shelter and necessities are in such short supply?
In the end, it turns out that PhiCorp are…picking out the most hopelessly ill and burning them. If it were a regular situation, I’d almost agree that some kind of euthanasia was required. But Miracle Day has already established that the consciousness lives on. So you’re not easing the transition for terminally ill people, you’re burning people alive. And then leaving them to feel whatever consequences come from that.
To sum up on this point, it makes NO SENSE whatsoever. No sense that incineration is a viable solution in this world, and also no sense that the world governments in crisis wouldn’t find some way to seize PhiCorp’s know-how and privatize it so that the profit motive was removed. Medical care post Miracle Day would have to become a basic human right. I don’t know what you lot think of this – let me know!
Military Security: Not so good
This needs to be pointed out. Gwen Cooper shouts in the face of an army general for a full five minutes, almost getting arrested. And five minutes later, she’s faked an ID and entered the camp masquerading as a nurse. It later turns out that Rhys seems to be able to enter and leave the overflow camps at will, and there’s ZERO REPERCUSSIONS for Gwen, even when she’s been caught out.
So why the armed guards at every corner?
Also note that Gwen spends ages scouring the camp to find her father and walks straight past him. And then two seconds later, Rhys walks into exactly the right tent. Honestly, Rhys seems to know more about what’s going on than the Torchwood pros.
Things in the US of A are equally rubbish, with three of the Torchwood team infiltrating an overflow camp there literally within the blink of an eye. Esther and Vera literally car pool to the facility and pull up outside the front door in full view of everyone. Then they agree to pretend they don’t know each other. Esther blags her way into the office (what? No HR department/IT people to give her a logon to the computer?) while Vera more sensibly relies on her doctor credentials. Rex goes in as a patient, then gets classified as a category 1.
What’s hilarious(ly bad) about Rex is that he blags his way into a Category 1 containment bay, crawls out with a video camera and starts documenting things. He doesn’t for one second equate ceramic walls with an incinerator facility, and he simply walks out of the kiln, vlogging the whole facility. There are no guards inside the facility at all. And then he has to witness Vera’s ‘death’ through a port-hole, without even trying to stop the process.
The Reverend Oswald Danes?
Finally, and as ridiculous as everything else we saw in Categories Of Life, Oswald Danes gets caught between giving the PhiCorp speech and giving the speech Jack wants him to give. There’s a brief moment of tension as we try to work out whether he’ll do the right thing.
But he delivers an impromptu speech, in the style of an evangelist, that suggests the Miracle Day is the next stage in the evolution of the human race. “We’ve become angels!” he confidently declares, after a stammering, uncomfortable start to his speech. Ditching both speeches, Danes decides to forge his own path with a seemingly made-up-on-the-spot presentation that suggests we’ve been glorified by “life unending”.
Of course, if you’ve seen the reality of the overflow camps, you might not agree that it’s a glorious step forward. Others have called Danes’ speech epic. I have my own four-letter word for it: wank.
I think the problem is that the subject matter Russell T Davies has chosen is too wide-reaching in scope. When you begin to think about how the world would respond to events of this magnitude, you can see serious holes appearing in how Torchwood is executing those ideas. Like the notion that a hostile audience would suddenly begin cheering and supporting a high-profile pedophile because he claims to know that the human race has evolved – without a shred of evidence to back it up!!!
Or like the idea that Hitler’s gas chambers could be resurrected as furnaces to burn people inconveniently stuck between life and death? Let’s assume that the Miracle is a mystery and that there’s every chance that people’s mortality might one day return – surely it would make more sense to use cryogenics to preserve those Category 1 patients. Because if people are – in Jack’s words – more alive than ever, then incinerating them is perhaps the cruellest thing you could do to them.
Torchwood: Miracle Day remains fatally flawed, and I think that many of us are continuing to watch – as with many Sci-Fi shows – just in case some future plot development casts a more favourable light on these episodes. Perhaps there’s some “revelation” that will make all of these story decisions make sense. But as each week goes by, that revelation had better be earth-shatteringly good, or this season could put Torchwood in a well-deserved early grave.