Torchwood: Categories Of Life – Episode review

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.

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  1. TrueSatan

    Surely if the burning/incineration of the bodies is sufficiently thorough, as in cremation, all that would remain is ash and thus life could not fail to be extinguished and thus we find yet another horrible plot flaw in a tale that has more gaping flaws than elements that can withstand scrutiny.

    BTW so painful to watch this tripe that I can’t give a sensible reason for continuing.

  2. pirho

    Well let’s look at this logically, what would be left to move around if there was nothing but ash? Nothing, but we don’t know if the Morphic field is actually keeping them in some sort of “alive” state whatever that may be, even after they turn to ash. We would have no way of observing with our senses the ash is alive unless it has some sort of mobility or movement.


    When the first burn victim was shown to jack in the first few episodes, he was still moving his eye ball even after they severed the link from his body to his brain, so using that as my example we saw there was the field keeping it in some sort of “living” state, why can’t the same hold true for the ash? Just because it has no muscle or skeletal structure to move doesn’t mean that is no conscience.




  3. TrueSatan

    @Pirho The reason I chose ash is that ash fails, on all counts, to match the generally accepted definition of life “The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism.” Additionally it has all trace of DNA and even organic components broken down so completely as to be extinguished (the organic components becoming broken down sufficiently so as to be come inorganic) and thus all possibility of biological function including, without doubt, all higher level brain function and thus both conscience and consciousness.

    Given that the ash has, as you say, no mobility or movement and that it meets the criteria not to be considered alive that has to be some amazing “Morphic field”.

    I’ll grant you that said definition might need updating in the light of such a “Morphic field” but for that to hold water (and by this I don’t mean a fist full of soggy ash)the lifeless condition would need to be reversible so as to, once more, fit the definition of life and we haven’t seen any claim for that thus far. Failing reversibility it looks awfully dead to me.

  4. Gerard McGarry

    When I mentioned Jack’s quote in my article “People are more alive than ever”, I was kind of referring to this. If a detached head can remain alive independent of the body, then what about other body parts?

    Let’s be honest, this is another ill thought-out aspect of Miracle Day – if you clip your toenails, do they remain alive? If you slice your hand off in an unfortunate buzz-saw accident, does your hand scuttle about in an Addams Family style? On the flip side of that, does it make reattachment of severed body parts easier for surgeons?

    So, following on from that, where does this new ‘life’ reside? If it doesn’t rely on the vital organs for survival, where is it? My feeling is that by incinerating patients, there will remain a level of consciousness on an atomic level. (I know how stupid that sounds, but we’re talking Sci-Fi here!). The fact that the furnaces are top secret implies that the authorities/PhiCorp know they’re doing something shady, which further suggests that they haven’t really researched what they’re doing. If it transpired that incineration really did result in final death for someone, then wouldn’t it be a viable method of euthanising patients who for example had no brain function?

    1. pirho

      Well if you remeber back with Children of Earth, Jack was blown to bits, (and I do mean bits) the only thing that survived of him was his arm, it didnt move around on its own, but it did regrow Jack back to full status, and with all his memories in tact.  Why can’t this morphic feild have a similar (not the same) effect on people?  Remember, how Rex said that he was a Catagory 1 when he got hurt but now he is a Catagory 2 because he is healing? So we know that people can get better from the injury it will just take time.  Granted I am not sure if a pile of ashes is going to heal over night but at the rate they are playing this who knows?

      1. Gerard McGarry

        No, I’d completely forgotten that! But good point that the arm – not traditionally thought to contain memories – was used to regrow Jack with his personality and memory intact!

        I suppose the issues then are:

        1. Could they have rebuilt multiple Jacks from various bits of his body that were left lying around? If so, you might have infinite Veras at the end of this season!
        2. Presuming that burnt tissue can ‘heal’, those ashes might start transforming into recovering tissue over time. I guess the rate of healing is inconsistent though, because I’d assume Jack healed much quicker than Rex is currently doing.
        3. Do we think Vera will actually return?
  5. pirho

    It would seem that, whatever is the largest part of the body that is left in tact would be the one that regrows.  Otherwise, if he clips his toenails why don’t they spawn off multiple version of Jack?

  6. jefft

    Shonky acting.

    Ludicrous setup.

    Gwen gets disguised to infiltrate a camp, and Rhys just walks in beside her?

    Brand new employees walk in and first question is ‘tell me everythimng about the modules’?

    And once again, we get to the reveal: modules are for burning people.. and Rhys already ‘knows’. Again.

    Why doesnt someone just ask Rhys what its all about and save us waiting for another 5 episodes?

    Its deeply sad to see what has happened to Torchwood.

    Children of Earth worked well over 5 episodes. This story may have done so too. but GET ON WITH IT!!!!



  7. magsmagenta

    I think it’s safe to say that this form of immortality is nothing like Jacks was so there is no point comparing the two. Jack healed from most things quite quickly and also never aged which is not what is happening here, as it’s pointed out early on that people are still aging and sick, which never happened to Jack, and I was under the impression that when Jack was blown up in Children of Earth the bits were collected up and put together after which they joined up again Iron Man style, before he was encased in concrete. Also at one point he was incinerated by the Daleks and came back in no time at all.

    Also Rhys did not Know people were being burned, he just said he was taking them to the Burns Unit, which is a specialist unit for burns patients, obviously a cover or a misunderstanding. And yes, stupid that the first question out of her mouth was about the Modules, but then she was a novice, just like Vera who had obviously not got the ‘don’t scare or antagonise the psycho’ element of the job. But then she was busy shouting at poor helpless hospital staff in the previous episode as if they could do something about the situation, which they obviously couldn’t, so that was well in character.

    If she had pretended to congratulate him on being within budget and calmly walked away she would have not got shut in the oven.


    1. pirho

      It was because of Rose that Jack because who he was, that Dalek killed him, was dead, if it wasn’t for Rose, he would not be the man he is today.  She created him.  And he does age, he just doesn’t die.  I forget the episode in which he made a refernce to himself as being the face of boe. 

      1. FirstOfTenth

        He did that in the Doctor Who episode THE LAST OF THE TIME LORDS: “[…] Used to be a poster boy when I was a kid back on the Boeshane Peninsula. Tiny little place. I was the first one ever to be signed up for the Time Agency. They were so proud of me. The Face of Boe they called me. […]”

      2. Gerard McGarry

        Quite right, it was Last Of The Time Lords. And Jack mentioned in the same dialogue that he was ageing, although it’s obviously at a different pace to normal people. Maybe Mags is right – are there too many differences between Jack’s condition and “The Miracle” for it to be the same thing?

      3. magsmagenta

        If he does age it’s minutely slowly, he was buried for around 2000 years remember, humanity is apparently aging at a normal pace, and not healing as fast a Jack did, which was usually instantaneously unless something really bad happened.

        Anyway, the highlight of the episode for me was Brad Bell aka @GoCheeksGo aka ‘Nurse Chris’ with the red, white and blue pegs triaging the patients. You Tube Star who I’ve been following for the last 2 years, I’m glad he’s finally getting a break 🙂

    1. Gerard McGarry

      If you partially delete a comment after Miracle Day, does it count as a Category 1 or a Category 2 comment? Will it regrow the original comment?


      1. FirstOfTenth

        My entry stays fully alive in reply to pirho (“May I help you out”). When I originally posted this I wasn’t logged in and so it came to happen somehow my entry wasn’t posted as a reply but as a comment.

        Unfortunately, I’m too dull or dumb to figure out how to delete a comment completely ;-(

  8. pirho

    Well we can only go by what jack has said, but understand where others can’t die, we really don’t know if the same will hold true to jack.  Right now the only empirical evidence we have is that he can be hurt an not heal as he usually did, he heals at a normal human rate.  No one has hurt him enough to normally “kill” him, where as others we have seen first hand that they just won’t die.

    Furthermore, there is now a reference to “The Blessing” which happened back in the 1990’s.  What do we know from WHO history happened back in the 90’s that was of a significance?  They are leaning toward a global operation that knows how to play the bureaucracy game.  Who (or what) in WHO history is long lived enough to pull this off?  I can only draw a reference to the The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe, (who in turn was the puppet of the Bad Wolf  Corporation), who influenced mankind in the year 200,000.  But what if Rose was not the bad wolf, but just a puppet herself?  One that was used to turn Jack into what he is now, only to have him he the model for the Miracle Day?

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