It’s August 19th, 2011, and the last week in which “Party Rock Anthem” is at number one. In news, Michele Bachmann briefly appears to be a credible Presidential candidate due to the inherent silliness that is the Ames Straw Poll, and not a lot else happens. It’s a dull enough week that Miracle Day’s “Immortal Sins” is actually one of the highlights.
Though truth be told, more than any other episode of Miracle Day, this is the showpiece. Two interleaved stories that are virtually two-handers, one of which finally and triumphantly gives us the Gwen/Jack content that the show has been missing, the other one of which gives an effectively touching and tragic love story that sets up a bunch of background on the Miracle. Rex and Esther are pushed almost entirely to the margins of the story, while Oswald sits out another week entirely. This is, more than any other episode of the run, one that is made for people who were familiar with Torchwood and invested in it as a long-running show as opposed to as a new thing on Starz.
It is in many ways the Gwen/Jack scenes that are the highlights. Eve Myles has always been Torchwood’s strongest element, and she’s always been capable of getting John Barrowman to up his game. Gwyneth Horder-Payton, directing, doesn’t have to do much more than get some basic camera angles on a car and let the two of them go, and through some marvelous use of mirrors to control how the characters can and can’t look at each other she makes their scenes together absolutely sing. Underlying it is an absolutely majestic dynamic: two people who are absolutely best friends but who are also immediately ready to accept that only one of them is walking away from this. Their joy at being saved, accompanied by their firm reiterations that they take back nothing they said, is marvelous, and it’s almost certainly the best set of scenes in Miracle Day.
The scenes with Jack and Angelo are not quite as solid, but are still quite good. Espenson writes a relationship deftly and efficiently, and Daniele Favilli plays Angelo with deft humanity, making his betrayal of Jack seem like an inevitable price for Jack’s hubris in assuming he can charm his way out of everything. Espenson makes a couple really deft decisions, including giving Jack the faux-confession scene in which Barrowman, for the first time in Torchwood, gets to play the character as the libidinous rake he did in the Eccleston season of Doctor Who.
Ah, yes, Doctor Who. Because that’s the other thing “Immortal Sins” does – play up Torchwood’s heritage as a product of Doctor Who, with explicit acknowledgment of both that show and The Sarah Jane Adventures. This is, to say the least, weird. Not least because attempting to fit Miracle Day into any sort of coherent shared universe with Doctor Who is, shall we say, a challenge. Not necessarily a huge one – it’s not exactly unbelievable that the Miracle would fail to come up in any of the on-screen conversations we see within Doctor Who. It’s not like anybody on Doctor Who ever talks about 9/11 or the 2005 London Underground bombings, after all. So the three months or so where the Miracle happens have never been acknowledged – someday there will surely be some bit of tie-in media that features the Doctor on Earth during the Miracle that will sort this all out.
What’s more troubling – and this is, to be fair, something that plagues Children of Earth as well – is that Torchwood has been increasingly willing to just casually break the underlying structure of the world. It’s not so much that it’s difficult to square away the continuity problems between the two shows as it is that the two shows just don’t feel like they’re depicting the same world. The horrible events of Miracle Day are dissonant with Doctor Who. The comparisons to 9/11 or the Underground bombings are apt – it’s not so much that these events feel like they didn’t happen in Doctor Who as that it would be deeply unsettling and discordant to actually reference them directly. And so for Miracle Day to play up its connection with Doctor Who is odd, especially as it’s done in the exact opposite way of Gwen’s reference to Doctor Who in Children of Earth, which is done in such a way as to highlight the fact that the story doesn’t fit with Doctor Who.
In this regard the reference to The Sarah Jane Adventures is even stranger. It is at least possible to imagine that the Miracle struck the world in a way that basically exempted the existing characters in Doctor Who. I mean, you can’t really avoid having, say, Clara be hit by it, but you can easily watch Miracle Day and just assume that Amy and Rory were off-world for the entire three month stretch of the Miracle. What you can’t easily do, however, is assume that Sarah Jane, Luke, Clyde, and Rani just avoided the Miracle entirely. To put the reference to The Sarah Jane Adventures in forces the audience, however fleetingly, to imagine children’s television in a world where people are being incinerated while still alive, and where, as we’ll see in two episodes, there’s a massive economic collapse. This is at best difficult, and at worst terribly and unpleasantly upsetting.
It’s also worth pointing out, because someone is going to, the massive continuity screwup that happens in the course of all this intertextuality, which is to have Jack know about the “fixed point in time” stuff roughly eighty years before he jumps on the exterior of the TARDIS in Utopia and actually learns about it. Sure, you can work around that if you really want to, but the reality is that it’s a gaffe, and one that speaks volumes about the lack of any actual oversight going on here, since it’s the sort of thing that Russell T Davies would typically catch in his sleep. (He might decide to ignore it, certainly, but he’d catch it, and it’s tough to see why he’d ignore it, since it’s extraneous to the scene.)
But for all the awkwardness of the intertextuality, it’s also a nice slice of fanservice in the course of the one episode of Miracle Day that actually bothers to pay attention to the preceding three seasons of Torchwood and to engage with the show that this ostensibly is. It also marks the third episode in a row that more or less works, and further bolsters the claim that Miracle Day was hobbled by a badly weak start. But it’s also notable that the episode of Miracle Day that works best is the one that is mostly invested in everything other than Miracle Day.