It’s September 2nd, 2011. Katy Perry is at number one with “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” In the five days since Let’s Kill Hitler aired, the Battle of Tripoli wrapped up. That’s about it. And Miracle Day ticked one week closer to being over, of course.
It being an odd-numbered episode, tit’s time for the show to revamp itself once again, with characteristic subtlety. Now we’re in a big metaphor about the financial crash. Way back with Partners in Crime, I suggested that Davies got very lucky with Donna, creating a character who was visibly about the anxieties of ordinary middle class people in a declining economy. Now Davies has the exact opposite luck: he’s decided to make this show focus on the financial crisis, and he ends up doing it after the London riots and two weeks before the Occupy movement kicks up. He’s almost, but not quite, as completely screwed over as Mark Gatiss is in this regard, but that’s for Monday.
It’s not that Davies’s approach is wrong in light of the Occupy movement and all of that. But there’s something casually jarring about it. The empty streets and quiet resignation of the world isn’t a bad guess for what the world would be like in the wake of crises like the ones Torchwood has shown, but it’s a guess that lacks all of the immediately compelling and arresting imagery of the world it’s being transmitted into. Even before you take up any questions about the quality of what “The Gathering” has to say about the world, you’re stuck with the fact that summer of 2011 just doesn’t quite feel like the time to be saying it. It feels not entirely unlike the Pertwee era in Season Eleven, or the Troughton era in Season Six – however good it may be at a given moment, it’s become a tired and old-fashioned sort of show.
One need only look over at Doctor Who to get a sense of this. However awkward Let’s Kill Hitler may be, almost nothing about Doctor Who in this era is playing it safe. Whereas Torchwood feels the exact opposite at this point – like it’s just using a well worn playbook with minor variations to tell stories that, if they’re not past their sell-by date, it’s only because someone slapped on a new label with a later date. To be honest, the biggest impact Miracle Day has had so far was keeping A Good Man Goes to War from using Jack like it was originally intended to. This isn’t a show that knows why it exists anymore, save perhaps to be a big American co-production. It exists to try the formula that worked in the UK in the US, in the hopes that it’ll make more money. And even that’s been quietly usurped by Doctor Who, which has finally hit it big in America and had major episodes done with co-production money from an American network.
So we shuffle grimly towards a finale in which everything has been arbitrarily reconfigured yet again. We’re on the fifth premise for the show, and it’s miles from where we started. Indeed, the “nobody dies” thing has effectively been entirely abandoned, such that people talk casually about killing with only occasional use of the phrase “category one” in order to nod at the core premise. We’ve been through “introduce Torchwood to Americans,” fighting conspiracies in LA, the camps, a story about Jack’s past, and now we’re on a sort of trumped up “this is the final battle” plot because that’s what goes at the end of a series. But there’s no ideas left. The series is wrapping up with structure, not with content, coming to a conclusion that is ultimately defined by the narrative conventions of a season of television, as opposed to something that comes organically out of what’s gone before.