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Torchwood Writer On Where Miracle Day Went Wrong

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With Doctor Who celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, one of its little siblings unfortunately won’t be throwing any victory parties anytime soon. I speak, of course, of Torchwood, the Who spin-off featuring the adventures of the immortal Captain Jack Harkness and company. In spite of getting a big marketing push to woo American audiences for its run on Starz, Torchwood: Miracle Day was a disappointment both narratively and in the ratings department. One former Torchwood writer thinks he knows where Miracle Day went astray and lost its “essence.”

12 - The Torchwood Team_Courtesy of Starz

Writer Chris Chibnall has penned episodes of both Doctor Who and Torchwood, including recent Who episodes “The Power of Three” and “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” He wrote for Torchwood through season two, and though his involvement with Miracle Day was very limited, he thinks the Starz Torchwood run suffered from a serious identity crisis. Here’s Chibnall, speaking to Starburst Magazine:

Whether you like or dislike Torchwood, it has an essence – of madness and cheekiness and sexiness, and fun and darkness, those sort of polar facets of what it’s about, of putting those things together – and somehow it lost a bit of that somewhere in the process. When we were first talking about it, it was something a bit bolder, a bit cheekier. it may just come back to the fact that one of the great essences of Torchwood was taking those American tropes and doing them in Wales. And in a way, that’s what made Torchwood so brilliantly odd. Once you put it in California, it becomes more like other shows.

He hits on one of the biggest problems I had with Miracle Day: it was trying to serve two masters, and failed to serve either. It was attempting to service both the die-hard Torchwood fans and any new American viewers lured in by Starz’ shock-and-awe marketing in the months leading up to its premiere. Moving the show to American and introducing new characters American viewers might more easily identify with makes sense from a business standpoint, but attempting that balance seemed to leave Miracle Day unsteady and unsure of what it wanted to be, even in its best moments. (It also didn’t help that the pacing was sssslllllloooooooowwwwwww.)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Miracle Day, aside from the largely wasted potential, is that it left the series on a sour note that may never get rectified with a better ending. That’s doubly a shame, because the Children of Earth series that preceded it was across-the-board excellent, and left the (surviving) characters in a place of closure. It worked perfectly well as a series finale, certainly more so than Miracle Day. Chibnall is also free with praise for Children of Earth, and why he thinks it worked so well, both in and of itself and in comparison to Miracle Day:

When I was setting up Law & Order: UK, Russell and Julie kept saying, ‘Just come and do this little five-parter, and write this with Russell.’ So no, I had to turn that down a few times. I don’t regret it at all. I mean I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s the best iteration of Torchwood. But it also destroys everything about Torchwood; in order to make it work, you have to destroy the things that we were writing for, for two series: you destroy the Hub, you put them on the run, there’s no real sense of the Rift. So in a way, it’s a totally different format. And that’s what makes it work so brilliantly.

Sadly, the future looks pretty dim for Torchwood at the moment. Does Chibnall hold out any hope that creator Russell T Davies might eventually return to the world of Captain Jack? Don’t hold your breath. “It’s entirely down to Russell,” says Chibnall. “I would expect he will have other things he’ll want to write, to be honest.”

You can read the full Chibnall interview in Starburst Magazine.

Comments

  1. Julie Stout says:

    Can’t say I completely agree. I did NOT like Children of Earth, I liked the Torchwood that existed prior to that–indeed, cheekier. The point was to appeal to Who fans of the adult persuasion who are wanting to see some of the sexual tension inherent in the Dr/Companion concept get expressed…sort of exercise those devils. But the monster of the week format and the intellectual plot twists needed to be present. When the big format change took place in CoE, it got dark and sick and shocking. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was ready to come back and forgive Jack for the death of his grandson. That was hard. But it wasn’t his fault, it was the writers’ fault! Then things got worse in MD and it wasn’t just the silly attempt at Americanization (to appeal to American audiences, really? All they had to do is make it MORE British, we love those accents, come on! Americans didn’t want another American show, we’ve got plenty of those.) But no, and they went on and made Jack basically impotent, helpless, and took him out of the action. That is not acceptable. It’s like making a superhero film where the superhero hides in a basement the whole time and the normal people are supposed to carry the plot and save the day. And besides that, it was changed from “Everybody snogging everybody” to “Look, faithfully married is hot, too!” (After 16 years of being faithfully married, I am qualified to say: Sorry, no, it’s not.) If it can’t come back, I’ll be sad. But I’ll understand. I just wish it hadn’t been ruined like that, it could have continued to be a great show.

  2. Blind King says:

    In all honesty what truly turned me off on Torchwood m- day was the homosexual sex.I didn’t care that hartness was gay/bi I’m fan of the character I just didn’t want to see it.I couldn’t get the image out of my head.Couldn’t watch the show after that

  3. Fae Sidhe says:

    Totally mad to scrap Torchwood – the batting average was so much higher with Torchwood than with Doctor Who: less crap episodes per series. Yet Doctor Who went on past the (almost completely) rubbish episodes that marked David Tennant’s tenure. With Matt Smith the writing is starting to pick up again, though it is not yet up to Chris Eccleston’s era yet.

    Torchwood was wrecked for many (who didn’t like Miracle Day) by bringing in Americans who plainly did not “get” Torchwood. Wrong place, wrong people. As Julie Stout writes: if you want to make Americans happy, you don’t interfere with the formula. People that like British sci-fi want the programme as it is. We would not suggest that it loses the very thing that Americans seem to find so charming: it’s Britishness. America does enough great sci-fi.

    Poor Blind King missed a truly great series. His comment that he got turned off by the homosexuality/bisexuality is unfortunate: had he given it a chance, he would have found out in one of the series that many in the future were (I would say) PAN-sexual. In other words, anything with a pulse. Captain John (ably played by James Marsters, whom you will remember as Spike from Buffy) even found a poodle sexy; a memorable funny moment that had my whole family choking with laughter on our (British style) cups of tea. Try to settle your stomach and give it a chance: you may not get all the (British) humour, but then again, you just might…

  4. fearbeer says:

    yea the show was very slow “jack was “dead” most the time” from the first one i watched, then i saw the the gayness of it and when i watch scfi i want action and story line, if i wanted to watch dudes kissing eachother i would watch bravo