Torchwood: Miracle Day “Categories Of Life” TV REVIEW

Ashes to ashes

4.05
Writer: Jane Espenson
Director: Guy Ferland

THE ONE WHERE Vera is burnt to cinders.

VERDICT Few would argue that the last 10 minutes or so of “Categories Of Life” aren’t among the best that Torchwood: Miracle Day has seen so far. We’ve been moaning about the lack of genuine, set-Twitter-alight OMG! moments in the series so far, but the triple whammy of Oswald’s speech, Vera’s incineration and Gwen’s realisation of where’s she’s just sent her dad is a breathtaking piece of telly: tense, shocking and heart-rending.

And they’ve “killed” Vera. The bastards. Best character on the show and now she’s a pile of ash. While that made the scene all the more powerful, you can’t help feeling the rest of the series is going to suffer from her absence.

Before that point, though, the episode has been an up and down affair. It kicks off well with a short, sharp shock of a teaser (“They just took control of life and death”) and the subsequent discussions about the morality of “defining” life and death are chillingly effective (“The government now has the power to decide whether you’re dead or alive. No-one should have that power”). The undercover investigations into the horrors of the overflow camps also have some great moments (Jack embarrassing Rex by telling the paramedics to take care of his boyfriend, the callousness of the pegging system, Gwen giving the army guy what for).

But the episode was also punctuated by moments of unbelievable stupidity. Not just irritating moments for plotholers, but points at which even if you’re only half watching, you’re going, “Huh?” Torchwood is working undercover, and yet Gwen returns home – surely the first place anybody looking for her would keep an eye on? – and Rex infiltrates the overflow camp under his own name. Vera’s hissyfit at camp controller Maloney also fails to ring true – presumably he’s been given the franchise by his “superiors” to incinerate bodies, so why would he worry about Vera’s threats to prosecute him for lesser evils? The whole scene feels stilted and forced. Oh, and the little army guy helping Maloney is worryingly like Radar from MASH.

You also have to wonder if the public would really put up with a “no visitor” policy to the overflow camps. Perhaps they would, if the world was truly falling apart and we were shown evidence of society crumbling and people were just interested in looking out for themselves. But so far the world post-Miracle Day still seems pretty much business-as-usual in many ways. Hell, people will still pay to see Phil Collins in concert (now, that’s a miracle), whereas you’d think that Gwen wouldn’t be the only one protesting, surely?

Jack’s request to Oswald seems out of character, too. Jack seems far too certain that his judgement of Oswald is spot on. The whole scene with him begging the murderer to read his speech instead of PhiCorp’s is so oddly-pitched (with Jack smiling near beatifically) you half expect the former time agent to have a trick up his sleeve. But apparently not.

The speech Oswald chooses to make in the end is simply electrifying, though, putting both Jack and Jilly wonderfully off-balance. Would he instantly win over the audience in the way shown? Probably not, but this is TV, and sometimes cause and effect has to be subject to dramatic contraction, and here the whole energy of the scene – and its juxtaposition with the deaths – sells the scene perfectly. And all he’s really doing is telling people what they want to hear, which is always a way to win popularity.

So, once again, a real mixed bag. In the end, though, those powerful and audacious last few minutes are what you’ll remember, not the nitpicking, so for that, we’ll give it a generous, tentative four stars.

IN-JOKE Actually, we’re not sure if this one’s deliberate, but even if it’s not, it’s fun hearing Jack offer to be the Doctor’s (Vera’s) assistant.

BLOOPER When Rex Matheson starts using the camcorder the battery is at 54 minutes and the tape is 1 hour 23 minutes. After he’s been using it for a while, he still has 54 minutes battery left and 1 hour 23 minutes on the tape.

BEST LINE
Maloney: “Ah, look at you. You’re thin as a twig. Bet you’d snap easily.
Vera:
“I’m getting there, yeah.”