even the works of Pip & Jane and Peter R. Newman

TV Yeah, that was rubbish.

When I reviewed last week’s opening episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, some readers mistook my general LOLing as an indication that I was more positive about the episode than I probably was in real life. Actually, I saw dangers but decided that since this was the opening episode, since Russell etc were working in a new idiom and since let's face it anything set in the Doctor Who universe is worth giving the benefit of the doubt (even the works of Pip & Jane and Peter R. Newman if you’re being particularly mean spirited) I’d just treat it in good humour and hope it all worked out.

We should still perhaps be in cautious welcome mode. Next week’s episode is by genre wunderkind Jane Espenson after all. Every series has a blip. But after an admittedly exciting first episode, Doris Egan’s Rendition took something of a nose-dive and not the one you would have expected to happen on the plane having been slashing about in its innards with a knife and in a way which drags us right back into the Doctor Who franchise’s roots and those stories in which we’re essentially spending whole episodes waiting for our heroes to interact with the main story.

Because that’s the main problem with Rendition. Having (re)introduced Torchwood, Russell etc saw fit to have them handcuffed on a plane for much of the episode and although the flight was fraught with incident, Gwen’s desperate Macgyvering of a cure for Jack’s poisoning which was presumably meant to parallel Oswald’s non-execution in the previous episode, Barrowman’s unusual pronunciation of hegemony, the flight crew that had wandered in from The High Life and Dollhouse's Dichen Lachman’s idiosyncratic performance most new viewers might wonder what the fuss was about.

You could argue that like Children of Earth, the story's slowly developing amongst an ensemble of characters but it feels wrong to me that Jack and Gwen should be sidelined at this early stage even in a series being co-produced with a different network that presumably has its own casting requirements. Indeed the only times the episode really snaps back into focus, feels like Torchwood rather than a ScyFy tv movie of the night, is in these plane scenes (despite the inertia) with Eve Myles shouting at full throttle and punching people in the face (in a moment sadly spoiled by traileritis).

It's also structurally mechanical since obviously the reason Russell etc are keeping Jack and Gwen away from the world during this period is because as soon as they come into contact with any of the research into the "miracle", by dint of their experience it would be implausible for them not to have a clue what's going on.  It's a perennial problem with Who in general and one of the reasons the TARDIS is so often parked miles away from the epicenter of the story, the Doctor and his companions forced to walk there.  If the terminally long "morphic fields" conversation is anything to go by, we're in for eight episodes of conveniently interrupted exposition. 

The dodgy creative decisions run deeper than that. As many previews in the professional press have noted, why are we not seeing how such a global event is being dealt with in the walls of power or on the high street? Why is everything tell not show? Again, it’s still early days, and the hospital scenes have offered some indication of the effects the “miracle” is having, but wouldn't it be cooler showing us Pakistan and Indian ambassadors calling a truce and working together?  A crook hopelessly trying to rob a bank when the tellers have no apparent reason to be threatened?

I’d certainly much rather that than endless scenes of bland CIA agents commenting on unconvincing television news pictures then admonishing each other for watching the television pictures and scientists uselessly arguing over the future of humanity, hunched over vdu screens describing the medical implications in a narcoleptic remake of Doomwatch. Perhaps Russell etc are saving the money shots for later in the series, trying not to repeat the mistakes of Flash Forward in throwing the epic up front with a boring long tail to follow but it’s a risk strategy when you’re trying to build audience confidence.

Granted, there’d be a danger of repeating Children of Earth’s Downing Street meetings but this is a different continent, a different government and although The End of Time has established Obama as the president, that shouldn’t stop us from seeing something happening in the White House and someone with a higher pay grade than Wayne Knight’s Director discussing the actuality of what the world is facing. Despite recent events, politicians arguing over statistics still carry more weight than anonymous scientists making those guestimates.

Perhaps I’m falling into the reviewers trap of reviewing what isn’t there. But that’s because what is there is so disappointing. Esther and Rex’s shafting from the CIA by their bosses, apparently being controlled by what must be aliens (or else the Channel 4 sensors from the 1980s) is a rerun of Torchwood’s own disavowing in Children of Earth, with some narratively useful cash to save them from having to endure a remake of The Real Hustle montage sequence when requiring the purchase of technical equipment for the setting up of The Hub 3.

Oswald Danes is also an astonishing creation and not necessarily in a good way. In a return to the villains of the week figures who populated the first two series of Torchwood, he’s a bizarrely two dimensional psychopath and while Bill Pullman’s delivery is undoubtedly creepy it’s a weird about face from the norms who occupied series three, who were evil because they retained a ring of truth about them, rather than simply taking this pantomime approach to fixing a minor character in the eye and saying something slowly and deliberately.

Not that moral discussion isn't interesting.  Can we forgive a man like that if he shows remorse?  It's a pertinent question ss listeners to Radio 4's PM will know.  A man has just been put to death for a 9/11 related hate crime with the twist being that the one victim who survived his many racist shootings.  But the public reaction here simply didn't ring true.  As part of the Twitter's braying masses, I can tell you that we'd be unlikely to be tossing around a #forgive and be more likely RTing our cynicism.  Nevertheless, a few marks for using hashtag in the right context, at least.

Apart from the scenes featuring actual Torchwood, Lauren Ambrose also illuminated her two moments like a floodlight accidentally blasting through the murky mis-en-scene of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, her bright scarlet jacket, marmalade hair and intensely curious glassy eyes utterly alluring and dangerous. My guess is she’s recruiting a kind of evil Torchwood (perhaps more eviler than Torchwood One) ready to manipulate the populace into knocking off Alan Moore next week.  But since this is tonally all over the place, she might well just go to a bar and get drunk instead.

Overall then, Rendition manages to take what is still an amazing idea and render it in a rather mundane, hopelessly generic manner. Yes, bits of it are funny and sometimes not in an unintentional way (was Dichen's backwards CG head supposed to be amusing or creepy?) but mainly this was irritating to watching and really rather smug.  It wasn't really helped either by an niggly transmission problem in which frames skipped at random intervals causing even greater motion jerk in Captain Jack than usual. Did anyone else notice that?

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