Both Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields and that most overused and probably least understood of futurist concepts, The Singularity, continue to get an affectionate squeeze from time to time on Torchwood: Miracle Day. It seems increasingly likely that both of these oxygen-deprived egghead ideas will turn out to be the explanation for something on this loopiest of all TV shows. The suspense is killing me.
Sneering pedophile rapist and murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) , now a PR prop for omniverous multi-national drug giant PhiCorp, was called upon to play the Singularity card in Episode 5, “The Categories of Life,” during a scene at a mammoth Dead is Dead revival meeting in Los Angeles — a scene that makes wicked use of the actor’s resemblance to evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
The leap forward millions of years, from animal to human, has been trumped, Danes suggests, by the leap on Miracle Day from humanity to…something else. “But what have we become?” he asks his increasingly rapturous listeners.
The Singularity, “the day everything changes,” may seem an awkward fit in work created by Russell T Davies, an iconic British TV writer-prodicer (Queer as Folk) whose work embraces as an article of faith the notion that people never really change. I thought of this, eventually, when I was trying to come to terms with the fact that the bastard had killed off my favorite character, in an especially grusome and resonant way. Arlene Tur’s Dr. Vera Juarez, enrolled only minutes earlier as a member of Team Torchwood, burned alive in a hulking metal concentration camp oven as her lover, Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) watched, helpless, through a submarine-like viewing window.
Phifer saved the day, in a sense, by the brilliantly simple move of not being very good in the scene. If he’d dug a little deeper, if he’d more effectively communicated the horror and sadness Rex must have been feeling, the moment would been impossible to bear. Small mercies.
Give Torchwood credit for actually “going there.” It does not allude to the horrors of the camps and then back away, or raise the spectre only metaphorically. It reenacts the worst of them in a science fiction setting, sacrifiing the story’s sanest and smartest character as an emblem of its seriousness, a way of proving that the awfulness is justified because they really, really mean it. For Davies, I think, the drive to tell the truth overrides any concern for the viewer’s tender feelings. I can forgive this scene because while I hated I also believed it.
In his signature Doctor Who episode about internment, “Turn Left” (set in an alternate history version of Britain under the Blitz) even good people were shown going along with the evil program, for the simple reason that this is what most people would do. And when it happens, other good people, some of the best, people who are loved, will be destroyed. In this case the managers of the camps have a handy science-fictiony rationale, its groundwork quite carefully laid out: the only way to eliminate the still quivering not-entirely-dead is to reduce them to their constituent molecules.
“The dialogue is daft, the performances are overplayed, shameless British-American stereotypes abound, yet somehow ‘Miracle Day’ is still enthralling,” writes critic Catherine Gee in the UK daily The Telegraph. I can’t argue with that.