Torchwood Miracle Day – episode 1

First impressions: slick, glossy, well written, well acted, and suffering from much the same problem as the 1996 Who telemovie — they’ve taken a show whose primary appeal was a very British humour and sense of whimsy, and stripped it of everything that made it unique, offering us yet another formulaic US sci-fi thriller series. It’s better than the 1996 effort, but the thing that really struck me about it was “Where’s the sense of wonder?”

This is obviously a complete reboot of the Torchwood universe, and I’m not inclined to criticise it for the way it’s been detached from the Whoniverse. That was clearly always on the cards, given that its creator never wanted it to be part of the Whoniverse in the first place, and this is a new show trying to hook a new audience. But one of the things that hooked me on the first series was that sense of wonder to be found with the best sf and fantasy. Gwen’s first look at the Hub in “Everything Changes” is a thing of joy, and never was an episode more aptly titled. That joy, that wonder, was sadly lacking from Miracle Day’s opener.

And yes, it’s been utterly Americanised. The final scene reads to me as intended to make a US audience cheer for good guy Rex. What I see is a craven act of collaboration by the British government. Rusty is smart enough to play to both audiences at once, but I don’t much like the message intended for the US audience.

I’m not sure there’s enough here to sustain a single storyline over ten weekly episodes. Stripping Children of Earth across five consecutive nights worked, but here people have to want to watch it week after week. I finished the episode feeling inclined to watch the next episode, but I didn’t feel that sense of “Oh no, I’ve got to wait a whole week for the next one!” that I used to get watching the “next episode” teaser. Because this slick Hollywood show isn’t what I watched Torchwood for. The first two series always felt to me like fanboys and girls getting to put their fanfic on screen with a BBC3 budget. It was crackfic on acid, it had a pteranodon fighting a Cyberwoman. They weren’t afraid to throw stuff at the screen and see what worked. When it was bad it was horrid, but when it was good it was very good indeed. I never saw a single episode that didn’t have something worthwhile in it, even if there are episodes I’ll never bother watching a second time. The action sequences in Miracle Day are wonderful, but they’re not enough. There’s no risk-taking here. I’m never going to see a little old lady at a pedestrian crossing muttering, “Bloody Torchwood.”

It’s the first episode, so there’s a need to bring the audience in and up to speed, and it may pick up in later episodes. But if this is all there’s going to be — well, sorry, Rusty, but the show I want to watch is Torchwood in all its silly, funny glory, however dear to your heart your original Excalibur concept may be.

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June 2011 book log

Here’s the summary book log for June. Full entries can be found using the book log tag at my Dreamwidth or Livejournal, or at my book blog on WordPress. And they are, of course, posted to LibraryThing.

58) Jonathan Swift — Gulliver’s Travels
Or to give it its full and proper title, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Logged June 11.
LibraryThing entry
Free public domain ebook at Feedbooks

59) Christopher Wakling — The Devil’s Mask
Note – I received a free review copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.
A page-turner that brings to life the physical and moral price paid for the profits of the slave trade, even after abolition. Reviewed June 12.
LibraryThing entry
hardcover at Amazon UK
Kindle at Amazon UK
paperback at Amazon UK (release date March 2012)

60) Alexander McCall Smith — The Tears of the Giraffe
Second of the series about Precious Ramotswe, the No.1 and indeed only lady detective in Botswana. A gentle, heartwarming book that blends entertaining detective stories with wonderful characterisation and sense of place. Logged July 9.
LibraryThing entry

61) Ben Macallan — Desdaemona
A welcome return to dark urban fantasy for Chaz Brenchley, writing under the name of Ben Macallan. It’s often very funny, and sometimes terrifying, and occasionally heartbreaking; all the more so because it shows how the monsters can be only too human. Reviewed July 10.
ISBN: 978-1-907519-62-8
First chapter as free sample at Book View Cafe
LibraryThing entry
Desdaemona paperback at Amazon UK
Desdaemona Kindle edition at Amazon UK

62) Reginald Hill — Ruling Passion
Third of the Dalziel and Pascoe books. This is a superb study of a policeman struggling and frequently failing to retain his professional detachment in the face of a crime that strikes only too close to home. Logged July 16.
LibraryThing entry

63) Gareth Roberts — Doctor Who: Only HUman
Fifth of the New Who novels, with Nine, Rose, and Captain Jack. A Neanderthal turns up in 21st century Bromley, and the Tardis crew turn up to investigate why someone is using a particularly primitive, and stupid, method of time travel in the area. Logged July 16.
LibraryThing entry

64) WJ Burley — Wycliffe: Death In A Salubrious Place [audiobook]
Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs of the fourth book in the Wycliffe series. Logged July 12.
LibraryThing entry

65) Ian Rankin — Watchman
An early one from Rankin, a standalone spy novel written between writing the first and second Rebus novels. Probably not a keeper for me, but I’m glad to have read it. Logged July 12.
LibraryThing entry

book log: 65) Ian Rankin — Watchman

65) Ian Rankin — Watchman

An early one from Rankin, a standalone spy novel written between writing the first and second Rebus novels. As it’s the first book by Rankin I’ve read, I can’t say how it compares with his series or later work, but I found it an enjoyable read in its own right. It was written in 1988 and is very much a period piece, not least because the setting is London during an IRA bombing campaign. The titular Watchman is a member of MI5’s Watcher Service. His job is to do just that — watch people and note where they go, who they talk to and what they do. A watching brief goes wrong and someone is killed. Miles gets a large part of the blame, and a shift to a punishment operation. But there’s something slightly off about the scenario, and Miles suspects that there might be a mole. With retirements and promotions due in the upper ranks, the upper ranks don’t want a scandal, and Miles is offered a “last chance” assignment — in Belfast. It’s clearly intended to force him to resign quietly, but Miles is too stubborn. And so he finds himself tipped from his quiet role of professional voyeurism into a far more violent and dangerous game.

It’s definitely got the feel of an early work by a good writer. The characterisations are solid and the plot draws you in, but there were a couple of places where I had a major suspension of disbelief problem, and they were key elements of the plot. So a little disappointing part way through after a good start, but still a satisfying ending. Probably not a keeper for me, but I’m glad to have read it.

LibraryThing entry

book log: 64) WJ Burley — Wycliffe: Death In A Salubrious Place [audiobook]

64) WJ Burley — Wycliffe: Death In A Salubrious Place [audiobook]

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs of the fourth book in the Wycliffe series. Jack Shepherd (Wycliffe in the tv series) does a good job on reading, and while I was familiar with the plot from reading the book some years ago, I think the abridgement should work reasonably well for someone coming to it fresh.

LibraryThing entry

book log: 63) Gareth Roberts — Doctor Who: Only Human

63) Gareth Roberts — Doctor Who: Only Human

Fifth of the New Who novels, with Nine, Rose, and Captain Jack. A Neanderthal turns up in 21st century Bromley, and the Tardis crew turn up to investigate why someone is using a particularly primitive, and stupid, method of time travel in the area. It transpires that there’s no way to take Das the Neanderthal home without killing him, so Jack gets detailed to teach him how to survive in present-day Bromley, while the Doctor and Rose go back 28,000 years to find the source of the problem. What they find is a historical research project by a group of humans from Rose’s future, and some very nasty things hiding in the project’s storeroom…

It’s an engaging enough story with some good one-off characters, although the Big Bad feels a bit cardboard to me. One of the best bits for me was the sequence of paired diary entries from Das and Jack, showing their very different perspectives on 21st century humans and each other. Often very funny, and occasionally poignant, and while I don’t think they’d have supported a full story in themselves, I would have been glad to see more of them.

LibraryThing entry

book log: 62) Reginald Hill — Ruling Passion

62) Reginald Hill — Ruling Passion

Third of the Dalziel and Pascoe books. At the end of the last book Peter Pascoe had got back together with old flame Ellie, and now they’re invited to spend a weekend with four of their old university friends. They’re late because Peter’s been tied up with a serial burglary case that looks as if it’s escalating to violence.

What they find when they finally arrive is a scene of carnage. Three people are dead, the fourth is missing in circumstances that lead the local police to make him chief suspect. Pascoe’s involvement in the case is officially as a witness, but he can’t help but get involved in the investigation, even if unofficially. These are his friends, after all, and he can’t believe that one of them could really have changed so much as to commit murder. As the case progresses, Pascoe finds his ambiguous status of use to the official investigation, but an ever increasing source of frustration for himself. And Dalziel wants him back in Yorkshire, the more urgently because the burglary case has turned very nasty indeed.

The nature of the plot means that the book focuses strongly on Pascoe, with Dalziel largely present as a supporting role. It nevertheless shows the growth in the relationship between the two men, in a story that twists and turns until the various plot strands finally come together. This is a superb study of a policeman struggling and frequently failing to retain his professional detachment in the face of a crime that strikes only too close to home.

LibraryThing entry

book log 61) Ben Macallan — Desdaemona

61) Ben Macallan — Desdaemona

A welcome return to dark urban fantasy for Chaz Brenchley, writing under the name of Ben Macallan. If that pen name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Brenchley previously used it for the lead character in a much earlier novel; and his usage here is more than whimsy, because this is exactly the sort of novel that the hero of Dead of Light would write. Jordan’s a runaway teenager who makes a habit of helping the lost, both other runaways and those who’ve simply strayed into the world of the supernatural. Jordan’s clinging to an existence somewhere on the border between the mundane and the magical, moving on to the next town whenever the hunters on his trail get too close. He’s doing pretty well at it, until Desdaemona tracks him down and drags him into her quest for her runaway sister Fay. Desdaemona’s something of a mystery herself — she’s a Daemon, a human who has been rewarded with occult power for contracted services to a Power, but she’s barely more than a teenager herself. How and why Desi contracted herself so young is just as much of a puzzle for Jordan to solve as is the mystery of Fay’s whereabouts.

Fay’s got good reason to have hidden herself as well as she has, and Jordan and Desi aren’t the only ones hunting her. As they search for Fay, they find all too many enemies amongst the world of the supernatural — the hunters on Fay’s trail, the hunters on Jordan’s trail, and the enemies Jordan and Desi make along the way. The result is an ever-increasing escalation of power and Powers they have to defeat or escape from, and a roller-coaster ride through a sharply crafted world where the supernatural can be found down any alley.

What makes this book so good for me is that Macallan/Brenchley takes British and Irish mythology, polishes new facets on it, and sets it to perfection in a contemporary urban English landscape. And he does it with strong characters and snappy social observation, in a story that unfolds to show rather than tell exactly who and what Jordan and Desi really are. It’s often very funny, and sometimes terrifying, and occasionally heartbreaking; all the more so because it shows how the monsters can be only too human.

The ending begs for another novel, and indeed there are the concepts for two more living inside the author’s head, though whether they see the light of day is another matter. But the book is complete in itself, a fabulous modern twist on old fables.

ISBN: 978-1-907519-62-8
First chapter as free sample at Book View Cafe
LibraryThing entry
Desdaemona paperback at Amazon UK
Desdaemona Kindle edition at Amazon UK