Friday, 30 September 2011

Torchwood : Miracle Day - a rambling review

In a diversion from the normal crap I come out with I've decided to post some rambling and inconsequential thoughts on the latest Opus of Russell T. Davies. Torchwood Miracle Day.

For those not in the know. Torchwood is a spin-off from the long running UK sci-fi series Doctor Who. Originated and penned by the series producer of the time Russell T. Davies, it was marketed as a more adult and grown-up series than the mostly family friendly Doctor.
The central character being Captain Jack Harkness who originated in the new Doctor who reboot, as a now immortal person who leads a small team of alien investigators, it grew in popularity over it's first 3 series, and also moved channels until the third series premièred as a 5 day event series called Torchwood children of earth on the main BBC one channel, which, though flawed, got generally good reviews, and provided a dramatic, human and dark bit of sci-fi on prime time TV.

Personally - I never watched Torchwood until Children of Earth came on the BBC, and I thought this 3rd series was pretty good, so I was hoping the new series would be pretty good. The series concluded on UK TV a week or two ago, after a 10 week 10 episode run, and, lets say it out front, despite sticking with it to the end I've been disappointed.

Lets start with a bit of background. After the success of the third series The new series was built on Davies attempting to bring the series to the US, and he created it in collaboration with a US producer, and represents a niche UK sci-fi series trying to move into the mainstream. With the relocation to the US, comes a number of american actors, a new style of show, a bigger budget and more episodes for a series. The biggest name of which being Bill Pulman, no stranger to facing aliens, and whole new locations across the US.

So without further adieu - lets get on with the review

The Story
This was the big falling down for me. The initial concept was great, the "No-one dies" concept was a pretty good starting point, and a couple of the early episodes explored the ramifications pretty effectively, along with some decent adult body horror backing it up (especially in the first episode).

However the execution over 10 episodes felt incredibly uneven and ill-paced throughout, after a barnstorming opening episode in which lots of stuff happens rather quickly, our main characters are stuck on a plane not actually doing much, while the deeper ramifications are explored through the doctor character (I've already forgotten her name).
After the first episode the plot development crawls through it's iterations at a snails pace, a neatish actiony bit breaking into some offices, the plot goes back into stasis where it takes 3 episodes to infiltrate and find out what is happening in the overflow camps. This is honestly when I started to get a little bored with the thing and wonder where it is all going.
I also found the reappearance of the Death Camps motif Davies had used before several times to be a bit "what? again?" as he's used them before as plot devices in Children of Earth and in the who episode Turn Left.
Anyway - once the death camps are passed we go into a curious present/past episode involving pretty much Just Gwen and Jack. Frankly this episode jars immensely with as this is where Jacks character morphs into someone who lives at all costs, and is pretty amoral and the relationship with Gwen seems pretty much broken - yet they suddenly are best friends again at the end.

While the two bicker in the present we are treated to a gay romance Jack was in during the 20s in the US.
There's some way overdone love scenes - I was reminded of how out of place the Skywalker/Amidala love scenes felt in star wars - it just broke the entire pace and was overdone. Some tensionless action, and a whole lot of WTF has this to do with anything.

The series picks up a bit for the last 3 episodes IMO, but my caring level was pretty lowish by this point.
Q from star trek turns up with some fun lines as the head of the CIA, a Gruff no-nonsense boss that's a lot of fun actually. There's some decent tension and we finally get a sense of simple fear while Gwen tries to hide her seriously ill dad. That's all pretty well done.
The CIA offices seem to have been lifted direct from "24", and they seem to have carelessly drafted in the mole too, the whole CIA bit does feel a bit too much like 24 to be honest.

The final reveal of the Miracle was a huge "is that it?", I understand it's supposed to be all mysterious and that, but the terror alluded to in the episode where an investigator sees the miracle and jumps of a roof just wasn't there.
Final episode was pretty good, dramatic, tension filled, but it needed to be spectacular to make up for my lost interest personally. It also left to many plot threads hanging (presumably hoping for another series).

The Good
  • I said it earlier, but the root concept was good, if unevenly shown.
  • The switching between US/UK was all right
  • Oswald Danes's character (Bill Pulman) was well played throughout, suitably sinister and greasy. 
  • Likewise the red-headed PR woman was funnily sinister ( forget her name).
  • Likewise the head of CIA character played by John de Lancie was god fun.
  • Was nice to see an epic sci-fi story which didn't really leap to the alien invasion card.
  • There was some flashes of some neat drama, in some episodes. The dramatic character deaths (which appears to be a Torchwood hallmark) were pretty well done, and the bits in wales where Gwen was hiding her dad were properly tense.
The Bad
  • Slow plot
  • Russel T. Davies incredibly unsubtle social commentary. Yes Russ we can see how the financial destruction mirrors the current economy. We see how you think US medical insurance is far less fair than the NHS. We see how you think profiteering drugs companies are evil, and how bad extraordinary rendition is. We don;t really want to be hit over the head with it while waiting for some plot. The best fiction inserts its commentary far more subtly so it doesn't feel preachy in my opinion, this failed at that.
  • Despite Jack claiming his immortality had nothing to do with his blood throughout -it suddenly switches and his blood is incredibly important at the end.
  • The plot with Oswald Danes effectively becoming a cult leader seemed to really go nowhere important. 
  • Similar to the above point, around about the second episode we were hinted at riots, death cults, society collapsing - we really didn't get a good sense of the society outside falling to pieces.
  • As I noted before - death camps again?

Over all
The whole thing was a bit of a let down. There was some neat bits, and some neat characters. Jack and Gwen'c characters were all right, the new Torchwood characters felt a bit lame to me, but were passable in their fashion. It all comes back to the pacing for me. Series like 24 manage to sustain tension across many more episodes than Torchwood by having heavy drama throughout and around each episode, tying it up with a feeling of achievements inbetween. This Russell singularly failed to do.
In the final analysis there was probably enough events and story for a 6 hour mini series. It reminded me of one of those 3 hour films where at the end you think it could easily lose an hour, I think Miracle Day could have easily lost 3-4 episodes with an actual improvement to the end product

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Response to a Peter Saunders' Tweet

Yesterday in a fit of mild annoyance I tweeted the following. did she arrive at her 60k Fewer abortions? The only thing I can think is 30% with mental problems out of 200k. 
To be honest I probably shouldn't have appended #stupid, but I was running out of characters, and I wanted to imply the possible reasoning I propose was daft. But I was questioning how Nadine Dorries arrived at her oft quoted statement that 60k fewer abortions will be performed after the amendment. If anyone was offended by it I apologise unreservedly.

But I am genuinely interested in how Nadine Dorries's proposed changes will stop nearly one in three women considering an abortion from going through with it. It seems a completely extraordinary claim to make without substantial, and large supporting evidence.

I actually got a reply tweet later in the day from a twitter account purporting to be from a Dr. Peter Saunders
notjarvis  60k fewer abortions based on differences in average european abortion rates -  

The twitter account profile says  - CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

Now Peter Saunders is a name that's been in the news a bit as someone who advised Nadine Dorries - the MP at the centre of the proposed amendment. I'm unsure what I've done to receive such attention, but I'll gladly respond as I see fit to the tweet (and I couldn't fit my response in a tweet so here it is).

"Based on differences between average european abortion rates"

OK? Thanks for the answer - I presume the two links you posted will lay out exactly how that figure was arrived at.
Link 1 is to this page ->

It basically lays out that pjsaunders blog supports the amendment and reiterates the claim made by Nadine Dorries without any discussion of it.

 Nadine Dorries ... believes this amendment could reduce the total number of abortions by as much as a third, or 60,000 a year. 

So I'm unsure as to why the doctor included it. Maybe its as a reference point for his point of view. Anyway, that's all pretty irrelevant to any discussion of this 60,000 figure.

The second linked article disturbed me slightly to see it included in this debate. it is linked here.
The article is a discussion about the use of informed consent in other countries.
It lays out some ideas about informed consent used in other countries. The informed Consent talked about in this article is this from the first line (my bold).
Abortion legislation in many countries already includes mandatory counselling for women
Already I'm a bit nervous, as Nadine Dorries has insisted again and again that the counselling she is talking about is not I'm not quite sure how this article relates to her amendment.

There is actually some data at the bottom of this one in a table. it's still absolutely unclear to me how this relates to the 60,000 claim as we have already established the Informed Consent in the countries listed is totally different to what Nadine Dorries is proposing.
All I know is Dr. Saunders said to me
 60k fewer abortions based on differences in average european abortion rates

One way would be to take the headline figure of ~180000 abortions a year carried out in the UK and assume we would totally drop to "informed Consent" levels I suppose.
Average abortions / 1000 women in non-informed Consent countries = 18.1
Average abortions / 1000 women in "Informed Consent" countries = 11.9
11.9 / 18.1 = 0.657
0.657 x 180,00 is close to 12000 i.e. a 60,000 drop I suppose.
As I've already stated it's a pretty bogus comparison as Nadine repeatedly states she is not proposing Mandatory counselling, and this sample is rather directly comparing non-mandatory to mandatory counselling countries, and from the sound of it some of them rather pressure women towards not having an abortion.

If it's calculated this way , you could also argue that the effects of different pregnancy rates in different countries are not taken into account in the tables compared, so it's at very best an incredibly simplistic metric.

Another problem with the comparison is if you look at the examples of Informed Consent offered in the article, the least pressured one, that sounds most like what Nadine Dorries claims her amendment amounts to (voluntary balanced counselling) would be the French example.

Comparing the UK directly to the French is illuminating in this case I believe

CountryCounselling offeredCooling-off periodNumber of abortionsNumber of women aged 15-44Abortion Rate
FranceCounselling on Alternatives7 Days208, 80012,282,35317
United Kingdom--181,60010,682,35317

Interestingly similar  n'est-ce pas?

To be honest I'm still rather mystified by the whole thing. It seems extraordinary to me that an elected MP can make various hugely dramatic claims with no-one really calling her on it, and it not appearing to be based in a solid grounding of facts.. 
I'd still love to see some evidence for this number as what Dr. Peter Saunders posted to me makes little sense of it, or if it is the direct source it's a pretty obvious case of comparing Apples and Oranges, and declaring there are 60,000 pears in the banana grove.

Late Edit:
After I created this blog I tweeted a link to it to Peter Saunders's Twitter account (not sure if he's read this blog. Received another reply, I reproduce both for reference
My Tweet:
drpetersaunders still not sure as to where this 60k comes from. The article you linked compares mandatory counselling
His Reply appears to confirm my guesses in this blog to some extent.
notjarvis Yes it is obviously only an estimate but compulsory counselling is unlikely to be much more effective than voluntary
This seems to me to be an extraordinary statement, especially when an elected MP is repeating this claim regularly. I replied again
  Really? I find that hard to believe without some compelling evidence. Especially in systems like Germany's is described. 
I await another reply. Out of interest (again from the Informed Consent article he linked my to),  part of the comparison to create this number is to systems like Germany's which..... (I've added bit in italics).
Germany : [Mandatory] Counselling is designed to protect the unborn life, so the counsellor is required to inform the woman that the unborn have a right to life, and to try and convince her to continue with the pregnancy. The counsellor cannot force this choice on the woman.