Doctor Who #881: The Categories of Life

"You're thin as a twig! Bet you'd snap easily." "I'm getting there, yeah."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Aug.5 2011.

IN THIS ONE... The Miracle Rally. Gwen tries to get her father out of an overflow camp and fails. Back in California, Vera dies horribly inspecting one such camp.

REVIEW: Episodes 5 and 6 are where the narrative breaks down for me, and that's because they could easily have been collapsed into a single broadcast. A lot of episode 5 is a step forward followed by a step back. We have incident, but we don't have progress. Gwen's thread is the best example. She gets back to Wales, mounts a rescue of her father, and just as they're about to get him on a truck (Rhys' very specific skill set), he has a heart attack and Gwen unwisely chooses to call for help instead of running off with his undying body. They think they're raising the stakes, but they're just pushing the action's climax to the next chapter. Don't get me wrong, I certainly like seeing Gwen and Rhys together again - they have a fun relationship - and her mom giving her the mission is perfect Torchwood - the "amateurish" superspy stuff we were talking about in the previous review.

Back in the States, Jack has a similar experience. He tries to turn Oswald Danes against PhiCorp, but though there's suspense as to which prepared speech's point he'll go along with, he ends up on the evil corporation's side. The sequence isn't as useless as Gwen's because Jack doesn't get a second try, but because it's one of two narrative failures, it feels like our time is being wasted on two fronts. Part of the problem is that I just don't buy the sequence. We've got this Rally where politicians, including the President, are speaking, and POTUS is fine with Oswald addressing the same crowd so long as he's put enough miles between himself and the stadium? And does it really make sense that PhiCorp would use THIS opportunity for a marketing punch, their logo coming up behind Danes in any given context when it's clear there are still a lot of haters out there? It's very weird and not at all believable.

The saving grace is the American cast's investigation of an overflow camp, and Vera's resulting death (is it really anything else?), but even that doesn't quite stand scrutiny. The mission is well done, each player having a crucial role in our discovery of the shocking truth that the camps have ovens to dispose of "Category 1" patients (those who should be dead). Vera's horrible "death" is shocking, but the wrong blow to deal the series. She was the best new character, and after her, it's a big drop. Obviously, we'll be getting away from the medical side of things and still need the secret agents, and killing the better character makes it more effective. I won't dispute that. But is it earned? I'm not sure. To make this happen, the camp administrator needs to be this awful, unstable guy, and Vera needs to foolishly antagonize him and push him to "murder" her. Everything's fine when she's wittily responding to his sexism and threatening manner, but her outrage, while warranted, takes away the intelligence she's shown across the whole of the series. The script is manipulating things and just doesn't ring true.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Vera's death is a real shocker, but aside from that, the episode is padded with pointless incident so Miracle Day can make it to ten episodes.

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