Previously on Jane’s Take … I’ve been providing my thoughts on each week’s episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day as a viewer and as a writer. It’s a sort of DVD commentary in which you can’t actually see what it is that I’m talking about.
This week… for the first time, I’m actually talking about an episode that I wrote. This is Episode Three: “Dead of Night,” and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
Note: SPOILERS ahead!
The general idea behind this episode is that it is a “long dark night of the soul” episode. After the breathless, almost-continuous action of the previous two episodes, we felt we needed to give the group – and the viewers – time to really take in what’s going on in the world and with each other. After the initial gasp of the “Miracle,” we needed to exhale.
My first note is on the title. Russell never quite felt we had the right title for this episode. I think “Dead of Night” is pretty good, because it conveys a sense of contemplative dread and it has “dead” in it. But Russell felt there was another, better, title lurking out there, and he’s probably right. If you have it, leave it in the comments, okay? It’s too late to do anything with it, but it would be nice to know what it is!
Early on in the episode, Rex fires a gun near the head of his corrupt CIA boss, Friedkin. In my original draft, I had Rex actually hit him with the bullet, taking a small piece off the rim of the ear. Quite rightly, Russell felt this might be going a bit too far. Also, perhaps it would be a challenge for the make-up department to craft a damaged ear for all future episodes.
So, in Russell’s rewrite, he made the change to Rex firing the gun near his head. Russell’s line for Rex was “Mind your ears” — which I love. But which I felt couldn’t be plausibly said by an American – we don’t use “mind” in that way usually. We ended up with “Don’t go deaf,” which just doesn’t have the same snap. I’m going to side with UK viewers here and say, yep, sometimes something is lost in the translation.
Then we have the Torchwood team fleeing together. I was skeptical about the spike strip moment just because I didn’t believe they could possibly be made compact enough for the bit to work. But apparently they can because there they are and the moment works great!
The parade of Soulless. This was an image that we worked really hard to get into the show. Each draft of the script had a different version – a noisy march with singing, a quiet candlelight vigil on the DC mall, and finally this silent creepy march with Gwen watching.
Then we have the Very Long Scene. Russell was fearless with this scene, insisting that we not cut it down to a typical two-to-three page TV scene, but that we let it take up the space it needed. This scene is about New Torchwood working as a functional group without being forced into cooperation by imminent danger. We’re seeing them find their roles relative to each other. If you’re a certain kind of person, you might draw analogies to the UK and U.S. writers of Torchwood working together in the writers’ room for the first time.
And then we see the team executing a planned mission as they investigate the Phi-corp warehouse. The address of the warehouse “Third and Boston” was just something we said in the room as a placeholder, but it ended up sticking. Anyway, the warehouse turns out to be bigger on the inside than the outside – a joke that wrote itself. Almost literally. I was typing it before I even knew what I was doing. I was almost certain it was too much of a wink, but I left it in because I thought Russell and Julie might enjoy it before they made me take it out. But they loved it and now it seems to be one of the favorite moments in the show. (Doctor) Who knew?
Back to the medical panels, where we get a great “reveal.” Again, all credit to Russell here. He had the idea of not showing the viewers that Jilly was in the room until she noisily spilled her tin of mints, drawing all attention to her. I love this moment – it’s such a narcissist move, taking center stage but in a deniable way.
And now we head into the long dark night. The enormity of what they’re up against is becoming clear, Rex takes off, Jack heads for the bar, the group is fractured. Is New Torchwood done? Did it ever really exist? I really wanted the sense here that there was no team, just lost people.
By the way, this episode is set in Washington DC, and I really wanted the gay bar to be called The Beltway, which just struck me as funny. We ended up using the actual façade and name of an L.A. bar, and it worked out just fine. Still, really, The Beltway is funny. If you have other ideas for a great name for a DC gay bar, let me know, because I actually spent a lot of time on this. Another option that I enjoyed a lot: The Black Caucus.
Anyway… Jack is flirting, and Gwen and Esther are walking home talking about Robert Frost. At one point, this scene had language expert Esther forcing Gwen to speak Welsh for her. That didn’t make it into the final draft, but I did essentially recreate it on a bus at Comic-Con two nights ago when I forced Eve Myles to speak Welsh for me. Delightful! Such a wonderful-sounding language! You have to hear it! Find a Welsh person and make them do it for you!
The Rex/Vera sex scene – two exhausted people who fall together because of something almost as elemental as gravity. My god, there are some good looking people in the world.
Jack is also affirming life.
And then the bit of the episode that makes me the proudest – the Jack/Gwen middle-of-the-night phone call. I really love this. By the way, this was written both ways – with Jack getting distracted away from the call and with Gwen getting distracted away from the call.
Anyway, I love that we got to mention Ianto, the man for whom the miracle came too late, and to really start to deal with how Jack and Gwen are handling their history and their changed situation. For me, this is the moment that makes sense of our decision to stop and take a breath in the middle of the night.
And morning brings new purpose! The scene with the I5 contact lenses is one that I tried to slide though as quickly as possible, fearing that “techsposition” might be boring, but Russell slowed it down, and it totally works. And then we get my “you should’ve seen the other guy” joke. If I contributed nothing else to American TV, I would be happy to have written that joke. Is that unseemly, to take that much pride in it?
Then we have some tense goings-on over at Phi-Corps, but Jack has taken off to allow the two threads of our narrative to cross for the first time as he confronts Oswald Danes. The unrepentant Oswald speech was the big point of controversy in this script. No one objected to the sex scenes in any way, but the Oswald speech about the death of Susie Cabina – that was a deal.
My first draft contains a much longer version that’s much more violent and hateful and we pulled it back from there until we reached this version, but there was still a lot of discussion about how far we could go here. Personally, I think this is always how it should be – let’s worry at least as much about hate and violence on TV as we do about sex, right?
And we end with Jack on the ground and Oswald ascendant. Holy crap. What’s going to happen next?!
Well, Episode Four, the episode that led to us making complicated drawings on the white boards in the writers’ room! See you next week!