Torchwood: Miracle Day (BBC One)
Russell T Davies is a big fan of high concept plot lines. His time on Doctor Who was characterised by a tendency to set numerous plates spinning, making you wonder how he'd keep them all up in the air and then suddenly change the rules of gravity at the very last minute.
For the fourth series of Torchwood, a co-production between the BBC and US network Starz, he's concocted a cracking dilemma - what if people stopped dying? It's a simple premise that comes with a lot of headache-inducing consequences and gives him and his newly acquired writers' room, filled with alumni from Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, plenty to play with.
Most US reviews of the first few Torchwood: Miracle Day episodes have been positive and rabid followers of the Whoniverse have welcomed the return of their beloved Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) with whoops of delight. But I found the opening episode painful to digest.
Beyond the arresting concept, Davies tries to paper over the gaping gaps in the plot by just powering the story forward. He seems to assume that the audience can be distracted from bad dialogue and vast logical leaps by a surfeit of explosions and plenty of running around.
The majority of the original Torchwood team were killed off in the previous mini-series, Children Of Earth, so it's down to Jack and Gwen (Eve Myles) to fly the flag for Wales-based fighters of weirdness. They're joined by two CIA agents, Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) and Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) at the heart of the show. Both of the new characters are drawn with such broad strokes that it's hard to really be all that bothered about them. After a car accident leaves Rex with a busted heart but still alive thanks to the effects of Miracle Day, he stumbles around the world being an even bigger arse than he was prior to the event.
The plot of episode one feels like a fictional reflection of the relationship between the BBC and Starz, with the Americans firmly in the driving seat. Rex flashes his badge so frequently it might as well be an Oyster card and seems surprisingly quick to tell anyone he comes across that he works for the CIA. He also manages to hack into a security camera system directly from his hospital bed while Esther hops into the MI5 computer system, finds out everything there is to know about Gwen and gets Rex a gun delivered to the airport by British police with a few taps of the keyboard.
The scene where a helicopter is taken down by a bazooka-wielding Gwen exists predominantly to shout loudly that Starz has cash to spare and if Russell T Davies wants to blow up flying machines, it will make it happen.
While there are little references to keep longtime Torchwood fans sweet (Jack giving his false name as "Owen Harper", the return of the mind-wiping drug Retcon), Torchwood: Miracle Day exists in a new world where the guitar riffs on the soundtrack are louder and the explosions are bigger. In a strange way, the bigger budget makes the absurdities harder to ignore.
There were some great moments in the opening episode. Jack encouraging a pathologist to cut the head off the mangled remains of a soldier who had been caught in an explosion was quite brilliantly unsettling. Equally, Bill Pullman as the sinister Oswald Danes, the serial killer and child molester who survives his lethal injection, is mesmerising. His greater role later in the season is one of the best reasons to stick with it past the exposition-heavy opening. While his release appears peripheral initially, he's soon pushed to the fore.
The central conceit means Torchwood: Miracle Day manages to touch on some intriguing areas and there are clearly some big thrills to come but there's a lot of wooden acting and contrived plot twists to get through along the way. It's not that this series is bad as such but that it feels as though it's being given a pass for its shortcomings by some people simply because it keeps a cult favourite alive.
Britain And Ireland's Next Top Model (Sky Living)
It's a lot harder to enjoy sausages if you've just been on a trip to an abattoir. I'm having a similar problem with this year's series of Britain And Ireland's Next Top Model. Previously we were presented with a batch of contestants after they had been been prodded and poked by the producers and deemed worthy to come before the frightening Sauron-like gaze of the panel. But this time, an X-Factor-style search has been put in place with weeks of girls lining up to be judged on camera before we get down to the finalists and the photography challenges begin.
The challenges are what got me hooked on BINTM in the past. Who knew that to be a top model it was necessary to throw yourself onto a bouncy castle from a great height or try to embody that domestic violence is, like, really wrong, yeah, simply by contorting your body? The more serious Elle Macpherson looked critiquing the contestants' efforts, the more I revelled in the ridiculousness of the whole exercise. But the first few episodes of this series have been like a giant heel stamping on the human spirit.
Once they pass the height and age tests (conducted by what appear to be very angry work experience girls), the women are paraded in front of the judges in bikinis. Elle, who is slowly morphing into Dallas-era Joan Collins with ever-expanding hair and enough animal print to dress an army of Lion King extras, is flanked by the three other judges, who do the snide remarks so she doesn't have to.
International model, Charley Speed, looks like a N-Sync era Justin Timberlake doll damaged in a warehouse fire, designer Julian McDonald with his perm and permanent sneer comes over like Kevin Keegan's camp Welsh cousin and stylist Grace Woodward is essentially Simon Cowell doused in oestrogen.
Grace seems determined to outdo Julian when it comes to cutting comments. She was on particularly bitchy form this week knocking down a wannabe plus-size model. "I'll work really hard," the girl pleaded. "So? A donkey can work hard," sneered Grace before to Elle for approval like Darth Vader presenting the Emperor with a clutch of Ewok corpses.
The ego-destruction doesn't stop at the studios either. A new segment involves the judges stalking the streets of Britain and Ireland in search of girls to critique. It's sad that while schools spent ages indoctrinating us about the perils of stranger danger, no one making those public information films thought to cover the risk that you might be confronted by Julian McDonald sashaying towards you shrieking "TOO FAT! TOO OLD! TOO SHORT!"
While the X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent auditions always hold the prospect of a Susan Boyle moment, a person with talent that belies their initial appearance, that'll never happen with Britain And Ireland's Next Top Model. You're either beautiful enough or you're not and that makes the whole endeavour a lot more depressing.
Watch this weekend
The Apprentice Final (BBC One), Sunday, 9pm
Unless you're obsessed with golf there's really only one must-see show this weekend. The Apprentice has finally boiled down its batch of business buffoons folk to the final four. The two-hour finale will see Jedi Jim, Thunderbird Tom, Human Helen and Stupendously Stupid Susan put through the interview round.
It's always the best episode of The Apprentice, with the contestants thrown like clueless Christians into a coliseum filled with Lord Sugar's most surly friends. Best of all, it will once again see the return of Margaret, his much-missed lieutenant, who we last saw giving Stuart Baggs a mauling.
The big difference this year, of course, is that the contestants are competing for the privilege of Lord Sugar investing in their business and it's those plans that will be put under the microscope. On the basis of the ideas they've developed throughout the series, it's not looking hopeful. But then, they are dealing with the man who thought the Amstrad Emailer, a phone that charged you to send emails, was the future...
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