Outside the Government: Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day Five

(18 comments)

[previously] On the other hand, the idea that the Doctor would deliberately murder a child to save the day is unthinkable. In fact, the degree to which it is unthinkable is central to Moffat’s soft retcon of the Time War to give the Doctor an out in Day of the Doctor. The way that Moffat renders the Doctor’s double genocide unthinkable is by declaring that Gallifrey was full of children - a thought that is unimaginable in the context of Davies’s vision of the Time War as an event in which the dead are simply brought back from an earlier point in time to fight again and again and the Time Lords became monsters as unthinkable as the Daleks. Moffat alters this by saying that the Time Lords weren’t all monsters, and he does this through unabashed reproductive futurism. Jack, on the other hand, has at this point functionally killed fourteen kids, putting him six shy of Adam Lanza.

And yet for all of that, he is unambiguously framed as the hero. When he is absent from the narrative for the entirety of “Day Two” it is consciously a disruption to the narrative’s function, and when he’s restored in “Day Three” he gets a cheeky and thoroughly gratuitous sequence where his hero coat is restored to him. There’s no way of reading Children of Earth as anything other than a story about Jack Harkness, the hero who saves the day. 

It’s tempting to read this as the frankly overly common trope of the tortured and morally ambiguous antihero - this is, after all, released almost exactly a year after The Dark Knight, when the love of taking heroes to "dark" places was at its highest. But Davies has never shown a particular attachment to the tortured antihero, and much as he pushes Jack into grim territory, he does ultimately end by putting Jack in a position to return to his galavanting, space-faring roots. For all that Jack’s actions and ending are grim, we should think about the next place we see him: a raucous bar full of all manner of colourful CGI characters. “The hero Cardiff deserves” this ain’t.

Which is to say that we are forced to take Jack’s actions as morally serious. This is, to be fair, not actually difficult. At the end of the day, it’s just another trolley problem, and the solution Children of Earth settles on is a perfectly mainstream answer to it. Killing twelve people to save twenty-five million is, if not straightforwardly ethical, at least reasonable and defensible. Killing one to save even more is likewise. The only things that make Jack’s actions especially horrific are aesthetic issues: the fact that the person he’s killing is a kid, and, more than that, his grandson. (Strangely, the fact that he’s also saving children has relatively little impact in practice.) 

And so by embracing this queer ideology in all its awful splendor, Jack liberates himself from the entire world. It’s interesting to note that his final scene is not actually necessarily a scene about how awful he found it to have to kill his own grandson. “I began to like it,” he says, “and look what I became.” But what did he become? The person who saved the world? Or the person who failed to? There’s no particular indication in the dialogue what the trauma actually is. Within the context of the story, it’s actually just as plausible that the trauma that leads him to want to become somebody new is the fact that his big scheme to storm Thames House and confront the 456 led to a bunch of people needlessly dying. That his failure to heed his own advice from “Day One” about not liking the word “couple” made him ineffective and stopped him from productively stepping in sooner, before the horrors of the government’s plan became manifest. That it made him embrace reproductive futurism, and made him lose the things he wrongly valued in the first place.

It is, after all, worth noting that there is a significant if minority viewpoint within the gay community that is at best ambivalent and at worst actively hostile to gay marriage for precisely the reason Jack articulates when he suggests a suspicion of “couples.” That viewpoint suggests, in effect, that gay marriage serves little purpose but to make gay relationships like straight ones - that it dismantles the historical establishment of gay culture in an attempt to create not equality but equivalence, and that the relationships they had and have weren’t marriages, having come out of a world and system where the concept of gay marriage was unthinkable. 

It’s a minority viewpoint, to be sure, but a fascinating one that speaks volumes about the extent to which queerness can be taken as an ideological position. It is, in the end, a sort of ultimate hedonism - one that respects life because of the possibilities it offers. In this regard, Davies’s comments in response to the Ianto death furor are telling: “That's the point actually. Both in fiction and in life. When someone dies you lose all that potential. You grieve over everything they could have been. Everything you hoped for them. Everything they might have achieved with their lives, everyone they could have loved. Every job they could have had. Every joy they could have had. It's gone.” The issue is not, in other words, some metaphysical point about the sanctity of human life, but about the possibility of human experience - about the things that people can do. And, of course, we have looked at Davies as a writer invested in hedonism as a moral position before, and looked at the way that this position extends out of his previous work, most notably the work that focused most overtly on gay culture: Queer as Folk

All of this makes interesting and even more disturbing the precise reason why the 456 want the children: to get high off of them. Recreational drug use is, after all, a fundamentally hedonist act, and one Davies has in the past taken an interesting view of, given his own history and the near-fatal overdose that ultimately inspired Queer as Folk. The fact that the 456 want the children to get high makes them considerably more disturbing as threats, but ultimately the most upsetting moment of the revelation is the Prime Minister’s shocked reaction that “we’re trading in drugs,” because apparently that’s where his moral line is. It’s not like the reason why the aliens want to kidnap ten percent of the world’s children and hook them up to grotesque machines is going to compound the moral depravity involved. Had they answered “because it’s fun” a la the Toclafarne or had they needed the children to survive, ultimately, they would still be just as monstrous. That the Prime Minister fails to realize this is, in the end, the true horror - fitting with his most appallingly venal characteristic: the fact that in the midst of a crisis like this his primary concern is domestic politics and saving face. 

The monsters in this story, in other words - both human and alien - are defined by their selfishness. The human monsters share Jack’s utilitarian ethics - after all, killing 10% of the world’s children to save the rest of the planet is the same moral calculation that Jack runs - just as the alien ones share his hedonism. But both are fundamentally selfish in their approaches, whereas Jack is actively selfless, to the point of killing not just any child but his own grandchild. 

But this selfless hedonism is ultimately unable to exist in the world of reproductive futurism and human politics. Jack, by the end of Children of Earth, has become the single most queer figure in all of Doctor Who, not in terms of sexuality but in terms of ideology. He takes the approach of hedonism to its absolute maximum, refusing to make any connections beyond the momentary. The Doctor doesn’t go this far, in more ways than one.

It also, of course, very much feels like Davies saying goodbye. He does go as far as it’s possible to go with this ideology and vision. This is in many ways the definitive and uncut version of his Doctor Who - the one that shows clearly how Planet of the Dead and Damaged Goods are part of the same creator’s mind and vision. It’s the one where he lays down his moral and aesthetic vision in all its awful beauty. And he does it with such meticulous idiosyncrasy that there becomes little more to do. One can accept it as a take on Doctor Who or reject it. Either way, the project is in effect finished from an aesthetic standpoint. There is nothing more to do but tell the story of its ending. Certainly, by all appearances, it is the wrap-up of this particular spin-off - it does not seem as though Torchwood can say anything more at this point. Why would it need to? It has Children of Earth, a landmark piece of television that says, completely and succinctly, what this particular moment of Doctor Who (as a television franchise, if not as a series) is about. If the Davies era ended somewhere around The Next Doctor, here we have its epitaph. 

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

The Dark Knight came out in 2008.

Link | Reply

Zoe Heriot 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Link | Reply

Lewis Christian 3 years, 7 months ago

FWIW, I believe Jack should've been last seen here -- and that he shouldn't have been in The End of Time. It would've had more impact, I think. Even when the Doctor gets to go and say goodbye, Jack is nowhere to be found.

Link | Reply

peeeeeeet 3 years, 7 months ago

It is, in the end, a sort of ultimate hedonism - one that respects life because of the possibilities it offers.

Not sure I'm sold on that point. If more people can get married but no one has to, that's more possibilities, not fewer.

It is worth noting, though that the argument you're describing is basically David Cameron's own position, albeit the other side of the coin: "I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative."

Link | Reply

jane 3 years, 7 months ago

It's a very interesting scene, though, in the context of Phil just wrote. Jack is sitting in a bar nursing a drink, moping, which is practically the antithesis of his "queer ideology." And then the Doctor comes in and hooks him up with Alonso (whose name sounds very much like the Doctor's catchphrase) and this functions as a moment of grace, affirming the hedonistic position and Jack's place in it.

Link | Reply

David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

What I most like this story for is its relentless ambiguity. Jack's attempt at heroism accomplishes nothing but getting people killed, Frobisher's moment of "heroism" turns tragic as Jack renders it unnecessary by reproducing it in miniature, and Gwen the optimist tearfully writes off humanity just before Jack saves it by taking leave of his own.

Some of those ambiguities offer interpretations that challenge the thru-narrative on offer here. Is Jack's leap off the planet and into hedonism a triumphal embrace of his own queer status? Or is it the desperate act of a man unable to commit suicide? Or is it because of his unwillingness to face Gwen, heart of the team and mother of a child he saved, because of how closely she reminds him of the daughter he betrayed?

And Gwen's own little family introduces an ambiguity into Jack's actions that so dangerously undermines the rejection of reproductive futurity that Gwen had to be almost entirely excised from the long essay: with Ianto gone, Jack's only queer/chosen family left is Gwen. His reproductive daughter represents a non-queer alternate, certainly, but both families offer a reproductive future to him. Unsurprisingly, Jack picks Gwen over the daughter he barely considers family, the daughter he may only reconcile with on Gwen's behalf. The grandson is almost incidental, but the daughter Jack chose versus the daughter he (re)produced are pretty clearly brought into comparative conjunction, and the narrative encourages us to think Jack's chosen to protect his own heteronormative family first when he's keeping them close for a very different reason.

I'd have been interested to read a comparison between this situation and the Problem of Susan, where the Doctor leaves behind his own(?) granddaughter in favor of the surrogate family he and the TARDIS choose for him. I certainly think that Day of the Doctor is as much about addressing the Problem of Susan in a different form as it is a decision to enscribe Gallifrey within the strictures of reproductive futurity...

Link | Reply

David Ainsworth 3 years, 7 months ago

Is Ten's trip through memory lane another example of selfless hedonism? That could redeem it from accusations that it's self-indulgent grandstanding.

Link | Reply

John 3 years, 7 months ago

It's obviously self-indulgent grandstanding. It might also have redeeming features, but it seems impossible to argue that it's not self-indulgent grandstanding.

Link | Reply

Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Particularly so if you give credence to the popular fan theory that by delaying his regeneration long enough to "get [his] reward," he caused the regeneration itself to be more destructive than normal, with nearly fatal results for his successor.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Whoops. Fixed. At least that one actually strengthens my argument instead of weakening it.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 7 months ago

Cameron's support of gay marriage is precisely why that minority of gay people against the marriage movement believes as they do. Gay culture developed as a revolution against the mainstream culture that rejected and repressed them. Marriage, in this regard, would take homosexuals out of the closest by incorporating them into the basic institutional frameworks of mainstream straight culture. But it would put gay culture in a straitjacket by incorporating them into the basic institutional frameworks of mainstream straight culture. Gays who are ethically invested in the mad explosions of subcultures like Canal Street and the Castro District mourn their loss to the bourgeois respectability of that nice gay couple in the Minnesota suburb or the country village in Kent.

The gay culture opposition to gay marriage is that the institutional reform would make homosexuals straight. Not in the sense that they'd have an opposite-focussed sexuality like the majority, but that gay culture would no longer challenge the mainstream. That perspective sees no victory in gay culture letting itself be enfolded into the cultural conservatism that once oppressed them so vigorously.

Link | Reply

peeeeeeet 3 years, 7 months ago

Well yes, that was the point I was trying to make - both camps agree on what they think the objective of same sex marriage is, which is why one wants it and the other doesn't.

Link | Reply

heroesandrivals 3 years, 7 months ago

I rewatched School Reunion recently so I view Ten's 'world tour' in the context of his admission to Sarah Jane that he had been wrong to not look her up. Doubly so since the Doctor's comments on SJA where he reveals that he actually looked in on EVERY prior companion during his world tour -- it was a reward... but also a sort of penance.

Link | Reply

Daru 3 years, 7 months ago

Just thinking that there are some interesting mirrors here in the choices made by Jack and the Prime Minister. I have been involved at various times in the gay/queer culture and the hedonistic impulse present as part of that. I do celebrate and champion all that hedonism can represent - read some of Derek Jarman's personal writings to hear some amazing things said about this - there is though I feel a shadow that can be present in hedonistic choices. I am not making a statement that this is total truth, but that it is possible for a disregard for the wellbeing of others, or even for who other people are can arise as a behaviour trait in the gay culture - I have experienced it. I am sure RTD knows of this possibility in some cruising around Canal Street, such Stuart in Queer as Folk - and this thread is also woven through Jack I feel. This for me is the perfect thread to understand how the fun, frolicking Jack translates quite easily into the Dark Jack on CoE - where unlike the Prime Minister he at least was able to face the consequences of his choices and still set himself free at the same time.

Link | Reply

John 3 years, 7 months ago

Why would we give credence to popular fan theories?

Link | Reply

David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

I am not sure one can really say that Moffat's take on the series qualifies as reproductive futurism, if the future is a place where our children are and we're not. In the case of Amy and River, if anything the reverse is true.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, yes, I was just elaborating on your point.

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 3 years, 7 months ago

I know it's ridiculously late after the post to make this comment, but the idea only just occurred to me this morning. The concept of reproductive futurism could function in the ongoing narrative of Doctor Who's creation as a philosophical way to engage with the popular denunciation of Moffat's version of the show as sexist or heteronormative. The over-arching narrative of the Pond era (The Eleventh Hour to Angels in Manhattan) was the time-twisting assembly of the Doctor's family: his wife and her parents, his friends. After the era of Davies' embrace of gay culture, lifestyles, characters, and iconography into the show, this focus on what (aside from the timey-wimey-ness) was a pair of ordinary straight couples was the reason for the most verbally violent insults to Moffat and his vision of Doctor Who.

I'm not myself too familiar with Lee Edelman's work, but I do know that he considers reproductive futurism to be a philosophy of oppression and violence against alternative sexualities that don't result in the creation of children. That philosophy articulates the anti-Moffat rage in a more intelligent way than the collective screams of a hundred angry Tumblr posts. So it would let you respond in a more coherent way than typical Tumblr discourse allows, and speak directly to the ideas underlying their concerns. As excellent as your Definitive Moffat and Feminism post was, it didn't yet dig into the argumentative and rhetorical dirt.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom