3 years, 1 month ago
It is here, then, we have to turn to Jack’s sexuality. One of the most enduring discussions about Jack is the way in which his sexuality evolves over the course of the series, as he goes from a pansexual action hero to, steadily, an almost exclusively gay male figure - indeed, Barrowman, in at least one interview, describes the character as a gay man. This transition is understandably significant to a large number of people, and there’s a really nasty strand of bisexual erasure that quietly goes on as Jack becomes increasingly normative and less prone to stories like his bizarre story in Boom Town
involving fifteen naked people and a monster with tusks. But this ignores the degree to which Jack is more broadly a queer figure - that is, a figure who in some fashion rejects heteronormative reproductive futurism. That his queerness steadily converges on being a gay man is perhaps revealing as to exactly what sort of queer figure he is, but in many ways what is most important about Jack is the fact that he represents an ideology other than, to quote another Davies script, “grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that's it.”
But this challenge does not come exclusively from Jack’s sexuality. It also, as we can see by looking at it in terms of reproductive futurism, comes from Jack’s immortality. Jack is queer because his life rejects the entire structure of the world in which those things happen. Jack is a character for whom hedonism has no consequence, and who does not face the prospect of death, and so has no reason to fetishize an imagined future given that he’ll be stuck living in the actual one. So much so that when he does engage in reproductive futurism and has a child, that relationship is impossibly strained.
This, of course, brings us around to Alice. Alice is not what you would call a well-developed character. She suffers from a smattering of difficulties - the “oh look, a key event in Jack’s past we’ve never mentioned before but that is crucial to the plot” twist is one that essentially never works well, and it must be noted that Children of Earth relies upon it twice, neither time with particular success. The first at least provides a necessary plot hook - even though the actual revelation of what Jack was up to in 1965 is a bit muted (with Ianto and Gwen basically going “well that was rather crap of you” and moving on), it’s necessary to provide the killer opening episode hook of nuking the Hub. But the second, the existence of Alice, feels downright contrived. Alice has very little to do in most episodes - she manages to spend about three episodes getting kidnapped, although her “whack the soldier with a cutting board and steal his gun” scene is magnificent. She has few traits other than “she is Jack’s daughter and doesn’t get on with him.” She’s mainly there to give Jack a sacrifice to make in the endgame.
Perhaps the most interesting, if surely coincidental feature of her character is the physical resemblance between Lucy Cohu, who plays Alice, and Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan Foreman in the earliest years of Doctor Who. In this regard Alice becomes a reiteration of the longstanding Problem of Susan - that is, the fact that the companion, stuck as they are in a fundamentally childlike role, is therefore unable to grow up and embrace any sort of adulthood or sexuality. The fact that Doctor Who’s underlying narrative structure is that of children’s adventure makes the questions of growing up and partaking in an adult life unanswerable. Which, for Susan, who was presented as the Doctor’s literal granddaughter, posed a real and particular difficulty precisely because her character was defined in the reproductively futuristic terms of the Child. But the problem extends more broadly - the companion in Doctor Who has a difficult time being either a sexual or political subject of her own world.
At least in terms of plot function - which is, after all, the only way in which Alice really exists - Alice serves to tie Jack to the concept of the Child, and thus to give Jack a chance to embrace what we might call the philosophical aspects of queerness by killing his own lineage off. But she also serves to mark a more fundamental sort of tension within the genre of Doctor Who/Torchwood. Alice’s relationship to Jack is strongly analogous to Susan’s relationship with the Doctor - both are anchors tying them to a heteronormative past that denies them the eternal and hedonistic present that their seemingly perpetual narrative facilitates. While Torchwood, unlike Doctor Who, does not actually have a mechanism by which it can avoid the reality of aging and death in its actors, the basic narrative structure is indeed eternal. One can readily imagine an endless series of stories in which Jack saves the world at various points in history, the ageless, deathless rogue who never changes even as the world changes completely around him. (Find some reason to properly send Jack back to the dawn of civilization and you can go even further, dropping him into all manner of historical genres as well as sci-fi ones.)
But to do that the central character has to be untethered to the rhetoric of reproductive futurism. They must be both forced and free to live in the eternal present - to always be fully engaged political and sexual citizens of the moment instead of anchoring themselves to the imagined but unreachable future. Both the Doctor and Jack needed to be fundamentally queer characters - with “queer” here used not as a synonym for homosexual but rather as an antonym to heteronormative. The biggest flashpoint in all of this, however, is not Alice, but the death of Ianto - an event that, within fan lore at least, overshadows nearly the entirety of Children of Earth.
The actual size of the reaction to Ianto’s death is, of course, impossible to quite determine. Some things can be stated emphatically. Certainly there was a fuss on the Internet over it, although the extent of that fuss is difficult to determine. Some number of fans went over the line and actively threatened the writers, which got some media attention. Adding to this was the rather fanciful suggestion in some quarters that the death of Ianto was homophobic, and the doubling down on that when the obvious “you do realize who wrote most of Children of Earth, don’t you” point was made that suggested that Russell T Davies was obviously just writing out of his own sense of self-loathing. This being an astonishingly stupid thing to say, it attracted some press. On top of that, the fans of Ianto turned out to be, at the very least, extremely passionate, maintaining an impromptu shrine where the supposed entrance to the Hub was supposed to be.
On the other hand, a fan campaign to lobby for bringing back Ianto by sending coffee to the BBC (a classic “bring back our show” tactic ever since the successful lobbying of the WB for the renewal of Roswell via a campaign to send bottles of Tabasco sauce to the network) supposedly, if Davies is to be believed, resulted in exactly nine people sending coffee, suggesting the size of the protests was out of proportion with their volume. (Fans dispute this based on their own count of coffee sent, and it’s certainly possible Davies substituted the actual number for a different unimpressive one.) Regardless, the death of Ianto is, to say the least, a piece of lore.
Much of the dispute stems, as I said, over the question of whether Ianto’s death is homophobic. Certainly the fact of Davies’s sexual orientation does not magically render the show immune to accusations of homophobia - we noted back in the first season that Greeks Bearing Gifts was deeply problematic in this regard. And it is true that the death of Ianto fits into a frustrating pattern in which gay characters become refrigerator bait - a pattern that Ianto does fit. On the other hand, the comment by one high profile voice that “the series harkened back to the 50's style of homophobia - where all the queer folks died (except for the one that can't die) and the straight people walk away completely unscathed” does rather miss its own key point, which is that Torchwood is quite literally about a queer man who will always walk away completely unscathed from anything.
But let us instead look at the death of Ianto in terms of the particular sort of queerness that Children of Earth navigates. The central opposition of the story as we have understood it so far is between the ideology of the Child - that is, a nebulous quasi-citizen of the future whose importance and inherent value is dependent on the very fact of their non-participatory citizenship - and a queer alternative, the nature of which we’re still teasing out. One aspect of that queer alternative is the possibility of being separate from the process of death and humanity’s progress. [continued]
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