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

(46 comments)

[previously] 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]

Comments

Sean Case 3 years, 4 months ago

Torchwood is the show that keeps killing off members of the core cast without ever introducing new ones. Martha doesn't stay. Lois doesn't stay. Rex and Esther might yet stay, but there doesn't seem to be much post-Miracle Day continuity for them to do it in.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 4 months ago

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.

I'd be inclined to respond to this a little differently, and suggest that regarding a show whose three main characters are a gay man, a bisexual man, and a straight woman, you need to come up with a stronger argument than was commonly presented for suggesting Ianto's death was uniquely problematic here. A show completely divested of white straight men is one where any death can be said to fit into problematic patterns, which seems an unfortunate for what is quite possibly the only sci-fi show ever to not feature a straight white guy in the top three roles.

That said, I may be missing some something about how Ianto functions here compared to Gwen, particularly on how well they'd respectively fit into the "refrigerator bait" model. Is there an added problem because Ianto was a love interest of one of the two leads? That he wasn't a lead himself? And is the assumption I'm making here that Ianto was a third wheel even true?

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J Mairs 3 years, 4 months ago

"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."

I was watching Children of Earth last night, and I knew there was *something* obvious about the character that I just couldn't quite put my finger on.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

Ianto's death was played as pure schmaltz melodrama with little emotional resonance. Jack had spent the preceeding episodes denying they were 'a couple' while Ianto himself was distracted by his own surrogate family-that- we-had-never-seen-before and fending off passive aggressive homophobia. whereas Jack's grandson being literally dragged kicking and screaming to his horrific death by sonic mind frying was possibly one of the most disturbing scenes ever presented on British TV.
If RTD had bothered to put a bit more effort into actually writing characters for Steven and his mother, Jack's secret daughter-who-we-hadn't-seen-before, it would have been even more effective and might have overshadowed the reaction to Ianto's death. RTD for reasons which aren't too clear to me eschewed the potential noblity of Steven being given a choice as to his noble sacrifice and saying something in passing about the determinatism of childhood and the redemptive power of innocence but no. let's just chuck him in the sonic fryer so Jack can get another moody angst scene and cement (pun) his position as emo sci-fi omnisexual action hero. (a role Barrowman managed to make uncannily unsexual. YMMV of course) There was a simple get-out clause too. Steven could have easily inherited, via a gene that skipped a generation or some such techywechy bio babble, Jack's regenerative abilities. Thus providing the required sacrifice and a redemption, not to mention a huge canononical addition to assist the longevity of the show - Jack's role becomes hereditary. But alas no. Death must prevail.
The way that Torchwood over these three seasons and the next (Miracle Day actually positions eternal life as the enemy to be fought!) became the glamourous cheerleader for the Freudian Death Drive is worthy of note. The voice-over opening credits lines should have been
"The Twenty first Century is where everyone dies".

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

You're right that Alice is a fairly under-developed character (though what character she has is very strongly written), but I always saw her as a very economical resolution to two elements of the plot. If dramatic pressure has to be applied to the male lead, you've only got Ianto and Gwen there to foot the bill, and it's difficult to capture Gwen and hold her hostage as this would undermine her role as strong female lead. That leaves Ianto which would be a bit contrived as he also has to function later as sacrificial lamb. Later on of course the plot resolution requires a child to be chosen, with the eventual death of that child having some emotional resonance. Steven and Alice therefore constitute a bit of a dream package plot-wise, with the added coolness of Jack having relationships with people who grow old while he doesn't (previously only touched upon with Estelle in Small Worlds).

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Prole Hole 3 years, 4 months ago

I actually think it's more than just the look, her style of acting is very similar to Carol Ann Ford as well, it's incredibly easy to imagine her being cast in that role as a little bit of fan service.

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Prole Hole 3 years, 4 months ago

I also think it's worth picking up Ianto's comment that, "it's not men. It's him," (meaning Jack), which presumably a) helps to paper over the half-converted cyber ex-girlfriend he secreted in Torchwood's basement but also b) changes his alignment from either gay or bisexual. There's a lot of mileage to be gotten out of that as well (though I'm not the person to get it).

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 4 months ago

For all that I think pretty much everyone would sign off on the idea that stories are better when children aren't murdered in them, your solution would rather exacerbate the central problem that CoE is nine parts miserable realpolitik to one part last-minute miraculous solution. I tend to violently dislike Davies's reliance on the theory that endings need only require emotional cost, rather than story logic or adequate set-up, but if you remove that cost as well, the ending becomes even more unsatisfying than ever.

Which is not to say the ending as transmitted was a great idea, simply that the way to fix it would not be to play it all out the same without Steven's actual death.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

Good point. Whether Steven actually died or not is unimportant to the denoument as once again Jack gets a get-out-of-jail-free card and beams up up and away. Which I suppose is my point. I remain a little confused though as to exactly what point RTD was making with the sacrifice of Jack's only son. Any potentially interesting biblical or mythical resonance is lost as the death is weaponised as an attack on the supernatural evil. As a moral dillema it leaves little option. But of course we have to consider that dillema as a constructed fiction. Without rehearsing any authorial intent argument I still find it hard to see what the metaphor is here, other than the simplistic 'one child's death is preferable to many'. I think we already knew that so we are left with another dillema, Jack's agency; or simply What Is Jack For? It seems to me that via his own defiance of death he becomes its very avatar. He is forever positioned at the centre of a pile of bodies either through violence or natural attrition. So yes, what exactly was Jack up to in 1965 with that first batch of sacrificial schoolkids? Are Torchwood already historically complicit in infanticide or was Jack working solo at that point. RTD positions our protagonist again as the agent of death.

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David Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm not quite sure where you're going with this yet, but I'll jump in a bit here.

I'm not convinced by some of the contrasts between the figure of the child and political engagement. (Nor by the implied underlying assumption that queer people can't have children. They can and do. Queer people having children causes just as much anxiety as poor people having children.) Being fully engaged with the eternal present seems contrary to any model of political engagement beyond the neoliberal model. Political engagement, other than neoliberal, must engage with some imaginary future even if that future is only minimally defined as the absence of some aspect of the present. Hence the child's challenge to neoliberalism - children are not neoliberal subjects. Just as importantly, people who care for children cannot be full neoliberal subjects: a child raiser cannot allocate resources to desires with the flexibility that the neoliberal economic subject must do.) Hence the anxiety that children generate in neoliberal ideology, which perhaps causes the kind of ideological construction of childhood you're talking about; the best neoliberalism can do with children is to argue angrily that children are a luxury good that oughtn't to be had by anybody who cannot afford them.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 4 months ago

Spooky - I'm doing a CoE marathon and I'm up to Day 4. And I felt she seemed like Susan a bit too!

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 4 months ago

My larger problem with CoE (which, to be clear, I very much liked) is that this kind of last-minute techno-babble turnaround, whilst pretty much the only way to resolve things, rather ruined the underlying idea of how one chooses between entirely unacceptable options. What I most liked about the early episodes was that Davies's politicians were simultaneously corrupt and venal whilst also genuinely stuck in a situation with no good options. That strikes me as a far more realistic view of politics than, for example, the idea that if all politicians were fundamentally honest and decent the country's problems would be cleared up within the month.

Given that, it seems in a sense too easy for the viewer to watch knowing that the correct answer is "play for time before Jack somehow solves everything". Much as I tend to match up with Davies's view of politicians in general, setting up a scenario where their fundamental mistake is not playing for time until a miracle arrives undercuts the pretty much literal Sophie's choice of the story.

I can't think about this story without remembering Tom Godwin trying to get his Cold Equations - in which a shuttle with vital medical supplies will crash if its teenage stowaway isn't kicked out of the airlock - into Astounding only to keep getting it knocked back because he kept cheating his way out of the dilemma.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh I'd just like to say that Children of Earth is an astounding piece of TV which I enjoyed very much on first viewing. On re-watching it to sync with these posts however, I was struck more by the clunky nature of Jack's solution. Maybe I should have expected the standard RTD re-set button but I was somewhat wrong-footed by the originality shown in the majority of the narrative. More care in the set-up and slightly deeper characterisation and back-story for Alice and Steven may have helped. 4
Also the 456 must be contenders for the scariest and nastiest aliens ever.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh how much more meta it would have been if they'd actually cast Carole Anne Ford.

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J Mairs 3 years, 4 months ago

"What I most liked about the early episodes was that Davies's politicians were simultaneously corrupt and venal whilst also genuinely stuck in a situation with no good options."

What disappoints me most about the story whilst rewatching it is that Brian Green, the Prime Minister, has no redeaming qualities at all. He's despicable, with no justification for it beyond being the Prime Minister

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

I hate to hearken back to "The Writer's Tale", but I think anyone who has read it will agree with me that the way to understand RTD's stories is to understand the man behind them and the absolutely disorganised way he writes. He basically throws everything in a pot, stirs it around with a big spoon made of Taboo Subjects, pours it all into an envelope and then pushes it a bit. For Children of Earth he probably had a couple of remits already in his head - the horror of the 456's intention, and the UK Government's response to it. All of this he constructs using a series of set-pieces interspersed with dialog, because this is how RTD thinks - visually and cinematically, (having been part of the generation brought up on 4 decades of British Television) and with the love of dialog of an avid soap fan.

His difficulty is in getting from one set-piece to another, and overall getting from the Beginning to the End. He does this by constructing weird SF plot points that often don't hold up to detailed scrutiny, but he is aware of his audience and knows that so long as he gets from A to C quickly enough (not pausing long enough at B for anyone to say "Hang on a minute...") the majority of viewers won't notice the cracks.

And he's correct. Most people don't, unless they're pointed out by Journalists, Reviewers and obsessive Fans. He always acknowledges when something is a bit cheesy, but generally still goes with it because by this time he's a month behind schedule, he's painted himself into a plot corner, and as long as it serves the plot and works well enough to move the story along, it'll have to do.

If he was more disciplined in his writing, took more time over it and quite frankly didn't keep putting it off until the last minute, his stories might be a bit more soundly structured and less chaotic. But then would that be a good idea? I don't know. Sometimes the scatter-gun approach results in a convoluted mess of continuity errors and unbelievable coincidence, but sometimes we get sparks and alchemy. There's always some Bad in an RTD script, but there's also Good, and when that Good really sparkles (like Children of Earth) it's worth its weight in gold.

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Archeology of the Future 3 years, 4 months ago

I have to admit, rather than reading Jack as a character that can live without consequences, I've always read him as the opposite. Jack in Torchwood is The Doctor who can't run away from the consequences of his actions and who also can't change.

For Jack in Torchwood, the results of his own 'adventures' keep piling up around him, making life more and more complicated.

In some respects, it touches on what a nightmare it would be to do the UNIT years again with a modern sensibility.

Is there something here about the queer must become self contained, because to make a world for queers would up-end all? Queerness as the destroyer of safe and settled hetero society? I tend to see Jack as being a version of The Doctor but one built from the pieces between 63 and 200(?) rather than from the pieces available up to 63. If you start from 63 you miss out all of the Victorian and children's story roots and end up with Jack as your guide to eccentric spaces.

What's interesting to me is how unthreatening Jack is as a queer figure *unless* you are very new to the idea that queer people exist.

I also really, really wish Dr Sandifer would write something longer on Doctor Who and Jerry Cornelius.

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Allyn Gibson 3 years, 4 months ago

I also really, really wish Dr Sandifer would write something longer on Doctor Who and Jerry Cornelius.

Perhaps, when The Coming of the Terraphiles gets covered? Which has a Cornelius in it, a character that Moorcock had intended as Jack Harkness until he was told he couldn't use Jack. (I, personally, read Cornelius as Jack now, having left that identity far behind as the millennia passed.)

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John 3 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, I've always thought this was the big reason Torchwood became unsustainable - they killed off almost the entire original cast and never replaced them with anyone. By Miracle Day, we're spending more than half our time with a bunch of American characters we've never seen before.

Thinking about our host's previous suggestion of Torchwood as a kind of post-wilderness years remake or continuation of the UNIT era, it strikes me that there's a fundamental with this, which is that Torchwood never works like UNIT does. The UNIT era sees the Doctor as a slightly unwilling associate of a military organization that he's not quite a part of. The key relationship that makes UNIT stories work is the one between the Doctor and the Brigadier.

This gets at a key problem of the initial Torchwood dynamic: Captain Jack should not be the head of Torchwood. Jack should be the insubordinate one, the guy who breaks all the rules but gets results. That kind of dynamic is obviously a bit of a cliche, but it's a cliche that would work better for the group dynamics than whatever they actually came up with.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 4 months ago

// I remain a little confused though as to exactly what point RTD was making with the sacrifice of Jack's only son.//

It's about being complicit. Jack was there -- the hands who sacrificed the original 12 -- so his part was visceral, his failure to resist was essential. The justification that "even if I resist they'll still send someone else to do it." forcing the guilt on to the larger system you're unable to control etc etc etc... is itself an act of will which makes you a participant.
Jack was complicit in a crime that he never paid a price for -- then he has to pay the price himself. The government was complicit in the 'little crime', and then has to pay the price for it in the tithe of children. All parties involved deferred the consequences -- "they're not my kids, they're all orphans whose parents won't miss them -- there are only twelve of them, it's a small enough sacrifice. I don't have to live with it and anyway no one will know." until suddenly it WAS their kids, and they did have to look at the parents of the ones they sacrificed and everyone knows. The act of looking away, of refusing to be involved, is itself a moral crime.

@spacewarp
I think RTD's writing style does more good than harm. I certainly prefer it to Moffat's Saward-esque "able to imagine story structures more complicated than I'm able to pay off" style. RTD sets the bar low at 'entertaining' and knocks it out of the part on a regular basis, seldom trying for profundity or gravitas but frequently stumbling into it and exploiting it ruthlessly. More constructed structures break if one element doesn't work. Mish-mashes are (broadly) more resilient to the failure of parts of their narrative.

@Phil
Are you gonna touch on the IDW comic that ties into Children of Men's 1965 events?

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Matter-Eater Lad 3 years, 4 months ago

On Jack as a Doctor-figure: I haven't watched this miniseries since its original airing, but isn't Jack largely responsible for Ianto's death by bringing him along on a mission to yell at the aliens until they leave? Not that dissimilar from the Doctor and the Daleks in "Bad Wolf", except that Jack isn't the Doctor, isn't a Time Lord, and doesn't have a Tardis...

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 4 months ago

Jack's tragedy, underscored here, is that death is the ultimate escape from consequence. Even if someone haunted by a crime you only have to shoulder that burden for 60 years. They can drink themselves into oblivion or engage in rampant hedonism and distract themselves to death -- but Jack can't because there's no "end," no retirement or dotterage where you can console yourself that "well, at least I'm out of the game now." He's stuck with his crimes -- forever. They're always waiting for him when whatever binge-behavior ends and he has to face reality again.

But I view Torchwood as a series about how characters deal with despair. How they cope with it on a day-to-day basis.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 4 months ago

He's despicable, with no justification for it beyond being the Prime Minister

What Prime Minister has ever needed more?

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David Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm a firm Moffat partisan. But I don't see that Children of Men is poorly structured.
Midnight is the only one that's better structured. Perhaps Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday is comparable to Children of Men.
Of course, Midnight is a lovely place to visit; but you wouldn't want to try to live there.

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othemts 3 years, 4 months ago

For all the scariness and nastiness of the 456, which was all well done, I had trouble understanding why a species that control every child on earth at once would need or want to negotiate. I guess that's one of the logical leaps I couldn't make.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 4 months ago

Diegetically, I think Torchwood suffered from Davies' change in the focus of Jack. Jack began as a loveable rogue, the kind of insubordinate rebel who would chafe at the strictures of authority, an ideal enthusiastic male companion who had found a team of other rebels with whom he could be comfortable. There really hadn't been anyone of that type in Doctor Who since Steven Taylor and Jamie McCrimmon.

The first season displayed continuity with this idea, but added tension to his character from the gap between The Parting of the Ways and Everything Changes. In terms of the paratext, Torchwood as a show suffered from its lack of firm showrunner's direction in its second season. So Davies decided on a mad shakeup after paring the cast down to Gwen, Jack, Ianto, and Rhys. Day One is, like Planet of the Dead for Doctor Who, an ersatz season premiere as usual. The cast looks to repeat Everything Changes with new characters, but now the moral high ground is blown out from under them. Davies completely reoriented the show: instead of a team of decent people investigating the strange spaces that creep into normality, Torchwood's drama is now in the revelations of Jack's true nature as a villain, a wretch, and a bastard beyond redemption.

Some of the comments below criticize Jack as facing no true consequences for his horrible actions just because he beams up to a new life. But Jack is a shattered man, an irredeemable murderer. Not only has CofE revealed that Jack was complicit in the torture and enslavement of innocent children in 1965, but his incompetent and poorly planned confrontation in Day Four resulted in hundreds more needless deaths (including Ianto), and Day Five saw him murder his grandson to stop the aliens.

CofE turned loveable rogue Captain Jack into Jack Harkness, mass-murderer.

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

his incompetent and poorly planned confrontation in Day Four resulted in hundreds more needless deaths (including Ianto),

This. I didn't mind Llanto dying. I minded Llanto dying stupidly. The first three and a half episodes of CoE consisted of Jack desperately trying to overcome the efforts of the government to sideline him and stop him from confronting the 456. Then, suddenly, he does overcome the government and does confront the 456. And what does he do? He yells at the alien. That's it. The entirety of his plan was to bluster and bully an alien race of brutal drug dealers and junkies. And when the 456 starts killing everyone in the building to demonstrate Jack's essential helplessness, Jack basically backs down and says "take the kids but leave me Llanto!"

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

a role Barrowman managed to make uncannily unsexual.

Agreed. I like Barrowman's interpretation of the character, but in Torchwood, the only time he's been sexy was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang when he was making out with Spike, and that may have been Marsters work as much as Barrowman's

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

@Allyn Gibson. Jack Harkness is no Cornelius. More of an American Oswald Bastable or one of Una Persson's dodgy gentlemen friends. It's the Doctor who is a version of the Eternal Champion and as I've suggested before Matt Smith would make a perfect Jherek Carnelian.
I confess that despite being a huge Moorcock afficionado and of course Doctor Who fan I was unimpressed with The Coming of the Terraphiles and have never managed to finish it.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm gonna be 'that guy' and say that though it's an enjoyable and revealing Freudian slip it's Children of Earth not Children of Men .

@heroesandrivals
Jack was complicit in a crime that he never paid a price for -- then he has to pay the price himself
No it is Steven who pays the price. He dies horribly. Jack loses a grandson he never visited and then gets to play galactic hitchiker til he returns next season with a new problem to angst about. I'm sure he feels remorse but he's no more paying for his crime than a WWII Nazi exiled in South America. So again I ask - What point do we think RTD is making here?

@Spacewarp
His difficulty is in getting from one set-piece to another, and overall getting from the Beginning to the End. He does this by constructing weird SF plot points that often don't hold up to detailed scrutiny, but he is aware of his audience and knows that so long as he gets from A to C quickly enough (not pausing long enough at B for anyone to say "Hang on a minute...") the majority of viewers won't notice the cracks.

I'm sure The Writers Tale is an informative and entertaining read but are we really going to let RTD get away with saying, in so many words, 'Don't blame me for being a rubbish writer, I'm a rubbish writer and anyway it's only Doctor Who nobody will notice'?

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 4 months ago

His confrontation with the 456 was precisely the moment, to me, that destroyed the Captain Jack I first saw piloting an invisible spaceship in the Second World War. When Jack is on Doctor Who, he's a hero, able to fight malevolent aliens and succeed, or to find solutions to seemingly impossible situations. Yet when Jack is on his own, as in Torchwood, he can't measure up. Either he's stuck with the compromises that befit the typical Season 1/2 scenarios of collisions between worlds with few obvious villains and victims, or he tries to bluster his way through a confrontation with a genuinely malevolent enemy and fails catastrophically.

CofE is a story about Jack's inevitable failure to be good. No matter how much he might want to be a hero (and his confrontation with the 456 is played damn near exactly like a typical grandiose moment of the Doctor, until the final, terrible moment), he's inadequate to the task. Either he misses the forest for the theatre by rushing in without a plan, or he can't escape the ethical quagmire of his immoral actions in the past and present to achieve a univocal good.

That's why it works for the CofE story that Ianto dies stupidly. The whole story is about how Jack can never make up for the terrible things he does; he only leaves further disaster in his wake. If Doctor Who (especially under Moffat) is a show where everyone can be redeemed, with CofE, Torchwood has become a show where your past sins are your inescapable heritage, and where the innocent will die for the mistakes of the guilty.

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Froborr 3 years, 4 months ago

For all that I think pretty much everyone would sign off on the idea that stories are better when children aren't murdered in them

Bokurano comes to mind immediately as the obvious counterexample--a story which only works because children are being murdered, and which would be far, far less interesting if either the murder were eliminated or they were replaced with adults.

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Archeology of the Future 3 years, 4 months ago

I love the idea of Jerry Cornelius is the spirit of the age, just our Doctor is. I love the bits in the English Assassin where Jerry is quite literally frozen by the lack of spirit in the time he finds himself.

I couldn't help feeling that the Eleventh Doctor was a somehow more conservative (Tory) Doctor than the tenth, a kind of tweedy young old man with broadly conservative views. I assumed, being egocentric about it, that the Eleventh Doctor would probably dislike me. The same with the Fourth Doctor. The Third would have just ignored me completely.

I do think that the times get the Doctor they deserve, or the Doctor and the times are symbiotic.

But you;re right, Jack isn't Jerry because completely contingent on his context and times. Jack is always Jack. Isn't that why the Doctor is so weird with him in Utopia? Because he doesn't, and can't, change? That bit always fascinated me. The Doctor has a kind of beetling discomfort around Jack in that episode of the kind I imagine a Timelord would feel around Faction Paradox: a sense of wrongness, a kind of horror.

Jack is, I suppose, an uncomplex space time event.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

@Archeology of the Future
Yes absolutely. Jack's 'human fixed point' status would be anathema to Time Lord sensibilities. He's kind of the anti-River Song, who lest we forget was born with a Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey head. This goes as far back as the Doctor mysteriously abandoning him on Satellite 5 after the Bad Wolf shenanigans. Jack is 'Fixed Law' through and through and these tendencies are revealed in his increasingly right-wing, shoot first solutions to Torchwood's problems. As has been mentioned above, his solution to the 456 was to shout at them but he doesn't have the Chaotic magic of the Doctor to scare aliens away so is ineffectual. Instead he resorts to self torture and child sacrifice. He's just the kind of character Jerry Cornelius would assassinate.

As to the Doctors I'd say just like the Champion Eternal they waver between Law and Chaos to preserve the balance. I'd say generally 2, 4, 6, 10 and (despite his Young Fogey disguise) 11 are Chaos and 1,3, 5, and 7 are Law. 12 has yet to show his hand.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

@Froborr
Infanticide is at the core of a much myth and fable. Hansel and Gretel. Snow White etc. Usually the children escape their fate and the adults are punished. RTD obviously wanted to reverse the trope but that left him with an insoluble narrative collapse. Moffat would have turned it into a Timey Wimey mash-up of the Pied Piper and Pinocchio. 'Follow me children...All aboard for Pleasure Island!'

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

I assume they preferred negotiation to outright conquest because the latter might result in significant losses to their "cash crop." A negotiated agreement with the leadership of the planet might well result in a regular (say, every ten years or so) tribute to the 456 that Humanity might find tolerable. No fuss, no muss.

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Archeology of the Future 3 years, 4 months ago

I assumed that the 456 wanted to rub the noses of their victims into it, like when a bully makes you throw your own Doctor Who book onto the Gym roof. It's about power. In this context the 456 are an unreasonable, unpleasant race with whom it makes sense only to bargain and appease.

The point is that Jack has to do the right thing even when it's wrong. There isn't a good way out where our 'hero' will not be compromised.

Appeasement would seem to be one of the themes that RTD is working with.

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David Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

With the the possible exception of Three, the Doctor is always on the side of chaos; although he reserves the right to oppose other chaotic beings for humanitarian reasons. (Of the nine Seven and Ace television stories, Seven is up against Law in IMHO six of them - the exceptions being Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Battlefield, and Survival as I read them.)

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David Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

Or else, as with the Sycorax, their ability to control the children has concealed limits.

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Anton B 3 years, 4 months ago

I was thinking specifically in Moorcockian terms rather than general Law v Chaos side taking. In Moorcock's multiverse the Champion often believes he is fighting on behalf of the Chaos Lords only to find he has to temporarily fight for Law to maintain the balance. In the Cornelius novels, which would to fit the Doctor's mise en scene roughly, Jerry and his brother Frank, who are always on opposing sides and their sister Catherine (who takes a more passive role often spending entire novels comatose) often take on each other's roles, swapping sides and flitting through various alternate Earths in a deliberately confusing way. Their demeanour, the clothes they wear, the weapons and companions they choose and their energy levels reflect the world they are temporarily inhabiting. So the seventh Doctor, while often fighting against fixed and restrictive societies which may represent their own version of Law tends to use the laws of time to his own ends setting up elaborate schemes which rely on intricately devised traps and puzzles. His Chaotic nature is a front.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 4 months ago

This was perhaps my favorite moment of the whole series, because it addressed the very real idea that sexuality is not something that can always be pidgeonholed. Even bisexuality is an artificial category.

Ianto's profession of love for Jack exclusively rather than a fondness for one gender over another is a statement that human sexuality is a lot more complex than people would like to pretend it is.

The closet equivalent I've seen to this of late is the character of Piper on "Orange Is The New Black". She is engaged to a man, but she has a torrid love affair with a woman. Yet she never, during the course of the show identifies herself as either straight, lesbian or bisexual.

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Chris Andersen 3 years, 4 months ago

I sometimes think that the death of Jack's grandson is a metaphore for the separation of Torchwood from the Doctor Who universe. The Doctor lives in a show that is, at its heart, a show for children (with a lot of very adult themes interlaced between it). Perhaps one way to separate Torchwood from this childish fixation was to literally kill a child.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 4 months ago

Late, never, etc - does it strike anyone that the 456 are RTD's riff of the Rills? Hideous creatures that live behind glass, shrouded in poison fog, and speaking through a voice synthesizer?

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

I couldn't help feeling that the Eleventh Doctor was a somehow more conservative (Tory) Doctor than the tenth, a kind of tweedy young old man with broadly conservative views.

That's the impression I got from his reaction to whatever he saw on Jeff's computer screen in "The Eleventh Hour." "Get a girlfriend" indeed.

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

I'm with David on this one. Moreover, what with all the enraged thrashing and fluid-spitting and drug-huffing, I get the sense they're not as stable as the rest of their behavior would suggest.

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

Not that anyone's still reading, but Philip, I just wanted to mention that after watching this a lot of your comments about the cast changes made a lot more sense to me, as does Jack's dour personality. It's really difficult to imagine Owen or Tosh in this story, for a variety of reasons, and it's also difficult to imagine Jack holding onto his joie de vivre considering what happened in 1965 (and the similar incidents that must have occurred over the years). Torchwood has really destroyed him.

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