Outside the Government: End of Days
It’s still New Year’s Day, essentially seconds after the close of Captain Jack Harkness, as Torchwood goes out with a two-hour finale event, running End of Days immediately after the preceding episode.
It’s very easy to take shots at End of Days, and some of them are even fair. It attempts to do an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink finale of the sort that Russell T Davies had already made standards elements of Doctor Who, only on a fraction of the budget, and it shows. “Weird things are falling through time all over the world” is a bigger concept than Torchwood can actually pull off, and all we actually get is an ornery Roman and some hazmat suits. It’s tempting to say that this is too big a concept for a one-hour slot, but that’s not really the problem – the problem is that Torchwood doesn’t have anything like the resources to show something this big. It’s trying to conjure a global threat in a show that has the budget, on a really good day, to have three guys in rubber masks lurching through the streets of Cardiff.
On top of that, the pacing wobbles considerably. Much of this is because it wants its third act twist of Abaddon rising up, which would probably have worked better if it had more than three minutes of screen time devoted to it, was remotely set up, and wasn’t a transparent knock-off of The Satan Pit. Instead most of this episode feels overcompressed, making things like the fact that Bilis doesn’t make a goddamn bit of sense more obvious than they should be. It turns out that the gambit of “keep the plot moving fast enough that there’s no time to notice the holes” is a more delicate game than it seemed. (My favorite is the fact that they’ve apparently upgraded security to require the butler’s retina print since the last episode.)
And, of course, there’s the character motivation, which requires that Owen’s several-episode idiot plot spontaneously become virulently contagious such that everybody – not just a grief-stricken Gwen, but every single person in Torchwood besides Captain Jack – simultaneously abandoning all semblance of common sense and thinking “if only we were to do the exact same thing that’s already nearly destroyed the world, that would probably fix everything.” This makes the intra-Torchwood conflict scenes something rather short of compelling, and as that’s the central drama of the episode, well, again, there are problems.
All of which said.
Let’s start with Abaddon and his role as a knock-off of the Beast in The Satan Pit. The phrase “knock-off” may undersell this slightly – Abaddon, another name for the devil, is said to be “chained in rock” and “cast out before time,” which isn’t so much copying The Satan Pit as explicitly referencing it. So, OK, apparently Krop Tor was just imprisoning one of several gigantic horned death beasts from before time. But if the episode is going to demand to be read in light of The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit then we may as well do so. That two-parter wasn’t just about the Doctor fighting Satan, though it was that – it was about the idea of a fundamental wrongness at the heart of things.
This idea has been bubbling in Torchwood for a while with its “something is coming through the darkness” business, and that’s clearly what End of Days is paying off with Abaddon. One of the wondrous spaces within Torchwood, in other words, is a space of wrongness – a Lovecraftian Other of cosmic horror. As with The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, this Other is framed in terms of Doctor Who – unleashed by a William Hartnell analogue, imprisoned under a rift in space and time, Abaddon embodies the horror underlying Torchwood – the way in which it is haunted by the show it spins off from.
Framed this way, most things make sense. We have a Doctor Who plot unfolding on a show full of characters who are simply not equipped to handle it. The key line is Jack’s calm assurance that this isn’t the end of the world – something he knows for a fact, and the other characters’ complete failure to be reassured by it. Jack is the sort of character who can handle this, and so remains basically calm through the entire story. Everybody else freaks the hell out, hence conflict. Eventually the plot resolves into an outright Doctor Who story, and Jack has it under control, although his solution is rather painful for him and, perhaps, not quite as good as whatever the Doctor might have figured out. The plot is out of control because, well, the plot actually is out of control. This is not a story that is supposed to be happening. The sense that this is too big an episode for Torchwood is, in fact, the point of the exercise.
The problem, however, is that the entire episode is weighted so that we see it from Jack’s perspective. This is perhaps inevitable – it’s the same problem that plagued Cyberwoman, certainly. The audience is more familiar with Doctor Who than Torchwood. Which means that when you do an episode where the whole point is that this is Doctor Who stuff then the audience reverts to Doctor Who logic, and thus bristles when Torchwood logic wins the day. And it’s exacerbated when the entire point of the episode is that Jack rises from his three days in hell and ascends into heaven, or, at least, his original show.
Which is to say that what really goes wrong here is that Torchwood doesn’t have the confidence in itself to do this sort of story as Torchwood. Captain Jack is, at the end of the day, known to be right. The world isn’t going to end. There aren’t going to be any major consequences, because Torchwood hasn’t decided to be the sort of show where they are. To be clear, I’m manifestly not complaining about the changed decisions to kill off Ianto and Rhys late in the season either. Both of those decisions would have been the epitome of safe television deaths, killing off the characters who are obviously set up to be sacrificial lambs requiring nothing more than a montage of the cast, grim-faced, set to a bad cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” before moving on.
No, the problem here is that Torchwood is ultimately a safe show. It’s a show where our loveable team may have Serious Emotional Dramas, but will not actually have anything disrupt the basic mechanism of the show. Torchwood is about a Five Man Band done exactly to TV Tropes standards, working out of their nice expensive Hub set, and that is all the show will be until it finally ends. Because in the end, all Torchwood is doing is marking time until Jack can get back onto Doctor Who and have his plot explained. Torchwood Season One is, in the end, hobbled by the fact that its big mystery is “what did Rose do to Jack,” which is a Doctor Who mystery, and this show isn’t Doctor Who. It traps it into being Doctor Who methadone – a weak fix to get you by until the real show comes back. If Torchwood is going to admit in its final scenes that it’s just been marking time until Doctor Who comes back, why should we care at all? Certainly not for the sake of the actual Torchwood cast, who spend the entire episode as blithering idiots.
And yet despite the problems there’s more to like here than not. As a Captain Jack story, at least, the final two episodes worked well, and while this doesn’t exactly reflect well on Torchwood as a whole, given Jack’s detachment in the first eleven episodes, a final two focused on him and leading into the third season of Doctor Who is not unreasonable. The rest of the cast was fairly well served by the lead-up of Torchwood, and the show’s unevenness ultimately hit everybody about evenly.
So what do we have after one season of Torchwood? Not a stone-cold classic by any measure, but a show that is at least reasonably interesting. Certainly reading the comments post after post has been interesting, with few episodes that aren’t Cyberwoman getting universal reprobation. This season seems to have basically pleased everybody some of the time, but, bizarrely, without ever pleasing everybody at once. But this varied approach is, in many ways, the show’s strength. Its first thirteen episodes are as diverse in approach as a show with its premise could feasibly be. It would have been very easy for Torchwood to take fewer risks than it did. Yes, not all of them came off, but you’ll never get two people to agree on which are which, and the result is that despite the show lacking confidence in what it is, it’s acquired an impressive arsenal of tools and approaches.
This is in many ways what makes the “safeness” of End of Days so frustrating. The primary virtue of Torchwood is that it isn’t safe. Its high points have been when it does things like take its moral center and make her unsympathetic and at times horrible. And so the decision to avoid having anything particularly serious happen in the final episode was particularly egregious. But put another way, the weakness of the final episode exposes just how good Torchwood actually was in its first season. The fact that it’s disappointing that its final episode is just a lead-in to Doctor Who speaks volumes about how well the show has quietly built up its own sense of self.
Which brings us back around to the brave decision the episode did make, which was to keep Rhys and Ianto alive. Killing Rhys for a cheap stunt would have been an easy way to make End of Days appear edgier, but it also would have removed the engine for most of the first season’s best scenes, which concerned Gwen’s work-life balance. (We’ll excuse the rather dire “Gwen locks Rhys up and inexplicably declines to explain anything, presumably intending to retcon him later anyway” scene in this episode.) Ianto showed less obvious potential in this season, but equally, the team dynamic without him is fundamentally less interesting. (And he had one of the season’s best lines, offering the correct pronunciation of Splot.) Either could have been killed without derailing the series’ premise, but equally, keeping them shows an awareness of what does work.
Which is what, exactly? A series that can juxtapose worlds almost as efficiently as Doctor Who, but that gives itself the baseline Doctor Who explicitly and deliberately lacks – the mundane and everyday world. The ability to actually juxtapose the wondrous and the everyday is quite a weapon, and moments like most of Ghost Machine, Suzie’s killing her father, large swaths of Out of Time, and the Gwen/Rhys scenes in Combat did things that no other show, including Doctor Who itself, can really do. Jack’s immortality lets it do truly interesting things with the concept of death, again played out beautifully in Out of Time and They Keep Killing Suzie – a strength that the show quickly realizes and starts playing towards. Gwen, for her part, is a magnificent character – very possibly the best female character that Davies ever created. And the show has its own pterodactyl.
Other things work in patches – Owen certainly has his moments, although on the whole nobody knew what to do with his character. Jack’s new waffling between being a darker character and being the camp action hero he was in Doctor Who is an interesting touch, even if it was hobbled by the show’s dependence on Doctor Who for its resolution.
And that’s Torchwood in its first season. Not great, but decidedly non-awful, and certainly interesting enough to justify a repeat engagement. And it expanded the reach of Doctor Who, which, one suspects, was a reasonable part of why the show has managed to remain at essentially the same ratings for seven seasons now, in defiance of all known laws of how television works. As first seasons go, it’s no worse than Doctor Who managed in 1963-64.
August 28, 2013 @ 12:35 am
I agree with a lot of this post, though I see the problems as larger and its saving graces as offering less in the way of redemption, but:
. Killing Rhys for a cheap stunt would have been an easy way to make End of Days appear edgier, but it also would have removed the engine for most of the first season’s best scenes, which concerned Gwen’s work-life balance.
They did kill Rhys for a cheap stunt. They just handwaved it away at the end of the episode, so that they could have their cheap stunt without having to work through the consequences of it. Which, as I've skirted around before, was always this first season's problem. It wanted to have everyone repeatedly at each other's throats so as to be Dark and Gritty and Realistic, but it rarely wanted to actually explore the fall-out from that (see also: stopwatch, surprising use of).
I'm entirely on board with the idea that killing Rhys would have left the show worse off (the scene where Gwen gives him Retcon being ironically the most the season ever did to explore the long-term effects of the characters' actions), but that doesn't make it a sensible choice to kill and then resurrect him.
But then I hate plots where I watch them without knowing whether everything is going to be magically waved away at the end, and I've never been able to get onboard with the argument that says as long as emotional consequences remain, that should suffice. Particularly on a show like Torchwood where the emotional consequences will likely be ignored or even contradicted, you're left with too little to hang on to. There's a reason Kenny's deaths in South Park are a running joke and not accompanied by sad music every time.
August 28, 2013 @ 1:03 am
I'd love to see a detailed breakdown of exactly who watched this first season of Torchwood, and what the crossover is with people who watch Doctor Who as well. Although Torchwood does fall back on it's relationship with Doctor Who when the going gets tough, it does still take pains to keep references to the strictly necessary and therefore court it's own audience…which seems to me to be made up of roughly the following groups:
Doctor Who fans who think it's inferior to Doctor Who
Doctor Who fans who think it's better than Doctor Who
People who don't watch Doctor Who
I have no interest in the first two (either they love it or they hate it, yawn), but I'd love to know what the third group think of it (and what percentage of the audience they were). It's almost impossible to get a non-DW fan assessment of Torchwood, as generally the only places you'll see it discussed are on Doctor Who forums, by Doctor Who fans who are incapable of doing anything other than plonking it down opposite the parent programme and playing "spot the difference". Even on a non-Who site such as DenofGeek the comments are exclusively from Who fans holding up a mirror to Who. Torchwood deserves to be compared to The Avengers, Ultraviolet, X-Files, Spooks, even The Tomorrow People or Doomwatch, but chained as it is to Doctor Who this is something we'll never see.
August 28, 2013 @ 4:23 am
Is there a space for "Doctor Who fans who only watched it because it was sorta connected to Doctor Who?"
For me, it wasn't about whether it was better/worse than "Who." Sure, my familiarity with the parent series colored my reactions to the changes in Jack's character and the goddamned Cyberwoman in platform heels. But I didn't need to compare it to "Who" to realize that it wasn't very good.
It was a show about unlikable people skulking in a hole in the ground, in which the apparent audience identification character committed the unpardonable sin of having an affair with the frog-faced misogynist. It was an "adult" show that was juvenile in its use of sex.
But yeah, it would be interesting to learn what non-"we" thought about the show, assuming that any of them watched it.
August 28, 2013 @ 4:36 am
Indeed, and this was a particular problem with Heroes, which was a bugger for not letting any of its supposedly devastating twists stick for very long. It can work, though; Charmed used to do it a lot, but it was always presented as "this is the puzzle of the week – how are they going to bring back the status quo?" Which had the bonus that the few times it did stick – Andy's death, the "Astral Monkey" episode or the beginning of season four – were some of the most powerful and memorable.
August 28, 2013 @ 4:56 am
I find it difficult to imagine that very many non-Who fans watched this. Given the sheer size of Who's viewership, the number of people in Britain who didn't watch Who was pretty small, and probably mostly made up of people who don't watch television, people who don't like science fiction, people who don't like Doctor Who, and grumpy classic series fans who refuse to watch Davies' version. None of those groups seem likely to even start watching Torchwood, let alone enjoy it enough to keep watching. MAYBE the five people who think Saward had it right, seeing as Torchwood is basically the Saward era with sex instead of violence, but that's not going to be a significant part of Torchwood's audience.
August 28, 2013 @ 5:02 am
I watched this season of Torchwood while Season 3 of Doctor Who was airing. I have not watched any of it since.
This is the only episode of which I remember the premise, general story, and resolution, which I suppose makes it the most memorable episode of the season? I don't think that's actually a good thing, though I do remember wondering if Abaddon killed Jack enough times repeatedly, would he die for good? My brain ran into this weird Fullmetal Alchemist-inspired space where Rose had actually meant to resurrect everyone who died in the Dalek attack, but instead accidentally resurrected them all in Jack, and he got one resurrection for each of them.
This inevitably led to comparisons of Jack to Hohenheim, which I can't remember how they went then, but if I did it now Jack would come off very much the poorer.
August 28, 2013 @ 5:09 am
I remember my reaction being 'THIS is the 'adult' spinoff?' SJA seemed much more comfortable within its 'childrens TV' remit to deal with some quite 'grown-up' issues (adoption, bullying, being 'differently abled, racism, etc); just like its parent show. Torchwood on the other hand was like a bad DC Vertigo imprint comic – interpreting 'adult' as meaning clche Sci-Fi plot with naughty words, semi-nudity and bad sex.
August 28, 2013 @ 5:23 am
the number of people in Britain who didn't watch Who was pretty small
Eh? 85-90% of the country don't watch any given episode of Doctor Who!
August 28, 2013 @ 5:57 am
This. A thousand times this.
August 28, 2013 @ 6:01 am
Yes, but something like 50% of the country will watch at least one episode per series, if I recall correctly.
Which still leaves a fair few people, but as Froborr says it's hard to imagine why those people would avoid Who but latch on to Torchwood.
In the US I gather it was a bit different, with a fair number of Torchwood fans either never watching Doctor Who, or coming to Who via Torchwood.
August 28, 2013 @ 6:01 am
You might be able to forgive Gwen but I sure can't. I'll be honest: The first time she slips Rhys retcon, I was upset but willing to give a pass. Here, where she is obviously intending to come back and do it again is just a bridge too far. After this point I never quite bought in to her as a moral center. She's as bad as Owen.
August 28, 2013 @ 6:23 am
"Is there a space for "Doctor Who fans who only watched it because it was sorta connected to Doctor Who?"
Well yes, the first two groups. Regardless of your feelings about the show, you're going to have an opinion (no matter how slight) of which show is better.
As to the size of Who's viewership, well the UK's population in 2006 was about 60 Million, and Who was generally watched by 5-8 Million viewers…which as peeeeeeet points out is only about 10%. Season 1 of Torchwood pulled in between 1 and 2.5 Millions, which means between 1.7 and 4% of the UK watched it.
So…no more than 10% of Doctor Who viewers watched Torchwood as well (of if you like 90% of Doctor Who viewers didn't watch Torchwood).
However if you concentrate on online forums and blogs, it's fairly rare to find Who fans who don't also watch Torchwood, judging by comments.
So the 80% of Who viewers who don't watch Torchwood are probably either children, adults who watch with children, or people who don't consider themselves the type of "fans" who post on forums.
BARB probably know which viewers watch Who but don't watch TW, but unless someone has asked them to provide that information, and it's been published somewhere, then I guess we'll never know.
August 28, 2013 @ 6:53 am
Yes, but something like 50% of the country will watch at least one episode per series, if I recall correctly.
I doubt it's that high – unless I'm doing my maths wrong that would require at best a complete turnover of around two million – i.e. each episode is watched by two million people who won't watch a single other one that year. That would actually harm Froborr's point further since I doubt those people would describe themselves as "people who watch Doctor Who". If we assume a more mixed turnover, i.e. some of them watch two episodes a year, some watch three, that would bring the regular audience down even further (but at this point my ability to do the sums leaves me).
August 28, 2013 @ 7:21 am
Abaddon, another name for the devil, is said to be “chained in rock” and “cast out before time,” which isn’t so much copying The Satan Pit as explicitly referencing it.
Plus Abaddon is called "Son of the Beast"; so not so much a knock-off as a chip off.
August 28, 2013 @ 7:27 am
And the show has its own pterodactyl
They call it a pterodactyl, but what they show is clearly a pteranodon. But "Wedding of River Song" does the same thing.
August 28, 2013 @ 7:32 am
it would be interesting to learn what non-"we" thought about the show, assuming that any of them watched it
I have several friends who only watch Torchwood (and who like it a lot) and don't watch Doctor Who (on the grounds that DW is for kids).
August 28, 2013 @ 9:25 am
What really bothers me is the fact Jack is totally different when he swaps shows, and the end of "End of Days" highlights Jack's Plot Convenience… namely when he comes back to life. If it's more dramatic to have him not come back to life for ages, then it happens. Other times it's within seconds. Other times it's really painful and loud. Other times it's totally silent (like when he comes back to life after dying with Ianto in Series 3 – convenient, to fit the scene). Hmm.
August 28, 2013 @ 1:07 pm
He does seem to know when to come back loudly and when to keep it quiet, even though he's dead at the time. Like on the Crucible when he's just been exterminated and he revives without making a sound, so the Daleks don't exterminate him again, allowing him to slide out of the waste disposal unseen. Which makes one wonder why Daleks have a waste disposal unit anyway, since they don't have much use for organic matter. It's not like they have dirty dishes or laundry. Also why can the waste disposal be opened from the inside? He'd look a right arse if he couldn't get out and had to just sit inside there burning up over and over again.
August 28, 2013 @ 5:08 pm
Phil, do you plan to cover The Light at the End?
August 28, 2013 @ 5:56 pm
In one book or another.
August 28, 2013 @ 6:22 pm
Have a thousand more on me.
August 28, 2013 @ 6:36 pm
The one aspect of Torchwood that never fails to get my hackles up is when it is described as "Doctor Who for adults" (and in particular the way Davies pushed this description by adding a snide "I'm not allowed to call it" at the front).
The way I always put it is:
Doctor Who is Doctor Who for adults.
Torchwood is Doctor Who for teenagers.
August 28, 2013 @ 9:42 pm
Torchwood-first fan here! I started out with Torchwood, never having heard of Doctor Who, or even properly seen a sci-fi-series. But then, of course, I started watching Doctor Who… well, actually only because it was connected to Torchwood. I guess in a way I still qualify as "people who watch Doctor Who", since I do now, but I have been thinking repeatedly during the Torchwood posts how different things seemed to me, having no Doctor Who to compare it to.
August 29, 2013 @ 1:26 am
This always bothered me as well. It's not just the head-crest that gives it away, either. A pterodactyl produces a significantly different K-KLAK to that of a pteranodon.
August 29, 2013 @ 1:27 am
Waste disposal units are to Dalek plungers what stress-balls are to human hands.
August 29, 2013 @ 2:24 am
SpaceSquid wins today's Interweb.
September 4, 2013 @ 7:58 am
I’ve come to the party after everyone’s gone home as usual, but thought I’d pop in on the assumption that, as you’ve rather summed it up here, you probably won’t do a ‘Not a review blog’ for this. So here are a few comments across that season, looking at my own sort of ‘Not a review blog’ for it. I never got round to full Torchwood reviews of my own, either, but I did write a critical look at the whole first series, which takes a more critical line than yours.
To be fair, as always you come up with a good few points of redemptive reading that had me nodding, as did comments on this one by, particularly, Spacewarp, David Thiel and Theonlyspiral, and most of all BerserkRL’s terrible gag about Abaddon, which is brilliant.
I’ll jump in backwards on End of Days, where I think both that you’ve got a fascinating point I’d not thought of and that you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. The good bit first: the two-part analysis of Bilis Manger (an anagram of the Muslim Devil + Manger, from which a pretty rough Beast is bound to slouch towards Cardiff to be born) as a figure of Doctor Who and how he and all he brings intrudes on this show is a great redemptive reading. Like all great redemptive readings, I don’t believe for an instant that it was intentional, but that makes it all the more fascinating.
I’ll come back to your “Framed this way, most things make sense. We have a Doctor Who plot unfolding on a show full of characters who are simply not equipped to handle it” in a minute.
I suppose I have to come in on Chris Chibnall here. End of Days is I suppose the best of his Series One scripts, in part because it’s difficult to mess up a mash-up of Roman centurions, stomping beasties and sinister villains, and in retrospect I find it a more successful finale on its own terms than one of Russell’s and a couple of Mr Moffat’s. But it’s all so utterly predictable. Essentially, as the shape of it demands a Buffy-style ‘Big Bad’, the Rift tediously becomes a hellmouth, with a demon coming out and being – who’d have guessed? – easily overcome. And why exactly was it a brainless, lumbering beastie? In the previous year’s Doctor Who, The Beast had no mind because its thoughts had escaped elsewhere. Predictably, Mr Chibnall appears to have seen this, but thought no further than ‘Cool!’ at the way it looks. So that was the first series of Torchwood all over – all the spectacle of Doctor Who but with its brain extracted.
To be continued…
September 4, 2013 @ 8:00 am
Chris Chibnall’s the easiest thing to focus on for ‘what went wrong’ in the first year, but not out of what you dismiss as just fan hate for him under Countrycide. I’d seen things of his before that I’d liked, so I didn’t come to him with any animus – just as I’d seen Doctor Who, and came to the first series of Torchwood with much enthusiasm. It wasn’t out of ‘fan hate’ that I felt both came up short, and the series shortest when he was writing, but just out of, well, watching it. To be fair, I reckon both have done much better since – in Mr Chibnall’s case, while I wouldn’t overpraise his Who scripts last year, I thought he was noticeably trying much harder and they were no more flawed than the three scripts alongside them from his much more celebrated fellow writers, and I’ve written at length about how Broadchurch is a very strong and unexpectedly deep piece of writing.
So when I think his scripts are the nadir of the first year, it’s not based on prejudice but simple judgement. You write both that Torchwood’s an anthology series, praising its “varied approach,” and that “Torchwood doesn’t have the confidence in itself to do this sort of story as Torchwood.” Well, the one’s the corollary of the other, and a large part of it’s that in this season it’s not made up its mind what ‘doing something as Torchwood’ actually is yet. Or, rather, that it’s settled into two mutually incompatible generalisations about what the series is. If you separate Series One in two – scripts by Chris Chibnall / scripts by everyone else – you’ll have one series that’s an anthology of sad, elegiac stories of people (human or not) and very human emotions, the other a monster-of-the-week anthology aimed at the horny straight male fourteen-year-old with violence, swearing and cheap sex for which ‘story’ only gets in the way. The only way I can understand the series being in effect two different ones being made for completely different audiences is that most of the writers took to the original pitch given by the show’s creator but that the showrunner had a fundamentally different conception.
However, my biggest problem with Torchwood is a much more central one even than its lead writer: it’s Captain Jack. Yes, I can see the character development after being killed and abandoned for a century. It’s not implausible. I just don’t like it, and think it throws out the baby with the bathwater. I grit my teeth every time you say he was “camp”; well, no, not unless you just bi-erasingly mean ‘gay’. I remember a lot of people saying way back in 2005 that he was great because he was a confident, shaggable action hero who wasn’t straight and wasn’t camp; if anything, the overdone ‘Dark Knight’ posing once he lost his mojo is what I’d say is camp. And lost him most of his libido, too.
To be concluded…
September 4, 2013 @ 8:01 am
Torchwood Series One had exactly the wrong idea about Captain Jack Harkness. He was created almost as a send-up of a Hollywood version of the Doctor – traveller in time and space, but a uniformed secret agent, impossibly handsome and with sex – but though he keeps the uniform and the looks in Torchwood, and is now in charge of his own bunch of blatantly obvious agents, something vital’s missing. People went for Captain Jack because he looked like he was having as much fun as a human could have. It took the Doctor to make him heroic, but even before then he blazed with charm and confidence, and he absolutely loved what he did. And a lot of what he did was to have sex with anything alive, so long as it was gorgeous enough. He was the embodiment of exuberant sexual liberation.
The Captain Jack we see in Torchwood might not have aged to look at, but he’s at least a hundred years older, lost, abandoned and hopeless, but bizarrely in charge and serious rather than a cheeky charmer, a Buffy-in-Season-Six lead who’s been restored to life only for life to lose all its savour. He may do the same sort of things, but it’s just going through the motions, and even the sex (which he gets much less of than the rest) is because he just wants to feel alive. And that’s how I respond to your line about people not being equipped to handle a Doctor Who sort of world: in Doctor Who, the Doctor inspires people; in Torchwood, a human has been crushed by the responsibility of trying to be like the Doctor. This Captain Jack is suicidal, and even more depressed because, as he’s now indestructible, killing himself doesn’t work. Now, where’s the fun in that?
One of the reasons I love the three-part Doctor Who 2007 finale is Jack’s “Oh, I’ve missed this!” – so had I.
The flipside of Jack’s fall is that he provides the series’ themes. There are two that regularly spring out of the episodes, one about something fun that it makes gloomy, the other about something gloomy that it makes intriguing. The first? ‘Sex is bad’. It’s nasty, and shameful, and addictive, and the only reason to do it is to distract yourself from the things in life that are even more depressing. Well, gee; I knew Torchwood had been set up by Queen Victoria, but there’s no need to make it so obvious! The second theme is, thankfully, the best thing about the first series. Though largely abandoned after that until coming back relentlessly in Miracle Day, Torchwood Series One was ‘the life after death show’. The start of that, clearly, was Captain Jack, but episode after episode looks at people or things surviving beyond death, and it tests from every angle whether there’s anything there at all. One of those themes, going back to what I said above, ties in with what you might call the ‘Chibnall’ sort of theme, the other with the ‘elegy’ theme (though even two of Mr Chibnall’s scripts played with life after death, if more dumbly). And having been rather too negative, as I do praise several individual episodes in my own overview, I’ll draw to a close by saying that the zenith of the strain of the show I liked in its first year was They Keep Killing Suzie, which was an absolutely terrific piece of television and one of the reasons I kept watching.
“And the show has its own pterodactyl.”
Which they killed off, ‘off’, in Cyberwoman, a mess-up so crass they had to retcon it. Which says a lot about a first season which, despite having far more goodwill and BBC support behind it, was a desperately long way behind the ideas or the successes of 1963-4.
As Sarah Jane said on the same day, “They tend to go in, guns blazing. I just think there’s a better way of doing it.”
September 12, 2014 @ 6:44 am
I started watching Torchwood before DW, because I was moving to Cardiff and was really interested in the city. I know next to nothing about the Doctor. I only started watching DW later, because I didn't understand some things. I think only after Children of Earth.
In the beginning I thought that Torchwood was better, because DW felt very silly, like it didn't take itself seriously. I made my boyfriend watch with me and he thought both shows kinda sucked but that DW sucked more.
I think we both changed our opinions with time. I'd say that rationally I can see that DW is better but Torchwood seems much more emotional for me, probably because I watched it first. DW does have the awesome time travel element which simply fascinates me, to the point that I frequently dream about the Doctor, the TARDIS, and companions stranded in timey-wimey paradoxes.
September 12, 2014 @ 6:47 am
Fuck, I mean, I KNEW next to nothing…
December 6, 2014 @ 10:23 am
Alex, there's probably little chance you've subscribed to notifications or will ever see this, but what you say about Captain Jack and the first season's sex-negativity and dourness — so totally spot on about what's missing. I'm reading this because I've only just now finished season one, so so late to the party, and actually enjoyed most of it a lot more than I expected to. I'll definitely keep watching at least till the end of Children of Earth, but I couldn't agree more that what it's chiefly lacking is Captain Jack's sense of humor and joie de vivre.