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Torchwood: Children of Earth

July 10th, 2009 (10:07 pm)
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Russell T Davies's misanthropy bore through particularly in Day Five: depicting a world where social cohesion is based on lies - Ianto's fantasy about his father being a master tailor was one symptom of a wider malaise in the human condition. If there is a slender hope for redemption, it lies in the smaller scale, in the lives of Rhys and Gwen and of Rhiannon and Johnny. Only the dysfunctional, paranoid and emotionally crippled function in the larger institutional sphere; redemption comes with a bullet from a gun.

BBC 1's continuity announcer emphasized that this episode should not have been watched by children' the sight of Captain Jack Harkness, a character rooted in Doctor Who and in that context a children's hero, deliberately sacrificing his own grandson to defeat the 456 somewhat compromises his credentials with that audience. nwhyte has already pointed out the Jesus parallel at the end, with Jack travelling the world before ascending to the spacecraft in the sky, but at the crucial moment Jack was not crucified himself, and his grandson did not inherit Jack's recuperative powers. Gwen, though, pointed out that the parallel is not exact; Jack, unlike the resurrected Jesus, was explicitly running away from Earth, a planet that had become to him a graveyard. Gwen represents hope for humanity; in the end, in Torchwood, contemporary humanity has to help itself, without futuristic visitors like Jack or godlike aliens like the absent Doctor.

Nonetheless this was an extremely powerful series, laden with several genuinely shocking moments and more credible relationships than previous series of Torchwood. The five episodes gave the characters room to breathe. Ianto benefited from being given a family; Gwen from being given Lois to bounce off, with Lois's role having some parallels to the one Gwen might have had in the first series. Paul Copley and Peter Capaldi in particular were excellent in their roles, and Ian Gelder's resemblance to John Spencer of The West Wing helped him come across as an embittered and defeatist version of Leo McGarry in the shape of Dekker. I wasn't too impressed with Cush Jumbo as Lois, but liked the character and would have liked her released from her cell, but it's difficult to see what she could have done at the climax - she would surely have been traumatized by Jack's murder of Stephen, and it would have been inappropriate to have her share Alice's agony, which had to be solitary. Susan Brown's Bridget Spears will stay in the memory as a portrait of self-controlled efficiency.

The status of Torchwood was left ambiguous at the end of tonight's episode; it's not clear whether Gwen now is Torchwood Cardiff, or whether there is a new team of some sort, or whether Torchwood has been stood down (but what of the Scottish branch? I always imagined that the strange man who runs it is a Zygon from the shores of Loch Ness...) Jack will be back as John Barrowman was seen in costume shooting David Tennant's last Doctor Who, but in what circumstances we know not.

Comments

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)

It was an unoriginal highly manipulative riff on ideas that have been around in SF for years, and have been done far better, both on the page and on TV.

I didn't believe any of it - particularly the last episode, was not moved by it and certainly was not scared by it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)

I think your views and mine are unlikely often to coincide, sadly. Manipulative, yes, but that's in the nature of the beast. I am happy to say that I was scared by some of it and I was moved by all sorts of moments.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)

There's also a certain parallel to Martha-- she walked the world, too-- if we want to look intertextually. Though Jack has always been a Christ figure analogue, so... *shrugs*

I'm sort of assuming that Gwen and Lois are running things in TW: Cardiff (presumably beginning by picking up the rubble). Jack was too far into emotional shutdown to have been useful. Perhaps Martha's joined them.

Ian Gelder's resemblance to John Spencer of The West Wing helped him come across as an embittered and defeatist version of Leo McGarry in the shape of Dekker.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that! Nick Briggs getting in there too was very nice.

On the whole...I'm not sure how I feel about the mini. Most of the ambiguity is because of Ianto's death-- I adore the character and his relationship with Jack-- and there were certainly certain derivative/repetetive aspects (oh, look, the government are evil) but it was reasonably well-done. I think it may depend ultimately on where things go from here. I'm curious how it'll be handled when we see Jack in DT's last ep...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)

It's not so much that 'the government are evil' in the usual television science fiction and fantasy sense of deliberate wrongdoing on a large scale with broad strokes, as that a series of damage limitation exercises, stretching back forty years, spell out that there can be no such thing as lesser and greater evils. Characters like Brian Green and John Frobisher came across as credible because the actors recognized that Russell T Davies, I think, really believes that people are like this. He's admitted that he doesn't wholeheartedly believe in the optimistic message of Doctor Who; people are led into wrongdoing by the herd mentality and the wish not to be torn apart by the rest of the pack, as we saw blatantly in Midnight and in more detail here. Salvation comes from relationships with other people where the balance of power is as good as equal as can be.

Martha's own role as a Christ analogue was seen last year in Reset when she was crucified...

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)

I didn't see it as particularly misanthropic (as opposed to miserable!) myself, possibly because I have a weakness for "character damns self to save world" which Frobisher and in the end Jack both managed to hit (Jack as anti-Jesus ;-) ). But I can see what you mean about RTD - after all, it is Johnson's choosing to do good that gets Stephen killed.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)

Thinking of that, Jack is almost the ultimate in dichotomy; redemtive antihero who does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, who is damned to walk the world (in this context, live forever) after dying for other people's (i.e., Nine and Rose meddling in 'The Long Game,' plus the Time War) sins. So, it almost makes sense for him to be both christ figure/saviour and antichrist figure/destroyer simultaneously.

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
edward cullen

I'm now wondering if RTD is familiar with the figure of the Wandering Jew.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 11:44 am (UTC)

Certainly, and particularly with reference to Doctor Who - I think both Tom Baker and Paul McGann have compared the Doctor to the Wandering Jew (Baker's father was Jewish) and Jack regards the Doctor as his role model.

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)

Interesting - clearly I am not up on my Who-lore!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)

Whether you want to be as immersed in it as me is probably questionable at best...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
Torchwood

Jack's problem, in contrast to that of Frobisher, is that he has to go on living in the world. At the end of the story, though, he knows that for the moment he can't live up to Gwen's expectations (which are probably higher in his own estimation than hers) and so 'runs away', for the moment. (It's uncertain as to whether Jack meets the Doctor again on Earth or in space - John Barrowman was seen in costume but I think his shots were location interiors also involving aliens, and the final Doctor Who of the Tennant era is likely to be a somewhat surreal story in parts).

I'd missed Johnson's decision as a turning point, but it is; and it follows on from Clem's death, which is itself the key to the defeat of the 456 via the use of Stephen. (The first martyr...)

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 11:15 am (UTC)

I'm still catching up on posts about the series, but one thing that strikes me is people stating that it was unnecessary for Jack to condemn Stephen, and that it is as effective for the 11 children to have died in 1965. Whereas I thought that the point about Stephen is that Jack doesn't actually make the decision to condemn him now - he made it in 1965. What he is faced with in the present is accepting the consequences of that earlier, unheeding act.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 13th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)

It took a little while for that to sink in - that by condemning the twelve (this is all very Christian, isn't it) Jack set in train the events which will lead to him killing his grandson. Jack has reformed himself and Torchwood but can't wipe away his own past, and he is some way from coming to terms with that.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)

He's admitted that he doesn't wholeheartedly believe in the optimistic message of Doctor Who; people are led into wrongdoing by the herd mentality and the wish not to be torn apart by the rest of the pack, as we saw blatantly in Midnight and in more detail here. Salvation comes from relationships with other people where the balance of power is as good as equal as can be.

true-- and I agree with him on all counts-- I just meant that we'd seen this sort of thing before; the variants on power corrupting. I do enjoy the personalisation of it, though, since I've known too many people in power positions to ever be fooled into thinking of them as absolutely good or evil. Sympathetic villains and antiheroes FTW.

Martha's own role as a Christ analogue was seen last year in Reset when she was crucified...

Oh yes. Which would make Owen Longinus, then, which is interesting. I've decided to watch all three seasons of TW over the next week, just to wrap my brain around the series' progression. (And also, possibly, to get some of this fic jumpstarted and thus out of my brain...)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Torchwood

I think the familiarity, and the particular familiarity, of the 'variants on power corrupting' are part of RTD's authorial signature - it's a recognizable concern of his, something he repeats time and again and what we and the BBC expect from him, certainly. I don't really have any complaints either. The grasp of the personal, and the idea that the personal and the intimate can really drive the world to being somewhere better if we only realise it, are also very RTD and very much present here.

I've just looked up Longinus - where did you see the Owen parallel? There must be something I'm forgetting...

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)

Wasn't it Longinus who drove the spear into Christ on the cross? I'm thinking or the scalpel thing that Owen had to use on Martha when she was 'crucified.'

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
Our Lady of the Weasels

Yes, he was. And also the "Truly, this man was the Son of God" chap.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)

Of course - I'd forgotten that sequence, but you are right. That episode was full of religious symbolism, with Jack and Martha both pointing up at the sky to acknowledge their relationship with the Doctor in a way associated with references to God.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)

I'm starting to feel quite sorry for RTD, given what seems to be an almost Calvinist belief in the depravity of humanity without a particularly effective, or morally tolerable, doctrine of redemption...

Not that I should be commenting on the matter, given that I haven't seen the episode!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC)

To be honest I often feel the same way as he seems to; but I'd much rather not, and I am more keen to look for counter-evidence than I find him.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 10th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
Tardis

He's always struck me as the sort of atheist who is very hurt and angry with God for not existing - the numerous almost-but-not-quite-Christ figures in his work are oddly reminiscent of someone poking at the hole in a bad tooth to see when it's going to start to hurt...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
Davison Clock

Ah... I'm more hurt by holding human beings to too high a standard, including myself. I've become more conscious of this in recent years, and am trying to find a way of changing for the better.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
Schönste Turm

Sorry, there I go, dragging God into everything, as usual!

There's a character in one of Charles Williams' novels who explains his belief in Christianity on the grounds that 'it allowed him to think poorly of himself and other people, while thinking well of the universe as a whole, so that he simultaneously had the advantages of the pessimist and the optimist.'

Or words to that effect; very cynically expressed, but I admit that I can see the point. And I shall now shut up about theology.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)

Be as theological as you like...!

I like what Williams's character says, though I'd try to find a less cynical way of putting it; thinking realistically, rather than pessimistically/optimistically, I'd hope, whatever that might mean.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)

Well, the character was being somewhat self-mocking at the time...

I'm now trying to remember which book that was; I think it was the one about the Holy Grail.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)

Is that one War in Heaven? Naciens the Hermit strongly recommended that one back in Arthurian Society days.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 11th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
Books

Yes, it is - and that's where the quote comes from, having spent part of the evening reading it... It's a rather odd book, but good. There's an Archdeacon who is an almost Eckhartian model of detachment...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)

I dipped into some of Williams's Byzantium poems, but I think I missed a lot of the meaning.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 08:46 am (UTC)

Williams' Byzantium poems are borderline incomprehensible, if you ask me.... *is low-brow*

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)

You are the last person I would consider low-brow. On the other hand, I tend to suspect that I am coasting on the goodwill of others...

...and as for the poems, from what I recall I noticed Williams's sense of Arthurian Britain as part of a Byzantine world, anticipating the ideas of some latterday archaeologists about fifth- and sixth-century Cornwall. The theology will have gone right over my head, I expect.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
last of the timelords hand gesture

Well, Williams' theology is generally quite obscure anyway; he spent a long period hanging about with the Rosicrusians and the Golden Dawn mob, so there are some rather off-beat influences on him (and an awful lot of mysticism, some orthodox, some less so).

I tend to suspect that I am coasting on the goodwill of others...


Oh, nonsense!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)

he spent a long period hanging about with the Rosicrusians and the Golden Dawn mob

Sadly he only appears on page 256 alone of Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon, noting that Williams's theological thrillers become more hostile to magic as they go along, and commenting on his non-fiction work of 1941, Witchcraft, as "based upon minimal research"; it described magic as a "perverted way of the soul".

Oh, nonsense!

True, and self-indulgent to have reported it; though I nonetheless feel it sometimes.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: July 12th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
CS Lewis - till we have faces

noting that Williams's theological thrillers become more hostile to magic as they go along,

I'm not sure about that, actually. Admittedly the nastiest magician crops up in Williams' last book ("All Hallows Eve", which is probably also his best novel), but I think Williams was fairly consistent in finding magic problematic because it's about power and control, rather than about love. I'm sure a pagan would find this to be an unfair account, though the contrast between "Do what thou willt shall be the whole of the law" (Crowley) and "Love, and do what you will" (Augustine) is striking. Of course, (a) there's a lot more to the various forms of paganism than Crowley, who strikes me as a self-dramatist, and (b) Crowley also said "Love is the law, love under will" - but I still think the latter clause is back-to-front. (Both quotes are from "The Book of the Law").

I've only read a little of Williams' theology - the book on mysticism, "The Descent of the Dove" is interesting theology, but it's not as historical as it seems to think it is, and the "Outlines of Romantic Theology", which is an interesting attempt at a theological exploration of romantic love. Rather an odd book, I think, though it's a long time since I've read it.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: July 14th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
K9

in that context a children's hero, deliberately sacrificing his own grandson to defeat the 456 somewhat compromises his credentials with that audience.

And not only withn that audience either. Although what struck me as underdeveloped, though probably very miportant in terms of motivation is the implications of Jack's longevity. The immortality bit was played almost ad nauseam, but we did not really get to see what it it means to be *alive* for him. There is a hint in his dismissive comments to Ianto's questions ("I've done many things"). But that's it. But his long life also gives him a different perspective on the world, one where the individual matters much less than it does for us. This allowed him both to hand over the kids in 1965 and to make the personal sacrifice here, something that various decision mkers were unable to do (even Frobisher's final act is one of running away). We have seen him do this before, in the fairy epoisode of series 1.
It is not that Jack does not care, but he cares differently.

The status of Torchwood was left ambiguous at the end of tonight's episode

It all felt pretty final to me when I watched it, but it is interesting that Martha has been explicitly mentioned as being just temporarily unavailable, surely Rhys must be a member by now, and I think you have a point about Lois... Would that make Bridget their new "man" in Whitehall?
(I assume they ditched somewhere Mickey on the way...)

It all still looks pretty final for the series though - no wonder John Barrowman is somewhat miffed!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: July 14th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)

It is not that Jack does not care, but he cares differently.

I think that's a good point, and I think that the other characters recognize it - The Guardian's blogger noticed that Alice didn't put up much of a fight when Stephen was used as the resonator; that's open to interpretation, I think, but I don't think it's Jack's decision alone at which she is disgusted, but the inhumanity of someone who is a 'fixed point in time and space'.

I don't think the series is necessarily over - we'll never have jolly Hub-based adventures again, though, I expect.