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Torchwood 1.12: Captain Jack Harkness

January 9th, 2007 (11:51 pm)

'Out of Time' established time travel within the Torchwood format, associating it firmly with the Rift; precedent thus allows 'Captain Jack Harkness' to take Jack and Toshiko back in time and for the audience to take the explanation that the journey is somehow Rift-related without needing further detail. This leaves Torchwood free to tell a story about development of character and backstory without too much technobabble, though in this episode and the next the detail of how the Rift is used to send Tosh and Jack back to 1941 is not explained. Solving the theoretical mystery is second to the practical question of rescuing Jack and Tosh with the technology at Torchwood's disposal, and it's not apparent to Ianto until late in the episode that one person has engineered the situation in order to encourage Torchwood to open the Rift. Science and magic overlap; the missing element of the Rift Manipulator, which has somehow come into Bilis's possession (did he work for Torchwood once? but how old is the Rift Manipulator? how old is Bilis?), is hidden within a clock among a collection of timepieces, as if an object (suggesting to me E. Nesbit's amulet) could contain the unsteady relationship between the human measurement of time and absolute time. Toshiko completes her equation in blood, investing time travel with a necromantic aura reminiscent of Doctor Who's 'Silver Nemesis' back in 1988. The Rift Manipulator itself looks as if it contains the same technology as the TARDIS, which is probably deliberate. There is a long game being played here.

"He does look a bit out of his time. He wears a cravat." So, thanks to Gwen, now we know how to spot someone untrustworthy and likely to be playing around with time. I have a cravat like Bilis's somewhere, and a blue blazer, so there's a career move to consider. Writing up Murray Melvin's portrayal of Bilis as an off-the-shelf fey eccentric would be too easy and miss the sensitivity of the performance. There's something in his delivery that suggests someone who has to concentrate on language, as if all environments are foreign to Bilis and that he needs to be deliberate in his choice of words to provide an anchor. An impression is created of control; otherworldliness is manipulated as threat.

Murray Melvin is best known for his award-winning role as Geoffrey in A Taste of Honey, a breakthrough for the portrayal of homosexuals on film, and so his casting itself supports the telling of the story about the original Captain Jack Harkness and his uncertainty about expressing his sexuality. I've recently read The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, and her character of Duncan Pearce, in different circumstances, struggles with his homosexuality in a society which expects gay men to refer to each other by feminine pronouns and adopt intersexual clothing and a flamboyance at odds with Pearce's sensitivity. 1941's Jack Harkness is a man, and a conscientious RAF officer known for his bravery but anxious for the security and safety of his subordinates. His persona is thus caught between gung-honess and a pastoral care which could be interpreted with hindsight as mothering. Our Jack, confident in his omnisexuality and disturbed by his foreknowledge of Harkness's fate and his own immortality, misses Harkness's deep self-doubt until very late in the day. This is consistent with a characterization from John Barrowman which has been distant and subtly distracted throughout. With this in mind it's not surprising that Naoko Mori's smiles when Jack assures Toshiko that he will look after her in 1940s London are uncertain ones. Russell T Davies, on Torchwood Declassified, jokes that this episode is a gag, because the only man Captain Jack Harkness would fall in love with would be another Captain Jack Harkness, and Jack is effectively here falling in love with himself. This isn't how it's played; if Jack is in love, it's with qualities he sees in the man whose name he took, which he knows are lacking in himself. It's something of a cliche, of course, but while the doubts of the 1941 Jack are resolved, his namesake in the series' present is left with the emptiness at his centre exposed. (I typed this before I saw John Barrowman say effectively the same thing on Declassified, if you are wondering.)

The kiss between the two Jacks was dramatically successful within the context of the episode's closed world, but its consequences in 1941 would surely have involved Harkness's men expressing doubts in his leadership and refusing to fly with him or obey his orders. Did Jack Harkness indirectly cause the death of his namesake by kissing him in the middle of the dance hall? Or did Harkness survive and has Jack changed history? I agree with ladyofastolat that a kiss in an empty corridor would have sufficed and been more true to the demands of the period, but the episode demanded that Jack Harkness fly into his death confident of and in his own identity; that he was no longer living a lie. Alas for his blonde would-be sweetheart Nancy. I didn't really view the episode as a romance, which is how the production team present it on Declassified, but as a way of foregrounding Jack and the Rift in readiness for the series' conclusion, and so intertwining world crisis and personal crisis in the kind of haphazard embrace which characterises the Torchwood world.


Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: January 10th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)

My impression was that the kiss took place while time was frozen as the rift opened, and was not therefore directly witnessed by the bystanders. There was also an interesting thread on OG about how homosexuality was tolerated in wartime cos of the need for good soldiers above all else - a book was cited, Coming Out Under Fire. Obviously I haven't read it, but its findings were summarised by various posters and make interesting reading. Nonetheless, the apparent social context of the kiss was implausible. I really did think that some odd stuff was happening with time at the, er, time.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 10th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)

I think the kiss was witnessed by everyone - after all they have stopped dancing and seem to be standing there watching (rather than frozen - but I think I'll need to re-watch the scene). They have ceratinly noticed the two dance with each other, which would probably have sufficed to demonstrate their sexuality in that social context.

I wondered about the consequences, but originally thought there was minmal damage, since our Jack goes back through the rift while the other one is about to die, so neither will be around to face the consequences. I hadn't spotted the problem of the soldiers under his command, which parrot-knight points out, so the suggestion that this knid of thing may have been tolerated among the men offers some consolation.


Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: January 11th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
Italian hobbit

As there was nothing else on telly, I rewatched it three nights in a row and checked out the background, and the bystanders weren't frozen. There is one couple where the man is looking faintly horrified and the woman has an "Aw, bless" look on her face, which I suspected might be a nod to the fangirls!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 10th, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)

"I have a cravat like Bilis's somewhere, and a blue blazer, so there's a career move to consider."

You'll have to work on the dodgy hairstyle and the creepy smile a bit, though ;-)


Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: January 10th, 2007 11:49 pm (UTC)

I used the outfit as costume for a play-reading of Henry Fielding's Tom Thumb, where I was an office-holder lusting after the king's daughter. "Huncamunca! Huncamunca! Ohhh..."

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: January 11th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)

I ws just thinking about that while reading on the tube last night. Every time I read the word "hugger mugger" (i.e. not very often in fact) it brings back the mental image of you thrusting your groin at the audience while shouting "Huncamunca! Oh!"

Obviously this was the definitive point of your acting career. It stuck with me because putting you on a stage seemed to shine rather a new light upon you.

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: January 11th, 2007 12:05 pm (UTC)

"but the episode demanded that Jack Harkness fly into his death confident of and in his own identity; that he was no longer living a lie."

That's exactly the point. I think the ontological plin on which the kiss is to be considered is very ambiguous and deliberately so - it almost seemed like magic realism. The dance certainly took place, but the way that everyone appart from Jack and Jack disappears when the real Jack salutes John Barrowman's Jack certainly implies a degree of fantasy that really pushes home the importance of fantasy and dramatic resolution over mimetic realism. A bit like the end of Spielberg's A.I., one of the reasons the scene is so moving is the sheer impossibility of its ever occurring in the way that it actually does. It's like people who complain about the ending of Jonathan Harvey's 'Beautiful Thing' - it's definitely at one remove from reality, the sentiment far more important than a tangible 'real'.

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: January 11th, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC)

I definitely found myself concentrating more on the surrounding crowd than Jack n' Jack during the dance and kiss, I have to admit; wondering why they seemed to be looking on with mild interest.

There's kissing a man, and then there's kissing a man who afterwards disappears into a glaring blaze of light. That would probably confuse people sufficiently to prevent OriginalJack from getting lynched in the next 24 hours (after which they would have decided he was a Japanese spy).

The people around weren't looking at the blaze of light, so that does suggest in retrospect that they were in some kind of limbo.

I did think at one point in the episode that TorchwoodJack's actions were going to have changed history so that OriginalJack survived, and that 1.13 would deal with that, but apparently not. They could always pick it up later on, but it's probably best left as is.

Given my subzero opinion of Chris Chibnall, I assumed that Bilis had been set up in 1.12 to be interesting, then chucked down the banality toilet in 1.13. But I would much prefer that we see him again. He's a really magnetic character.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: January 11th, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
South Park Faral

About the kiss -- I think the fact that it didn't happen in a quiet corridor was part of the poignancy of it, because the Jacks simply ran out of time - it was that or never, and both of them knew it. There is the possibility that it sealed Real Jack's fate, but Our Jack had already totally freaked the poor man out, ambushing him out of nowhere with his "Tonight might be the last night of your life! Snog the girl! Take her home!" doom routine that Real Jack must have felt he was a goner anyway, and possibly that is why he was willing to go for it.

It was still pretty hot ;-) I guess I need me a Captain Jacks icon, but for now Captain Faral will have to do!