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[*sigh* What I hate about the time before Christmas is work never leaving me enough energy or focus for anything else. Come home, collapse. Struggled forever with Russian homework yesterday, not really getting anywhere, wishing it would just all go away. Very inclined to entirely skip the baking this year, except I'm feeling vaguely guilty at the thought of giving up the one Christmas tradition I actually used to enjoy, and is even remotely meaningful to me, and not helping my sister any my mother. More guilt because I actually felt good yesterday morning, and then wasted the day procrastinating on the internet and watching bits of German soap on YouTube; and then read Patrick Stewart's article, which sent my mind on a whole different tangent...]


Anyway.

WoM made me think (although vaguely and not very coherently) about the differences between TW and DW, respectively Jack and the Doctor. To me TW seems essentially modern, very existentialist, with three episodes out of twenty-six dealing with suicide and the meaning of life, or lack thereof as a main theme [*], and a bit more upfront about its philosophy, because it addresses these themes rather directly. The whole concept of Jack's immortality and how it's treated also strikes me as modern, because traditionally immortality seems to have been regarded as something desirable, and in a more abstract, religious sense, the ideal (or original) state. OTOH obviously there's also the concept of eternal punishment, but this clearly doesn't apply here, because if Jack needed redemption, he'd already got that, dying on Satellite 5. Rose bringing him back was a wilful, purely emotional act of creation, without thought or logic or purpose, which is in keeping with the essentially atheist worldview of TW, where existence is random and only has what meaning you chose to give it.

And for all Jack isn't really a part of it all any longer, having lost part of his humanity, when he lost his mortality, even if JB is also comparing him to Prometheus now, he still embodies a deeply human concept and his struggles are (still) very much tied up humanity, his own as well as humanity in general, in all kinds of ways. Having lost the freedom of travelling through time, stuck on Earth, no short-cuts, no escape, he was forced to live his life day by day, having to deal with everything he witnessed and did like everyone else, only for a rather longer time than is natural or psychologically healthy.

The fascinating thing is how at a superficial glance Jack and the Doctor seem to be struggling with similar problems, but, looking deeper, embody very different philosophical concepts, which on a textual level comes out in the Doctor running from Jack and what he personified purely on instinct, and on a meta-level is probably the reason why Jack, the Jack we saw on TW, never really fit into Who-verse after S1.

Jack is still the easier character to write about though, because of his essential humanity. The Doctor, OTOH... I'd actually love to write something about (new)DW, but I always feel to do it intelligently I'd have to bring the mythology books, etc., and a lot of knowledge in this area that I don't really have. On average I love TW more, but what fascinates me about DW is how—maybe because it's a family show and has less of an inbuilt? inwritten?... meta level, if that makes any sense?—it goes straight for the epic storylines in an unselfconscious way that gives it the feeling of a modern fairy-tale or myth. Almost old-fashioned, in some respects. It's impossible to really put it into words, because I completely lack the academic tools for this kind of stuff, but IMO that was also what made the Harry Potter books such a success— an appeal that reaches beyond the modern, intellectual, analytical, sceptic layers of our brain and connects straight to the archetypes we were brought up with, all the themes that have been part of our collective cultural subconsciousness for a long time. But HP is more of a modern fairy tale, while DW touches something even deeper and more complex, with an atheist writer throwing pagan and Christian elements together, creating a sort of god that is neither and a bit of both, putting a modern spin on the whole thing.

Merlin sometimes is a bit like that too, but with the show's premise the meta-level is always inherent in the constant comparison to the classical versions of Arthurian mythology, and it has a tendency to pull back from the darker themes and remind you that you're watching a family show, which in itself is a modern element, because traditionally fairy tales and classical mythology were never specifically geared to children.


Does any of this make sense? I wish my brain were less Christmas-impaired...



[*] Sort of tangential sort of rant: on an intellectual level I can understand hating everything TW related post-CoE, but what always baffles me are the people who claim (in so many words) that it was all good clean camp fun until CoE came along and ruined it all. Not counting apocalypses and all the casualties that weren't major plot points, in 26 episodes there wasn't just suicide (and if Owen didn't in Combat, it wasn't for lack of trying, but because Jack is a bit more selfish when it comes to the death wishes of people he cares for), but also parents losing their children, losing family, losing lovers, losing friends, confronting the essential meaninglessness of life, the randomness of death and the ugliness of human nature. The most positive episodes are the ones that still are about death and sacrifice, but at least give it some sort of meaning, putting a positive spin on it, like To the Last Man, or Captain Jack Harkness. And of course A Day in the Death, which I think already says it all. Something Borrowed was the exception, not the rule, and the only other episodes that at least vaguely fall into this category are Everything Changes, possibly maybe and with much squinting and ignoring of the darker themes KKBB, and Day One, if you focus only on the crack factor. CoE only went a couple of steps further in that it was a little more honest and realistic about the consequences.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
rivier
Nov. 29th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Just a thought on your coda: I've personally never hated on CoE because of the notion that the first two seasons were silly cracky lulz - not only do I hate the derogation inherent in that assessment, but I'm also annoyed at the idea that CoE tackled gritty, realistic concepts that the previous series hadn't squared up to, when every damned theme in CoE, from the self-serving venality of the State, the evil capacity of individual humans and collective human social groups, the dizzying power of any absolute love, suicide in desperation, the sacrifice of one innocent child to save the world, paying in the present for the sins of the past, Jack outlasting the people around him that he loves, the loss of team members... All done before and IMO done far better, because they were set in the context of more reflective, less hysterical, crowd-pleasing narratives.

But the fundamental difference - the philosophical difference - between those hard themes being addressed in the first two seasons and in CoE, is simply, crucially, that Torchwood always maintained and made explicit the possibility of hope and redemption, no matter what terrible things had happened. In the core team most of all, and at every point pretty much from Jack's first resurrection after Suzie shot him, Ianto being forgiven for Lisa and redeemed by Torchwood and Jack (and being told "there's always something left to lose"), Owen's entire arc, Toshiko's resillience in the face of every loss she endures... Jack himself, embodying the man who was forgiven and redeemed, from a selfish waste of a life and then from death itself.

Torchwood's moral coda was always the optimistic one: we carry on for as long as we can, we take comfort in those we love, we look forward with even the slightest strand of hope. It was CoE's absolute rejection and obliteration of every facet of that positive message that still makes me angry: I think that brand of crude, hate-driven nihilism maybe belongs in the Who that RTD is slowly forcing things towards, but it was never a part of what Torchwood was about from inception, and to me it was almost a desecration of a fundamental reason that the original show had held such resonance and emotional meaning for me.
alba17
Nov. 29th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
I agree. COE seemed fundamentally different because of the extreme nihilism. There just wasn't any hope at all, and it was particularly bleak since we "just" lost 2 main characters in Exit Wounds. Now look at Waters of Mars, which just stepped back from the brink of sending its main character around the bend into megalomania and had one character commit suicide. (Although I liked it, I'm just kind of agreeing with your point about RTD and Who.)

Pre-COE TW always had an element of fun to it, even though it dealt with a lot of very dark issues. Part of that was Jack. And the show improved in S2 when it added more humor. Then RTD decided to destroy Jack, effectively, and the show as we knew it.

Solitary, you make a lot of interesting points, I'll probably have to return to ponder further.
smirnoffmule
Nov. 29th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
I have to say, I don't agree Torchwood has ever been an explicitly hopeful show. There have been some redemption-type arcs, true, but I don't think they've never been presented as a major theme of the show, and they have frequently involved considerable personal loss and sacrifice with little hope of reward or improvement. Certainly I would say the show has never been hopeful on a personal level for any character, with the possible exception of Gwen (and arguably her only hope lies in her life outside Torchwood - the danger and bleakness inherent in the organisation itself has been a constant theme). Even Ianto, as he begins to come to terms with his loss, is hardly hopeful about his future - he's the one who seems most aware of the mortality rate that comes with the job. Time and time again we've seen unhappy endings, no win scenarios, and characters having to make choices where they can't avoid hurting someone. I agree carrying on for as long as we can is a good summation of the show's ethic, but that's not, IMHO, an inherently hopeful stance - that the operatives has a limited shelf life is implied in the very phrase.
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
that Torchwood always maintained and made explicit the possibility of hope and redemption, no matter what terrible things had happened.
Hmmm. Obviously we come at this from very different angles. Personally I found S1 of Torchwood to be one of the bleakest, most hopeless things I'd ever seen on TV. Suzie's story in particular (I know she was crazy, but her desperate clinging to life is dark as hell), Lisa who can't be saved, Jasmine who has to be given to the fairies, the cannibals who kill because they like it, Mary who was utterly irredeemable, and everyone betraying Jack in 'End of Days'... the light parts are few and far between, and the main message seemed to be 'Life is short, hard and then there's nothing.' I loved S2 for bringing hope back, for the team to bridge the gaps from S1, and for daring to love, and have things turn out better. Not in the sense of happy endings, maybe, but they had meaningful connections and helped each other through.

CoE is a different kettle of fish though. It's not really a TV 'series', it's more like a film. Yes it's bleak and horrible, but it's there not for the sake of being depressing, but for the sake of shining a bright light at things we'd rather not think about. And amidst all the horror there was bravery and love and the willingness of people to fight and die for what they believe in, for those they love - and that is what matters.
solitary_summer
Nov. 29th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Personally I found S1 of Torchwood to be one of the bleakest, most hopeless things I'd ever seen on TV.

I never really realised it the first or second time I saw S1, mostly, I guess, because I'm not the most cheerful person ever, but then I visited a friend and watched it with her over the course of a few days, and it wasn't just her reaction, I suddenly saw it with different eyes and the level of bleakness shocked even me.


And amidst all the horror there was bravery and love and the willingness of people to fight and die for what they believe in, for those they love - and that is what matters.

*nods* I'd call CoE tragic rather than bleak; there's just too much emotion there for bleakness.
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)
I'll stop commenting now, promise! You just made me think, and re S1 then this vid is definitely my favourite, and the one I think reflects the season best. Also, *gorgeous*, which the show of course is.
solitary_summer
Nov. 29th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
No, I'm always grateful for recs! This is really good!
solitary_summer
Nov. 29th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
(BTW, just to be clear—that wasn't aimed at you, it was sparked by some comments on an article about a potential S4.)

Torchwood's moral coda was always the optimistic one: we carry on for as long as we can, we take comfort in those we love, we look forward with even the slightest strand of hope.

I sort of agree, and sort of don't. I thought in S1 at least the stronger leitmotif was a much more basic one, that in a universe without absolute meaning or values we have to define humanity in some positive way, or we end up killing ourselves like John in OoT, or become like Mark and the other men from the Weevil fight club, or Suzie. Or Captain John in KKBB. And the overall tone of S1 for me was very much influenced by the fact that Jack doesn't so much chose to go on, but is forced to.

It's a bit different in S2, mainly because Jack at least superficially starts to accept his immortality and snaps out of his suicidal mood, but I always felt that EW already stretched the theme of 'going on' almost beyond credibility as far as Jack was concerned, and I think the unspoken question of just how long he'd be able to go on like this was very much in the air even then.

I've rewatched both S1 and S2 after CoE, and... I'm not saying something like CoE was necessary, but the I think the show and Jack's arc especially was moving towards a point where it had to be serious about actions and their consequences; it certainly wouldn't have borne another EW without becoming a parody of itself. At the time it didn't help that I thought CoE marked also the end of the show, but as far as the story is concerned... there's hope for Gwen and Rhys, and we already know Jack will eventually come to terms with himself and find peace.

For me DW has always been the more positive, less nihilistic show, because it had a protagonist who loved life so very much and chose it, rather than one who struggled through it as best as he could because he couldn't get rid of it, although the latter is of course an equally intriguing story.
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
I've rewatched both S1 and S2 after CoE, and... I'm not saying something like CoE was necessary, but the I think the show and Jack's arc especially was moving towards a point where it had to be serious about actions and their consequences
*nods* Thinking about it, then S1 Jack is very much doing what he does 'because what else is he going to do?' (to borrow Angel's words). In S2 he finds reasons for fighting, learns to believe in the mission again (as it were), truly connects to those he leads. And then CoE is the past catching up ('We needed someone who didn't *care*') - 'All the Pretty Little Horses' probably being the best illustration. Oh! Or The Price of Commanding.
solitary_summer
Nov. 29th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
*is embarrassed*

I *tried* to watch The Price of Commanding, but I couldn't get past the whole Mercedes Lackey thing. I can't focus on tragic Jack when I'm thinking about telepathic horses... *facepalm*
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
*blinks* Telepathic horses?
solitary_summer
Nov. 29th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Indeed.

I was younger, and gay-themed fantasy novels were rare... What can I say.
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
Huh. Well I *adored* McCaffrey's Pern books, so there's no need to explain! ;)

(I've even written Pern fic with BtVS/AtS characters. I HAVE NO SHAME!)
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
Another thing. CoE is different, because RTD took his show and used it as a vehicle for something he wanted to say. And people are perfectly justified in being annoyed that he used 'their' show to tell his story with (and destroying it in process). Personally I think it's one of the best things I have ever seen, and am *still* gobsmacked that he took my cracktastic, over-sexed and too-dark-for-its-own-good show and turned it into art.

(I love TW to *pieces*, but the writing in S1-2 was incredibly hit-and-miss, and the plotholes so big you could drive trucks through them. I always hoped TW could become 'adult' DW proper, and with CoE it did.)
elisi
Nov. 29th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
To me TW seems essentially modern, very existentialist, with three episodes out of twenty-six dealing with suicide and the meaning of life, or lack thereof as a main theme [*], and a bit more upfront about its philosophy, because it addresses these themes rather directly. [...] but what fascinates me about DW is how—maybe because it's a family show and has less of an inbuilt? inwritten?... meta level, if that makes any sense?—it goes straight for the epic storylines in an unselfconscious way that gives it the feeling of a modern fairy-tale or myth.
*nods a lot* I think it partly has to do with TW being an adult show, and DW a family one - DW has to have that fairy-tale wrapping, because otherwise it would be too dark. TW can address everything much more directly, and generally feels more hopeless, I think, because Jack *is* only human in his capabilities - he doesn't have the Doctor's power. And although that power can be very dangerous and dark - as WoM showed - the despair of hopelessness, and the things people will do when pushed into a corner, resonates a lot more with our modern world, I think.

(I sincerely hope that made sense. My head's a bit jumbled.)
solitary_summer
Nov. 29th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
That makes more sense than my post did. *g* And speaking of jumbled heads, I was sitting in front of the computer earlier, and the expression I was looking for was 'collateral damage'. My brain finally coughed it up a couple of hours later...


What I love is how the fairy-tale wrapping allows to tell stories with big emotions and complicated themes that I don't think you could tell like that in a more strictly adult, rational setting.
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