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Sep. 1st, 2010

( I. Doctor Who S1: Everything has its time and everything dies. )

( II. Doctor Who S2: We forget because we must. )

( III. Torchwood S1: It's just bearable. It has to be. )


IV. Doctor Who S3: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



The third DW season is arguably the darkest, and while this certainly also reflects Ten's mood after having lost Rose, not all of the problematic aspects of The Runaway Bride and his S3 arc are directly linked to that. Much of the season's darkness comes from the exploration of the destructive, ugly side of human nature, a theme that with the exception of Ten's brief (and considering the context somewhat questionable) outburst in The Christmas Invasion was barely present in DW before, but much more dominant in TW S1 with episodes like Countrycide, which triggered Gwen's crisis, Greeks Bearing Gifts, which left Toshiko wondering how she was supposed to live with her disillusionment, or Combat.

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel already briefly raised the question of what defines humanity, but in S3 this becomes a much more prominent theme, starting with Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks. The motif of 'life will out' that was introduced in New Earth and made the Doctor so happy there now unfolds with all its complexity, ambiguity—and darkness. Starting with the Plasmavore in Smith and Jones who calls herself a 'survivor at any cost', life, the will to survive, isn't an unequivocally positive thing any longer, and now this isn't restricted to single instances of bad judgement like Lady Cassandra or Mr. Lumic, but is being discussed on a more general level and linked to the darkest times of recent history. Dalek Sec calls humans the 'great survivors' that even the Daleks might take inspiration from and at the same time recognises Dalek qualities in them. The Doctor may claim that 'ambition, hatred, aggression, and war' isn't 'what humanity means', but considering that the episodes are set in 1930, Hitler's shadow already looming while one Dalek is willing to give up the dream of supremacy and dies for that, he would have a hard time arguing that this isn't at least part of what humanity is. Joining with Mr. Diagoras gives Dalek Sec emotions and in the end free will, but it's the 'little bit of freedom' that came from the Doctor's Time Lord DNA that makes the Dalek humans stop and ask why, not their human nature, and it is John Smith, child of his time, who teaches schoolboys to shoot, preparing them for war and sending them out to fight a supernatural enemy to protect him.

The Lazarus Experiment develops this theme further. Mortality is once again the essential quality that defines 'what it means to be human' according to both the Doctor and Prof. Lazarus, but the latter intends to redefine it, because for him 'Avoiding death, that's being human. It's our strongest impulse, to cling to life with every fibre of being.' Now this is obviously not equally true for everyone, or maybe true in a higher sense where the individual will to live can transcend itself for the greater good, as plenty of people willing to sacrifice themselves for others have already shown over the course of the show, but the season finale will demonstrate to what extremes humanity can be driven by the terror of extinction. What makes Prof. Lazarus's story more complex than Lady Cassandra's and links it to the two previous episodes is that his inability to accept his death is shown as coming from his traumatic childhood war experience: 'I swore I'd never face death like that again. So defenceless. I would arm myself. Fight back. Defeat it', and in this he maybe isn't so very different from the Doctor, whose issues with death are also rooted in the fact that he saw too much of it in the Time War and felt he had no choice but to cause more in order to prevent an even worse outcome. Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks is overshadowed by and thematically anticipates World War II, The Lazarus Experiment deals with the psychological scars the war left, and Human Nature/The Family of Blood is set on the eve on World War I; the episodes themselves may not directly address the horrors of these wars, but they evoke them enough to prepare the ground for the finale, where humanity will once more turn against itself.

When Martha asks about the future and fate of mankind at the beginning of Utopia, the Doctor replies, 'I suppose we have to hope life will find a way', and when they discover that the human race has indeed survived at least so far, both he and Jack are delighted by this determination and resourcefulness and Jack even gleans some temporary meaning for his own life from that; but over the next two episodes this simple joy will be turned upside down completely, again showing what an ambiguous thing the will to survive can be, if survival is the only thing it is concerned with. Life does find a way, but it isn’t one the Doctor is happy with. The last of humanity facing its ultimate end at first desperately clings to the frail hope of a dream almost as old as itself of something that isn’t just the ‘perfect place’, but—literally—a place that doesn’t exist. When this hope is necessarily disappointed, they cannibalise themselves and regressing into children finally turn against their own ancestors for the price of survival, willing executioners in the service of an insane Time Lord who in his human disguise had been content to die in order to save them. When in TW Gwen wanted to understand why the people from the cannibal village decided to kill and eat human beings, the only answer she got was ''Cause it makes me happy'; when Tom Milligan asks why the spheres kill so many humans when after all they're the same species, the answer is almost the same: 'Because it's fun.' Humanity may in the end succeed to save itself from itself through Martha’s bravery and the power of their hope, but there will always be something dark and destructive—even taking pleasure in the destruction—lurking inside, hidden away, but never completely gone.

The darkness in the Doctor’s arc is more complicated, but it's linked to the same themes. As a consequence of S2 his story begins with him dealing—and not dealing too well—with the separation from Rose. S2 established his loneliness as a fundamental character trait, The Runaway Bride hinted at the problems that might arise from that, and S3 explores this further by taking his obsession with his perceived isolation to unhealthy levels; after all he'd already told Rose that not just fear, but also loneliness can drive people to terrible acts in Fear Her. He still clings to his emotions, this much is obvious from his violent reaction to the pharmacists selling artificial happiness and oblivion in Gridlock, where the quest for eternal bliss almost kills an entire civilisation, and now he’s losing himself in his feeling of solitude almost entirely, as if he'd only waited for the universe to confirm a deeper inner truth. The Face of Boe's final secret does nothing to change this: in his eyes Martha doesn't make him any less alone, and it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference if Rose had been there instead of her, because when he tells the Master that he's been alone ever since the end of the Time War he doesn't acknowledge or even remember her any more than Martha or Jack. For much of the time he’s increasingly incapable of looking beyond his own suffering, and it’s especially with those who are in a roughly comparable situation that he discovers some sort of kinship: Shakespeare, who lost his son, the Face of Boe ('I am the last of my kind, as you are the last of yours, Doctor.'— 'That's why we have to survive. Both of us.'), Dalek Sec ('Your entire species has been wiped out and now the cult of Skaro has been eradicated, leaving only you. Right now you're facing the only man in the universe who might show you some compassion.'), and of course the Master.

Much of the S3 finale is built around the affinities and distinctions between the Doctor and the Master, the antagonism as well as the connection between them, and the in this context maybe most relevant parallel in their stories is that they both hid in human shape for a while, the Master running from the Time War and the Doctor running from himself. They both found happiness or at least contentment in their human lives, and they both confronted their mortality; Professor Yana was willing to die for the rest of humanity to be able to get to Utopia, John Smith died to allow the Doctor to defeat the Family and save the village. But in the end, once they become aware again of their true nature, they both reject humanity and mortality. The Master immediately sees his human self as a prison he's finally free from; the Doctor fights nail and teeth to remain human, but once he becomes a Time Lord again, he doesn't want to turn back either, even for the woman John Smith loved. As Joan says, in the end he was the braver of the two. If it's human nature to cling to life, it certainly does seem to be in the nature of the Time Lords just as much, if not more so.

S2 introduced the 'curse of the Time Lords', being forced to watch those he loves age and die, and in The Lazarus Experiment Ten expressed an overwhelming tiredness of struggling and always losing everyone that matters. The ending of The Family of Blood complicates both these statements and puts the weariness of 'watching everything turn to dust' into perspective, because in the end for him life still is a choice, the choice Jack so desperately wants. And so is being a Time Lord. The Doctor's tragedy isn't that he can't have an ordinary life, it's the paradox that he can't have it because it isn't in his nature to want it enough to accept the consequences, which of course was already implied in The Girl in the Fireplace where he considered himself ‘very, very, very, very, very, very lucky’ not to be stuck on the slow path with Reinette after all. Running from the Family in order to give them a chance to live out their lives and die naturally, perhaps subconsciously, perhaps entirely coincidentally, he also gives himself the chance to do the same. They force him to give up again this dream that under any other circumstances would never have become more than that, force him to change back into the lonely Time Lord to whom falling in love doesn't occur, and his revenge is to make sure that they get the eternal life they were craving, only not quite the way they wanted it.

When Ten took Donna to the beginning of the Earth in The Runaway Bride she found that this put her disastrous wedding into perspective, but at the same time made every human endeavour seem tiny and pointless in comparison, and the Doctor replied 'No, but that's what you do. The human race. Make sense out of chaos. Marking it out with weddings and Christmas and calendars.' And then, watching the rocks floating through space: 'This whole process is beautiful, but only if it is being observed', which may mean the process of the Earth beginning to form, but could just as well refer to what he’d said before: The process of human life is also more beautiful from the outside, from a philosophically detached distance, when it isn't painful and messy and not a process, but a life—falling in love, and getting one's heart broken and dealing with a million mundane problems, weddings and betrayals. In the end the Doctor is too much in love with the principle of life to be in love with a single person. 'A whole universe teeming with life. Why stand still when there's all that life out there?' Like Lance accurately remarked, he also understands the temptation of the the ‘big picture’, and not just that, in many ways he embodies it: 'The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour, and I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... That's who I am.' It's this in many respects vastly differing viewpoint as well as his love for life in the abstract, that creates the sometimes painful distance between him and his human companions, and prevents him from becoming anything other than what he is.

What the Master shows the Doctor throughout Last of the Time Lords is a dark and twisted mirror image of Ten's own relationship with the human race: 'I took Lucy to Utopia. A Time Lord and his human companion. I took her to see the stars.' But he could only take Lucy to one place and the only thing she saw there was death and despair. Thinking only in terms of empires and mass killings himself, content to have her as insane as himself, it never even occurred to him to remind her of the importance of the little things and she so utterly lost herself in the perspective this experience gave her that she fell into complete apathy: 'And I thought, there’s no point. No point to anything. Not ever.' When the Master ironically claims that after all he’s only helping the humans the Doctor loves so much, he's mocking the Doctor's frequent attempts to save humanity, and his new empire—'Time Lord and humans combined'—is a perversion of the Doctor’s dream to make people better, an obviously much more benevolent and positive vision, but one that at least occasionally also results in imposing his ideas on humanity rather forcefully, as Harriet Jones can testify to. There are of course vast differences in their outlook on life, their actions, and their morality, and in the end the Master will chose to die rather than live with the Doctor whose worldview and love of life in all its variety he can’t bear, but at the same time the Doctor can’t deny his Time Lord nature with all its ambiguities, not when he himself is emphasising the connection, telling the Master, 'Don’t you see, all we’ve got is each other.'

And being a Time Lord is... complex, as the many facets of the Doctor's personality show, and not unequivocally wonderful. The Master probably already touched a sore spot when he reacted to the Doctor’s confession that he was responsible for the end of the Time War and the destruction of Gallifrey and his pre-emptive attempts to defend himself not with blame or anger, but with the question of how it felt to cause destruction on this scale: 'You must have been like God.' In The Family of Blood Latimer described the Doctor’s nature as he saw it, unrestrained by a physical body and untempered by a persona assumed in the interaction with humans, as ‘fire and ice and rage’, ‘the night and the storm in the heart of the sun’ and his first reaction that it took him a while to overcome was fear; Donna saw the Doctor losing himself in the killing of the Racnoss and it also frightened her, even or because he also made it snow for her in the end. There is something archaic at the core of the Doctor’s personality, something elemental, and amoral like time itself; he can lose himself in the joy for life, the miracle that things exist, that they evolved in this richness of forms, whatever the form is, finding beauty even in the monsters and often having to be reminded that they also bite and someone might need saving, and he can equally lose himself in destruction, at least for a while. Most of the time he keeps this aspect of himself under control, but his attempt to run from himself in Human Nature/The Family of Blood shows that this control is deliberate, and that he is very much aware of what he’s controlling. Already in Utopia, not just in The End of Time, the possibility of another Time Lord frightens him, finally making him see the Face of Boe’s words as the warning they always were and begging Professor Yana not to open the watch. Both the Doctor and the Master saw the ‘raw power of time and space’ as children, and this experience shaped them, even if their reaction to it was different, the Doctor running from the knowledge of power, content to see the universe, while the Master in his insanity wants to control it. In their own ways they are both laughing at the darkness, only one more manically than the other.

The mirror the Master holds up to the Doctor also serves him as a moral compass and especially when they meet face to face the Doctor tries to affirm this distinction as much as possible. When Francine wants to shoot the Master at the end of the year-long nightmare, the Doctor stops her with the argument that she’s better than the Master, but it’s not Francine, whom no one would blame even if she'd done it, who has to prove that. It’s the Doctor who throughout the episode—with his determination to save the Master no matter what it takes, with his eagerness to forgive him—is trying to convince maybe the Master, maybe also himself, that he is still the better person, even if he destroyed their planet, their people, and their whole civilisation. But what he doesn’t see is how his single-minded fixation on the Master as the one and last hope to end his fundamental loneliness has started to almost completely overshadow his thoughts and in many ways compromises him, at least since he declared the Master his responsibility, agreeing to fight this battle on Earth knowing who he was fighting and who would pay the price. In The End of Time Wilf will say, 'Don’t you dare put him above them', but he doesn't know that it wouldn't be the first time.

Even his readiness to forgive the Master isn't as unambiguously positive as it might seem at first glance. So far Ten had never been very forgiving; from Harriet Jones to the Racnoss, the Carrionites screaming 'for all eternity' in their globe and the Family of Blood condemned to everlasting life in their various prisons, mercy was something he claimed he was done with. One warning, after that it’s your own fault. He may follow his emotions rather than a fixed code of morals, which perhaps is a necessary consequence of travelling through time and space and encountering a wide variety of them, but he does have one value and priority, and that is life, especially human life, and the Master violated this as much as any of his adversaries over the last three seasons. That makes this too easy, unqualified forgiveness that had been there all the time, self-understood if unwanted, granted even before Jack got himself killed once more in the effort to destroy the paradox machine, not an abstract virtue, but something almost entirely egoistic. In Exit Wounds Jack's willingness to forgive Gray the two millennia he spent buried beneath Cardiff is inextricably and very obviously tied to his own desperate need for forgiveness, and Ten’s situation is much the same. He still needs someone to forgive him his acts in the Time War, the killing of the Time Lords, and there is no one else left, and this, together with the hope that he finally might have found a way out of his loneliness with someone who, like he, isn't bound by mortality, makes him out of a very personal need forgive something that isn’t his to forgive, because this isn’t one of the instances where he has the right to speak on behalf of the Earth.

At the end of this story of this story full of endings the Doctor is desperately begging the Master not to die and leave him the last of his people again, and in this scene the gulf between him and his human companions that had been widening over the course of the season, becomes becomes a visible physical distance: On one end of the room there’s the Doctor clutching the Master's dead body, on the other everyone else, watching, too far away to make out their expressions. Shocked? Moved? Uncomprehending? There's Jack, who'd been resurrected and deliberately left behind, waited for more than a century, was almost left behind again, again deliberately, chained up for a year, killed quite a few times by the man the Doctor is now mourning, and probably spent at least some of the time regretting that he left without ever saying good-bye to people who for all he knew might be dead. Martha, who did so much and got so little recognition, who saved Ten just as often as he saved her, but couldn't save him from himself; who saved the whole world. Martha's parents and sister, humiliated, terrorised, afraid for Martha and Leo's lives. Lucy Saxon, desperate, abused, guilt-ridden. All of them had to watch the Master enslave the Earth and slaughter millions, and they all not only saw the Doctor forgive this before it even was undone, before they knew it could be undone, but had to listen to him muse about changing his life and settling down with the Master, because finally he had someone to care for, completely oblivious to everyone else. It's not just in the romantic sense that he doesn't see Martha or Jack; once he discovered the Master was alive, he stopped seeing their needs or problems altogether; they simply faded to a secondary plane of existence.

When he wakes up to reality again after the Master's death, he does realise that the brief moment where he became the focus of humanity’s hope, faith and prayers, allowing him to regain his original shape and defeat the Master, is best forgotten. When Martha says, 'Time was every single one of these people knew your name. Now they’ve all forgotten you', his only reply is a sincere, 'Good.' He was a symbol for hope, the last symbol of hope in a desperate situation, but so was the Master to the last humans ‘screaming in the dark’. And billions of people thinking of the Doctor at the same time are maybe thinking, but there is as little individuality in this collective thought as in the spheres’ shared memories. Even this momentary, positive reflection of the Master’s Time Lord-human empire would be a too dangerous temptation and isn’t meant to be remembered or repeated.

But the cracks in his relationship with those who weren't allowed to forget are still visible at the end of the episode. It’s hardly surprising that both Jack and Martha choose to leave, or that Martha got burnt so badly that unlike Donna she'll never change her mind and still doesn't want to come back in S4. They may still love him, they may even understand him, because in the end it’s a very human emotion, Jack may forgive him as he forgave Ianto or Gwen or Owen, but they've also both been dismissed without a second thought, forgotten, and it's understandable that a lukewarm 'I really don't mind, though', isn't enough for Jack when he's the second choice after the insane, psychopathic mass murderer the Doctor grieved so passionately for, and Martha didn’t have to hear the Doctor trying to convince the Master that all they had was each other to realise that there are issues at work that go much deeper than the lost Rose, and that getting out really is the best option for her.

It's significant that part of both Martha and Jack's reason for leaving is the recognition of a responsibility that isn't just for one person to the exclusion of everyone else. For Martha it's her parents and sister who have to come to terms with their memories, for Jack, who had a year to ponder his own obsession with a hand in a jar and the 'right doctor' to come and tell him what to do, or how he treated the people who loved him, his team and the planet. He too brings up the year that never was in his good-bye, very likely remembering that he'd wanted to kill the Master before millions died and the whole world suffered, only to be told that this sounded too much 'like Torchwood'; wrong, just like Jack’s immortality is wrong in the Doctor’s eyes, so contrary to his rules and how he perceives life, the universe, and the passage of time, that he ran from him not once, but twice.

Even before Utopia, when The Age of Steel defined mortality as a necessary part of human life without which it would stagnate and cease being life at all, it was clear what the Doctor, who in many ways embodies the awareness and essence of time, would find so problematic about Jack: How limited is the range of human experience, how repetitive does it become over millions and billions of years? Jack telling Owen that forever is overrated because after a time you don't notice or bother with a lot of things any longer reflects that, as well as the fear that so haunted Ianto, that Jack wouldn't even remember him in the end. But despite the Doctor’s doubts the revelation at the end of Last of the Time Lords proves that it’ll be Jack who even as a fixed point in time and space over the millennia will reinvent himself to the point of creating an entire new species, always remaining part of life as much as possible.


V. Torchwood S2: That's what I come back for.



In End of Days Jack defeated Abadon, but once again it wasn't the sacrifice he thought it would be, maybe wanted it to be, even if at least for a moment his death seemed a little more final to everyone, including Jack himself. It wasn't the purpose he thought he'd been kept for and his eventual resurrection no miracle, only the latest after more than a thousand. Nothing changed, and he had to arrange himself once more with a life that was no different or more meaningful than before, but after all maybe wasn't so bad either. Forgive the team member that shot you, kiss your not-quite boyfriend. A new day. And yet only a little later, when he chased after the Tardis without so much as a backward glance or good-bye note, it became obvious just how tenuous Jack's connection to the life he'd been living all this time had been. But his hopes were once again disappointed, and the only thing he got from the Doctor was an explanation of what happened to him on Satellite 5. No solutions, no cures, no fixes, no promises or directions or new purpose, but instead he had to find out that even Time Lords can not only be irrationally prejudiced and every bit as fallible as the next person, but also full-blown psychopaths, legends about the perfection of Gallifrey notwithstanding. What he did get, however, was a year's time to think about himself, the people he left behind to fend for themselves without a second thought, and all the things he didn’t say or do, and he came away with something of an epiphany.

When Jack turns his back on the Doctor at the end of Last of the Time Lords, he is for better or worse more free than he'd been for over a century, free from the paralysis of the questions that kept haunting him, even if it's only because now he knows that most likely there aren’t any answers, but he also needs to pick up his life that to an extent he put on hold in 1892 ('What’ll I do in the meantime?') and start living it again instead of waiting for someone to save him, much like S1's Eugene waited for the alien to come back and collect his eye. Jack is more of a pragmatist than the Doctor, and after almost a hundred and forty years his immediate reaction is to finally accept the situation and move on, but there is still a visible discrepancy between the determined bravado of 'What's to fix? You don't mess with this level of perfection', and the urgency of the question he couldn't quite stop himself from asking one more time at the end of Last of the Time Lords, although he'd already got the answer in Utopia: 'And what about me? Can you fix that? Will I ever be able to die?' Even if he's putting on a brave face, it still takes something of an effort to face the future, especially as it’s not only the events of the past year that Jack wasn’t allowed to forget, but also the memory of the starless darkness at the end of the universe, the hope and despair of the last humans, and the knowledge that he might very well find himself there again one day with still no end in sight, which makes his resolve to lose himself in the here and now as much as possible all the more understandable.

Jack's arc started in DW with him doubting what kind of a man he was and the challenge of defining himself regardless; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang confronts him with his past and the man he easily could have become, and Jack needs to decide once again who he is going to be when he's offered another chance at an escape from the planet by someone who might be rather lacking in morals, but at least genuinely wants him; and this time he has to make the decision on his own, without being forcibly shoved in the right direction. But confronted with Captain Hart's mixture of hedonism and utter nihilism even Jack can suddenly find words for what makes life worth living to him, although he himself must have thought countless times what Captain Hart says about the cost of coming back, the pain of it, the dreariness of this world, when even at the beginning of the episode Jack described it to Gwen in almost the same words as being 'dragged back into life, like being hauled over broken glass'. He may not be able to choose not to come back, but he can choose what he comes back for, how to see this life, and what to do with it; to finally create his own meaning.

And Jack, who a long time ago had been hunting after two lost years of his life, trying to regain the knowledge about himself that had been taken from him, who in S1 cultivated an aura of mystery, now wants to draw a clear line and start with a clean slate, much like Nine at the beginning of his story: 'Here and now, that's what's important. The work we do, the person I am now, that's what I'm proud of.' He resisted the temptation of the past, but he clearly doesn't want to live with it locked up in his basement, so Captain Hart has to go, even if that means having to help him first. The painful childhood memories—deliberately repressed and forgotten: in Adam Jack is the only one who has to sacrifice real memories to become again who he was, the much harder, closed-off man with all those layers of defences firmly in place again. That he thinks it might be an even remotely reasonable or acceptable idea to offer Gwen and Rhys retcon at the end of their wedding maybe illustrates best Jack's unhappy relationship with his own past that consists of too many memories and a handful of photographs removed from his old Torchwood files. He occasionally and rather reluctantly gives up a few details, but the whole dreary truth about the century spent in Torchwood or how and why he came to work for them remains his dark secret, hidden away like the victims of the rift.

Certainly there's something positive about this determination to look into the future. In To the Last Man Jack acknowledges that going back wouldn't fix anything, certainly not his loneliness, which is a marked (and probably deliberate) contrast to the Doctor, who wanted so desperately to resurrect his past out of the ashes of Gallifrey with the Master, and it's a step forward from S1, where the feeling of being lost and out of his time was a constant burden and created such a distance between Jack and his team. Other than the Doctor ('I've been alone ever since.') Jack can and does acknowledge that the people he met in all this time, including the Doctor, but not only him, meant and mean something to him and do make this life better. But regardless of what Jack might wish, in the end the mind can't be reset any more than the body, and as he'll find out, the past, even if it is forgotten—especially when it's forgotten—is never buried completely, always threatening to re-emerge with painful, even deadly, consequences, like the Night Travellers stepping out of the old films. All the same, there will be no resolution for Jack when his past finally catches up with him; it doesn't hold any answers either, or even the closure he might have been hoping for. He can choose to believe it was all his fault, that he’s doing penance for it, and like Nikki he probably would have preferred the uncertainty that at least still held the hope of forgiveness to the knowledge that there was nothing left of the brother he’d lost so long ago except pain and hatred for him, but in the end once again the only thing he can do is live with this, as with everything else.

As a result of this turning point in Jack's arc, S2 sheds much of the bleak existentialism that sometimes almost overburdened S1. There is still plenty of death and it still is random and without meaning or reason, like the death of Owen's fiancée ('Why her?' — 'There's no reason'), but at least some of the deaths now more resemble the heroic self-sacrifices of DW, although they still are more ambiguous. Beth chooses to die, and unlike Lisa in S1, who was too far gone and could only recreate a twisted imitation of love from the memories she had left, Beth dies for an idea, a positive ideal, much like Adelaide in Waters of Mars. She comes to the conclusion that she isn't human enough to live, but through her death reminds those who kill her to uphold this ideal, especially Jack, whom Gwen deliberately challenges with her question about whether it's the body or the mind that makes us human. The burden is now on him, who like Beth not so very long ago also asked to be fixed, and also got a negative reply and had to accept what he was, to prove that he is human enough. Agreeing to return to the past Tommy sacrifices himself for the future, but it means resigning himself to an ugly, dirty death he feared, even if he doesn't know yet just cruel and pointless it will be, and he too creates an obligation. As Toshiko says, 'Let's hope we're worth it.' Gwen almost dies to save Cardiff in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Owen and Toshiko die in Exit Wounds, and Toshiko’s recorded message or Ianto’s remark in To the Last Man show that they all knew they were risking their lives every day and still kept fighting.

At the centre of S2 there's the story of Owen's death and resurrection. When it came to accepting the reality of death and loss, in S1 Jack was... can one call it the voice of reason, when life meant so little to him? The voice of despair, maybe. It's no wonder that he couldn't persuade John to give life another chance; 'I have no choice', isn't going to convince someone who does. In S2, with his new-found meaning in life and greater emotional involvement in it Jack at the first occasion presenting itself falls into the same trap almost everyone else already stumbled into in S1, and now that he's found something worth living for is immediately tempted by the possibilities of the glove he'd rejected then, determined to ignore all the warnings and force the miracle he's hoping for.

Had Ianto died in Reset as originally planned, Jack resurrecting him would have mirrored Ianto's own actions in Cyberwoman, but there is also a certain kind of symmetry in Jack bringing Owen back to life. Not counting Suzie, Jack and Owen were the ones most ready to throw their lives away in S1 and it makes sense for them to be tied together in this story where Owen has to confront again and again what he'd been willing to give up in that cage with the Weevil, and Jack through Owen's anger at the unfairness of life and death is maybe reminded to occasionally touch the bricks and notice the flecks on the concrete and value what he does have a little more. And in a way what happened to Owen, what Jack did to Owen, forcing him back into an existence that isn't the life he used to have, mirrors Jack's own experience, and is perhaps the closest we'll ever come to seeing just how unsettling it had been for Jack himself to discover and accept his own immortality. Owen breaks his fingers and tries to drown himself; Jack got himself killed fourteen times in six months before Torchwood picked him up. The security guard in Mr. Parker's house asks Owen the same question Mary asked Jack: 'What are you?', and Owen's reply ('I'm wrong.') echoes the Doctor, who called Jack just that. Owen's resurrection and his potential immortality create a kinship between him and Jack, but at the same time they are very much polar opposites, or as Owen puts it: 'You get to live forever. I get to die forever.' Jack's visible uneasiness with the situation is probably part guilt, part lingering unhappiness with his own state of being that Owen forced him to think about again, but maybe also something like the Doctor's 'It’s not easy even just… just looking at you.' But Jack at least is trying to help Owen, who is as ready to throw his new—wrong—life away in one last sacrifice when he can't save Mr. Parker as Jack had been in End of Days, only to discover, like Jack, that there is hope after all. As Jack says to Toshiko at the end of Dead Man Walking, of course it's impossible to really beat or escape death, but Owen, who in S1 hadn't wanted Jack to save him, did beat it on a personal level.

Other than S1's Out of Time, the ending of S2's suicide story is more hopeful. Even after everything Owen didn't come to the roof to jump, but to help. The darkness still threatens to overwhelm, suicide is still the choice that for the Doctor is never acceptable, but at least by the end of the episode Maggie hasn't chosen it yet, and just for once the alien artefact is something that inspires hope instead of despair; the 'tiny glimmer of light' in all the darkness. There is a lot of darkness, literal as well as symbolic, in S2: The darkness of death in Owen's resurrection arc finding its way through him; Mr. Parker lying alone in the dark, scared like Owen; Maggie on the roof at night, struggling with the darkness within; Adam coming out of the darkness with a hunger for the brightness of life; the Night Travellers, thriving in the dark and killed by sunlight; Jonah driven insane by looking into the hart of a dark star; the darkness of Jack's grave. On a more metaphorical level there’s the possibility of darkness hidden under the facade of normalcy and familiarity: Beth's secret nature, Ianto (like Owen a few episodes later) afraid of being a monster, or the rift in the middle of Cardiff picking off people. Finally there's the darkness of Torchwood itself that Jack inherited complete with the dead bodies of the last team he'd worked with and a century's worth of a highly ambiguous history: 'Who are you people? Don't you have any windows?' But in S2 most of the time there is also enough light to balance the threat of despair and death, and despite the tragedy of Exit Wounds the season ends on a not entirely hopeless note with Toshiko's message that echoes Jack's own 'And I wouldn't change that for the world', in To the Last Man, Rose’s words in Dalek and Sarah Jane's in School Reunion, or even what Nine said in his good-bye message to Rose: 'And that's okay. Hope it's a good death.'

This more positive note is also reflected in the changed atmosphere within Torchwood. S1 didn't just deal with the isolation of Torchwood from the rest of the world, but also with the isolation within the team that drove Suzie to Pilgrim just to find someone she could talk to, only to retcon them afterwards. Toshiko told Mary that she couldn't share her thoughts about her work with anyone there because they saw things so differently. Gwen tried to break through the secretiveness that infected even her relationship by sleeping with Owen and reached her lowest point sitting alone in the Hub, crying over a box of pizza after she'd confessed this and retconned Rhys. Ianto accused Jack of not caring enough, not asking about his life, and the feeling of loneliness was genuine, even though given his situation it’s unlikely Ianto encouraged this kind of enquiry. Owen, who in Countrycide told Gwen that he was glad not having to deal with patients any longer, was the only one who welcomed this isolation because deeper connections frightened him, but even he eventually fell in love, and Jack, who most of the time also chose to keep a distance, suddenly started talking to outsiders like John and the original Captain Harkness, and one wonders if Gwen was the only one he retconned, or if he usually just relied on people not believing him.

TW’s relationships may be a bit random and sketchily written, but love is an important force regardless, even if it comes in less than perfect forms. In S1 almost everyone betrayed Torchwood for love and a person outside Torchwood: Ianto for Lisa, Toshiko for Mary, Owen for Diane, Gwen for Rhys, and they were all forgiven by Jack, unlike Suzie, who only ever loved her job, even if she hated it at the same time, whose betrayal was entirely egoistic, and whom Jack killed without hesitation to save Gwen. In S1 Gwen accused Jack of having forgotten what it means to be human, but in Cyberwoman Ianto asked an at least equally important question that Gwen repeated at the end of the episode, 'Haven't you ever loved anyone?', and Small Worlds answered that, even if Jack himself didn't, but not without showing what a complicated and painful thing love has become for him with his immortality, a theme that CoE will explore further.

In S2 there is less isolation and more genuine mutual support and friendship. In Adam, where Jack is at his most emotional, there is an 'us' ('Look what you've done to us.') even for him, although the new-found team spirit is probably more due to his absence and Gwen’s leadership than anything he’d done, since much like in End of Days, in Adrift Jack still isn’t above trying to exploit a potential for rivalry when it suits his needs, only to discover that both Ianto and Gwen are completely immune to his attempts at manipulation. Jack’s compulsive secrecy that stopped be glamorous already in S1 is also an ongoing problem especially for Gwen, but it doesn’t tear the group apart any longer. Relationships are more stable and more important. There's Jack and Ianto's slowly developing and still somewhat tentative relationship, Toshiko and Owen are becoming at least a bit closer, even if their arc ends in the realisation that they'd missed each other, never even getting as far as Jack and Ianto, Owen regretting both the lost opportunities and the hurt he caused her. Gwen may still have feelings for Jack, but she is willing to give up Torchwood for Rhys, because even she, the most optimistic and positive of the group, feels that this universe that suddenly became so much bigger and so much more incomprehensible can be a cold and lonely place, forcing Jack, who isn’t willing to give her up, to bend his own rules. Even Captain Hart redeems himself at least to an extent because in his own way he is capable of love and loves Jack as much as he’s probably able to love anyone. It's Gray whom Jack in the end cryo-freezes because he isn't capable of killing him, forgiven partly out of Jack's own need for forgiveness, but so utterly destroyed by what had been done to him that he is beyond help or redemption, with no emotions left but hatred and the desire for revenge and destruction. Having seen nothing but death for most of his life it has become his final obsession, and in this he isn't entirely unlike Jack in S1: Standing over the dying Toshiko, telling her that he views death as a release, asking her what dying is like, what she's feeling, he intentionally or unintentionally recalls Jack in Everything Changes.

Love is so important for Jack because it’s so intricately linked to his better nature. The Doctor inspired him to be a better man, and Jack fell in love with him, and it was the same with Gwen after she'd been willing to sacrifice herself for Carys, or the original Captain Harkness; even Ianto. His case might be a bit more complicated, but in Cyberwoman, even if it also was horribly bad judgement, Ianto stood up to Jack in the name of love and compassion more radically and uncompromisingly than Gwen ever did, and it isn’t too much of a stretch to assume that Jack, who made staying or leaving Ianto’s decision, chose him at least as much because of that, as in spite of it. But Ianto isn’t only this uncompromising when it comes to emotions, he’s just as single-minded about what he sees as his duty. It was Ianto who tried to stop Owen from opening the rift even if it meant losing Jack, and in End of Days wanted to open it, not to get Lisa back, but to prevent further deaths, even if that meant standing up to Jack, even if it killed them all. It’s he who tells Captain Hart, 'There’s always a choice', in Exit Wounds, fully aware of what that implies and what the price might have been, because he’d already been willing to go there himself. And he’ll hold Jack to the same standards in CoE.

This is an aspect of Jack's relationships that shouldn’t be underestimated in light of who Jack was and is, warchild, time agent, conman from a time where murder rehab is something you can joke about, someone who became immortal and now operates separate from the government and outside the police, with no one to judge his actions but himself, a man who has seen morals change and abused, reason twisted and perverted, on this world and probably a lot of others. Ethics might not quite fall under 'you people and your quaint little categories', but they’re probably not that far removed either, and certainly not untouched by Jack's general attitude of cultural relativism. Jack never really shows an abstract code of morals and on the whole seems to mostly follow his instinct and emotions, which explains his occasional overreactions and erratic decisions, but at least after his encounter with the Doctor he also seems to have developed an instinct to pick people who can inspire him or push him in the right direction. Gwen and Ianto are the most obvious choices, but Toshiko and Owen's stories show that they too weren't only chosen for their skills, but for their loyalty to people they loved. Torchwood itself isn’t the healthiest place to be in, and even Gwen gets quickly drawn into the mindset and in S2 occasionally needs people from the outside like Rhys or PC Andy to readjust her perspective, but for Jack the problem is an even more profound one, because when he lost his mortality he also to a degree lost the connection to the human condition. For him love is maybe the most important tie to the fabric of humanity he has left, the one emotion that still makes him feel human and alive and balances the predominance of death in his life.

In Last of the Time Lords Jack saw what self-inflicted and self-perpetuated loneliness did to the Doctor, who after S4 will loosen his ties with humanity even further and drift to still darker places, and this is probably part of the reason why he decided to turn his non-quite relationship with Ianto into something at least a bit less informal, even if they’ll still be stuck at a somewhat awkward stage of avoiding to talk about the real issues in CoE, since Jack’s problems don’t go away just because he decides to ignore them, but comparing Jack in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or in CoE with the Doctor’s much harder attitude even towards Rose in School Reunion where he simply replies, 'As opposed to what?' when she is naturally hurt to discover that she’s just the latest in a long line, shows just how difficult this is for Jack, how much he still is at the beginning of his story where everything is still so much rawer and more painful every time, despite what Ianto, who is maybe a little too obsessed with the thought of being just one person among too many, may think. Jack still wanted his mortality back at the end of Last of the Time Lords, whereas as a Time Lord the Doctor doesn’t want to be anything else.


( VI. Doctor Who S4: We always have a choice. )

( VII. Torchwood Children of Earth: So, tell me, what should I have done? )

( VIII. Doctor Who 2009/10 specials: Lived too long. )

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
elisi
Sep. 6th, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
I am VERY VERY SLOWLY working my way through this, but enjoying it very much. It's superb, through and through, and ought to be published!

When in TW Gwen wanted to understand why the people from the cannibal village decided to kill and eat human beings, the only answer she got was ''Cause it makes me happy'; when Tom Milligan asks why the spheres kill so many humans when after all they're the same species, the answer is almost the same: 'Because it's fun.'
I'd never made that connection before, but it's perfect.

Already in Utopia, not just in The End of Time, the possibility of another Time Lord frightens him, finally making him see the Face of Boe’s words as the warning they always were and begging Professor Yana not to open the watch.
You know, I love EoT for showing the reason behind the Doctor's reluctance and fear, and in a way he must have been relieved that it was Yana was the Master, rather than say, Rassilon, because the Master he *knows*, and can deal with.

makes him out of a very personal need forgive something that isn’t his to forgive, because this isn’t one of the instances where he has the right to speak on behalf of the Earth.
Oh I ADORE that. It's the single most arrogant thing he ever says, I think, truly casting himself as God.

Jack's visible uneasiness with the situation is probably part guilt, part lingering unhappiness with his own state of being that Owen forced him to think about again, but maybe also something like the Doctor's 'It’s not easy even just… just looking at you.'
That's an excellent comparison. And I think it was very fitting that it was Owen who died in that way, following in Jack's footsteps, because there are a lot of parallels between how the Doctor took Jack under his wing, to how Jack to Owen under his. antelope_writes wrote (here) how in 'End of Days' Jack greets Tosh like a friend, Ianto like a lover, and Owen like a child. There is a father-son dymanic to Jack/Owen which works very well with their stories in S2.

It's Gray whom Jack in the end cryo-freezes because he isn't capable of killing him, forgiven partly out of Jack's own need for forgiveness, but so utterly destroyed by what had been done to him that he is beyond help or redemption, with no emotions left but hatred and the desire for revenge and destruction.
Very much like a Dalek, actually. (Also I'm flashing back to the Reavers of Firefly - that episode where a boy becomes a Reaver by witnessing what they do.)
solitary_summer
Sep. 7th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
*blush* Thank you! :)

I'd never made that connection before, but it's perfect.

I hadn't noticed it before either, but a lot of things connected once I started to treat it all as (more or less) one story. Although obviously I have no idea how this happens; whether it's intentional or just slips in somehow.

It's the single most arrogant thing he ever says, I think, truly casting himself as God.

Yes, it's... the mixture between right and wrong here is quite staggering; it sort of gives me (mental) whiplash. I'm not usually someone who wants to talk to writers, but in this case I'd love to ask RTD how he intended this scene to be seen.

There is a father-son dymanic to Jack/Owen which works very well with their stories in S2.

You'll probably already have read that, but after S1 clarity_lore also wrote a brief essay (here) about Jack's different relationships with the various members of his team. I bookmarked it mainly because back then she was one of the few people who saw Jack and Ianto as equals, but she also noted the father-son dynamic.
sensiblecat
Nov. 1st, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
It's wonderful to discover such intelligent and well written meta on the whole of RTD's vision. I've reflected long and hard on why DW affects me at such a deep emotional level. (I find it completely absent in Moffatt's DW and in some ways that's a relief and in others I feel quite bereft. I remember that after the Human Nature two-parter and JE I sank into a depression deep enough to incapacitate me for several days.

Perhaps the reason is that many of us as viewers replicate the companion's journey, and Rose's in particular. We see this wonderful, thrilling being that totally captivates us and we trust him to make everything all right, and gradually the scales fall from our eyes and we see him as he really is. I think you write particularly well about LOTTL, an episode that's understandably dismissed as "Tinkerbell Doctor", but you really capture the (literal) distance between the Doctor grieving over the Master and the humans who have suffered every bit as much as he has, yet remained loyal. It's hard to admit that someone you love can be a complete bastard, and that's what makes the last three episodes of S3 particularly painful viewing.

There is a sentimentality about the Doctor's platitudinous praise of the human race - RTD was very clear about that, so much so that he's frequently accused of sentimentality by fans. I think in his total deconstruction of the Doctor's heroism he provoked a deep hostility, and that may well be behind the premature glee with which Matt Smith's performance was welcomed.

There are so very many lines I could quote back at you but this one in particular lept out at me:

The Doctor's tragedy isn't that he can't have an ordinary life, it's the paradox that he can't have it because it isn't in his nature to want it enough to accept the consequences

Beautifully put, and I look foward to seeing your views on the 'human doctor' conclusion of S4. Even before reading that portion of your essay, that line feeds into my reaction to Donna's fate - the Doctor might well see it as an act of mercy on his part to stop Donna becoming like himself, regardless of whether it would save her life.
solitary_summer
Nov. 3rd, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad you like(d) it! :)

I've reflected long and hard on why DW affects me at such a deep emotional level.

I never had such a strong emotional reaction to DW (CoE on the other hand? I was walking around in a daze for two days and I never felt like that about any kind of fiction, book or TV), but even so there's something in RTD's DW that I'm also completely missing in SM's. During S5 people talked a lot about the different ways they write characters, but I think it's more than a question of character-driven vs. plot-driven writing. I can't put my finger on it, but there's a certain epic, mythological quality about RTD's DW; philosophic not in an abstract, theoretical, trying-to-be-clever sense, but in that all those questions about life and death and being human are absolutely central to the story. I put a quote from Aristotle's Poetics at the beginning of my first CoE meta post, and even now Day Five still feels like Greek tragedy to me, and I would never have been able to write this post if I hadn't started to read about 19th/20th century philosophy. That was when I suddenly felt I maybe finally had enough of a grip on the material to at least try to write this, however it would turn out in the end.

We see this wonderful, thrilling being that totally captivates us and we trust him to make everything all right, and gradually the scales fall from our eyes and we see him as he really is.

This is one of the things it took me a long time to understand and sometimes still drives me a bit crazy about RTD's writing: it's never just 'this!'; it's always 'this, but' or 'this, and also this'. You crave clarity, but you only get ambiguity and yet more ambiguity.

the Doctor might well see it as an act of mercy on his part to stop Donna becoming like himself, regardless of whether it would save her life.

I never thought about it in terms of mercy before, but I never could see it as the absolute worst thing either, not the least because if I did, if being a normal human being is such a terrible fate, what would that say about my own life? Wilf may claim that she was better with the Doctor, but OTOH Rose says in Turn Left that Donna always was brilliant, it just took the Doctor to help her realise it. I still feel conflicted about both Rose and Donna's fate at the end of S4, but I can't agree with those who say he should have let her die either.
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