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Author's note: It's funny how I never plan on these things and they happen anyway. I had absolutely no intentions of writing about Jack and Ianto again after the big post in 2009; more than 9.000 words of meta—what was there even left to write about? But then I wrote about death, life, and what it means to be human in DW and TW, and in the process of rewatching for that I had a (short) paragraph's worth of an idea that I didn't think would amount to more than that, but somehow kept... not so much nagging, as occasionally nibbling at my mind, and months and months later, I'm not sure how exactly, it suddenly turned out that there still was something I wanted to write after all before we get new canon. Which then developed a life of its own, took me to places I hadn't expected, and, well. Insert obligatory warning for excessive wordiness. It's also, I guess, a sort of post-CoE closure for me, because this time I managed to tie up all the threads running through the first three seasons in my mind.




Time - he's waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things
His script is you and me, boy


- David Bowie, Time -



The World Is Always Ending: Time in Torchwood's Jack/Ianto Arc


Time has always been Jack's theme. Before he travelled with the Doctor, he was a Time Agent turned time-travelling conman who lost two years of his life somewhere along the way. When he danced with Rose in The Empty Child, it was in front of the clock of Big Ben. But after Rose brought him back to life permanently and he accidentally got himself stranded in 1869 in the attempt of trying to meet the Doctor again, his relationship with time changed radically. He lost the relative freedom and control he used to have over it, and suddenly found himself once more chained to a linear timeline, no longer able to jump back and forth through the centuries and millennia, using history for his own purpose. He lost his mortality, something that, as DW canon also repeatedly emphasises, constitutes a basic element of what it means to be human, but at the same time he was forced to live his life in a very human fashion, day after day after day, without even the most basic freedom every human being has, to end it. Time became a burden.

Among the clutter on Jack's desk there are two objects that are a permanent fixture throughout both the first and second series of TW: the growing Tardis coral and an hourglass. Regardless of whether they were put there with this purpose in mind, between them they illustrate Jack's state of being, and his dilemma. The former is an obvious symbol for the Doctor, for what happened to Jack, for the ability to travel in time he is hoping to regain eventually: the power of (and, to an extent, the power over) space and time. It can be read to represent his new life that, in absolute terms, has only just begun and that he's still trying to get used to. The hourglass, on the other hand, traditionally symbolises the fleetingness of time, the brevity of human life; mortality and death. It is used briefly in Fragments to illustrate the passage of the years and decades Jack spent in Torchwood, but it can also stand for the old, human, life Jack lost, the humanity he's struggling to maintain, and, as a memento mori, for a heightened awareness of the death that is omnipresent in the world around him, but continues to elude him. If the sand running through the glass symbolises the human lifespan, then in Jack's case the hourglass gets turned around again and again with each death, and the sand starts running anew. It's between these two polar opposites that Jack has to find his way now.


Part 1: Ten Minutes, and Counting


Jack's leitmotif in S1 is 'out of time', a theme that starts inconspicuously, but becomes dominant towards the end of the series. Everything Changes merely states the fact of Jack's immortality, and while this is clearly something that confuses him, if only because he can't explain it, he still brushes off Gwen's question with a light, 'Well, it kind of freaks people out, so, best if you don't say anything'. Ghost Machine deals with the shadows of the past, the complications of knowing the future, and the danger of getting lost among 'all those ghosts', but while Fragments especially will show that the Hub must be painfully full of ghosts for Jack and that, 'We've just got to learn to live with them', is nothing less than the voice of long experience, this connection isn't particularly stressed yet, and at the end of the episode it's Jack who consoles the upset Gwen. Small Worlds is the first episode that addresses Jack's out-of-time-ness as a main theme. Both the episode's storylines use this motif; the faeries are moving 'backwards and forwards through time', claiming their chosen children, taking them back into the past and giving them eternal life, and against this background the out-of-time romance between Estelle and Jack is slowly revealed.

Small Worlds is TW's equivalent of DW's School Reunion: 'I don't age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you—' But unlike the Doctor, Jack doesn't have to imagine. He's already seeing the woman he loved more than half a century ago in her old age, while he himself looks the same as he did in 1941, or in 1909. Making the decision to contact her again he already knew he'd eventually see her die, even though he would have wanted a better death for her. And whatever he may have become, whatever he is, unlike the Doctor, Jack doesn't have the dubious advantage of being able to see himself as fundamentally apart from mankind; maybe not ever, certainly not at this point of the story. He may time and time again try to detach himself, he may occasionally indulge in ironic remarks about humanity of the early 21st century, but he was born human and in his mind there is nothing like the Doctor's fundamental Time Lord/human dichotomy. But his immortality has a similar impact on his relationships: in Small Worlds we see the complications, the futility of vows in the face of hard facts, the awkward construct of lies in order to avoid painful explanations, a habit so deeply ingrained that Jack even lies to Gwen, who already knows about his immortality, and finally the pain of having to witness the death of someone he so clearly still loves after all this time.

It's perhaps no coincidence that Small Worlds is set immediately after Cyberwoman, the episode that with its explosion of emotions established a relationship between Jack and Ianto that evidently was more intense and more complicated than just mild flirtation, even if neither of them had wanted to acknowledge that. Cyberwoman ended with Gwen repeating the question Ianto asked earlier in the episode, 'So have you ever loved anyone that much?' and in many ways Small Worlds is the answer Jack refused to give. But Small Worlds doesn't only show the end of a relationship; with the intimacy evoked in Jack and Ianto's meeting in the Hub at night it also hints at the tentative start of one. Not only is Ianto is still there, but something between them didn't die with Lisa. At the same time what we learn about Jack's relationship with Estelle necessarily already throws a light—and a shadow—on this uncertain beginning. Gwen, who watched Jack cradling the body of an old woman he loved more than sixty years ago, may have pictured herself in Estelle's place. Ianto, who didn't see this, will struggle with a similar picture eventually.

In Countrycide we get more hints of Jack's past, and this time they reveal an uglier side of his character, like his claim of having been 'pretty good at torture' because his 'job demanded it at the time'. What stands out at the end of the episode is the contrast between Gwen's shock and need to understand, and Jack's reaction—anger, the desire to protect Gwen from what she might find out, a sullen weariness, but no surprise, no need any longer to comprehend why this happened. Greeks Bearing Gifts starts on a similar note with Jack complaining about always finding dead bodies (and never a party), and then goes on to parallel the climax of Toshikos's despair at not being able to see any good in people any longer with Jack standing on a roof, waiting for a sign of the Tardis. At the end of the episode Toshiko decides that Mary's pendant is a curse and destroys it; Jack, however, can't get rid of the gift that he was given with better intentions, but that in so many ways turned out to be a curse regardless. After such a long a life he still has no answer for Toshiko's question, 'How can I live with it?'

Both Countrycide and Greeks Bearing Gifts examine how Torchwood changes the people who work there and the way they see the world. The question that, unspoken, lingers, is how it affected and affects Jack, who, as already S1 suggests, although without giving definitive dates, spent a much longer time there. Fragments and especially CoE will deal with this issue, but almost from the start Jack had an air of knowing too much, of having seen too much and done too much, something that was implicitly addressed in Gwen's, 'You've been hidden down here too long. Spending so much time with the alien stuff, you've lost what it means to be human', in Day One, and eventually will condense in Jack's admission, 'I have lived a long time, I have done a lot of things', in CoE.

In They Keep Killing Suzie a lot of threads come together. Like Countrycide and Greeks Bearing Gifts, the episode deals with the isolation within Torchwood that drove Suzie to Pilgrim, just as it drove Gwen into Owen's bed and Toshiko to Mary; the darker side of Torchwood that can and does drive people mad, that gets people, and not just employees, but innocent bystanders, killed. And for the first time we see that this also leaves its marks on Jack. It's the episode that shows Jack is at his most vulnerable so far, and it brings together the two people that, although they hide it best, are also the ones that are most profoundly hurt and hurting. What is unexpected is that Ianto, whose wounds are still so fresh that they barely had time to begin healing yet, is offering comfort to Jack by the end. When Jack, who throughout the episode had to make the hard decisions alone, says, 'No, I should be doing it, but... ', leaving the rest of the sentence unspoken, this is the closest he comes to admitting that occasionally the mess that is Torchwood is too much for him, too, and that he, too, sometimes needs someone—not to talk to, because talking is complicated—but to take part of the burden off his shoulders for a moment, or at least distract him from it.

But it's not just the unwanted (and, as S2 will reveal, unasked for) responsibility that weighs so heavily on Jack. The episode for the first time unequivocally spells out how Jack feels about his immortality when Gwen asks him about the possibility of Suzie also living forever and he matter-of-factly replies: 'I wouldn't wish that on her. I'd sooner kill her right now.' This link between Jack and Suzie is not new. In Everything Changes both of them had a too-similar obsessive gleam in their eyes when they talked about the necessity of testing the glove: Suzie wanted an escape from death, for everyone, but especially for herself; Jack wanted an explanation for how he'd been 'brought back to life'. When he told Gwen about his inability to die at the end of the episode, it explained the urgency of his question to the recently deceased John Tucker at the beginning. After her resurrection Suzie at first seems to share Jack's attitude towards immortality when she asks him if he can't just let her die—and gets the revealing answer, 'You don't get off that easy'—, but it soon turns out that her entire plan is driven by a fervent hunger for life ('Because life is all.'), and in the end she and Jack are locked in a struggle where both want what the other has, but cannot appreciate.

Time is Jack's main problem, and now, carelessly catching the stopwatch that Jack tosses to him at the beginning of the episode, it becomes Ianto's problem, too, even if it will take him until the beginning of S2 to realise that. Jack is 'out of his time', Ianto loves precision: in Everything Changes Jack introduced Ianto to Gwen as 'And this is Ianto Jones, Ianto cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time.' Then it was Suzie who resurrected her victim and counted the seconds; the episode that canonically confirms if not the, then some sort of relationship between Jack and Ianto, also gives Ianto the stopwatch that sparked innumerable fanfics and became something of his attribute.

It's also, in the context of the episode's final scene, an oddly incongruous object. An object that is so inherently non-sexual that even Jack needs a moment and a bit of further clarification to realise he's being propositioned. And his confusion is understandable, because a stopwatch, pocket watch, or any other kind of clock, simply has no sexual connotations, or at least didn't have them before this episode. A watch, like the hourglass on Jack's desk, is a symbol for one thing only, the passage of time. The impermanence of things, mortality, death. The pocket watch, like the hour-glass, appears on vanitas still lifes for this very reason. The only other instance where a watch turns up in such a prominent spot in TW/DW canon is the fob watches the Doctor and the Master hide their Time Lord selves in. But in both cases the watch doesn't function as a watch (Martha: 'It's not really a watch, it just looks like a watch.'): It's a device for measuring time containing something that has at least a certain amount of power over time. Ianto's watch, on the other hand, works only too well. And it isn't just any kind of watch, it's one built for the sole purpose of measuring a limited span of time, and it's used in the episode to measure the remaining seconds of someone's life.

Jack and Ianto's relationship begins over a dead body, over loss, over Torchwood with all its ambiguity, over 'death by Torchwood', and Jack's fundamental despair that became transparent for the first time in this episode. Jack says, 'One day, we're going to run out of space', but the 'we' is deceptive. The 'we' was already an illusion when he and Estelle promised each other they'd be together until they died. S2 especially will make it clear just how many people Jack knew in their time must be lying in the morgue, some of the bodies not so much longer than Suzie's. In the end, for Jack there is no 'we'. The thing Jack will have to live with and ignore as best as he can is that given enough time—and considering the circumstances in Torchwood, very likely sooner rather than later—, Ianto will end up in one of these drawers while he will still live on. Jack may run out of space to store all the dead bodies piling up around him, but time is the one thing he won't run out of. Jack says, 'The resurrection days are over', but while that may or may not be true for Suzie, it obviously isn't true for him.

Ianto, without being aware of it, starts this relationship with a symbol of mortality, a symbol for what will be his main problem after S1: the different ways he and Jack move through time. A symbol that in a relationship with Jack everyone's time is necessarily measured. His offer is a direct response to Jack's dejected mood, but perhaps also follows his own inner need, because while Ianto may love his stopwatch, he is also very aware of the fact that in Torchwood one's time can run out very fast: 'Don't you ever wonder how long you can survive before you go mad, or get killed, or lose a loved one?' For Jack the problem is more profound and deeper-rooted than Ianto knows yet—his shock in End of Days is genuine—, but what he unintentionally and for Jack wholly unexpectedly does is turn something that long ago had become a burden for Jack, time, into something positive, the expectation of death into the expectation of something life-affirming: 'Well, think about it. Lots of things you can do with a stopwatch.' Things that for once have nothing to do with dead bodies and resurrection. There is something almost defiant in that offer, and even if Ianto didn't intend it that way, it probably feels like that to Jack anyway. As Jack says in one of the deleted scenes from Captain Jack Harkness: 'All these soldiers know they could die any day, so what do they do? They dance. They lose themselves in the music. Celebrating the now, holding onto each other. [...] Defying the bombs not to fall just yet.' But Ianto can do this because he doesn't know. He will never quite regain this unselfconsciousness in regard to Jack, himself, and time, once he finds out about Jack's immortality, and when he finally makes his peace with it in CoE, it will be hard won.

At the end of They Keep Killing Suzie Ianto for a moment made Jack forget about the relentlessness of time, but Random Shoes already begins and ends with the statement that 'life just whizzes by', and Out of Time is a disastrous episode for Jack, because it brutally reminds him of the realities of his own life. Of course he sees himself in John. Even before CoE introduced Alice and Steven, the parallel between them was obvious, and Jack confirms it when he answers John's question ('Who are you?') with, 'A man, like you, out of his time, alone and scared.' But also a man who doesn't have the choice that John still has, and in the end takes. A phrase Jack used in his conversation with Gwen at the end of Ghost Machine turns up again—'A new day'—but now the lightness is gone, and instead it becomes a stubborn, half-desperate mantra that helps Jack survive from day to day without falling into despair. And it gets worse. John at least had a life and a family he couldn't bear losing; in Combat Mark and his friends are courting death because this is the only meaning they can find in their lives, and at the end of the episode Owen shocks Jack by telling him, much like John had, that Jack shouldn't have interfered and saved him.

Captain Jack Harkness is the counterweight to the pervasive existentialist despair of Out of Time and Combat, the quintessential carpe diem episode. The theme is played back and forth between Jack and the man whose name he bears, first with Jack insisting that Captain Harkness make the most what little time he has left ('I just think you should live every night like it's your last. Make tonight the best night of your life. You're alive, right here, right now. [...] Go to your woman and lose yourself in her.'), and a little later Captain Harkness telling Jack, who finds it less easy to apply this philosophy to himself because it's only ever everyone else's time that is limited, never his, 'Well, then make the most of now'. Even though the episode is set a time when death can strike any minute, death doesn't dominate it. Despite the responsibility for his men, despite the fears he eventually admits to, despite the knowledge he might die any time, Captain Harkness has no regrets. The presence of death is a reality, but what is more important is that he lives his life with valour and honour. And although a heroic self-sacrifice is out of Jack's reach seemingly for ever, even in End of Days, where he believes for a moment this might be the purpose he's been kept alive for, and for Jack duty will never lie in death, but always in life, this is something he can aspire to and still has control over.

The episode throws Jack out of time once more, but unlike John it takes him back into a past he's familiar with, and where to all appearances he feels more at home than in the present. But it also shows how lost, how fundamentally disconnected Jack is, living with a borrowed name, the one thing John refused to do, and without any real ties to the world and time he's living in. Toshiko wants to go back immediately ('I have a life there.'); Jack's journey into his past culminates in the realisation that, 'There is no one.' If Small Worlds was the equivalent of School Reunion, this is the closest Jack comes to Ten's rejection of Martha's suggestion that the Face of Boe might have meant her in Gridlock. But whereas Ten insists on his self-chosen loneliness for the rest of S3, Jack falls in love a little—and is immediately faced with his eternal dilemma, only this time he already knows exactly when and how this man will die. Once Jack realises whom he's meeting, his first impulse is to get out as fast as he can, when only a moment before he was so charmed he'd wanted to stay if that had been possible, and it's an understandable reaction. After all, this, although in a quieter, more personal way, is the kind of situation that will eventually push Ten over the edge in The Waters of Mars. Once again the knowledge of the future weighs heavily on Jack ('I know too much.'), but unlike Ten, the one thing he never even attempts to do is try to change it. Even in this situation he sticks to what he said in Ghost Machine: 'It's not meant for us.'

A few scenes after Jack confesses his, 'There is no one', and some sixty-five years in the future, Ianto says something that on the surface contradicts Jack's statement, and he says it without the least doubt or hesitation: 'Jack needs me.' Not unlike in They Keep Killing Suzie there is a noticeable contrast between Ianto's certainty and Jack's emotional vulnerability after he finally told Toshiko the truth about his past, and his grief about not being able to do anything for Captain Harkness. Jack may not know it yet, but Ianto is right about this, just as he was right about Owen walking straight into a trap. Because Captain Jack Harkness introduces another character lost in time: Bilis Manger, who, like Jack, received a gift that turned out to be a curse for him. In Combat Jack said, 'Sometimes you can know too much history', in End of Days Bilis says, 'I can see the whole of history, but I don't belong anywhere within it.' As with Jack's hourglass or Ianto's stopwatch, once again the symbol of the clocks is used to illustrate this sense of not belonging: Bilis's clocks never match: not in his office in Captain Jack Harkness, and not in his shop in End of Days. Not two of them tell the same time. And Bilis, unlike Mark, who also looked forward to what might come out of the dark, bringing chaos and freeing him from the last obligations to humanity, isn't content to kill himself, but intends to destroy the world he doesn't feel at home in any longer.

The question of humanity is central to Jack's story and has been woven into his arc from the beginning, first with Gwen's introduction into Torchwood in Day One ('You've lost what it means to be human'), then with Ianto in Cyberwoman ('Haven't you ever loved anyone?' and, 'You like to think you're a hero, but you're the biggest monster of all.'), or Mary's question, 'What are you?' in Greeks Bearing Gifts. Bilis's fate shows why Jack needs Ianto, why he needs Gwen, and needs everyone he's ever been and will be in love with: to stop him from becoming even more dangerously lost in time, to anchor him in time, linear time, the logic of actions and consequences, to bind him to humanity, each person at least for a while. Because there is something worse than the pain of losing people, and that is losing oneself in the void of meaninglessness. Jack needs this connection, and the purpose it gives him. He needed it when he first met the Doctor, and he needs it even more now that he has to find meaning for a life that threatens to go on forever. 'Duty' is the keyword at the end of Captain Jack Harkness, Jack's reason to leave the past behind and return to the present where he is needed, and this connection between love and the inspiration to be a better man, to do the right thing, appears again and again in Jack's story, for the first time when he met the Doctor, again when he met Gwen, and in CoE especially it will also play a part in Jack and Ianto's relationship.


Part 2: Eight Thirty-Two, Thirty-One...


If Jack was burdened by his out-of-time state in S1, he is effectively trying to erase time when he comes back to Torchwood at the beginning of S2. The past, and not only the last year, but his own past, first in the conversation with Gwen ('Here and now, that's what's important.'), then with Ianto ('He's a reminder of my past. I want him gone.'), and, in many ways, also the future: the everlasting night at the end of the universe, the fate of mankind and its desperate struggle for survival, and maybe most of all the Doctor's, 'You may be out there somewhere', that ceased to be a laughing matter, if not before than certainly once the hopes of Utopia turned into the unmitigated nightmare of Last of the Time Lords. Jack asking Ianto out on a date, making a deliberate attempt to turn their relationship into something more formal than it was in S1, surprises even Ianto, but in some ways seems almost absurd in light of the fact that he had just been told that his immortality is irreversible, and is at least consciously acknowledging the thought that he might live for a million years—an almost unimaginable, but still less frightening number than a hundred trillion, or the five billion that will pass before his story finally comes to an end. But it's perhaps also a psychologically necessary reaction. 'Here and now' is all that is tolerable to contemplate. The past may be painful and embarrassing, but the future is utterly terrifying.

Jack, who described himself as 'alone and out of his time' in S1 and was mainly living for the moment when he'd finally find the Doctor again, comes back from this meeting with the realisation that he does in fact belong somewhere, maybe has belonged there for a while without realising it—or at least the desperate determination to belong: 'But after it was all over, I knew I belong here. What kept me fighting was the thought of coming home to you.' It's impossible to even speculate whether Jack might have remembered Bilis's words during the year that never was, but he wouldn't have needed to. There was someone else there who suffered from the conviction of not belonging anywhere any longer: the Doctor. And to someone struggling with many of the same issues, Ten at the end of his S3 arc was not an example that invited emulation, that much must have been obvious even to Jack, who read the writing on the wall and fled back to the place that was the closest thing to a home he'd known for the past century. Even so, he'd have preferred to take with him the relative freedom his vortex manipulator gave him, but Ten, who is suspicious of immortality, even, at the end of his arc, the Time Lords' quasi-immortality, once more chained Jack to linear time, to a single world, to the consequences of his actions. Jack protested against this, but he makes this decision himself in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, when he's offered the freedom of the universe a second time, but chooses, although not without a fleeting tinge of regret, the new life he'd almost inadvertently built himself, with all its responsibilities and complicated emotional ties, even if it means having to remain 'tied to one planet'.

In S2 the 'out of time' motif is more subdued and transformed into Jack's struggle to belong, to accept his state of being and find a way to live with it, but it doesn't disappear entirely. In To the Last Man there are two out-of-time love stories, Toshiko and Tommy's, and Jack and Ianto's, the time-lapse quality of the one foreshadowing the future of the other. Two couples that are already divided by time and will eventually be divided by death, brought together and torn apart by Torchwood. There are obvious parallels between Jack and Tommy: the war experience that changed Tommy and also left its marks on Jack's psyche ('It was like walking into hell. Believe me. I was there.'), the fact that neither of them is in the time he originally belonged to, as well as their relative agelessness compared to their partners. Toshiko, like Ianto in CoE, is worried Tommy would see her grow old. But it's also Toshiko who, despite Owen's earlier concern that she might get hurt falling in love with someone she might have to say goodbye to soon, chooses to sleep with Tommy knowing that she'll be sending him to his (eventual) death in the morning. And Jack, when he tells her that she is strong enough to send Tommy back to the past and his execution since this is what it takes to save the future, of course knows how hard it is to send friends—and now, probably for the first time since he took over Torchwood, also a lover— day after day into situations that might get them killed. In Dead Man Walking Jack will admit that the fact that he doesn't share the risk makes things even more complicated, but it's a difficult situation in any case, and Jack acknowledges this in his slightly sceptical 'If that's what you both want', when Toshiko suggests Tommy can come home with her, anticipating his 'That's your decision [...] You both have to live by it', to Gwen and Rhys in the following episode.

The parallel is made explicit in the central part of the episode when Ianto asks Jack if he would go back to his own time, if he could. Jack is more honest with Ianto than he was with Gwen in the first rush of emotion in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He has already realised that the desire to belong might not be enough to really make him belong, but 'maybe that doesn't matter any more.' Jack isn't making empty promises any longer; he's not telling Ianto he'll be the only one, but he can and does tell him that he's with him because he wants to be, that there are no regrets, and that Ianto isn't second best to anyone.

Jack's words in this scene can be read as a direct reaction to his meeting with the Doctor, and especially the long conversation Ten and Jack had in Utopia: When they joked about Jack possibly meeting himself out there, Ten said, almost off-handedly, 'Well, it's the only man you're ever gonna be happy with', and there's a double meaning to this phrase, a dark undercurrent beneath the superficially light tone. It's not so much a comment on Jack's inconsistency or inability to truly love anyone, as the last of the Time Lords condemning Jack, the 'impossible thing', the 'fixed point in time and space' that was 'never meant to happen', to the same kind of eternal loneliness that he believes is his own fate. This is Ten clinging to the Master, begging him to live, because, 'We're the only two left. There's no one else', never even acknowledging the presence of the two people who loved him, still love him, and fought and suffered and waited for him. Whether it was a conscious decision or pure instinct, Jack rebelled against this prediction, and coming back lost no time to at least make an attempt to find a bit of normality and happiness with Ianto. Of course it isn't as easy as he might have wanted it to be, because in To the Last Man they both acknowledge Jack's loneliness as something that neither going home, nor, apparently, Ianto can really fix, but Jack doesn't build impenetrable walls around himself like Ten did in S3. No doubt the Doctor is on Jack's list of people he wouldn't have met and loved if he'd stayed at home, but in S2 he's stopped talking about the 'right doctor' who would make everything better, and makes sure that Ianto understands he's also on that list.

To the Last Man is the most prominent 'out of time' episode in S2, but the time motif still plays a role in Ianto's S2 arc. Already in the first episode the stopwatch made an appearance again, and Ianto was counting down the minutes and seconds until the bomb on Captain Hart's chest would explode, and in To the Last Man it's once again he who promptly answers when Tommy asks what time it is, meaning how much time he has left. It doesn't seem unlikely that this continued emphasis on the theme of time running out that is especially persistent in the first half of S2 might originally have been part of the foreshadowing of Ianto's death, like his foreboding over the death of twenty-six year old Harriet Derbyshire in To the Last Man ('Nothing changes.'), echoing his regret over 'all those young soldiers' many of whom wouldn't survive the war in Captain Jack Harkness.

While Jack tries not to think about time, the implications of Jack's timelessness have become Ianto's biggest worry, which probably would have come as a surprise to him when he was grieving Jack's death in End of Days. Jack clearly was very selective in what he told his new recruits about the history and purpose of Torchwood, but Ianto would of course have known whom Jack was referring to when he talked about 'his doctor', and during Jack's absence would probably have come to the conclusion that there was someone with whom Jack shared a connection that he, Ianto Jones, human, mortal, would never have, no matter how hard he tried. One might wonder if he ever found out, if Jack ever told him, that it's not like that at all, and that Jack's immortality is just as problematic for the Doctor as it is for Ianto, if not more so. As it is, he didn't see Jack's anger, hurt, and disappointment in Utopia and Last of the Time Lords, only Jack's smile when he said, 'Found my Doctor'. Ianto to all appearances is friends with Gwen and doesn't seem to be concerned about whatever feelings Jack might have for her, but the Doctor and Jack's out-of-time state evidently trouble him to the point of needing some reassurance, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ('Are you going back to him?'), and again in To the Last Man, when he wants to know whether Jack would go back to his own time if he could.

The first half of S2 shows the cautiously developing relationship between two men, one whom is acutely aware of the passage of time and all that entails, while the other is trying to come to terms with the fact that he experiences this only ever indirectly through other people, never in himself. However, this development is suddenly cut off in the middle of the season. Leaving aside Adam, the events of which neither Jack nor Ianto remember at the end of the episode, and Fragments, which deals only with the past of their relationship, To the Last Man is the last S2 episode with any kind of substantial relationship building. It's Owen, not Ianto, whose time runs out first after all, and Ianto who once again counts the seconds when Jack resurrects Owen. It's Owen who gets an 'out of time' arc (You know, you get to live forever. I get to die forever. It's funny that.') that mirrors Jack's experience of being brought back from death against his will, 'different' and 'wrong', and is struggling to accept this. And it's Owen who ends up discussing death and immortality and the unfairness of it all with Jack.

To all intents and purposes there is no Jack/Ianto arc in the second half of S2, just a perpetuation of the still largely unresolved status quo over several scenes focusing on the sexual aspect of their relationship. But it's revealing that From Out of the Rain, the episode where, again with the exception of Fragments, they share the most screen time, is also an episode where the time/'out of time' element is once again strong with the Night Travellers escaping from old films into the present, able to seperate people's life force from their bodies and trapping them in an unnatural state of forever as their audience. The episode gives us not just another glimpse into Jack's past, but also puts a new emphasis on Ianto's own preoccupation with history. Other than Gwen, Owen and Toshiko, who are never anything less than contemporary, in S2 especially Ianto is written at least a little out of time to match Jack: with his love for Cardiff's history, his paper diary recording the passage of time in a high-tech environment, his suits, or the story about his father the master tailor, regardless of the fact that this turned out to be a lie. From Out of the Rain also shows Ianto's longing for a long lost past, a fascination with its preservation that Jack doesn't share and that proves to be dangerous in the end, as well as his empathy for the Night Travellers, killed by the cinema and forgotten by history. None of this is ostensibly about him and Jack yet, but it betrays a quiet struggle with the inexorable laws of time, an awareness that suggests that he's begun to think about himself in relation to Jack's immortality.

The episode also once more briefly highlights the main problem of their relationship. Despite the determination to belong Jack expressed in the first episode, the signs that this might not be so easy never quite disappeared throughout the series. Already in Sleeper Beth's fate foreshadowed that the wish to simply be human might be more difficult to realise than Jack imagines. Beth too believed she belonged. In her life where she had a flat, a job, a holiday booked, and a husband whom she loved, and who loved her. In a world where she had rights and the unquestioned certainty that she was human. Until all of this turned out to be a lie. Jack's insistence to 'to find out what she is' is ironic coming from a man who couldn't answer that question himself not so long ago, but in the second half of the episode there is also a definitive connection and understanding between him and Beth. Jack never offers her any of Gwen's hopeful lies, and Beth knows whom to turn to with the request to kill her rather than let her hurt anyone.

Jack on some level never stopped seeing himself as the outsider, in spite—or because—of the the fact that he has lived on this planet for almost a century and half and worked for Torchwood much of that time. In Meat we see Jack's emotional over-identification with the butchered spacewhale, in Reset with the aliens used for medial experiments; all of them creatures lost and torn out of their world (and time) by the rift, stranded in Cardiff, captured and exploited. When Jack remarks in Meat: 'Imprisoned, chained and drugged. Welcome to planet Earth', one only has to replace 'Earth' with 'Torchwood' to get a pretty accurate description of his first run-in with the institute. The out-of-time-ness crops up again in Something Borrowed, at the end of which Jack is sitting alone in the Hub, contemplating, half melancholy, half smiling, his old wedding photograph, possibly from a time before he found out about his immortality. In a tragic twist of irony, Adam is the episode where Jack radiates the most genuine sense of belonging, the greatest certainty in himself and his team—until in order to undo Adam's damage he has to give up the memories he'd only just found again, and loses much of this overt warmth.

In From Out of the Rain Christina swipes away Jack's efforts to belong with two brief sentences: 'It means you don't belong. It means you're from nowhere.' And Ianto, who took in a stride the fact that Jack turned up on a film from the beginning of the century, and even rolled his eyes at Jack having been billed as ‘The Man Who Couldn't Die’, is once again left looking worried and unhappy. Christina's words raise an invisible barrier between them, even as they're sitting side by side, almost touching, because unlike Jack, in the end Ianto does belong; in this century, this city, and, as became evident in Adam, with Torchwood and with Jack. It's interesting to note that the 'out of time' motif also played a part in Jack and Captain Hart's relationship with the two weeks or five years they spent stuck in a time loop, but the crucial difference here is that unlike Jack and Ianto they were out of time together, making this an experience they can still joke about, whereas with Jack's immortality every relationship becomes one-sided and unbalanced at least in some respects, and the element of time invariably brings a note of uneasiness and complication into it.

Towards the end of the series Adrift shows Jack as the guardian of his island of victims of the rift, people torn out of their lives and out of their time, then flung back, damaged, changed, at home again and yet not at home any longer. People that Jack is fundamentally convinced fall under the category of 'some things we can't fix'. This key phrase turns up several times over S2, perhaps most notably in Sleeper, when Beth asked Jack, 'Can you fix me? Can you make me human?' and his answer was a brutally direct, 'No', brushing aside the philosophical argument Gwen tried to make only a moment ago, that it's the mind rather than the body that makes us human. The words turn up once more, paraphrased, in Exit Wounds, when Captain Hart, obliquely referring to Gray and already correctly predicting the outcome of the story, tells Jack, 'You don't understand. You can't ever make this right.' But before Beth, before Gray, the phrase originally belonged to Jack. In Fragments one of the ladies from Torchwood repeats Jack's drunken ramblings: 'The Doctor. He'll be able to fix me', and at the end of Last of the Time Lords Jack still couldn't stop himself from asking, 'And what about me? Can you fix that? Will I ever be able to die?', echoed in Owen's, 'Did he fix you?' in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, to which Jack replied with a bravado that wasn't there before, 'What's to fix? You don't mess with this level of perfection.'

It's Jack's own disappointed hopes and expectations that inform his brutally realistic stance in Adrift, and not surprisingly Owen, who went through a similar experience very recently, backs him up. On the other side of this controversy are the two people less inclined to accept Jack's fatalism, Gwen, who refuses to take Jack's word for it that some things have to be borne, and, siding with her, Ianto, who at first attempts to convince Jack to consider her suggestion, and then gives her the location of the island, despite Jack's vehement, almost desperate, insistence that she let this go. But much like in Sleeper, where Beth eventually came to the realisation that she was only human enough to die as a human being, but not to live as one, once again there is no miraculous solution, and the disastrous outcome of the episode proves Jack's pessimism right at a cost to everyone involved. Gwen has to accept that there are some things that indeed cannot be fixed on a fundamental level, and Ianto will finally have to accept the same truth in regard to Jack's immortality in CoE.


Part 3: Thirty Minutes


Time is once again a dominant theme in CoE: already the first close-up shot of Cardiff is the clock tower from Cardiff castle. The division into five days gives the story a strictly linear temporal structure overall, but within this relentless progress of time, 'out of time' elements intrude almost constantly. The development of Jack and Ianto's relationship can be effectively divided into two parts: the first deals with the impact of Jack's immortality on their future, the second has them struggling with Jack's past. And this time their arc is woven into the plot at every stage, which perhaps is fitting for the two people who identified with Torchwood in ways Gwen never did. While Rhys finally found his place in the story in CoE, Gwen had to fight for her relationship with him from the start, and until almost the end of S2 was always torn between these two parts of her life. Jack and Ianto's relationship, on the other hand, was, for better or worse, always linked to Torchwood and part of Torchwood. Ianto's 'This is us. This is Torchwood. This is home', at the beginning of Day Three echoes not only Jack's sense of coming home at the beginning of S2, but already his 'Anyone home?' in Fragments; Gwen, at the beginning of Day One asks, 'Anyone in?', and she has a place to go home to at the very end of Day Five.

Day One starts on the same note of ambiguity that characterised much of S2: the story begins with Jack and Ianto playing the couple neither of them is sure they really are for a Torchwood mission. Jack seems to assume they are together ('Well, we are. Does it matter?'), but only as long as he isn't forced to talk about it or the word 'couple' comes up too much. Ianto is even more unsure ('And I don't even know what it is, really', recalling his, 'It's not like that. Me and Jack', without being able to define what it is like in A Day in the Death), still struggling with the uncertainty of what he wants, what he can have, or what it even makes sense to ask from someone like Jack, but at the same time clearly interested in taking things a step further and not entirely happy with the status quo.

But then we meet Jack's daughter Alice and his grandson Steven, and it suddenly becomes a lot clearer where Jack's dislike for the word 'couple' comes from. While Torchwood certainly complicated the situation even further, Jack's immortality was the main reason why his relationship with Alice's mother fell apart, why his relationship with his daughter is equally strained now, and why his grandson mustn't know who Jack really is. This ties in with S1's big 'out of time' episodes: The awkwardness of Jack pretending to be Steven's uncle recalls not just Jack in Small Worlds, introducing himself to his old lover as his own son, but even more painfully John in Out of Time, who had to pretend to be his son's nephew when he visited him. It also touches upon S2's 'belonging' motif: Beth's question of whether 'feeling human' is enough when it comes to having kids suddenly is very pertinent to Jack. And it's yet another situation that Jack has apparently resigned himself to not being able to change. He respects Alice's wishes, but his muted unhappiness throughout the scene is obvious, and his undisguised joy at Gwen's pregnancy speaks volumes about his hopes of maybe getting it right this time with his new ersatz family.

But the moment of fragile happiness is shattered almost immediately. Day One ends with another desperate race against time and death that Ianto, despite everything he knows and has seen so far, is convinced even Jack can't win. People might survive getting shot, but no one survives being blown up from the inside. Except Jack does, and Jack knows he will. That he'll come back is one of the few assurances he can give Ianto. The price, however, is terrible. CoE addresses something that TW canon didn't really touch upon so far, that while on the whole immortality itself is the biggest and most persistent problem about being immortal for Jack, the process of dying and being brought back to life is no picnic either. Even one of Johnson's soldiers remarks, 'He’d have been better off staying dead', when Jack wakes up again in Day Two, screaming and screaming. Ianto missed this part, but he watched the body parts—'We've got an arm, a shoulder and the remains of a head. It's almost a waste of a body bag.'— picked out of the ruins of the Hub, and he hears Jack's screams as he's being buried in concrete and suffocated.

Ianto was already worried about Jack getting killed in Day One when it was only a simple gunshot death, and other than the more pragmatic Gwen ('You get to shoot first, and ask questions later. How good is that?') he seems to be increasingly incapable of seeing Jack's deaths as something normal. In Cyberwoman Ianto had wanted to believe to the last that Lisa was still human, and in some ways he's made the same mistake with Jack. It's easy to look at someone, sleep with someone, and fall in love with someone who looks human, and then, even when you learn that they aren't, not quite, push that knowledge to the back of your mind again as much as possible. The events of Day One and Day Two, however, threw into sharp relief what Jack is, showing both the fundamental inhumanity of being able to come back to life after being blown to bits, and the very human suffering of it. They made the confrontation with Jack's immortality unavoidable.

The scene between Jack and Ianto in the warehouse at the beginning of Day Three is essentially Ianto's attempt to understand Jack and their relationship, and this explains his question about whether Jack felt being blown up, which might otherwise seem a bit odd and insensitive, and clearly irritates Jack at first, especially when the memories of this experience are still so raw and painful that his instinctive attempt to joke it off ('Wasn't the best of days.') falls short of the mark and has a bitter undertone. Ianto then moves on to the question of Jack's immortality, and while it's clear from Jack's expression that he doesn't consider this 'luck' he might run out of, he does believe Ianto deserves a honest answer, and with almost uncharacteristic honesty and directness tells him the truth about what the Doctor told him and what he knows, finally laying the cards on the table.

Ianto's next line—'So one day you’ll see me die of old age, and just keep going?'—deliberately echoes Alice's words from Day One, and for an instant everything is very much up in the air. But what follows is another of those moments where Ianto almost certainly manages to surprise Jack, because his next words are not a rejection, but an acceptance of this state of things: 'We’d better make the most of it, then.' And after all the complications we have see in Jack's relationships since Small Worlds, after the quiet pain in his voice when he told Alice he'd be there every day if only she wanted him to, I think that there can be absolutely no doubt about it that what Ianto does here is give Jack a gift. A slightly frightening gift perhaps, because it demands something in return, a gift Jack might not completely trust, because Ianto probably wasn't the first person who said they could deal and then couldn't, but a gift nonetheless. It's not a moment of uncomplicated happiness, because for Jack it isn't untouched by the sadness of always finding himself in the situation where this is the most he can expect, but it brings a measure of awareness and peace. It's the confrontation and conclusion to this part of their arc that S2 put off, and without which their relationship had to remain this vague, unspoken thing it was after To the Last Man. And this is where Ianto finally stops counting seconds, and starts making his demand on time. Time is still a limiting factor, but he's going to have ten more minutes of Jack, end of the world be damned.

There are some interesting parallels with their relationship in S1 here: if the frenzied panic at the end of Day One was vaguely reminiscent of the escape in Cyberwoman, but with the signs reversed and Ianto fearing for Jack's life now, the scene in the warehouse recalls the ending of They Keep Killing Suzie. It's once again Ianto who takes the step. The elements are the same, the proximity of death, as well as a certain vulnerability in Jack, who after reviving from two horrific deaths only just barely regained his confidence and sense of self with the new coat Ianto bought him. And in the end, the same connection between sex and the time theme. But what for the most part was on a level of unspoken subtext then, is now brought into the open. The scene has much greater weight, because this time Ianto's proposition isn't a deliberately casual distraction from tragedy and death, where neither has to admit what they're doing, what is offered and what is accepted. It's an open acknowledgement of what is happening; not just of the limitations that time, Jack's immortality and Ianto's mortality, puts on their relationship, but also of the constant danger Torchwood represents. Gravity enough to make Jack hesitate for a moment.

In S2's Sleeper Owen suggested, 'Let's all have sex', when it seemed likely they might end up at the centre of a nuclear explosion. Back then Ianto rolled his eyes and shot back, 'I thought the end of the world couldn't get any worse', but what was for the most part treated as a joke there, much like Captain Hart's, 'What, five minutes to live, you want me to behave?' in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was a much more serious theme in S1. Death and sex are the two leitmotifs that in various permutations ran through the entirety of the first series, creating a link between the high-risk environment of Torchwood and the sexually charged atmosphere of the show. It started on a still comparatively light note and not without some awkwardness in Day One after the death-centric Everything Changes, continued playfully in Ghost Machine with Jack and Gwen in the shooting range, but already took on a more serious tone in Cyberwoman when Jack revived Ianto, mirroring Owen and Gwen's kiss ('Last kiss for the condemned man. Little embarrassing given we haven't been killed.'). Gwen and Owen's affair started out as pure sexual attraction at the beginning of Countrycide, but had turned into a basic need for human contact in face of the horrific and incomprehensible by the end of the episode. Toshiko was looking for an escape from her isolation in Torchwood with Mary, Ianto tried to distract Jack from Suzie's death by Torchwood, and Out of Time cut back and forth between John's suicide and Owen and Diane making love. At the end of the series this became a main theme in Captain Jack Harkness with its 'Kiss the Boys Goodbye' motto and the brief, doomed romance between Jack and his namesake. In S2, where relationships were generally less volatile, this theme was a lot less prominent, but it appeared again in To the Last Man with its parallel arc of Toshiko and Tommy's and Jack and Ianto's relationships. Now Ianto's 'We’d better make the most of it, then', echoing Captain Harkness's 'Well, then make the most of now', picks up this motif once more: Defying the world not to end just yet, at least not for another thirty minutes.

But once again the moment of happiness doesn't last: only a bare couple of minutes later Jack realises that 1965 has come back to haunt him, and when his attempt to fix the problem on his own fails, he is forced to confess and face the sins of the past. And here, too, the 'out of time' theme persists. Clem, the survivor, for whom it never really stopped being 1965, is shocked at Jack looking the same as he did then: 'He hasn't changed. He's the same. [...] All those years, how can he be the same?' But the worst blow is still to come. Jack could live with handing over twelve children to the 456, believing he doomed them to die, if that saved millions of lives. What he hadn't taken into account was that the 456 hadn't been lying: The children would 'live forever', if not quite literally. Learning the truth, seeing the child helplessly trapped in an out-of-time state like he himself ('It's still just a child.') shatters Jack. This is his moment of complete and utter empathy. And this, perhaps, is also where emotions start to override rational thought, and the fatal chain of events leading to Ianto's death is set in motion.

At the end of Day One Jack managed, although only barely, to shove Ianto onto the lift and send him to safety. Now the danger doesn't seem quite as immediate, and after they finally managed to take a decisive step towards a real relationship, Ianto isn't willing to accept that Jack is trying to exclude him once again, for whatever reason. He wants to be part of Jack's life, but he is also suddenly forced to realise that there is a lot of Jack he hasn't seen yet, or known about, although considering their beginning he can have had few illusions about what Jack was capable of when he thought it was necessary. Ianto had believed the future would be their biggest problem, but now it turns out the past divides them just as much.

Jack isn't an easy person to get close to, but even back in S1 Ianto probably knew him better than any of the team, strengths and weaknesses both, and in Day Three he made another effort to understand what Jack's immortality really meant, for Jack and for himself. Now, however, his ability to empathise and his desire to help meet their necessary limits, his own as well as Jack's. At twenty-six it's perhaps impossible to really understand someone like Jack with his past that goes back for generations. Ianto wasn't there in 1965, he didn't have to weigh the lives of twelve children against millions. If the explosion tearing apart Jack's body and the fact that he survived it emphasised his basic inhumanity, then so does this. Prime Minister Green's feeble defence against the American general's accusation is that he'd been only a child himself in 1965 and had nothing to do with what happened then. Jack, if he were nothing but a human being, if he were who he appears to be, wouldn't even have been born. There is something Jack tried to tell Gwen in Adrift that she didn't want to hear either, but that turned out to be only too true: 'It's not that simple.' But it is simple for Ianto. It's obvious for him what Jack should have done then and what he should do now. And Jack, who has been fighting physical agony, guilt, and shock for days now, finally grasps at this simple solution offered with such tempting certainty.


Epilogue


It's hard to love—and hard to write a love story—with the end a constant, certain presence, but after Small Worlds, the episode that exemplary showed the unavoidable conclusion to every relationship Jack will ever have, it was impossible to ignore this aspect. Estelle's death threw a long shadow. There is something fundamentally at odds between the prevailing conception of romantic love with all its expectations and ideals and the harshly realistic carpe diem philosophy that finally resolved Jack and Ianto's arc, but for both of them even the temporary fictional illusion of a television happily-ever-after was unattainable from the start, because for Jack, unlike Ianto, 'forever' isn't a metaphor. Even before CoE their complicated romance inevitably had a touch of those tales from Greek mythology where Gods or Goddesses fall in love with beautiful humans, with often fatal results.

Ianto died as much at peace with himself as it's possible in such a situation. He never got the time to learn all the layers of Jack he'd only got a glimpse of, but he did get, although at a price, the Jack he wanted to see and believe in, the hero in shining armour trying to do the right thing, no compromises, and just for a little while without shades of grey. And he also got, in the end, Jack, the man who was willing to throw all this heroism away again for him, begging Ianto not to leave him. But death isn't just the tragedy of the dead; even more than that it's the burden of the survivors. Ianto could only come to terms with his own problems, accept what Jack is, accept the limitations this imposes on their relationship, and offer this acceptance to Jack. He couldn't resolve Jack's dilemma, and Jack isn't any closer to a solution at the end of CoE than he was at the beginning, or a hundred years ago. Jack's, 'Don't', to Ianto's, 'I love you', reveals a fundamental unhappiness and guilt that never entirely left him and were only too ready to surface again. In the end Jack didn't run out of space after all, because the Hub is gone, and with it the morgue, but the feeling is now all-encompassing: 'The whole world is like a graveyard.' And this time there isn't even the pretence of a 'we' any longer.

Ianto's last words are, 'A thousand years’ time, you won’t remember me', but Jack, when he promises him that he will, is already thinking further than that, because at least since Last of the Time Lords he has begun to consider time spans that are incomprehensible and effectively meaningless to the human mind. It's impossible to live with the weight of a million years and more from day to day, but it's equally impossible to blend out that knowledge entirely. John Barrowman called Jack a 'twenty-first century Prometheus', 'with the human race but not of the human race', and in CoE especially Jack certainly took a big step in this direction, the gulf between the human and non-human side of his nature widening perceptibly and in the end forcing him to give up the life he'd known for more than a century because it had become unliveable.

CoE pushed Jack to the limits of his endurance in every respect, taking him apart first in a very literal, physical way, and then, over the course of Day Four and Day Five stripping him bare on a psychological level. The physical damage could be healed, although at a steep cost, Ianto bought him a new coat, and Jack believed he was back again. At the end of Day Five he is still wearing that coat, but he's not quite the same man any longer and the wounds that the events of CoE left are as raw as ever even after six months. Jack's antagonist, John Frobisher, fled into death when the guilt and despair finally overwhelmed him, a path that once again is closed to Jack. It has to be bearable, even when it isn't. But Jack's choice to sacrifice his own grandson in an act of terrible, inhuman altruism left even the pretence of an ordinary, human life in shreds and tatters and brought Jack to a point where it was impossible to just carry on as before. Jack's difficult relationship with humanity, his fight for mankind, as well as his struggle with his own humanity, of course aren't over, and won't be over for a very long time yet, but at least for a while he takes the only way out he can take, and tries to loose himself in the vastness of space and time, in search of another life.


Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
topaz_eyes
Mar. 29th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
This is incredibly thoughtful and detailed. As I read I found myself thinking, "Yes, of course!" many times. And I'm not much in Torchwood fandom at all, let alone invested in Jack/Ianto, but this fits in perfectly with the series as I've seen and remembered it.

If Ten was the Time Lord who wanted to be human, in many ways Jack is the human who became a Time Lord. (Except Jack doesn't have that power to manipulate time.) Watching that fundamental incompatibility play out over both shows has been amazing. I think Torchwood is the Doctor Who RTD wanted to write, and your essays show why that is.

Reading your essays has made me curious how time and mortality will factor into Torchwood: Miracle Day.
solitary_summer
Mar. 29th, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you! (And can I say, thank you for commenting? I was starting to wonder if I completely fucked up with this one...)

And I'm not much in Torchwood fandom at all, let alone invested in Jack/Ianto

I think that actually helps. TW really made me realise how much watching something from a ship-related vantage point can distort one's perception of canon. Now, CoE never felt alien to me as it did for some people, and as far as I was concerned the Jack/Ianto scenes were spot-on and pretty much in keeping with what I expected, but on some level, especially in S2, I was still looking for a story that simply wasn't the story that was being told.

It took me until last year to realise that the stopwatch might actually have a significance, and the ironic thing is, it's right there, on screen. You just have to allow the fact that they're standing in the morgue over a dead body to have some weight and meaning.

I think Torchwood is the Doctor Who RTD wanted to write, and your essays show why that is.

I think I said something like that in a comment on green_maia's journal once, but between certain passages of The Writer's Tale and the actual episodes it's clear that RTD was to an extent fighting with the format that was never entirely his own, and where he had to make the stories also accessible for a younger audience. An argument that came up in various RTD vs. SM debates a few times is that RTD's writing is primarily character driven, while SM's focuses on stories and themes, but I'm not sure that's entirely true. RTD's writing is on some level extremely thematic, to the point where you can see the ideas develop across shows, and not just DW and TW.

Reading your essays has made me curious how time and mortality will factor into Torchwood: Miracle Day.

Me too, although I kind of dread having to incorporate new canon into all this. (Or worse, finding out that I was really, really wrong.) I also wonder if it will make a difference that RTD doesn't have DW on his mind any longer...
topaz_eyes
Mar. 29th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
I would have commented yesterday, but I ran out of time, and I wanted to re-read it and wallow in the meta-y goodness again. Have you thought about posting this to one of the comms for increased traffic?

An argument that came up in various RTD vs. SM debates a few times is that RTD's writing is primarily character driven, while SM's focuses on stories and themes, but I'm not sure that's entirely true.

I don't think it's true either. Actually, Moffat denies he writes themes consciously:

"Nobody does themes. It’s a lie. Who have your heard say 'I’ve thought of a good theme?' They happen accidently. You repeat yourself once too often and so it becomes a theme. We tell stories - that’s what people talk about, not themes."

(from http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/s7/doctor-who/tubetalk/a184561/steven-moffat-talks-doctor-who-future.html)

That quote's right, themes will out whether one's aware of them or not. (Being conscious of a theme, however, means one has more control over it.) And that quote's wrong because people do notice and talk about themes all the time.

I think it may be more accurate to say RTD uses characters to showcase his themes, while Moffat uses plot. And oh yes, RTD's writing is theme-driven. I have to wonder why anyone would say otherwise. Jacob at Television Without Pity groups RTD's The Second Coming with RTD's Who because of the themes. sensiblecat's entry about The Unsilent Library mentions how S4 of Who was noticeably 'written.' (I'd say S3 was better 'written', but that's just me.)

I'm actually kind of nervous about what RTD's planning for Jack in Miracle Day. The premise ties right in with Jack's own immortality, and I'm worried somehow Jack may lose that. I like Jack being his own paradox.
solitary_summer
Mar. 29th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry, I really should have shut up about the comment thing, that's not usually my style at all. *is extremely embarrassed* I asked them to link it on the TW newsletter, but realistically it's just too long and too depressing to become popular...

I think it may be more accurate to say RTD uses characters to showcase his themes, while Moffat uses plot.

That's very well put. And re. S3 - I think overall RTD did his best writing on DW there. Minor quibbles notwithstanding, the last three episodes are fantastic, and so are Smith and Jones and Gridlock.

I'm trying to remain as unspoiled as possible, so I haven't read anything about Miracle Day or its premise so far, but somehow I can't really imagine RTD is going to de-immortalise (or would that be re-mortalise?) Jack. Unless he thinks he has fully explored the immortality conflict in CoE and can't go further with it? But I'm with you there. I's too easy, and I'd hate to lose the connection to the DW mythos.
elisi
Mar. 30th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
I think it may be more accurate to say RTD uses characters to showcase his themes, while Moffat uses plot. And oh yes, RTD's writing is theme-driven. I have to wonder why anyone would say otherwise. Jacob at Television Without Pity groups RTD's The Second Coming with RTD's Who because of the themes.
V. interesting - I like this. Promethia once remarked that RTD is very deep, but he's deep in precisely one way. I think this was a very astute observation, because RTD's overarching theme is humanity, and it truly is something that'll keep giving, plus it tends to push lesser themes out of the way. Anyway, his fascination with what it is to be human was what first pulled me in to DW in S3, and it's yet to let me go, because there is so much there, and - whatever his flaws - he is good at exploring his chosen theme, both in his DW era and Torchwood. (I still think the Toclafane might be what best sums up his thinking and ideas. Mmmm S3. The themes are so clear.)

(Moffat OTOH has about fifty million different layers crammed into his stories, something which I also love, just in a different way.)

The only other thing of Rusty's that I've seen happens to be Casanova, and oh yes, that too is about what it means to be human - the joy, the pain, love and hate... and of course the monstrousness that always lurks within.
topaz_eyes
Mar. 30th, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC)
I've been thinking lately Moffat's work isn't as far removed from RTD's as some fans believe. I see a lot of shared themes, one riffing off the other. E.g., the Cybermen/Daleks/Toclafane are about emotional isolation from humanity; Bracewell and auton!Rory are about reaching out to find their humanity. One of the themes of S3 was the power of stories and their influence on humanity--as one essay at Overthinking It put it, "the gospel according to Martha." S5's about fairy tales, which are a different kind of story. Moffat declared "time can be rewritten" in FotD, and RTD examined that somewhat in "Turn Left."

Of course their styles are different, and in some respects I think their theses may be fundamentally irreconcilable. (E.g., I'm not sure that atheism can ever be reconciled with magic.) That said, it's good to poke at different facets.
elisi
Mar. 31st, 2011 10:24 am (UTC)
Well I've always seen it as one long continuous story, where the different styles suit the story that's being told...

Nine and Ten were very successful in showing the repercussions of what murdering your own race would do to someone, and now that the Doctor has managed to deal with a lot of his issues we have Eleven who is - like the Doctors of old - more distant and emotionally inaccessible, with the focus going out to the world, rather than in, towards the Doctor.

S5's about fairy tales, which are a different kind of story. Moffat declared "time can be rewritten" in FotD, and RTD examined that somewhat in "Turn Left."
Oh yes. There are, after all, only a limited number of stories - the important thing is the telling. :)

(I don't have the time to delve into atheism & magic, but I'm not sure that Moffat is 'more magic' than RTD. Instinctively I'd be inclined to say it's the other way around. Esp in Torchwood actually - the fairies, the weird travellers from the old film - plus. RTD is the one who keeps bringing in the Doctor as a God-like figure, whereas Moffat firmly pulls him down to earth. Which is a tangent, sorry. I'll try to get back to you...)

ETA: Actually, I think it comes down to this: Just because a story isn't real, doesn't mean it can't be true. That's how magic works in Moffat's world. :)

Edited at 2011-03-31 10:38 am (UTC)
topaz_eyes
Mar. 31st, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Yep yep. The story's the thing. And yep, Eleven is about looking outwards, back into a sense of place in the cosmos.

RTD is the one who keeps bringing in the Doctor as a God-like figure, whereas Moffat firmly pulls him down to earth.

That's interesting, because I see them in a completely opposite light. I think it's because I agree with green_maia's observation: in the RTD-verse, the universe is bigger than the Doctor, while in the Moffat-verse, the Doctor is bigger than the universe. RTD cast the Doctor as a god-like figure, yes--and then he deconstructed the concept. (E.g., I don't think it was coincidence that when the Doctor was portrayed as the most god-like, he was also portrayed as the most monstrous.) Nine stated in "Boom Town": "Don't worship me - I'd make a very bad God." Ten's run proved why that statement was true. By the end of "Waters of Mars," the Doctor was left as powerless as the rest of humanity.

So far, I'm not convinced--yet--that Moffat has pulled Eleven down to earth. (This is why I'm looking forward to S6.) As I see it, Eleven's not portrayed as God-like, but as a wizard. He's a kindly, old, wise wizard, but he's still cast as a magical archetype first. The whole concept of "Time can be rewritten" means the power to shape and reshape universes, seemingly without limits, according to how one deems it should be. Eleven has this power. That seems like a true god-like power to me...

Storytellers as gods. Absolutely. *g*

Just because a story isn't real, doesn't mean it can't be true. That's how magic works in Moffat's world.

Yup. To me, that's a magical concept, because one has to believe the story is true in the absence of proof that it is true. Which kinda contradicts atheism, as I understand it, anyway.
(Deleted comment)
elisi
Apr. 4th, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say that I've not abandoned this discussion, far from it - my thoughts were far too long to fit in a comment and I am now busy writing meta (nearly 4000 words now). Hopefully I'll post it sometime this week...
elisi
Mar. 29th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
[This is a placeholder comment for when I find time to comment properly. For now: Brilliant meta]
solitary_summer
Mar. 29th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :)

(And seriously, please don't feel obliged to comment; I'm just relieved to know that I haven't somehow unintentionally managed to offend half my friendslist. Jack/Ianto has become such a minefield after CoE that I was getting a bit paranoid.)
elisi
Mar. 29th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine anyone finding this offensive in any way shape or form, but I understand your paranoia. I'm sort of working on a post about Ten and Eleven and why they resonate for me (and why I now call Eleven 'my' Doctor, even though I still love Ten to pieces) and I've barely looked at it for weeks because I really worry what the reaction might be if/when I post it... Stupid fandom.

Anyway, I should be working on a job application. *runs away*
solitary_summer
Mar. 29th, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
Anyway, I should be working on a job application. *runs away*

Best of luck & sorry for distracting you!
lawsontl
Mar. 30th, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
As someone who was really, really unhappy with CoE on multiple levels, you've allowed me to see threads in it that I didn't realize were there in quite such detail. I'm still not thrilled with it, but your analysis gives me more closure than the series ever will. Even makes the stupid attempt at cowing the 456 with harsh language make a wee bit more sense on an emotional level. :)

I guess I don't believe that things are ultimately inevitable. I like the stories that show the exceptions to the rules, and I sort of thought that was what Torchwood was going to be. Guess not!

Thanks for a good read.
solitary_summer
Mar. 30th, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome, thank you for taking the time to read it. If this really managed to give you some sort of better closure, that's about the biggest compliment you can pay me. :)
alt_universe_me
Mar. 30th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
I am v. impressed by your insights! :) I'm not sure what else I can really add, but I really liked your focus on Jack's struggles and emotions. I like the point about Jack not really belonging, and even though he's trying to belong, that doesn't mean he's succeeding either.
solitary_summer
Mar. 30th, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

I never quite realised this until I started thinking about the whole death/life/mortality theme in DW and TW, but immortality isn't just something that Jack also happens to be, it's something that defines him on a really fundamental level...
(Deleted comment)
solitary_summer
Mar. 31st, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)
*blush*

You're very, very welcome. I would have commented on your post, but I didn't want to pester you with PMs more than I already had... So, thank you again for the huge compliment and the rec, and most of all I'm really glad it resonated with you.
neifile7
Mar. 31st, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
This is possibly the best, and certainly the most comprehensive, meta on time, mortality and Torchwood that I've ever read. I really don't have anything to add, except that I appreciate in particular your emphasis on Small Worlds and the "long shadow" it casts over the whole series. More than any other ep, it shows us that Jack remains capable of being in love and that loving is both necessary and, at some levels, impossible for him. As you so beautifully show, the entire J/I relationship takes place against that backdrop.

Whatever intentions the creators may have had (and however radically CoE may have diverged in tone from the preceding seasons), there is, I think, a kind of unity and depth about the characters and their story that continues to make Torchwood compelling to me. You've done an exceptional job of putting all that together.
solitary_summer
Mar. 31st, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it!!

Re: unity... It's not as if I never struggled with CoE, but even at the beginning it felt right to me, especially when it came to Jack's characterisation. It just took me more than a year and a half to finally put into words why and how...
neifile7
Mar. 31st, 2011 10:38 pm (UTC)
It was worth the wait. :) And the timing is especially felicitous, I think.

Two additional notes: it's interesting, in light of what you say about the "arrested development" of J/I in S2, to recall that originally it was Ianto rather than Owen who was intended to die in Reset. By RTD's own account, he pulled back from that almost at the last minute -- much, I think, to the benefit of the story overall; but it would certainly have made that through-line very complex, if it were Ianto rather than Owen who had to "die forever."

Second, could you tell me what your final word-count was for this? I need it for a rec I'm writing. :)
solitary_summer
Mar. 31st, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
I think the 'arrested development' is mainly due to the fact that they simply didn't have the time to... not so much rewrite the Jack/Iano arc, as come up with a completely new one, what with all the other rewriting that suddenly had become necessary.

Apparently there was something in one of the TW magazines about the originally planned story, and Ianto's dead man walking arc would have been somewhat different to Owen's, with Ianto less, well, dead, but I still can't quite see that working out, and from what I read it all seems a bit pointless. I agree that the change was the right decision, but if you look closer, you can still see the cracks they were trying to paper over. From KKBB to Meat there is a relative consistent relationship building/foreshadowing of Ianto's death; after that there are, Fragments aside, only a few unconnected scenes. The emotional core is missing.


Wordcount: 10.756, including the quote at the beginning.
coldwater1010
Apr. 1st, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
Despite my ambivalence about Torchwood I always like to read good meta about it and this is really interesting especially in relation to Jack and his relationship to time and hislack of mortality although I suppose technically he does have a mortality it just doesn't stick for any length of time. I suppose it says something that in a meta about the Jack/Ianto arc Ianto barely features and I think that's ultimately always been the biggest problem for me with this storyline. I think even with all the limitations of telling a story on screen you can still manage to convey a lot with a little - Ianto's moment at the end of his arc in Fragments is a great example of that, but I think with this storyline even when there was supposedly a lot going on with them on-screen it mostly always felt to me we were ultimately getting very little, if anything at all, of any real substance. I agree that what ultimately seems to be missing is a substantive emotional core and not just because of the sudden s2 rewrite, which I think COE fails to rectify, which is probably why Jack's willingness to trade the world for Ianto's life despite being a significant moment in their relationship ultimately kind of rings hollow, at least to me. You don't have to have two people declaring they love each other to get that they care about each other, even if we're supposed to think their relationship has problems and no great shocks that their relationship might suffer from a myriad of problems considering their respective histories, but you still need something and for me it's the 'something' that's ultimately kind of missing from this relationship.

I suspect a big part of the problem is that Ianto was a minor character who was supposed to die early on and once he didn't the show seemed to struggle to find a role or even really a point to his character. So he became Jack's sort of half-hearted love interest in an equally half-hearted storyline.

And yep sadly I do find his question to Jack about whether being blown up kind of innane, although I assume being blown up like that would hurt relatively little since death would likely be instantaneous as opposed to being knitted back together, but sadly it does seem in keeping with a lot of Ianto's characterisation in COE so I guess at least it's consistent for the story they seem to be telling there.

I do have some more comments, but I think they'll have to wait for another time.
solitary_summer
Apr. 1st, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
Personally, I thought the 'something' was there in S1, at the beginning of S2 until Adam, and again in CoE; for me the hasty S2 rewrite did the most damage, because you have two relationship arcs (Gwen/Rhys and Toshiko/Owen) developing over the the course of the series, whereas Jack/Ianto is just left hanging in the air, not going anywhere. It took me a while to realise why it felt so... lacking, for want of a better word, but it always felt like something was missing there.

I think it's also worth noting that TW generally isn't a very relationship-centric or relationship-driven show. It's the themes of the show that determine the relationships, not the other way round. RTD thought the death/resurrection theme would work better for Owen and decided to change it, never mind if it tore up the whole Jack/Ianto arc. And Jack of course embodies more than anyone the motifs of the show, so everyone who would have wound up in a relationship with him would have to deal with those issues.

And yep sadly I do find his question to Jack about whether being blown up kind of innane

I don't think it's inane, and IMO it serves a purpose. It's mainly Ianto trying to understand who Jack is, but if you look at all three seasons of TW, or even at DW S3—there was exactly one other person who didn't either envy Jack's immortality, or was disturbed by it, but even remotely cared about what this meant for Jack, and that was, ironically, Captain Hart in KKBB. Torchwood exploited Jack's ability to come back from death for a century, and Ten almost immediately did the same. So the question also signals a level of caring and emotional involvement. You're right, being blown up is certainly the less painful part compared to the process of coming back to life from that, but Ianto's question is a shorthand for the whole thing. And Ianto is probably trying not to think about what coming back was like, if Jack already felt being blown up. In the end I think it's a very understandable question. Seeing the person you love being carried away not just dead, but in (a very few) body parts, and have them come back from that is pretty disturbing, and fundamentally non-human, if you think about it. (And Ianto did think about it over the course of D2, that much is clear.) Probably the more so, if it's a body you're intimately familiar with, because that really drives home the physical aspect of it all.

Edited at 2011-04-01 11:41 pm (UTC)
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