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Sep. 15th, 2011

I don't really want to write about MD before I've rewatched the whole of it, but this isn't going to happen for a few weeks since I'm busy learning for the ECDL exam and really don't have the time to spend 10 hrs+ (very much + probably, taking notes and everything) watching.

On the other hand, sadly I don't have the patience to sit on ideas for a month either. So... a warning for slapdashness, I guess?

I don't think any amount of rewatching will make parts of the story less clunky, but what I realised during my walk on Sunday is that once everything fell into place with the last episode and the structure became apparent, things... changed, and it definitely made me look differently at the story and see its merits.

# Jack's arc is really well done in hindsight. To pick him up after CoE and bring him to the place he is at the end of MD... To be perfectly honest, I'd never have believed that was possible, but the journey was completely convincing every step of the way.

It only becomes obvious in the end how much of the story is written around Jack, to put him into this specific situation, through these experiences, because at this point the only way to make him realise he might want to live after all was to confront him with the realistic possibility of death. This actually made me wonder if part of what MD suffers from is that this whole sprawling story was written at least partly around Jack's arc, with what one could arguably call a bit of a lazy narrative shortcut in the end, since in such a comparatively short span of time nothing short of such an (essentially) mystical experience could have made Jack look at his life and see it objectively, that is, the good parts as well as the painful ones.

It's not just that, because Jack with his immortality has always been part of the bigger story, but it's also very much that.

I kept wondering why there wasn't any deeper conenction between Jack and the new team members, and why, after two months spent together, there wasn't more of a visible connection between him and Esther. Not even necessarily romance or attraction, just a connection. But of course the journey Jack has to go through in the end is a necessarily solitary one, and he has to confront issues that he alone can resolve for himself. Jack will never be able to define his life through an other person, and he had to find this balance for himself and by himself.

What I love about MD is how it ties up all these threads, and despite all the confusion about timelines, thematically it makes sense. As I've said before, Jack isn't Ten, and Jack's arc in the end is not about the acceptance of death; that is only part of it. The more important part is Jack's acceptance of his life. And that in turn is the reason for his ultimate acceptance of death. Jack saying that he's lived long enough isn't the reluctance of Ten, who basically reasoned himself into accepting the death he couldn't avoid anyway, but still fought to the last. Jack's death comes, at long last, from a place of (more or less) inner peace, not a place of pain. I think that would have been clear even if Gwen hadn't insisted on shooting him, which is so typically... Gwen. She doesn't want to think about things like suicide, she's too pragmatic and too positive for that, but she still thought about it in relation to Jack, and she still hates the idea. It also shows that RTD is very aware that sacrifice and a glorified suicide are two different things, and that at this point of Jack's arc it maybe needed emphasising that he wasn't driven by a death wish.

Rushing off to face Abadon without so much as a good-bye three episodes after stating that his life is bearable only because he has no choice but to bear it felt... not exactly wrong, but not like much of a sacrifice either. This, on the other hand, felt very, very right.

(If we get another season, I really hope Jack can hold on to this moment of self-knowledge even when it comes to relationships and finally stop making things even harder for himself.)


# Once one puts MD in the wider context of RTD's writing, a lot of things fall into place, too. I think in some ways he started to tell a story in 2003 with The Second Coming and has been working on it ever since, and that's the story of how we deal with death.

At the end of The Second Coming Judith literally kills God (or more precisely, convinces him to kill himself), thereby abolishing any kind of afterlife and making death final.

Towards the end of RTD's DW run Adelaide rejects being (literally, physically) saved from death if that means bringing into existence some sort of quasi-God.

MD shows what a world without death would be like, what happens when someone has the power to control life and death, and at the end of it Gwen (with Jack's help) restores death, re-establishing the world Judith created. The circle closes.

(It's interesting to note that it's always the women that play this crucial part, although Jack is certainly the most willing participant of the three male characters.)



Regarding the religious themes, I focused too much on Immortal Sins, but if you look at the story as a whole... (This part is really very vague though, and maybe taking things too far.)

On DW RTD played with the Doctor-as-God theme only to ultimately deconstruct it, and the connotations of the God motif were always mainly negative, signifying danger. Every Doctor/God comparison was a warning. MD definitely plays once again with Jack as a Christ figure, but interestingly enough without negative connotations. It takes elements of Christian mythology and puts them into a non-religious context, and the results are rather interesting.

(There's something else that makes Jack's arc different from Ten's: Jack on the whole isn't interested in power or control over others for its own sake. He tends to be a bit obsessive when it comes to controlling his own history, what he lets people know, but this is mostly... maybe 'defensive' describes it best. He protects himself, but he's always been curiously untempted by the possibilities immortality gave him, which perhaps is his salvation.

Oswald Danes wanted that power over life and death, used it to kill, enjoyed it, and died unrepentant. Nine didn't want it, but took it anyway when it was necessary, and struggled with the consequences. Ten knew he shouldn't want it, but still was tempted by it, although it was mostly in order to save people. In CoE Jack made that decision twice, once in 1965, very matter-of-factly and rather unthinking, and again at the end of the story where it almost destroyed him. In that sense MD is also a commentary on CoE, as well as Ten's arc in DW, a sort of final statement, saying unambiguously that no one should have that power, no matter what their reasons or motivations are. Which at first glance may seem simple or too obvious, but if one looks at the central dilemma of CoE... Handing over the twelve children to the 456 was awful, even if Jack and the others had no idea what exactly would happen to them (and took care not to ask), but doing nothing once you're offered that choice, letting nature run its course and simply accept the death of millions... that takes a certain stoicism too. It's a hard philosophy, and either choice comes with a price.)

Back to the religious themes, though.

Jack is made mortal.

In Immortal Sins Jack is betrayed in both storylines, by Angelo, and by Gwen. Maybe you could call the night drive with Gwen where Jack comes to the realisation that he doesn't want to die his garden of Gethsemane moment.

Jack's death in The Blood Line is submission. To what? Not to the will of God, obviously, but RTD comes dangerously close here to writing something actually mystical. The Blessing is linked to human mortality and maybe one could say that on some level symbolises a balance between life and death. Nature, the universe with all its mysteries, the polar opposite of the small life Oswald Danes created for himself, everything big and incomprehensible and uncontrollable? The principle of mortality? All of that, or maybe they are the same thing? I think that given the circumstances and all the variables of the situation it would have crossed Jack's mind that he might not die permanently after all, but become immortal again once the world became mortal. Initially I thought that Jack's lack of reaction to his resurrection was curiously anticlimactic, but topaz_eyes is right — it doesn't matter. The important thing was the moment of submission to whatever would happen, and it was a sacrifice either way, because the one thing Jack certainly wouldn't retain was his mortality.

In the story of Christ the entire point of the death is what comes afterwards, the resurrection. In Jack's story in MD what really matters is what happened before, Jack finally finding a measure of peace. The resurrection is almost an afterthought, and given even less importance than in EoD. Even more importantly, whereas Jesus's death is central for Christianity because it promises eternal life to those who believe, Jack's sacrifice brings back death to the world, permanent death if one accepts The Second Coming as the starting point of the story. So wrapped in all this Christian motifs and iconography there's Jack as a sort of (*cough*) anti-Christ, but in a clearly positive sense? Maybe this is just an unintended side-effect of all the religious themes and images thrown into the story, but on some level the implication is there nonetheless, I think...




One last thing, since any possible meta about the religious themes in RTD's writing is even further away, if I ever find the time and energy to write it, but there's one thing I noticed: In the end there's always a connection between the religious themes and the death/mortality themes. Or is it that everything is connected to the mortality theme?

 

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
solitary_summer
Sep. 16th, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC)
I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I didn't immediately think of this, but when I replied to elisi's entry it occurred to me that this is exactly what you said in the discussion about RTD vs. SM's DW: the universe is and should be bigger than the Doctor.
topaz_eyes
Sep. 16th, 2011 04:07 am (UTC)
This is "slapdash?" I am in utter awe of your brain.

I'm going to have to find a copy of The Second Coming now, if it marks the start of the mortality arc, and if MD marks its end. Interestingly, RTD's said in interviews that he thinks he has only one more Torchwood story to tell, based around Gwen. So perhaps he's subconsciously admitting he's finished his discourse on mortality.

(It's interesting to note that it's always the women that play this crucial part, although Jack is certainly the most willing participant of the three male characters.)

Judith, Adelaide, Gwen... just out of curiosity, was Judith a mother or grandmother too? Because Adelaide sacrificed herself to ensure her granddaughter would reach the stars, and Gwen stated she'd kill Jack in a heartbeat for Anwen's sake (and she kinda did do just that). As green_maia says, it's all about the next generation--perhaps RTD believes that's where humanity finds its true immortality. Passing it forward, as it were. So perhaps these women symbolize the keepers of immortality.

The Blessing is linked to human mortality and maybe one could say that on some level symbolises a balance between life and death. Nature, the universe with all its mysteries, the polar opposite of the small life Oswald Danes created for himself, everything big and incomprehensible and uncontrollable? The principle of mortality? All of that, or maybe they are the same thing?

It's all the same thing. Everything in MD was about restoring balance. For every yin there was a yang. Jack and Oswald; Jack and Rex; Jack and Gwen; Old Shanghai/Old World and Buenos Aires/New World. Also it was about restoring balance to Jack--he finds peace which allows him to let go, and he finds a true immortal partner in Rex. A lot of people thought that was wrong, that Rex shouldn't have become immortal because it dilutes Jack's importance as a fixed point, but the symbolism is fantastic. "It's better with two," indeed. :-)

Jack's death in The Blood Line is submission. To what? Not to the will of God, obviously, but RTD comes dangerously close here to writing something actually mystical.

Perhaps it's simply submission to the natural order of things. I know a lot of people compared the physical appearance of the Blessing to a giant vagina, but oddly, the symbolism makes sense. The Blessing perhaps represents Mother Earth, a natural and ancient phenomenon normally in balance. Jack's immortal blood threw the balance off; Jack must give it back mortal blood to reset it.

In the end there's always a connection between the religious themes and the death/mortality themes. Or is it that everything is connected to the mortality theme?

At its heart, religion is all about mortality, the question of what happens after death. Back when life was "nasty, brutish and short", religion was there mainly to help people endure the suffering of life. (E.g., for most of humanity's history the average life expectancy at birth hovered around 35 years of age. That's a lot of premature death to bear, considering in some eras, 50% of children born didn't make it to 5 years of age. It's only in the past 100 years that life expectancy doubled.) The promise of an everlasting reward--Heaven, Paradise, reincarnation, some sort of pain-free life after death--would make the suffering worth it. Otherwise, the idea that this life is all there is would be pretty grim and despairing.

(OTOH, the realization that this life is all there is would make it all the more precious, and ideally we'd be motivated to make it the best life possible.)

(Maybe this was the real reason why suicide was a moral and religious sin for so long? You had to endure all the suffering God saw fit to give you, and you weren't allowed to take a short-cut to eternal life.)

All of which makes it so interesting that in MD, immortal life was linked to unending suffering, rather than paradise. If Jack is the "anti-Christ," then the Miracle is surely the "anti-Heaven."
sensiblecat
Sep. 16th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
When humans (or indeed the Doctor) decide who gets to live and die, they take the place of God - they control rather than submit. The Family could represent many things - the Church militant, or fascist ideology, or just capitalism at its most brutal. One huge plot point was that the Blessing had been hidden for so long, but as with so much of RTD's work, it's worth doing a bit of handwaving for the richness of the symbolism.

I thought I was going to hate Rex being given eternal life, but when I actually watched the finale it was rather beautiful. Now Jack isn't alone any more, and it's going to be fascinating to see where that goes. Somthing I've always loved about Jack is his openness to emotional connection, his essential humanity - he'd always rather love and pay the price than remain emotionally apart. In that sense he's very different from the Doctor, though they share common ground in their experience of a superhuman lifespan and the different persepective that brings on change and time. They are both given a divine vision, but it's what you do with it that counts.

I love the thought that RTD has given Jack another Doctor figure - and he's black!
solitary_summer
Sep. 16th, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you! My problem is mainly that I'm completely paranoid that I missed things and might fundamentally change my mind upon rewatching, and generally speaking I like to think my arguments through a bit more... But I'm glad you like it!

just out of curiosity, was Judith a mother or grandmother too?

IIRC (it's been a while), no. She's certainly single, older than Gwen, but younger than Adelaide, and I don't remember any children. There is a mother in the story, but she's not the driving force.

Re. Rex's immortality... I'll need to look at this in the context of the whole story; I might change my mind. You've already half-convinced me. :)

I know a lot of people compared the physical appearance of the Blessing to a giant vagina, but oddly, the symbolism makes sense. The Blessing perhaps represents Mother Earth, a natural and ancient phenomenon normally in balance.

The thought crossed my mind, too. I wonder if that was intentional, or just somehow happened? Someone in the production team surely must have noticed that?

Otherwise, the idea that this life is all there is would be pretty grim and despairing.

Admittedly he's writing from a relatively privileged place compared to how many people across the world live, but I guess that's part of what fascinates me about RTD's stories — he doesn't ignore or handwave the ugliness and presence of pain and death, but tries to find some sort of balance between the good and bad in his stories, or maybe just a necessary modus vivendi.

(OTOH, the realization that this life is all there is would make it all the more precious, and ideally we'd be motivated to make it the best life possible.)

That's essentially the premise of The Second Coming.

(Maybe this was the real reason why suicide was a moral and religious sin for so long? You had to endure all the suffering God saw fit to give you, and you weren't allowed to take a short-cut to eternal life.)

I think that part of the process of dealing with all the grimness and despair and injustice, the other side of the promise of Heaven/Paradise, is to give the suffering at least meaning.

(Deleted comment)
sensiblecat
Sep. 16th, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
The imagery around Jack's death (and indeed Rex's) was absolutely, unmistakably Christlike, so much so that I was tempted to quote Marlowe's "Dr Faustus"

See, see where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul—half a drop! ah, my Christ!—
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!—
Yet will I call on him!—O, spare me, Lucifer!—
Where is it now? 'T is gone; and see where God
Stretcheth out his arm, and bends his ireful brows!—
Mountains and hills, come, come and fall on me,
And hide me from the heavy wrath of God!

But there are some important differences. Jack becomes mortal, as Christ did, and then goes through an ordeal (I see the Angelo episode as his Passion) before regaining eternal life - but his act of mercy is not to give humanity eternal life, as in the Gospels, but to give mortality back to them. And he does not act alone. I think it's very significant that he has to be helped and would have been unable to bring about a resolution alone. There was tremendous symbolism in the Blessing, its appearance resembling the hell mouth of a morality play (or indeed Dr Faustus) and also the gates to the Underworld, complete with the voices of the dead.

There has to be trust, co-operation and communication between human beings. On the other hand we have Rex, whose name means literally "king". Each has a Pieta - Jack has Gwen who asserts his mortality by killing him, Rex has Esther (a Biblical name) who dies for him, but it's made very clear that both men have to look beyond immediate relationships and work together to redeem humankind. There are oppositions too numerous to go into here - Europe/USA, the Antipodes, black/white, male/female, and indeed those who seek to reveal truth contrasted with those who tell narratives that deliberatly obscure it - Oswald and Jilly.

What RTD seems to be saying is that the answer isn't out there - it is deep within us, in the bowels of our own planet. Again and again, through all his work, his theme is hammered home, that we are capable of enormous evil and individual acts of heroic sacrifice.
felis_nocturna
Sep. 16th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
Sorry for butting in, I hope you don't mind, but I have been thinking about this:

but his act of mercy is not to give humanity eternal life, as in the Gospels, but to give mortality back to them

I'd say that the point of the Gospels isn't eternal life (especially not in the sense of manufactured immortality that the Miracle brought about), but salvation. So there isn't a difference, Jack's blood brings salvation - the freeing breath that goes around the world - just as much as Christ's blood does, through death. Christ's death, but also the transformation of death in itself is a big point in Christianity, and necessary for the real life.

(Thinking about it, if you see the whole thing from a Christian perspective, Jack brings the real eternal life back, because people can only reach that if they die. It's not like immortality in religious terms means in any way what we have seen in MD.)

And just as MD criticizes the wrong use of Jack's blood, the church has been criticized throughout history again and again for using the blood of Christ for the wrong purpose (= its own power), be it during the Protestant Reformation or in the recent Liberation Theology.

RTD keeps the metaphysics and just changes the ultimate reference points: from "God" to "mystery of life and death", represented by the Blessing, and from "eternal life" to "next generation".
solitary_summer
Sep. 16th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
I'd say that the point of the Gospels isn't eternal life (especially not in the sense of manufactured immortality that the Miracle brought about), but salvation. So there isn't a difference, Jack's blood brings salvation - the freeing breath that goes around the world - just as much as Christ's blood does, through death. Christ's death, but also the transformation of death in itself is a big point in Christianity, and necessary for the real life.

I really like that, because the absence of death in MD can hardly be called 'real' life. Somehow it always comes back to mortality defining what it means to be human...
solitary_summer
Sep. 16th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
Now you really make me want to rewatch the whole story because I feel there's so much symbolism I've missed...

I think it's very significant that he has to be helped and would have been unable to bring about a resolution alone.

I haven't really considered that — I'll definitely have to give Rex's place in the story more thought.

its appearance resembling the hell mouth of a morality play (or indeed Dr Faustus) and also the gates to the Underworld, complete with the voices of the dead.

Interesting, because so many people compared it to a giant vagina, and admittedly that's the thought that crossed my mind, too.

What RTD seems to be saying is that the answer isn't out there - it is deep within us, in the bowels of our own planet.

I really like that thought.
sensiblecat
Sep. 16th, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)

Now you really make me want to rewatch the whole story because I feel there's so much symbolism I've missed...

Don't get me started on the bleeding Sacred Heart stuff!
sensiblecat
Sep. 16th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
Very well put!
promethia_tenk
Sep. 21st, 2011 02:31 am (UTC)
I'd been really enjoying your MD thoughts in elisi's posts and wandered over here to see what else you had. I'm afraid I've nothing to add or comment to, but just wanted to say that I'm very happy to have read this : )
solitary_summer
Sep. 25th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry — I saw your comment and was going to reply, but life is a bit hectic at the moment and I complete forgot.

I'm glad you liked it! I really hope to find the time to write something a bit more ordered eventually...

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