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I remember how back in 2009 I thought writing about CoE was hard, but in some respects MD makes it even more difficult. CoE was a different kind of struggle, trying to put into words thoughts and feelings about a show that more or less knocked me over and wrung me out emotionally. MD never haunted me like that, but, somehow, is sitting at the back of my brain, elusive and slightly irritating, and I suspect in the end it's more complex and layered than CoE, because it also ties up threads that go back beyond the story itself, into the earlier TW seasons, DW, and beyond. You'd think that greater emotional detachment and all that meta groundwork I've already done would make things easier, but apparently this isn't the case. I finished rewatching MD a couple of weeks ago and I already have notes and everything, but I'll have to go over it another time (with a detour via The Second Coming, probably) before I can really start writing.

It's odd. On the one hand I definitely enjoyed it more than the first time, and (unpopular fanish opinion ahoy!) I think on the whole it's underrated. It's not perfect, but it's not the incoherent silly mess it's made out to be, either, not by a long way. Once you know where it's going, the pieces fall into place rather neatly, adding to the big picture and foreshadowing the end. I was watching ep. 8 and kept thinking that this was still something of a strange and not very good follow-up from ep. 7... until I started to mentally shuffle the elements around a bit and had this holy shit, epiphany!, now everything makes sense! moment, and suddenly there was a whole new layer to the entire story I hadn't seen before. (Now admittedly this might be all in my head, but suddenly things fit a lot better, and generally speaking I find it more useful to assume that scenes and pieces of dialogue are there for a reason...) On the surface MD seems a bit heavy-handed in some respects, but there's a lot going on underneath that isn't immediately noticeable.

On the whole my feelings about MD come down to the fact that I'm glad it happened. It might not be CoE, but it has its moments and it's an interesting enough story in its own right. If nothing else, I'll always be grateful that it picked Jack up and put him together again after CoE.


On the other hand... something doesn't quite work, it's impossible to argue with that. People have already talked about the americanisation and pacing, but I wonder if there aren't other factors contributing to the problem.

Starting with the most obvious, there's the subject. MD not just picks up, but turns into its central theme the one aspect of TW whose presence and importance a good part of fandom has always refused to acknowledge, despite the fact that the very first episode had a woman driven to murder by the possibility of 'resurrection for everyone'. It wasn't too popular on DW either, judging by the amount of resentment or even outright hatred the end of Ten's run got. In S1 to 3 the mortality/immortality theme was present, but MD is ten episodes that are about death left, right, centre and in between, without spacewhales, aliens, ghosts or cannibals thrown in as a distraction. It's simply impossible to watch 'around' that, and if you try, there's no story left. It's not just that if you watch MD, you'll end up thinking about death a lot, it's also that the ultimate conclusion, its 'message' is to accept death/mortality as something necessary and natural, if only because the alternatives are worse. I wonder if that doesn't lack a certain majority appeal.

Maybe more importantly, there's another issue connected to that, and that is the fact that the end was always too much of a foregone conclusion. It very likely would have been in any case, because a world without death is simply not an option, but coming as it does from the writer who made 'everything has its time and everything dies' the leitmotif of his DW run, one can safely say that the outcome was never in doubt. The miracle would be reversed, in fact had to be reversed, that much was obvious almost from the start. After ep. 6 originally aired I wrote that the uprising team Torchwood expected after revealing the fate of the 'Category 1' patients most likely wouldn't be coming because a world without death is so completely beyond the human experience, so essentially unthinkable, that on some level people would be relieved that death was still an option because they couldn't mentally cope with the alternative, and I think that this is also true on a Doylist level. As shocking and horrible as the treatment of the 'Category 1' patients is, as obviously wrong as Ellis Hartley Munroe with her 'Dead is Dead' movement was about the conclusion she drew (segregation, taking away their rights, new world), in the end she was right about the principle of the thing. 'Their time will come, and they will die.' And they did. There never was a viable alternative to that outcome. It's not pacing as such that's the problem, it's a certain lack of tension. The 'what' was too clear from the start, and IMO the 'who' and 'why' were an interesting mindgame, a puzzle, but not emotionally engaging enough to really carry the story.

I think maybe in the end it comes down to the fact that MD is a very, very concept driven show, in a way that reminded me a little of Dollhouse, to the detriment of the organic development of both the characters and the story telling. It's not that it became generic American sci-fi, it's that in many ways it's too abstract. I've never had such a hard time connecting to characters written by RTD, and while I did end up liking the Americans, especially Esther, it's not even remotely comparable to how I reacted to Rose, or Martha, or Donna, or Gwen, or, or, or. The list goes one. Usually I tend to fall in love with them within about five minutes. I never had to rewatch a show of his to come to the conclusion that I've actually become quite fond of the characters after all.

The thing is, and that's a bit ironic after all the RTD vs. SM, character-driven vs. story-driven writing debates, I don't think RTD has ever written a story where the characters so obviously fullfil a function first and are characters second. Take Oswald, who is maybe the most glaring example of this. He has essentially two functions: The one that is spelled out in the end when Gwen cites him as an example why no one should have such absolute power over life and death. The other, less obvious one, is that, like Rex, he's a mirror for Jack. Much like the bartender Jack picked up in ep. 3 served as a catalyst for Jack confronting his loneliness after losing Ianto, Oswald allows Jack to work through killing Steven. Nothing, or almost nothing, Jack says to Oswald, from that first meeting in ep.3 to their last conversation in ep.10 is actually about Oswald. It gives the writers the opportunity to address this aspect of CoE, because that's what Jack can't talk about with anyone, even Gwen. (Especially Gwen. I remember writing that the 'six months later' at the end of Day Five was necessary for Jack and Gwen to have this conversation at all, because Jack needed to forgive Gwen that she was the one left alive, and Gwen needed to 'rationalise the reasons why Jack did it, and repress the knowledge that under different circumstances at a different time it could have been her child, and still be able to feel friendship and love for Jack'. Ianto is already a touchy subject, and Gwen immediately apologises for even mentioning him during Jack's drunk midnight call. Steven is what they can't talk about at all, and Steven is (IMO) the reason why Gwen is so determined to hand Jack over, because even if she loves him, she does remember and on some gut level she is absolutely certain that if Jack has to make the choice between saving the world and her daughter, it will be Anwen who loses.)

And the same is, at least to an extent, true for all the characters, with the exception of Angelo in ep.7. Rex with his death and resurrection, with his open, bleeding wound is largely written to function as a mirror to Jack, leading up to the events of ep.10. Vera the doctor. Esther and her sister and nieces. It's true even for Gwen, who for me was definitely one of the highlights of MD. (I know a lot of people started to like Gwen in CoE, but for me it was in MD that she really came into her own. The scenes between her and Jack in ep. 7 are among the best of the entire story and made me forgive all the lazy, unoriginal UST 'arc' she and Jack had going for way too long.) In the last episode even Gwen becomes something more abstract, more symbolic than just Gwen Cooper, she becomes the woman who brings back death and reestablishes the natural order or things. She's Judith from The Second Coming, she's Adelaide from WoM.

It's also true for Jack, although a lot of MD is written around him, and the story as it is would never have worked or existed without him (although on the other hand Jack's immortality would never have happened if RTD hadn't wanted this theme in TW in the first place, and one wonders if the seed of MD hasn't been there from the start...). I always thought, even back in S1/2, that Jack with his immortality that didn't allow him to the escape into death was a symbol for humanity's existentialist struggle for meaning in life, but MD with its much more obvious use of Christian mythology and imagery makes him even more of a symbolic/archetypical character. I don't know if giving up the Utopia timeline was deliberate (and it's worth noting that Jack's 'I have lived so many lives,' at the end of CoE are the exact same words he uses in MD, so it's entirely possible that the Utopia chronology had already been quietly abandoned then), but even if it was a mistake, it was a revealing one, a sort of Freudian slip. These details simply aren't important any longer, because Jack now transcends these particular circumstances, this particular timeline. He's been moving from one life to another for thousands of years, and will go on doing it forever, as far as he knows. He's out of time no longer in the sense of being out of his personal timeline, but it's become a permanent, symbolic state of being, the essence of who and what he is. His struggle has become something eternal and timeless, changing in the details, but repeating itself over and over again. MD and the confrontation with himself it allowed him gave Jack as much closure as he'll ever get, and at the end of my rewatch I was thinking that while I would watch a fifth season, Jack's story feels finished to me.

 

Comments

( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
elisi
Dec. 18th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
These details simply aren't important any longer, because Jack now transcends these particular circumstances, this particular timeline. He's been moving from one life to another for thousands of years, and will go on doing it forever, as far as he knows. He's out of time no longer in the sense of being out of his personal timeline, but it's become a permanent, symbolic state of being, the essence of who and what he is. His struggle has become something eternal and timeless, changing in the details, but repeating itself over and over again.
This is a very good description of why I felt completely disconnected from him. And it's interesting that just when Moffat has thoroughly destroyed The Lonely God, RTD has created a new one.

(I am trying SO HARD not to be negative./o\ And I will certainly read whatever meta you come up with, since I really need something to ameliorate MD - very glad that it's making you think.)
solitary_summer
Dec. 18th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC)
And it's interesting that just when Moffat has thoroughly destroyed The Lonely God, RTD has created a new one.

I'm not so sure about that. I'll have to think this through some more, but from where I'm standing now, MD actually takes Jack's immortality and the whole myth surrounding it down a couple of notches. I think. It's all still pretty vague in my head, sorry...
elisi
Dec. 18th, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
I'm here for whenever you get stuff de-tangled. I know just how you feel. :)

ETA: What I mean... the Doctor is now, once more, firmly tied to the world (which he hasn't been since the loss of Gallifrey). He has a wife and family, and he's been shown to be very mortal and fallible indeed - he can't run from death.

Whereas Jack has lost every tie to the world, and does live outside of time, untouched by it and unchanging. He doesn't have to run, because he can't die...

Edited at 2011-12-18 08:31 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 18th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 18th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - topaz_eyes - Dec. 19th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 19th, 2011 07:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 19th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 19th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - topaz_eyes - Dec. 19th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 19th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
topaz_eyes
Dec. 19th, 2011 01:36 am (UTC)
it's interesting that just when Moffat has thoroughly destroyed The Lonely God, RTD has created a new one.

I don't think so. I think it comes down to the difference between "alone" and "lonely". If anything, Jack was The Lonely God up until the point he reversed the Miracle. At some level Jack never was at peace with his immortality, and that fed into his loneliness. (Just as with Ten, whose conflict and loneliness was because he never could accept being the last Time Lord.) In the end, Jack must have known that reversing the Miracle would mean reinstating his immortality. His willful decision to do it meant that he finally accepted what he was.

Besides, Rex's own immortality means Jack no longer has to be lonely.
elisi
Dec. 19th, 2011 07:28 am (UTC)
His willful decision to do it meant that he finally accepted what he was.
Oh I don't disagree. But he's still God-like.

Besides, Rex's own immortality means Jack no longer has to be lonely.
I still hate that part to the point of completely ignoring it, but if we accept it then the outcome is *two* gods. Not lonely perhaps, but still god-like. (Sorry this is tapping into a whooooole lot of meta that I'm currently working on. Plz ignore me, I could go on for pages.)
(no subject) - topaz_eyes - Dec. 19th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 19th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 19th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 20th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 20th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - topaz_eyes - Dec. 21st, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 23rd, 2011 10:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elisi - Dec. 31st, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 31st, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - topaz_eyes - Dec. 31st, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
tigercheetah
Dec. 19th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
It's been suggested that when you have a blood transfusion in real life, the blood you have from the other person doesn't stay in your body very long and is eventually replaced by your own blood again. Therefore, Rex may not be immortal for very long.
(Deleted comment)
solitary_summer
Dec. 18th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
Dollhouse lost me somewhere in the middle of the S2 for various reasons, but it did feel a bit like that; ambitious and definitely interesting on an intellectual level, didn't quite work as a story...
neifile7
Dec. 18th, 2011 09:29 pm (UTC)
As usual, this is extraordinarily well-articulated and insightful. I was hoping we'd get some meaty MD meta from you. :)

I agree, in particular, about what you have to say about concept- vs. character-driven writing and its impact on this series. Whatever issues I had with the first three seasons of TW, weak character development was not on the list. I share your frustration (if that's a fair assessment) with how awesome Gwen is in this season and how her arc is allowed at the end to become another Big Idea juggled in with all the rest.

I also agree largely about Jack and, in particular, about the Jack/Oswald dynamic having Steven's unspoken name mapped all over it, and about how that colors Jack's interactions with Gwen -- I don't think I've seen anyone else address either of those so lucidly. Ep 7 in general may play retcon-havoc with Jack's chronology, but it was still an utter gift in terms of broader characterization (and something of an exceptional moment in that respect).

Jack's story, finished? Perhaps. I concur that for the first time it's possible to imagine a TW without him. But I do want him to come back to DW, at least for a 50th-anniversary appearance. :)
solitary_summer
Dec. 18th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I share your frustration (if that's a fair assessment) with how awesome Gwen is in this season and how her arc is allowed at the end to become another Big Idea juggled in with all the rest.

I'm not sure I'd call it frustration as such... On one level, I really like that scene, Gwen's speech, her making this decision and shooting Jack. But as you say, there's maybe a bit too much 'Big Idea' in there. As a scene, it's a powerful one; as far as characterisation is concerned, I preferred the Gwen in the car with Jack.

Jack's story, finished? Perhaps. I concur that for the first time it's possible to imagine a TW without him. But I do want him to come back to DW, at least for a 50th-anniversary appearance.

I don't want him to drop completely out of TW/DW canon either, but unlike after CoE, I wouldn't mind if that was the end. It feels... not 'finished' in the sense that there's nothing more to say, but... 'peaceful' is maybe a stupid word, but it's the one that comes to mind. There isn't any longer that persistent (and after CoE almost painful) sense of something being unfinished.
topaz_eyes
Dec. 19th, 2011 04:00 am (UTC)
There's so much to chew on here! I was able to watch every episode at least twice when they aired, and yeah, they made more sense on the second airing.

MD and the confrontation with himself it allowed him gave Jack as much closure as he'll ever get, and at the end of my rewatch I was thinking that while I would watch a fifth season, Jack's story feels finished to me.

Yes, I agree, MD is very much the end of Jack's story. As I've already mentioned to elisi, Jack's conflict throughout the whole series was that at some level, he never could accept his immortality, and that fed into his loneliness. It's like the difference between "alone" and "lonely". One can be alone and not feel lonely, and conversely, one can feel lonely while not being alone. The former means a state of acceptance, while the latter descends into the madness of the Lonely God that Ten became, and where Jack could have headed after CoE.

IMHO, Jack's epiphany that yes, he didn't want to die, marked the turning point in MD, where he finally begins to accept his lot. He must have known that reversing the Miracle would also reinstate his immortality, so his willingness to do so meant he'd found peace, and subsequently he could move on. It wasn't just that he had to sacrifice himself; he also wanted to. And that made the difference.

I don't know if Jack's "out of time" now, as much as he's "in time" with the universe. It's like he's ascended to a state of grace, which is what he needed to do to truly become the fixed point.

MD not just picks up, but turns into its central theme the one aspect of TW whose presence and importance a good part of fandom has always refused to acknowledge, despite the fact that the very first episode had a woman driven to murder by the possibility of 'resurrection for everyone'.

A while back I had another discussion with someone who, to paraphrase, pointed out they preferred to think of the positive aspects of immortality, not the negative. No one seems to consider (or rather, wants to consider) the downside of immortality, and you're right, it is the space whale in the room. Then there's Owen in S2, who in many ways foreshadowed MD in that he was ever-dying, as opposed to Jack's ever-living.

The thing is, and that's a bit ironic after all the RTD vs. SM, character-driven vs. story-driven writing debates, I don't think RTD has ever written a story where the characters so obviously fullfil a function first and are characters second.

MD seems to be an atheistic morality play, which generally uses personifications of broader ideas rather than characters to make its point. So perhaps it's not surprising the symbolism took precedence this time around.
solitary_summer
Dec. 19th, 2011 08:49 pm (UTC)
It's like the difference between "alone" and "lonely". One can be alone and not feel lonely, and conversely, one can feel lonely while not being alone. The former means a state of acceptance, while the latter descends into the madness of the Lonely God that Ten became, and where Jack could have headed after CoE.

I really like this distinction. And you're absolutely right, Jack's struggle was always about accepting himself. MD is a fitting end to his arc and I'm incredibly grateful he got this moment of introspection, which I thought was necessary after CoE, but never expected to become such a major plot-point. Whatever RTD's faults may be, his instincts are usually good when it comes to characterisation.

IMHO, Jack's epiphany that yes, he didn't want to die, marked the turning point in MD, where he finally begins to accept his lot. He must have known that reversing the Miracle would also reinstate his immortality, so his willingness to do so meant he'd found peace, and subsequently he could move on. It wasn't just that he had to sacrifice himself; he also wanted to. And that made the difference.

My personal head canon is that he considered and accepted both possibilities, death as well as renewed immortality, but obviously that's impossible to either prove or disprove. What I find interesting is the contrast between Jack's sacrifice in MD, coming from a place of peace and acceptance, and the way he rushed into his confrontation with Abadon in EoD, looking for heroism, a purpose, and maybe death all at once.

I don't know if Jack's "out of time" now, as much as he's "in time" with the universe. It's like he's ascended to a state of grace, which is what he needed to do to truly become the fixed point.

That's putting it a lot better than I did.
tigercheetah
Dec. 19th, 2011 10:00 pm (UTC)
""I think maybe in the end it comes down to the fact that MD is a very, very concept driven show, in a way that reminded me a little of Dollhouse, to the detriment of the organic development of both the characters and the story telling. It's not that it became generic American sci-fi, it's that in many ways it's too abstract. I've never had such a hard time connecting to characters written by RTD, and while I did end up liking the Americans, especially Esther, it's not even remotely comparable to how I reacted to Rose, or Martha, or Donna, or Gwen, or, or, or. The list goes one. Usually I tend to fall in love with them within about five minutes. I never had to rewatch a show of his to come to the conclusion that I've actually become quite fond of the characters after all. ""

Great meta, as always...

I agree most with that paragraph above, I've always felt that whilst MD was Torchwood, it 'wasn't' Torchwood at the same time, as if the main story idea was TOO complicated for the kind of show we'd been enjoying for several years previous - a show that had humour and cheese, as well as it's dark and serious side. I'll also admit that I didn't like the American flavour to MD, there were too many guns and CIA types for my liking, like MD was a cross between Torchwood and The A Team - "wanted by the Government" etc. I liked Esther but I didn't shed any tears over her death like Ianto, Owen and Tosh, maybe we didn't know her for long enough.
solitary_summer
Dec. 20th, 2011 12:08 am (UTC)
Thank you. :)

I also had issues with the americanisation, but somehow it was easier to look past that the second time round... And strangely enough, while I didn't have much of a reaction to Esther's death when I originally watched MD, this time the funeral scene did choke me up a bit.
tigercheetah
Dec. 20th, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)
I felt sorry for Esther at the actual moment of her death but it was her funeral that left me a bit cold - and strangely to me, it felt like Jack and Gwen weren't all that sad either, as if they'd done this 'one too many times' and were just going through the motions. Of course, Jack and Gwen didn't get to know Esther as well as the 3 people they'd lost just a year or so earlier, so...
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Dec. 20th, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
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