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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)
solitary_summer
Dec. 18th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
It'll be a while before I'll sort this all out and write it down...

I think with Jack the more important point is that he's finally stopped running from life, after mortality and the Blessing showed him it wasn't all that bad. And then he still chose to sacrifice himself even though he thought it would be the end, and he was given his life back. It's all conjecture of course, but he might appreciate this chance to finally start living it a little more consciously, enjoying it instead of seeing it as a curse. I think MD puts things in proportion a bit. Jack's life isn't perfect, but neither is Gwen's, Rex's, or the lives of all the people who died young, Ianto, Vera, Esther. Alice, or Steven, whose life was cut brutally short, and who didn't have a choice at all. Angelo wasted the best part of his life chasing after immortality, only to realise in the end that he didn't want to live forever like that. The important thing isn't how long you live, it's what you do with your life. I do think Jack finally got that message. I know this seems to contradict what I wrote in the post, but I think Jack is more grounded at the end of MD than he's been for a long time.
elisi
Dec. 18th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
but I think Jack is more grounded at the end of MD than he's been for a long time.
Oh definitely, no disagreement there. (I wish it'd been better done, but at least there was made an effort to fix him, and I appreciate that. It didn't really work for me, because the Blessing didn't work for me, but it worked for Jack, and that's what matters.)
topaz_eyes
Dec. 19th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
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.

But the Doctor did run from death--he cheated his death with the Teselecta at Lake Silencio. I'd think him truly accepting his mortality would have meant he'd have, well, actually died.
elisi
Dec. 19th, 2011 07:15 am (UTC)
a) He did, actually, die in Berlin. Completely, totally, 100% dead.

b) He accepted death, and then a way out presented itself. Much like Abraham being ready to sacrifice Isaac. And it's that acceptance that's the important part, not the death itself.

My point is that all his running etc only proves how mortal he is... Jack has no need of running. Jack does not need a time machine in order to live out of time - he does that by his very nature. Everyone dies, except him. Whereas for the Doctor everyone dies - including him. And oh, he'll cheat if he can, but it is a cheat. Death is the logical outcome. Regeneration itself is, after all, just another way of cheating death.

In a nutshell - the Doctor is a very long lived alien. Jack is an immortal human.

Edited at 2011-12-19 07:42 am (UTC)
solitary_summer
Dec. 19th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
Jack is an immortal human.

Exactly, but that doesn't make him a god, or even god-like. I think ep. 8 is crucial in this respect, where Angelo's granddaughter quite matter-of-factly tells Jack that immortality as such doesn't make him special, since there are also jellyfish that age and grow young again, over and over again, perhaps over thousands of years, stem cells that in theory could divide forever, etc.. I have no idea how scientifically correct this is, and admittedly the analogy doesn't quite work, but I think the point the show is trying to make here is that it's only what you do with your life that counts, not how long (or short) that life is. In Ten's arc the god-theme wasn't about immortality/longevity either, it was about power and the inability to accept death. And whatever the reason, power is not something Jack seemed to have ever wanted, not even in the way plenty of humans do. The pieces of Christian iconography and mythology MD uses are the most profoundly human ones, suffering and self-sacrifice.

I don't think you can apply the same parameters to Jack and the Doctor, because their entire arcs are simply not the same. Jack doesn't to run from his death, but he very much needed to realise that he didn't want to run towards death all the time.

topaz_eyes is right, Jack's conflict was always about understanding and accepting himself, which is also a profoundly human struggle. And this is why it makes sense to me that MD would close his arc by giving him this moment of self-knowledge and acceptance. The other two possible options—killing him permanently, or 'fixing' him— feel wrong to me, the second maybe even more than the first.
elisi
Dec. 19th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
And this is why it makes sense to me that MD would close his arc by giving him this moment of self-knowledge and acceptance. The other two possible options—killing him permanently, or 'fixing' him— feel wrong to me, the second maybe even more than the first.
You know, I'm not really disagreeing at all. I'm just trying to puzzle out how they took one of my favourite characters and made him uninteresting [to me]. Esp especially as I am usually good at salvaging what I like from something less than brilliant, and ignore the rest. But with MD I just can't. *is sad*
topaz_eyes
Dec. 19th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
immortality as such doesn't make [Jack] special, since there are also jellyfish that age and grow young again, over and over again, perhaps over thousands of years, stem cells that in theory could divide forever, etc...

Apparently that jellyfish does exist. The HeLa cell line, derived from a human cervical adenocarcinoma, was the first human immortal cell line, isolated in 1951. Henrietta Lacks, from whom the line was isolated, died that year from her cancer at age 31. Her cell line is now almost twice as old as she ever was, and those cells are still going gangbusters. Since HeLa's been the basis of so many advances and discoveries in biomedical science, I'd say the legacy of Henrietta Lacks is the closest we'll ever come to immortal. At least in my lifetime. :-)

I do wonder if making Rex immortal was a way of "fixing" Jack's situation as being the only immortal human. That would go a long way to helping him cope.
solitary_summer
Dec. 19th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the information, I really should have thought to look that up myself...

I think making Rex (possibly) immortal was partly supposed to emphasise one more time that Jack's immortality isn't that unique, but perhaps also... I admit this is very much conjecture, but there's Esther's funeral, the hymn, will of God and everything, mortality is back and all is as it should be... I think Rex's resurrection does (intentionally?) undermine this solemnity just a bit. There are rules, yes, but they are bendable. Nature is whimsical and there are all kinds of exceptions.

elisi just wrote that Jack isn't supposed to exist, and that made me think that perhaps the fact that the Blessing turned Jack immortal again and resurrected Rex, possibly making him also immortal, is a sort of validation, proof that Ten was wrong and Jack's immortality may be a quirk of nature, or time, or the universe, but at the same time is perfectly within the natural order of things.
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.)
topaz_eyes
Dec. 19th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
Immortality may be necessary for godhood, but it's not sufficient. As solitary_summer says, immortality itself is not God-like. In every other respect, Jack is human. I'd think true godhood would involve having the power to control outside aspects. You know, like rewriting Kazran Sardick's past at whim, because you think it's the best thing to do, irrespective of what he wants. All Jack can do is control himself and his actions. It's a huge difference.

It's the same with Rex, too. I know making Rex immortal doesn't sit with, well, most of fandom, but the symbolism for me is delicious. If the Doctor can have mirrors with the Master or River, why shouldn't Jack have a corresponding mirror with Rex?

Edited at 2011-12-19 11:02 pm (UTC)
elisi
Dec. 19th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
As [info]solitary_summer says, immortality itself is not God-like. In every other respect, Jack is human.
Please allow me to quote what you say further down:

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.
I don't know that this is God-like as such (well it is in the sense I'm thinking of, but that's very specific to where my head is at right now), but it is... outside of human life. The Doctor is a Timelord, and his powers perfectly natural for what he is (the clue is in the name *g*), but Jack is *wrong* for a human. That he manages to find peace is lovely, but it still doesn't change the fact that he's not supposed to exist.

(As for Kazran I've been watching Seven recently and oh, Doctor. <3 Kazran is NOTHING.)

If the Doctor can have mirrors with the Master or River, why shouldn't Jack have a corresponding mirror with Rex?
Mirrors are LOVELY. What gets me about Rex is that this is not how Jack's immortality works. It'd be like if the Ganger!Doctor could regenerate. It irritates me beyond reason which is why I mostly just try not to think about it.

(Sorry. It's late and I'm tired. But MD just disappointed me massively. I'm glad others can find something positive and I appreciate what you find.)
solitary_summer
Dec. 19th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
(Please don't feel obliged to reply if you don't want to continue this discussion, but you made me think about something here...)

but Jack is *wrong* for a human. That he manages to find peace is lovely, but it still doesn't change the fact that he's not supposed to exist.

That's what Ten said, but do we have to take his word for it? If it happened, who is to say it shouldn't have happened? Rose alone wouldn't have been able to resurrect Jack, the Tardis clearly cooperated. And if the Blessing turned Jack immortal again, maybe this is a sort of validation. His existence might be a quirk of time, nature or the universe, but time, nature and the universe clearly don't object to his existence.

Edited at 2011-12-20 12:09 am (UTC)
elisi
Dec. 20th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
Oh I don't think Jack is all wrong and shouldn't exist... But he was an accident. Humans aren't supposed to be immortal the way he is... Mostly I was trying to make a distinction between the Doctor (who is a Timelord, and should not try to be anything else - say, human), and Jack, who is something completely new and different and has to work out what he is now. Take regeneration - it's what Timelords do. Coming back to life after being shot through the heart is not what humans do. There is a qualitative difference between them. It's the difference between using the laws of nature, and forcibly breaking them. (Not that Jack can help what he is, but he *is* an anomaly.)

And if the Blessing turned Jack immortal again, maybe this is a sort of validation.
I don't have the time right now, but if you like I can come back later and spell out my problems with The Blessing. Dancing hippos in tutus would have been preferable.
solitary_summer
Dec. 20th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
Jack is something new and different, but why can't that be a good thing, or at least a value-neutral fact? I never thought about it in those terms before MD, because immortality was so clearly always such a burden to Jack, but MD really made me reconsider. On some level I still think not being able to have a choice about death is fairly horrific, but on the other hand people die all the time without getting a say in that either, so I guess in the end it balances out. It's not how the universe generally works, but 'anomaly' doesn't have to equal 'wrong'. I'm also a bit hesitant to bring 'laws of nature' into this, when the story is set in a universe where something like the Tardis exists, without which Jack would never have become immortal in the first place. If what happened to Jack had really gone against some fundamental, unbendable law, how could it have happened at all? Is it even possible to break laws of nature?

(The Blessing IMO was a bit awkward, which is probably unavoidable if you try to give an abstract concept physical shape, but then I remember S1's CGI Abadon, and suddenly it's not that bad...)
topaz_eyes
Dec. 21st, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
Invader Zim! ♥

Metaphysics is so not my subject (now there's an understatement!), but that won't stop me from rambling, so... *g*

The Doctor is a Timelord, and his powers perfectly natural for what he is (the clue is in the name *g*), but Jack is *wrong* for a human.

Well, there's "TIME Lord", and "Time LORD". *g* So I think there are two interpretations at play when considering whether Jack is "wrong."

I think, when Bad Wolf resurrected Jack, she "inserted" him into the fabric of the universe, for lack of a better word. In doing so, accidental or no, Jack--and through him, humanity, with all its virtues and flaws--became part of its natural law. Humanity is literally the fixed point of the universe. So perhaps, humanity and the universe are the same thing. And I think this would mean Jack's not outside of human life at all.

If Jack is "wrong," according to Ten, does that mean the universe--the natural law--is "wrong", too? And conversely, what is "right"? I love that Jack learned of his fixed-point status in an episode set at the very end of the universe, where/when humans still exist 100 trillion years later. Logically, that shouldn't happen. Everything changes, everything ends and everything dies--unless humanity itself, as a concept, is a fundamental constant of the universe. (In "Utopia," Ten says, Don’t you see that? The ripe old smell of humans. You survived. Oh, much better than a million years evolving into clouds of gas. And then another million as downloads, but you always revert to the same basic shape. The fundamental humans.)

RTD's verse firmly established that humans can't, and should not, be godlike. Rose couldn't survive being Bad Wolf (I find it intriguing that that's what the Rose/TARDIS entity was called, with its negative, all-consuming connotations), and Donna couldn't survive being the DoctorDonna. In a sense, both Rose and Donna were punished. Martha, the companion who didn't become godlike, who saved the world through her humanity, led an amazing life after. In a sense, she was rewarded. Which might be consistent with humanity as a natural law of the universe. (And what if Ten's transgression wasn't against the Laws of Time, but rather against humanity? Because he tried to alter a fixed point for humanity. Hmm.)

What gets me about Rex is that this is not how Jack's immortality works.

I know it's frustrating, but I don't think how Jack's immortality works was that important in MD. The symbolism mattered, and that's how I chose to interpret and enjoy the series.
elisi
Dec. 23rd, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say that I *will* get back to this. It's just that... CHRISTMAS appears to be happening. *g*

I'll leave you with this, which should bring cheer (because Ten is OBVIOUSLY Gir!):




Edited at 2011-12-23 10:44 am (UTC)
elisi
Dec. 31st, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC)
I'm back! :)

Like your thoughts on Jack and right-and wrong-ness, and I'm not sure we disagree. I like the idea of Jack and all the issues he throws up re. what it means to be human, so thank you for sharing.

However, I am going to use this opportunity to explain why The Blessing is so infuriating to me - turning Rex immortal is just stupid (but it's not like that has stopped RTD before), but The Blessing is... well.

RTD is an atheist, and I have every respect for that. Doctor Who - and all affiliated spinoffs - operate in a godless universe. This is more than fine. However... The Blessing is, in essence, what C.S.Lewis would term 'a tame god'. It performs certain god-like functions such a make people reflect on what they are - this is involuntary, and an effect on seeing it - and somehow makes them feel at peace, and it can create large scale miracles.

Yet it isn't sentient. It can be manipulated and it just happens to be there (no explanation forthcoming. Ever). No one owes it anything, and apart from making people either feel happy about themselves or commit suicide, you don't need to subscribe to any kind of creed or change anything.

So yeah, it's RTD having his cake and eating it. He relentlessly attacks actual religion, but he'll happily smuggle something similar in the back door, just without any of the awkward drawbacks, like actually having to believe [in] anything. Like I said - it's a tame god. Actually, I managed to find the relevant quote by C.S.Lewis. Substitute 'Blessing' for 'Life Force' and off you go:

When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?
C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

To have the whole of MD rest on this? Yeah, I'm not happy. (I know it works for other people, but it took me a while to pinpoint why it annoyed me so very much. Hope you don't mind me sharing.)
solitary_summer
Dec. 31st, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
(Sorry for jumping in, please feel free to ignore me!)


I'm not a hundred percent happy with the Blessing either, mainly because it's a bit too mystic/supernatural for my taste, and too much of a narrative shortcut. This said though, to me the Blessing is essentially a physical manifestation of 'everything has its time and everything dies'. Giving an abstract concept a physical shape is a bit outdated and awkward, but MD is such an idea-driven story overall that I can live with it. topaz_eyes called it an 'atheistic morality play' further down, and I think that's about it. The confrontation with death/mortality makes people re-evaluate their lives, only here it isn't a black-robed skeleton wielding a scythe, but something more abstract and less scary, because the moral of the story is that mortality is a good (or at least necessary) thing.

And for all its mysticism, essentially the Blessing still works within the parameters of atheism. That it isn't sentient is absolutely necessary because it... maybe not controls, but has a connection to human mortality. Calibrates it. If it were sentient, you'd have something with a will controlling mortality, which would make the entire story pointless.

And the Blessing isn't there to make anyone feel good, it only did that in Jack's case because he saw his life as so much worse than it actually was. The Blessing is mortality personified, and as such it will still bring a lot of pain to a lot of people, even if in that particular situation it brought relief. It's just that immortality, or controlled and manipulated mortality, is even worse. This isn't a thrill as much as accepting a necessity of existence that does interfere with human lives all the time in painful ways. It's hardly fair to say that there is no cost to what Gwen did. She knew perfectly well that it didn't just mean that her father would die, but also that Anwen would be mortal again.
topaz_eyes
Dec. 31st, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
The Blessing is, in essence, what C.S.Lewis would term 'a tame god'. It performs certain god-like functions such a make people reflect on what they are - this is involuntary, and an effect on seeing it - and somehow makes them feel at peace, and it can create large scale miracles.

Yet it isn't sentient. It can be manipulated and it just happens to be there (no explanation forthcoming. Ever). No one owes it anything, and apart from making people either feel happy about themselves or commit suicide, you don't need to subscribe to any kind of creed or change anything.


I can see why the Blessing would be infuriating. I'm not sure, but I think RTD bypassed religious-centered morality with the Blessing, made it human-centered instead. As I see it, self-reflection involves self-evaluation based on morals. What CS Lewis seems to imply is that humanity cannot reflect on who/what they are without faith in God, and that morality cannot exist without God. Morality can't exist without sentience, and God is sentient, so God is moral, and one measures oneself against God's morality.

The Blessing is not sentient. But because the Blessing is not sentient--it just is--it's amoral. So when Jack, Gwen, Oswald, Jilly, etc. gazed into it, they had to judge themselves by their own moral standards. It wasn't that they were at peace with themselves, either--Oswald was especially conflicted--but rather, they accepted what they saw, and moved on.

it's RTD having his cake and eating it. He relentlessly attacks actual religion, but he'll happily smuggle something similar in the back door, just without any of the awkward drawbacks, like actually having to believe [in] anything.

Atheists do not believe God exists, true. It does not mean atheists don't believe in anything at all. As Ten says in "The Satan Pit":

So, that's the trap. Or the test or the final judgment, I don't know. But if I kill you, I kill her. Except that implies - in this big grand scheme of Gods and Devils - that she's just a victim. But I've seen a lot of this universe. I've seen fake gods and bad gods and demi gods and would-be gods - out of all that - out of that whole pantheon - if I believe in one thing... just one thing... I believe in HER.

RTD embraces faith in humanity, that humans have control of their own destiny. MD is rife with examples of faith in other humans, and belief in oneself, to do the right thing when needed. Lewis talks about All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. RTD also recognizes the pitfalls of faith in humanity. Misplaced faith seems like a huge cost to me, and MD showed that in spades, too--notably how Vera's rewriting of medical triage rules got twisted to 'the categories of life'.

What it comes down to, I think, is that the Blessing really doesn't take the place of God. As solitary_summer suggests, it's mortality itself. Or, maybe it can be likened--as a Death Force, rather than a Life Force. To relate to CS Lewis, the Death Force, "being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will always interfere with you." I don't think anyone would call mortality a "tame god."
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...
solitary_summer
Dec. 20th, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's that they'd done this one time too many as much as that they all, including Esther, had actively fought to reverse the miracle and bring back death. There's sadness, but also a sense of relief, of things being back to normal, of achievement, and I think the scene is deliberately shot to convey that.
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