Monday, August 9, 2010

Torchwood: Whose Story is it in this brave New World?

Whose story is it anyway? In recent high-profile TV series, that question may not have an obvious answer. Sometimes the hero or protagonist isn’t always known until the TV story has been completed.

That’s especially true of series with a large ensemble cast. Although Jack Shephard long was a (sometimes questionable) hero and (always) lead character in the ever-changing cast of Lost, it took until the last moments of the last episode before I felt confident that the Lost story was, indeed, Jack’s story.

Of course, many other characters, including dear Hurley and my beloved Charlie, saw their story lines—before and after death—take unexpected and series-changing turns before that big post-death reunion scene. But, ultimately, Lost was Jack’s story. It began with his eyes opening on the island, and his on-island, corporeal life ended with a final glimpse of another plane carrying true love Kate and half-sister Claire to the rest of their lives. Even after death, everyone gathered because of Jack and entered the next phase of their existence only when he was once again among the formerly lost. The circular structure began with Jack opening his eyes and ended with their final closing, with the added bonus of an afterlife denouement.

Maybe I’ve grown accustomed to seeing “Jack” as the one around whom a story or series revolves: Jack Shephard, Jack Bauer, Jack Harkness.

Although I’m again traveling without benefit of online access (and relying on others to post my blogs for me), I can’t seem to get away from Torchwood. Tonight’s catfish dinner at Shoney’s came with a side of hardcopy USA Today. I must be so attuned to Torchwood that my fingers automatically flipped to the TV section, which included a brief mention of Captain Jack and John Barrowman in T4, now subtitled The New World. As I’ve mentioned before, in my personal blog and at PopMatters, silly me (and I write this not as facetiously as I might have a few months ago) thinks of Captain Jack and Torchwood synonymously. Where you have one, you should have the other.

Yet, in this New World, is Torchwood Jack’s story? Several fans (including—thank you, comment posters!—one who felt I was correct in writing about Torchwood comic #1 that Captain Jack = Torchwood) have wondered about the teaser art for T4: The New World picturing Gwen standing front and center, with Jack in the background. Gwen looks toward the camera; Jack looks off to the right (a rather forward-looking perspective). One of the most common promo photos of CoE presented, from left to right, Ianto looking down, Jack (centered in the photo) looking straight at the camera, and Gwen looking to the observer’s right (that future-forward POV again), although print posters and DVD and CD covers favored a photo of the trio with Gwen front and center, flanked by Jack and Ianto.

[OK—here comes the blatant promo for my hot-off-the-press/also available as e-book Tarnished Heroes, Charming Villains, and Modern Monsters, from McFarland and able to be ordered there as well as at Amazon—and sold at the Orlando book signing on the 28th: I analyze the CoE poster, Torchwood in general, and Ianto, Jack, and Gwen specifically in the book, which also has Captain Jack on the cover. See?]

But back to the New World and speculation about Gwen’s and Jack’s roles. According to RTD’s and Julie Gardner’s latest interview (see the AfterElton article for a full account), two years after CoE, Torchwood is legend, and at least one CIA agent is interested in learning more about them during yet another global crisis. Gardner calls T4 a “reboot,” but Airlock Alpha reports that T1-3 canon will be preserved, and RTD thinks of the 10-hour story arc as one of Torchwood’s later adventures, a complete story in itself. If ratings warrant another miniseries, Torchwood will continue.

But who will be its leader? And who will be perceived as the series’ lead? Is it Gwen (Eve Myles)—the sole Earthbound Hub survivor? Is it Jack (John Barrowman), who somehow finds a reason, two years after his dramatic exit, to return to Earth in presumably linear time? Or will it be a new character, such as a (former) CIA operative, who continues the Torchwood tradition of a succession of team members and new leaders with an extremely high turnover rate?

Presuming that Torchwood may be Jack’s story may be inaccurate. Torchwood existed before Jack came along, even if he was a part of it for a very long time. In Torchwood history, Jack wasn’t even Three’s leader for all that long (less than a decade). Is the series really the story of Torchwood, the one-time institution turned legend and rebooted into reality in 2011?

On the one hand, the first Gwen-prominent promo poster for T4: TNW isn’t all that surprising. After all, she’s the one left behind on Earth to represent whatever remains of Torchwood. Jack needs to come back before he can join the story—so standing in the background seems a logical place for the man who abandoned Earth and everything Torchwood. On the other hand, the promo art makes me question whose story TNW will be. Indeed, if titles are prophetic, TNW may provide more than new cast members, new locations, and a new miniseries format.

Still, RTD made a point of noting that Jack, John, and everyone’s favorite RAF coat are a lot of fun. As the AfterElton article quoted him, RTD commented "I love a joke. And it's — you look at the iconography of the series. You have the poster outside, which is — it's John Barrowman as Captain Jack standing in a World War II coat. There's a size and a sense of fun to that. You've got a bisexual hero being played by an openly gay man in a modern-day thriller set — that's got to have fun, doesn't it?”

I’d rather that this comment hadn’t turned up in the “humour” section of the interview (I admit I’m fan-biased instead of journalistically objective here), but I agree with Ianto (in T2’s “KK, BB”) that Torchwood (and Torchwood) “is a lot more fun with him.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, just like Lost and 24, Torchwood is really Jack’s story.


  1. To be honest, I wouldn't be overly hopeful about this new 'Torchwood' being Jack's story. Probably because (as RTD said in an interview) that this was a story idea he'd just added the Torchwood name/characters to. (Pretty much what he did with COE which turned out to be more about the politics than the people, IMO)

    The only reason to watch this 'new Torchwood', IMO, is to see (a) how quickly they'll kill the new characters or (b) to see how they manage to keep Gwen alive and untainted.
    Without Ianto/GDL, there's no reason for me (and many fans) to tune in.

  2. I am looking forward to TW The New World. I also was struck by the poster of Gwen foreground and Jack background that accompanied the original announcement. Then yesterday The Hollywood Reporter showed new posters of each of them by themselves. Jack in CoE stance of "I'm Back" after Ianto got him new clothes. and Gwen same background only side on. Neither with a gun. So I am hopeful that it at least will not be Gwen's story.
    TW, I felt, was never really Jack's story. As a leader he was rather inept and bungling and no one paid much heed to him. It was more an ensemble type thing with a different person featured every week. For some reason Russell seemed to want Gwen as a central character and some kind of chemistry between Jack and Gwen. I never thought there was much of that. But then I didn't really get the chemistry between Ianto and Jack either. It always seemed like something they did to pass the time and Ianto never seemed very comfortable with it all. Even in CoE he acted like he was reluctant to to have anyone notice there was anything going on between him and Jack. I was struck with this, when he asked Jack if he had died and when Jack affirmed that he had, Ianto awkwardly (IMO) steps up and gives him a rather wooden hug. That they tried to get rid of Rhys in a half hearted way and then just shrugged it off when he said he wouldn't go left me feeling that their was no passion there. I hope that Russell doesn't revive the Gwen/Jack thing I think that will be just awful. I am going to Amazon right after I post this to order your book. It looks fascinating.