By now, the overseas crowd has reacted to Torchwood: Children of Earth and decided where they stand on it and what it means for the future of the Whoverse. I had a few things to say in my post-as-we-go reviews, on the subject of philosophy and happy endings. For more from me and RTD...let's go under a cut...
****WARNING****Doctor Who Finale Casting Spoilers & Plot Spoilers for Torchwood: CoE
Oh...and LORDY! This is long!
Here's a few quotes from RTD on the ending of Torchwood. Though these might actually be older quotes about the end of S2, judging by context, I think they are still relevent.
"We did it to break people's hearts," Davies says of the "Torchwood" finale. "I always say this about drama: It's not there just to make you smile. When you're upset, when you're grieving for someone, I think, then, drama is doing a very good job."
Davies says it would have been easy to kill off a bunch of extras, but that wasn't something he or the BBC ever considered doing. He talks about the death of Owen and Tosh.
"We loved working with Naoko," he says. "We loved the character, and there was a lot more we could have done with her. But that's the point of death. It hurts."
And we already know that in his book, RTD said that he hoped to break people with what he did to Donna Noble. He wanted us to suffer those real feelings of grief. So...mission accomplished, then!
It might surprise my readers to know that I agree with RTD on his point here. Drama is not just there to make you smile. Conversely, drama isn't just there to make you weep, either. Drama should press every button, open every emotional door and twang every heart-string. You should laugh, cry, smile, sigh and be uplifted. You should have all of these experience in addition to being thrown into spasms of grief. I would say drama is at its best, not when it upsets you, but when it surprises you, especially when you are left feeling complete satisfaction.
I feel that the ending of Torchwood fails to satisfy, not because it upset me, but because it wasn't very surprising. It presented a single-note of drama admirably. It was tragic. The basic note was pain...grief, remorse and despair. Yes, there was a seasoning of uplift as the children are saved and we see Gwen has kept her baby. And yes, we have a few funny moments. But, as RTD points out, those children were "extras"...sparing their lives lacks impact. The main thrust of the piece was the humiliation and loss suffered by our hero, Jack Harkness.
Was there some sort of point to it all, or does RTD simply view pain as an end unto itself? It is hard for me to say at this moment. On the one hand we have Parting of the Ways...an amazing bit of dramatic surprise. On the other hand we have this blanket statement that drama works if the audience is upset? Is RTD a one-trick wonder? That is the question for us to ponder between now and Christmas.
If there is a point to the pain, other than dramatic effect, if the pain is part of a multicolored tapestry of emotions...then we can remain hopeful for the holidays. Let me illustrate why I think this could still be part of a whole...rather than an end unto itself...
1) Geek Street-Cred! Davies has gots it!
When you place Children of Earth in context, this relentless downer ending for Torchwood, lines up with the last episode of the main series where we lost Tosh and Owen and the final few minutes of Journey's End which saw the Doctor betray Donna and Rose...and you have a tremendous amount of unrelenting angst in a big old depressing pile. No geek boy with an ounce of sense is going to stand up at this point and accuse RTD of "selling out" when he offers a happy ending.
Therefore, RTD now has the license he needs to go schmoopy and still hold his head up at Geek Conventions. He has paid his dues in the angst department and can say, "Hey! I killed everyone on Torchwood. You can't have unrelenting death, all the time, guys!"
2) The Torchwood ending did suit the show.
Torchwood was never on the side of good in the Whoverse. This is why the Doctor is so angry at Jack in The Sound of Drums. Jack tries to defend going to work for Torchwood by claiming that he's changed it, made it something the Doctor could be proud of...but we learn in CoE...that is a lie. Jack gave up for a time and he was part of the Torchwood that allowed Rose to be taken from the Doctor. A lot of people haven't really processed that part of the story, I think. But if Jack was with Torchwood in 1965...then he was with them when Rose was taken, too.
He wanted to speak to the Doctor. For all we know, the order to capture the Doctor was his order. I believe he claims that he had nothing to do with that...but then...plausible deniability was always part of Torchwood. Torchwood acted outside the government, beyond the police and they were definitely not pacifists. Given the grim events in episodes like, They Keep Killing Suzie...and Captain Jack Harkness...maybe scorched earth was the only way to go with this team. Certainly, we move beyond Jack's hypocritical opening statements in Children of Earth and get down to the fact that he's sold out as a rebel hero.
3) There's still the rift problem.
The rift is one of the easiest ways for the Doctor to connect with other dimensions. It seems to be directly linked to the events of the Time War and there has been more than one attempt to destabilize it. It is used for communications purposes on two occasions. Now, all rift protection has been blown to bits. And the rift is mentioned repeatedly in CoE. So, right there, we have a pony possibility we have not considered. The alternative universes could merge if the rift goes all wonky. Gallifrey AND Rose could come back. Jack has all that power inside of him...maybe repairing the rift is the "reason" he was brought into exisitence.
I never really bought the Doctor's theory of "She just couldn't control it." Bad Wolf Rose seems very capable to me. Though, I admit, creating life is a tad more complicated than atomizing life.
4) Captain Jack is now an authority on grief and loss.
Yes, we all understand, on some level, that the Doctor is grief stricken because he killed his entire family and his entire home world was lost to him. But that didn't happen on screen, so we are a little divorced from the negative connotations.
But, now, we have lived through the same experiences with Jack...we have seen how ugly it is first hand in a way that we could never did see it on Doctor Who. Jack killed his grandson...as the Doctor must have killed Susan (or the rest of his family). The Hub, Jack's home and the place where his brother Gray was being held in stasis is blown away...just as the Doctor's home world and his relatives are blown away. Jack not only loses his friends and loved ones...but also betrays them...just as the Doctor feels he betrays those who care for him. Jack has outlived his loved ones many times over...and we see that being close to him is dangerous. But as of Torchwood: CoE...Jack was still reaching out to people. Still willing to love Ianto and spend time with his grandson and daughter.
At this point in the story, it seems as if Jack might follow the Doctor's example and simply run away from any deeper involvement with people. This is what made me angry at the end of CoE...because it seems like more of the same thing we had at Journey's End...the lonely hero runs away from further/deeper commitment.
It is that repeating note of angst and cowardice that is beginning to bore me in this narrative.
However, it is possible that Jack would have something to say about running BEFORE you've lost everything. He does agree to stand and fight in CoE. His mourning is AFTER a loss rather then in anticipation of one. Which is the choice that the Doctor makes at the end of Journey's End, he anticipates pain and avoids it. It is also possible Jack might feel that sacrifice can be meaningful. He might not view Stephen's death as pointless...just as we might not view Donna's death as pointless if it allows her to remember her life, again.
I think our hope for the Pony does lie with Jack and Wilf...because both of them have insight to offer the Doctor on what it is like to face death without flinching. Jack understands the Doctor's pain...what it is like to be destined to bury your loved ones, time and time again. He has actually watched a woman he loved wither and die. But I imagine, Jack, given the chance to have 80 more years with Ianto, would jump all over that. I imagine, Jack, regrets every minute of time he lost with his grandchild and daughter, now that he can no longer see them. If he can express this to the Doctor, he stands a chance of being heard...by the audience as well as the Doctor. Jack is the perfect person to tell the Doctor he's being a fool about Rose and Donna, because Jack knows of what he speaks.
5) Everybody is coming back.
Casting spoilers have told us that we are going to have Wilf and Donna and Jack and Rose and Jackie back on set. The conventional wisdom is that everyone is there to say goodbye to Ten, in brief montage or something. And it could be that RTD is simply being self-indulgent all over again and allowing us one more look at the old gang. Or it could be that he wants to make it clear that the Doctor did have a positive impact on Rose and Donna and Wilf and Jackie...so he plans to show that everyone is happy with the way their lives turned out...Donna remembers she's special, even if she doesn't remember why...and Rose and 10.5 live happily in bottle-world.
But, the interesting part for me is that Wilf is the companion for the final two episodes.
If all we are supposed to see is happy people leading happy little lives...then why is Wilf the companion? It seems to me that Wilf would be putting Donna at constant risk for no good reason. Unless Donna is ALREADY at risk...which seems likely only if she's NOT living the happy life without her memories.
Also, Wilf is a very old dude. He's withered. This speaks to one of the things that Ianto says in Torchwood..."So, one day you will see me die...of old age." This is part of what the Doctor (and RTD and the geek boyz) tend to be pointing to with fearful fingers of doom. Old age is coming...we don't want to see some old companion. We don't want to think about being old.
But the fact is...people don't generally wither, except at the very end of their lives. Fit, old people can kick ass. Look at Clint Eastwood. Better yet, let's look at Bernard Cribbens. I bet he enjoyed being part of a show that said the hero couldn't face watching someone get old. And what about Lindsey Duncan (35 years older than Rose) as the companion in Waters of Mars. If those two can keep up with the Doctor...then maybe 58 or 70 year old Rose could keep up with him, too. Maybe he wouldn't be tied down by her dotage. Rose could just as readily be healthy and vital into her eighties. Which means, they could have more than 50 years of happiness before the Doctor must suffer this loss he fears so much.
And...also...Ianto and Stephen show us that young people die, too. So there's a chance anyone he loved could die on him. Anyone but Jack. Maybe he should just switch teams and accept the inevitable, hey? I know that the Jack/Doctor folks are still clinging to the hope. LOL
6) There is an inborn poignancy to the Ten/Rose love story
It has limits. In the last post, I linked you all to an essay I wrote on happy endings a long, long time ago...and in that essay I talked about Charlotte's Web and the tragedy of it. It is a proper tragedy because Charlotte is a spider and quite naturally dies before Wilbur...but she has a profound impact on Wilbur's life. If the Doctor goes to Rose...he goes knowing that she will die and he will go on alone. And we, the audience, should know it, too. We should feel that sweet pang that comes from his surrendering to that inevitable loss. We should know he is seizing on a limited happiness for himself, taking the joy life offers him instead of rejecting joy. The curse of the Time Lords will follow him as he goes to Rose. He will return from this journey...alone. But by going, he will be accepting the reality of his existence rather than running from it and that could have a profound impact on him.
I think this is one of the most vital points that can be made to all the people who sneer at the happy-for-her-lifetime ending. Far from being a denial of reality, it would be an acceptance of reality. It would be the Doctor facing that he is the only one of his kind, an admission that there is no avoiding pain if he means to interact with people in a meaningful way. Friends will die on the Doctor. Running away from your loved ones doesn't stop them from dying...it just means you weren't there for them...and you missed out on all you might have shared.
And that is the absolute truth about relationships, too. If you run away from the pain, you aren't really protected from heartbreak...you just never have any good stuff in your life. Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. To love is to suffer. That's what that phrase means. Too many stories take it to mean that your loved ones MAKE you suffer...and so if you are suffering you must be in love. But no...no...it goes far deeper than that...opening up to love means exposing yourself to the pain of loss that will one day come. Every love story ends in loss, even if it is only the loss at the end of life. And in this case, we know, that loss will be borne by the Doctor. That's the courageous beauty of him opening his heart to an ephemeral creature like Rose. That's the beautiful tragedy in this story, in my less than humble opinion.
This is why I say that RTD could have a philosophy that differs from my own. He may feel it is better not to care too deeply.
But...can we respect that attitude in the Doctor? It was not lost on me that in the 1965 flashback when Jack asks why they wanted HIM for the mission...the woman says they needed someone who "didn't care." I think the dissatisfaction people feel with the end of S4...shows that nobody is really happy with an uncaring Doctor.
7) The Doctor Needs To Heal
As I've said, Doctor Who isn't a show about suffering and loneliness. It is a show about adventure and hope and saving the day against impossible odds. A heartbroken Doctor isn't going to be inspiring generations to come. And kids are very sensitive to the idea of broken homes and hearts these days. I don't think they are going to buy into the funeral atmosphere of angst that we are having in the Whoverse. At this point, RTD needs to trot out a big, old pony with a bright bow on it, just to keep his core audience.
And lest, the geeks and goths forget who that audience is, it is school age children and their mums and dads. The people fairytale endings were written for in the first place. I believe those people are recoiling from the entire prospect of Doctor Who at this point, given what just happened on Torchwood. So...it just makes sense for RTD to do something spectacular to woo those people back into the Who-Fold. Delaying the regeneration so that the Doctor can live out a happy lifetime with Rose...would be the resounding note in the drama that has...so far...been missing. The last minute save! The uplifting of the heart. That fairy tale note that tells us...no matter how scary the monster is...no matter how many people have died...no matter how overwhelmingly impossible the odds...when the Doctor arrives, things will get sorted for the better!
THIS JUST IN: I STILL TEST PONY-POSITIVE
July 14th, 2009