In which I rant about Torchwood and queer stuff

Like any good geek, I stick with my shows, even when they’re thoroughly awful.

Take Torchwood. I think I might have hated Torchwood much more than I ever liked it, yet I have stuck with it even as it moved to the States. I feel the urge to vent something that has been bothering me about the latest series. This post will contain spoilers up to episode 3 of Torchwood: Miracle Day. I think, though, that the experience of watching the bloody thing is much worse than the experience of being spoiled.

I have watched Torchwood since it started. I enjoyed the fact that it was essentially Doctor Who fanfiction with a standard fanfiction-inspired dose of slash. All of the characters were at least a little bit queer. It was one of the central tenets of the show: sexuality, for most of the characters was flexible. The gay-or-straight narrative simply did not apply to Torchwood. Most people were somewhere in between. I cannot think of another programme where bisexual characters are so visible.

Even though I find Captain Jack Harkness a gratingly annoying character, I very much appreciated the idea that he came from a future where people had stopped giving a shit about sexual orientation and anything goes. I would love to go and live in that future (except for all of the haunted libraries with shadows that come and eat you).

And here is the problem: Torchwood stopped being queer. I think the rot set in towards the end of season two, when they killed off Toshiko, a main character who happened to be a bisexual woman. Captain Jack begins a serious relationship with Ianto, and stops flirting with everything that moves. That is understandable, I suppose; he has gone monogamous. In the end of season three, Ianto was killed off, another bisexual main character. Ianto died because he had been written into the role of Love Interest Of The Hero, a role usually reserved for a woman character. The trope played out just the same.

After a purge of all of the mortal queers, Torchwood went American. With that, it stopped being anything remotely resembling a queer-friendly show. In the second episode of Miracle Day, the characters are on a plane. There is an air steward there, a well-groomed man. For the entire duration of the episode, the nameless air steward is repeatedly mistaken for gay, presumably because he is well-groomed and an air steward. This “joke” is so tired and hackneyed that it was used in such cinematic masterpieces as Snakes on a Plane.

In the first two episodes, this is literally the only mention of anything remotely pertaining to sexuality: HAHA! LOOK AT THE CLEAN MAN! HE MUST BE A GAY!

By the third episode, the writers have remembered that Captain Jack is supposed to be queer, and throw in a thoroughly unnecessary sex scene between him and a nameless bartender. I will give the show credit where credit is due: the scene is more graphic than one would expect from an American TV show, and safe sex is mentioned. However, this does not make up for the whole of the episode before, which was such a homophobic cliché that I’d been sure it would have been leading up to some kind of humorous subversion. It did nothing of the sort. All the gratuitous bumming in the world can’t change that.

I had always joked that Torchwood was the only fandom not requiring slashfic because it was sufficiently queer all on its own. This is no longer the case, and it makes me a hell of a lot less forgiving of the fact that the writing is terrible, the plot makes no goddamn sense whatsoever, and all of the characters are irretrievably irritating.

To summarise: don’t bother with the new series of Torchwood. I will keep you updated if it improves.


7 responses to “In which I rant about Torchwood and queer stuff

  • Alex

    So maybe I’m a little more hawk-eared than you, but did you catch the “it was like, one time!” line off the not-gay male air-stewardess?

    The gag wasn’t “this poor guy, they all think he’s gay”. It was “this guy is gay”. The stereotype subsequently proved to be correct. Any attempt to counter them is just closetism. Ba-dum TSSSCH!

  • Beth

    so, so true – wonderful to read everything i was thinking but hadn’t managed to articulate so well! i’m starting to think the writers have completely forgotten jack is/was ever bi, and he used to be one of the few characters on tv who seemed consistently interested in both genders, which made a nice change – what a let down.

    • stavvers

      Thank you. The best thing about Jack was it went beyond gender binary–man, woman, non-binary, robots–he did them all. And now Torchwood has lost its queer😦

  • Torchwood and queer stuff: the problem of immortality-AIDS « Another angry woman

    […] which was used to drive homophobia. The thing is, the latest series of Torchwood has already abundantly demonstrated that it is not the queer-friendly show it once was. I would not be surprised at all if they picked up this unfortunate implication and ran with it; […]

  • Lisa Egan (@lisybabe)

    Glad I’m not the only one feeling rather sad inside that Jack’s forgotten his omnisexuality.

  • Laelyn

    Captain Jack Harkness isn’t gay, he’s pansexual. Ianto has made it clear that he’s not attracted to men, but to Jack. How did you know Tosh was bi? Owen likes women and Gwen is married.
    The Torchwood Universe has their fair share of the LGBT community and the plot is said at the beginning of every episode: Torchwood: Outside the government, beyond the police. Fighting for the future on behalf of the human race. The 21st century is when everything changes. And Torchwood is ready.

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