The world will always welcome lovers?

…or Torchwood and the gay agenda’.

The first series of Torchwood came to an end this week in the British Isles, managing to bring many of its threads to a close while still hanging a huge ‘to be continued’ sign on the final scene.  I have greatly enjoyed this series, even during times when it seemed there was more hole than plot and the all-too-frequent occasions when the best character (quiet young Ianto) was relegated to the tiniest of supporting roles.  Good, quirky fun.  Less entertaining, often, is the rather unpleasant reaction it gets in various corners of the internet which object to the show’s ‘gay agenda’.  It has not shied away from showing sexuality in many manifestations and has thus probably made an enemy of the Daily Mail and similar British institutions.  And, it would seem, a large number of the internet’s denizens.

Watch out if you haven’t seen all of Torchwood.  Some spoilers will follow.

It would be stupid to pretend that Torchwood has not included more same-sex encounters than most other mainstream shows.  Or to gloss over the fact that the series’ producer, Russell T. Davies, rather made a virtue of this fact before the series aired.  The central character is omnisexual (even species isn’t a particular issue for him, just how attractive and available the other party happens to be).  At least two of the other main characters are bisexual, if we really must put labels on fictional characters, and the remaining two share a kiss with a member of their own sex at some point during the series, though for strange science fiction reasons so it might not actually ‘count’.  We see our hero kiss two different men (in different centuries) and our lovely computer genius has a sexual relationship with an alien in the body of a human woman.

Gosh!  Save us from all these gay (or should that be queer? or some other word?) encounters on our television screen!  Or not.  The series also featured several sexually-active heterosexual couplings, and this tended to be much more ‘in your face’ than any of the homosexual pairings.  The sex scenes with Dr Owen Harper were very tedious and uncomfortable for this viewer at least, less tender or emotionally affecting than any of the things mentioned above.  Viewed as drama, each relationship worked to a greater or lesser extent and while we may have seen more displays of affection than is usual on the small screen, they tended to grow out of the characters rather than take place for the fun of it.

The penultimate episode contained one of the most beautiful romantic scenes I’ve seen on television for a long time.  Transported back to 1941 by means unclear, our hero finds himself attracted to a dashing Captain, one who is fated to die tomorrow and whose identity our hero assumed the last time he was in this time period (only in science fiction!).  It is immediately obvious that his attraction is reciprocated, but of course the 1941 man feels he cannot do anything about it.  During the episode, the sexual tension continues to build and finally the two of them share a clinch just as our hero is about to be returned to the 21st century.  This moment is important for both of them, both being strong in very different ways even as they know very well that they will never meet again.  ‘Our’ Captain Jack knows that he won’t stay in 1941 for long, and knows that the real Captain is fated to die tomorrow.  The real Captain is no fool and would be well aware of the possible consequences of a public display of homosexual affection for his career (and his life in general), but he also knows that this could be his last day on Earth and is tired of hiding who he is.  As they dance, embrace and kiss, the viewers witness a touching yet tragic moment which was exquisitely moving.  Even a viewer like the Singing Librarian, who has an annoying habit of saying ‘bleugh’ to anything which goes beyond his low soppiness tolerance level.

Once the scene was over, I (and I’m sure many others) immediately began to wonder what the real-world consequences of such an action would be.  The initial assumption was that the real Captain would be ostracised, court-martialled and jailed (in roughly that order) due to the prevailing attitudes of the time.  However, a little digging around shows that this is not necessarily true.  Homosexuality was often tolerated among serving officers at the time – we needed the fighting men and didn’t much care about anything beyond their ability to shoot, fly, navigate or otherwise serve their country.  And due to the general feeling that anyone could die tomorrow, sexual taboos were broken far more frequently during wartime than they were immediately before or after the period.  So what feels like an anachronism, beautiful or otherwise, may not be quite so unrealistic as you might naturally assume.  Of course, had the Captain survived the war, then he might have found himself in trouble, but that’s a matter for a really odd alternate universe fanfic, I would have thought.

Anyway, the ‘gay agenda’ appears to be nothing more than to present homosexual relationships on a par with their heterosexual equivalents.  Or not even that, given that the Torchwood men kiss men but engage in passionate sex with women.  It is still relatively rare to see a same-sex relationship, let alone a same-sex kiss or sex scene on mainstream TV or in mainstream cinema, so each kiss or glance has more impact on the audience than exactly the same kiss between a man and a woman could ever have.  We notice it far more, hence some people feeling that it’s being rammed down their throats (which is a disturbing metaphor in the context, I feel).  None of the relationships in this series were completely stable or healthy, so it is not as though the writers were proclaiming that any sort of relationship or sexuality was better than another.  If this is a ‘gay agenda’, then it seems perfectly obvious that most shows, and entire decades of broadcasting, must have a ‘straight agenda’, as the only relationships we would see would be between a man and a woman.  Even shows like Will and Grace were often quite coy about actually having their gay characters kiss one another.  If you want to be able to moan about the gay agenda, you really need to be able to admit to the existence of the straight agenda to have an even remotely credible argument.

In essence, I think objecting to Torchwood on the grounds of a ‘gay agenda’, perceived or otherwise, is utterly ridiculous.  True, some of the scenes felt slightly awkward and tacked on, but so do an awful lot of straight kisses and the like, which very few people object to after the watershed.  Blame that on the writing, direction or acting rather than an agenda.  The show could certainly do with some sprucing up in the writing department, as the quality was deeply variable, but it should not shy away from whatever relationships it wants to portray.  Man/man.  Woman/man.  Woman/woman.  Alien/man.  Whatever.  As long as they can make it believable in terms of the characters, go for it.  And if you really can’t cope with seeing two men kissing on your television screen, just switch it off.  And then wonder whether gay viewers do the same during scenes with Kate and Sawyer in Lost or the latest hot couple in your favourite soap.

It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by

If only that were true.  Given the reactions I’ve seen (and even my initial assumptions about the scene) to this and other moments from Torchwood, I really do wonder if that ever was true or ever will be.  The world will often have something to object to in lovers, whether it is race, social standing or gender.  I can only hope that shows like Torchwood, preferably with a more consistent standard of writing, can help to break such things down.

  1. Yes, that would be good.

    I found it interesting that, on the whole, the same sex relationships/’encounters’ in Torchwood seemed to be more meaningful and not so ‘in your face’ as the heterosexuual ones. I certainly had more sympathy (if that’s the right word) for e.g., Jack and ‘Jack’ than Owen and Gwen. I didn’t see all the episodes, but there seemed to be more actual love, rather than just sex involved when the people in the relationships were of the same sex. However, as you said, none of the relationships were exactly perfect (far from it!), so I don’t think that there was any particular gay agenda, it was just the way the storyline cookie crumbled (‘scuse the odd metaphor!)

    I liked that there were lots of displays of affection, and especially that it was complicated affection and love for people as human beings (or not, as the case may be) with (sometimes pretty major) flaws, and not the silly romantic clap-trap we usually have to put up with on TV. Torchwood certainly demonstrated how complex and fallible human beings are. However, I thnk it also demonstrated that human beings’ capacity for and to love (in its various guises) is their most important attribute. (Well, that’s my opinion at this particular time). I hope I’m not going beyond your tolerance for soppiness now!

    (As you know) I really enjoyed Torchwood generally, but, like you, I hope the writing is more consistent in the next series. This last series dealt with some really interesting themes and ideas, and I hope those continue into the next one. I’m looking forward to it already!

    Sorry, I seem just to have reiterated what you said in your post! And far too many ()…Oh well. I like your new layout, by the way.

  2. Speaking as a long term sci fi geek here, I’ve usually found that the community is almost aggressively liberal about this sort of thing. It’s all that watching of endless reruns of Star Trek with Jim getting it on with an endless procession of alien lovlies, obviously.

    And to be honest the strongest impression I got of the rather determined attempt to have a go at every posible coupling in one short series was that they were being a bit holier than thou about that (‘Look how broad minded _we_ are compared to mainstream TV’). Still, if there’s been an outcry, it does rather suggest there needs to be a lot more same sex snogging on TV so that people get the heck used to it.

    Anyway, I rather enjoyed Torchwood.

  3. Sol, I was quite surprised at the depth of bile in sundry places about this aspect of the series, since I am a bit of a sci fi geek myself and am aware of the general liberality of the species. Maybe this is something unique to ‘Who’ fandom? I suppose there was rather an element of ‘guess who’s going to get it on with who’ as the series went on, but it does make such a change from ‘the Captain falls in love with the beautiful alien women, but forgets about her by the next episode’ model. And from what I’ve heard, there were considerably less scenes of a sexual nature in Torchwood than in the new Battlestar Gallactica. Rabbits was the comparison I was given!

    Lillian, I think the difference between love and sex was indeed what made the difference between those relationships which I felt able to cheer and those I didn’t (I’m looking at you, Gwen and Owen). I also liked the difference facets of love which were explored in the episode with the people who came through the rift from the 1950s. Sexual, friendly, maternal etc.

    In addition to more consistent writing, the main thing I want from series 2 is more pterodactyl!

  4. Aggh just wrote a lengthly comment and it disappeared. Maybe it’s my computer/me and not hotmail… Take 2:

    Going slightly off the thread, I’m loving Battlestar Galactica so far. We’re working our way through the DVDs at the moment. Yes, there are quite a few ‘scenes of a sexual nature’, but not, (so far) the whole hog (not explicitly anyway). There are two characters whose relationship is particularly rabbit-like, and a bit too much at times, but there are reasons for this, I think. If you want an explanation I would be happy to talk at length about BSG some other time, but I don’t want to take over your Torchwood post!

    I wish I had seen the episode where the people from the 1950s came through the rift. It sounds like it was a good one.

    Yes, more pterodactly please Mr Davies!

  5. I confess I wasn’t reaally thinking about the negative reactions of fans when I was burbling about liberality, justg why so much sci fi has so much sex (without resorting to the usual suggestion that people like us really need to get out more…).

    But it could be a Who thing. Must be disconcerting to go from the childrens’ TV approach to reproductiory activity to romance of one kind or another in every episdode. Well, I was disconcerted, although it was the scene in the nightclub bathroom somewhere at the beginning that made me blink a bit.

    Haven’t seen BG at all. I wonder how I managed to miss that so comprehensively. I liked that Firefly thing (which spawned the Serenity film) but sadly it seemed to disappear after one season or so.

    Anyway, I’ll go for more pterodactyl too.

  6. Gosh, if Torchwood were aired here in the Ozarks, where they brag about being the buckle of The Bible Belt, I can just imagine the kind of outcry. Gratuitous violence? Theft? Rape? War? No problem. Sex of any kind — the world will be coming to an end, make no mistake.

    I would love to see something like this just as an antidote to the usual crud that I regularly fail to watch. No wonder I get so much reading done.

  7. >> Of course, had the Captain survived the war, then he might have found himself in trouble

    As indeed did Turing.

    I’m pants so I didn’t watch Torchwood (I’m scared of narrative and fiction at the moment for some reason) but, like village Cricket, I am glad it is happening somewhere so long as I don’t have to be the one making the sandwiches.


    • Silas Smith
    • April 17th, 2007

    I ordered the DVDs of the series after seeing the kiss between Jack and Jack in the internet. (I do not live in the UK). I did not know that this was a sort of spin-off of Dr. Who.

    I LOVE this show! It is exciting and fun. The characters are really interesting and their relationships are about as neurotic as many in real life.

    I have found that Jack’s gayness is not really a big issue on the show. Until the kiss episode, it was only something mentioned, but not central to the plot of the episode. (The stop-watch line.)

    The episode about the people from 1953 was one of the most interesting sci-fi stories I’ve ever seen on television. Very moving and tragic.

    Can’t wait for the next season!

  8. The scene in the car in that 1953 episode was heartbreaking, I thought. I am very much looking forward to the next season, but as I said in my post, I hope they have more consistency.

  9. Great post – just got started in blogging recently.

    • Sheldon
    • June 22nd, 2007

    My problem with this show was not the ‘gay agenda’ but the purile way it treated sexual references in general – it was as though it had been written by sex starved fantasist teenagers in some places. I liked a lot about the show, but the constant dredging (and i mean that literally) of sex angles into the plot was really annoying!

    Just because you are aiming a program at adults does not mean it HAS to have sex in it!! The current series of Doctor who is far more mature than torchwood was, with intelligent, scary and excitinng (not to mention logical) plotlines, and the (non)romance between the doctor and martha is far more satisfying than any of the relationships we saw in torchwood.

    The only really meaningful bit for me was the kiss between to two captains – it felt right in the place it was – the rest was pointless screen-time wasting rubbish!

  10. I wouldn’t say all of the rest was pointless, but the Owen/Gwen thing most certainly was. As I said, “The show could certainly do with some sprucing up in the writing department, as the quality was deeply variable”. The first couple of episodes certainly were about going “look, we’re an adult series, we’re swearing and having sex and everything” which felt rather infantile. However, in total over the series, I don’t think we saw any more sex than many other dramas.

    It is true, though, that the most ‘adult’ scene in the series was the one with Jack and the man from 1953 in the car that Silas mentioned. Possibly followed by Ianto’s terror in the ‘Countrycide’ episode.

    • SDS quoted
    • February 15th, 2009

    Torchwood is Russell Davies gay sci fi. A dark sci fi show that is in no way for kids due to being so dark and so many disturbing gay scenes and such. I understand Russell Davies is gay but his gay agenda totally ruins this show. Captain jack is a great character however again the gay agenda set out by davies makes it hard to stomach lots of what this character does here. Another attempt by the pc elite to force mainstream audiences to observes disturbing and gross gay scenes and implications. Its ashame the concept of The torchwood institute is a good one but drowned out by an agenda most people dont want to see nor care about.

  11. The thing is that the ‘disturbing and gross gay scenes’ are much, much tamer than the heterosexual scenes in Torchwood – Gwen is unfaithful to her fiancee in the first series, and we see a number of ‘straight’ sex scenes. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the furthest anything gay is taken is kissing, which is really not either disturbing or gross, surely?

    I have much bigger problems with the quality of writing than with what is being written about.

  12. “Even shows like Will and Grace were often quite coy about actually having their gay characters kiss one another.”

    Thats because, in the US, having gay characters actually kiss is a complete and utter no-no and is not allowed by the networks.

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