Monday, 15 March 2010

A Comment On Futility

Please note, if you haven't seen Torchwood, the following contains spoilers.

I wasn't going to write anything about this. I mean, sure, our visit to the Ianto Jones memorial at Cardiff Bay over the weekend annoyed me, but Drew pretty nicely summed up the reasons in his own rant. Go and read it. It's a fine piece of writing. Just paste this into your browser and off you go:-!/notes/drew-davies/futility-a-visit-to-the-ianto-jones-memorial-shrine/363594328519

Once you're done, make sure you read the comments. Take your time, I'll wait.

Done? Good. So, you read the comment which states the following: “I think it's commendable that a character in a show is loved enough to mourn. I hope the characters I write get so well loved.

It's sad, pathetic and geeky beyond belief. However, why the fuck not. It's a break from the misery we read in the papers and see on tv everyday.”

Yeah. It's this comment which has gently nudged my annoyance into blog mode. I was originally just going to respond in my own comment on Drew's note. But, er, it got a little longer than I intended. And it's not exactly complimentary to the person who wrote the original comment. And this is the edited version! I got a lot more personal in the original version.

Let me start by saying that I don't know this guy. I've met him briefly, once or twice, but we've never had what you would call a meaningful conversation. As such, my assumptions of him are based largely on what I have seen and heard through the internet, an entity which can twist things beyond recognition if you're not careful. As such, it's entirely possible that my views on this person and his opinions are entirely wrong, and if this ever turns out to be the case, then I'll be the first to admit it and retract the next sentence.

This guy is an idiot, and exactly the sort of person who I can see paying regular visits to the Ianto Jones memorial. For those not aware (and who were too lazy to read Drew's note), the memorial is exactly that. A heartfelt memorial to a much loved man, the aforementioned Ianto, who died while aiding in the defence of his country from a hostile force. This man worked in Cardiff Bay, and the entrance to the place where he worked is now covered with letters, pictures, flowers and other such tributes to him. It's massive, and it's incredibly moving. Or, it would be moving, if Ianto wasn't a fucking fictional character!

If anyone still has doubts about this, he was engaged in a serious relationship with an immortal time traveller, and the hostile force which killed him came from outer space.

The first series of Torchwood was, at best, a bit hit and miss. It couldn't quite seem to work out what it wanted to be, and for every good episode, there was also an absolute clunker ("Cyberwoman"). Many of the characters were just annoying and one-note, and the BBC's idea of a grown-up spin off of Doctor Who seemed to mean nothing more than "Doctor Who, but with swearing and smut". Things picked up in the second series, which had a much larger hit to miss ratio, and also developed the characters, taking some of them in interesting directions and adding dimensions. Ianto was probably the character who developed the most, gaining, as well as a character, a dry wit which made him one of the highlights of most of the episodes. You actually cared when they killed off two of the main characters at the end. It was a vast improvement. Finally, with the five part "Children of Earth" serial, Torchwood fulfilled its promise. This was five episodes of brilliant television, and was the proper grown up Who we'd been waiting for. It was dark, it was twisted, it was disturbing, and it was riveting stuff.

Ianto's death was handled well. It wasn't done for shock factor (though it was shocking), but rather served the story and the characters. It made sense in terms of the show, and it worked. Yes, it was moving. Yes, he had become a good character that you cared about. Otherwise, it wouldn't have worked. But he wasn't real.

Sadly, many people didn't quite get this last part, and so began the "Bring Back Ianto" campaign, or whatever they call themselves. Letters were written, petitions were signed and the bloody memorial was erected. And this is the part I don't get. There's a large problem with science-fiction or fantasy, one which rears it's head an awful lot. Due to the very nature of the stories being told, dead doesn't always mean dead. When you're dealing with things beyond the norm, be it aliens, magic, superheroes, gods, monsters, science gone wrong or whatever, then bringing characters back from the dead isn't much of a stretch. The problem is, it happens all the time, and the fans are fed up of it.

Unless the resurrection of the dead character is handled incredibly well, and this is increasingly rare, then it renders the initial death ultimately pointless. When a character dies these days, no one cares any more, as they know that, most likely, they'll be brought back later on. Very few deaths stick for long, but it happens so often that it's become annoying. However, people are stupid. Kill off a character and make them stay dead, and you'll get a backlash again. Suddenly the fans are unhappy that their favourite character is dead, and they should be brought back straight away.

The writers can't win. Personally, I'm of the opinion that dead should be dead. I thought Ianto was a great character by the end of it, and was saddened by his death. But bringing him back would undermine it completely. I hope he stays dead.

But back to my original point. The comment on Drew's note annoyed me in several ways. First, the idea that in these harsh times, the memorial is just a bit of fun to take peoples minds off the misery of the real world. What? I'm sorry, but the vast majority of that memorial is not a bit of fun. Sure, a few of the things on it are obviously there to take the piss, but most of them are from people genuinely mourning a fictional character. Trading in misery over something that's real for misery over something that isn't doesn't sound like a bit of fun to me. It actually sounds like the kind of thing that can get you sent to the psychiatric ward of your nearest hospital to be honest. Misery is misery, whatever it's for, and getting that way over something which didn't actually happen strikes me as... well, insane.

Second, the statement that the commenteer (made-up word) hopes to one day write a character that people react that way to if they're killed off. Dear lord, I hope I don't! I've created plenty of characters in my time, and somewhere down the line, I plan to kill a fair few of them. They'd stay dead too. I'd hope that people would be sad when the character was killed, sure, but if anyone reacted with that kind of extremity, I'd be nothing but embarrassed. In the immortal words of William Shatner, get a life!

The Ianto memorial can be seen as a real memorial of course. It’s a memorial to human intelligence and common sense.

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