Revisiting Torchwood: Tosh and Ianto

Andrew's weekly Torchwood reappraisal considers the show's most sympathetic characters: Tosh and Ianto...

Re-watching Torchwood, something that had been niggling away at the back of my mind suddenly became very clear halfway through Cyberwoman. While a conflicted Ianto fought with Jack and a horny Owen got locked in a cupboard with Gwen, it hit me: 

It’s halfway through the fourth episode, and Tosh still hasn’t got a character. 

Ianto didn’t have one until this episode either, but now he’s all crying and shit, yeah? That seemed like a deliberate ploy, an attempt to mislead you into thinking Ianto was going to remain an enjoyable enigma. It wasn’t just a case of forgetting to write any lines for him that weren’t entirely to do with computers. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that was the case for Tosh. 

We’ve seen her at home speed-reading Dickens, and having a conversation in the pub with Owen, but four episodes in and we haven’t yet scratched the surface. We haven’t even gone up to the glass and given it a tap to scare the fish in her brain. Tosh doesn’t become the focus of an episode until episode seven – Greeks Bearing Gifts – which is more than halfway through the series, and her mysterious character-defining crush on Owen comes to the surface in Chris Chibnall’s paen to subtlety, Countrycide

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The first of the quiet ones to have depth and shade thrust upon him, man-bat and perma-smirker Ianto Jones is seemingly destined for cult stardom. We don’t know much about him, other than he quietly and efficiently makes the entire operation work and seems incredibly amused by absolutely everything. Distant Ianto is great. We like Distant Ianto. It’s Blubby-Baws McSoggy-Face Ianto that throws us.

The problem with providing a character with a booster shot of depth and nuance in the midst of Cyberwoman is that it will surely not be the most memorable thing about that episode. On top of this, it hints that Ianto’s front was purely to get his cybernised girlfriend into Torchwood Cardiff and use it as a base to revive her. This at least makes him look organised. Have you tried transporting a cyborg and a room sized conversion unit one hundred and fifty miles? Then hiding it for a bit while you forced your way in to a “secret” paranormal investigation group? Kudos Ianto, kudos. 

However, four episodes and some minor moping later, Ianto is seemingly over this trauma. He’s doing his little grin and making with the sarcasm and flirting with Captain Jack. Future events show this not to be part of some long game, but Ianto’s normal personality. So, presumably, Ianto does kinda like ‘cleaning up their shit’ after all. Perhaps he is simply a glutton for punishment, like most of Torchwood. His character arc – Grief stricken desperate man > undercover butler > actual butler > traumatised underling > what a wonderful butler (he’s so violent) – is certainly unique, and has an air of reckless masochism to it. While his (and indeed everyone’s) character lurches around in series one, it eventually settles on a bolder version of his initial persona. Thus, cult fandom was attained after all. 

Two episodes after Cyberwoman and Tosh and Ianto are faring rather better. They get paired off together investigating and make a rather likeable double act, able to cope with the tech aspect of things but a bit out of their depth when it comes to violence and espionage. Still, you can’t help but cheer when Ianto smiles pleasantly before headbutting someone in the face. 

Countrycide does have slow character scenes, but otherwise it isn’t exactly renowned for its nuance. It more than makes up for this with legendarily awful lines about sex and a brilliantly tense investigation of a seemingly deserted village. It’s more in line with what many anticipated whent he phrase ‘British X-Files‘ was bandied about. Then, just when you think it’s a Torchwood take on a horror film, in comes John Barrowman. In slow-motion. On a tractor. With a shot-gun. 

Thank you Chris Chibnall. 

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Next episode, we finally find out what massive personality defects Tosh has, and it turns out she is at worst a bit aloof. She’s enthusiastically geeky, her use of stolen alien tech is endearing, and she’s been shown to be resourceful whenever she’s actually got anything to do. Her flaw is being quiet, relatively efficient and likeable in a team such as Torchwood. Owen is relentlessly unpleasant to her. Gwen is having an affair with him because no-one understands what she’s going through (and I’m sure Owen is definitely listening). Ianto is either sullen, distant, or shoving stopwatches up Captain Jack. It’s no wonder Tosh finds someone to confide in. 

At the end of the episode, Tosh’s confidante is gone because Captain Jack teleported her into the sun. Because he’s like that (and that’s the way he is. Ahem). Is anyone talking to Tosh more? No, don’t be silly. Though Gwen tells her that ‘love suited her’, as if it were a shirt. She doesn’t really react to embarking on a lesbian relationship for (presumably) the first time, as her other partners are all male. For a show that wants to confront sexuality, it leaves a lot of questions hanging. 

One of these questions isn’t much to do with sex, necessarily, and it is this: does anything properly nice ever happen to Tosh? 

Her character arguably consists of ‘Geek. Fancies Owen’. She’s almost a McGuffin to advance his plot along. Her backstory, as revealed in series two, is pretty miserable, and her fate is a slow and painful death while the man she loves dies again over the phone. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve felt sorry for her. It’s one of the most depressing character arcs in recent memory. 

As she was created as an antithesis to Owen’s character, it seems there’s an imbalance in development. Because Owen is an ostensibly darker character, he’s probably easier to write for. Tosh is quiet, and has to come out of her shell in series two. It’s hard writing a quiet character and keeping them involved enough so that they don’t just seem underwritten. In series two the first Tosh-centric episode is early on, which maybe something series one sacrificed in favour of the overall arc. 

Nonetheless, Tosh’s presence is welcome. Despite Gwen being the audience identification figure, Tosh emerges as the most sympathetic and heroic character. Considering her losses, she gets the job done under extreme circumstances, rarely complains, and never gives up a lost cause. She occasionally gets little moments of unlikeability, where she processes information about people dispassionately, and is possibly the most quintessentially British character in the show: unfussy, patient, and well-meaning. 

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I still have absolutely no idea why she fancies Owen though.

Read more of Andrew’s Revisiting Torchwood features, here.

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