It’s been some weeks now since the blistering Torchwood: Children Of Earth burst onto our screens, and in the aftermath of its American broadcast too, it’s fair to say that the show’s profile and popularity has simply never been higher. You could rightly suggest that the idea of going with a five episode third season has been a major success.
But weeks later, it’s still the events at the end of the fourth episode that continue to cause ripples. And that’s the moment where, without a hugely dramatic moment, Ianto Jones died. Personally, I love the fact that Torchwood considers no character sacrosanct and above the perils of their work (Captain Jack excepted, of course, although he was mentally tortured enough in CoE), and having sat through a seventh season of 24 where even a major biological agent couldn’t topple Jack Bauer, it’s refreshing to see a programme where genuinely everyone could be in danger.
It’s a trick that shows such as The Wire, Battlestar Galactica and The Sopranos put at the heart of their scripts. No matter how popular the character, no matter how vital they were to the ratings, if the bullet had their name on it, the character concerned was going down. And now? Russell T Davies and the Torchwood team have been, rightly, following a similar philosophy. Torchwood has now lost three major cast members across six or seven episodes, and not because of a dispute with an actor or anything like that. The characters concerned died because the story demanded that they do so.
And yet, off the back of the death of Ianto, Internet campaigns have started to spring up. Take a look at www.saveiantojones.com, for instance, which has notched up nearly 60,000 hits at the time of writing. The site is urging people to send a packet of coffee to Mark Thompson at the BBC, echoing the protests that saved the Jericho TV show in the States (where mountains of nuts were sent to CBS, as a show of fan support for the programme). Only in the case of Jericho, the protest was about the canning of the whole programme, not the death of one character.
Digging through the guest book for the site, the BBC is, to be fair, responding to such protests too. “Ianto’s death is particularly poignant and right for the story because it puts great pressure on the character of Captain Jack. Captain Jack has to pay the ultimate price, given the sins of the past and his own tragic immortality,” reads one reply. Personally, I find it hard to argue with that.
But surely, should Ianto Jones return, it would undermine all of the good work that Torchwood: Children Of Earth did? Granted, fans were given a glimmer of hope when they went and checked the end of the revived Doctor Who‘s third season, when Russell T Davies slammed down on the reset switch in a major way. But to his credit, despite fans chanting the name of the character at Comic-Con in San Diego the other week, Davies isn’t budging on this one. In Torchwood, he’s explained, people stay dead, specifically including Ianto Jones.
In some instances, fans have threatened to boycott a fourth season of Torchwood should Ianto not return. Personally, my suspicion is that a) they won’t do that, and that b) the show would lose far more credibility if it did bring him back. Ianto was a strong character, and the best way now to prove that is to dig out the season one and two boxsets, rather than fudging his return to the series.
The removal of a major character still presents problems for the fourth season of Torchwood, perhaps more so now that John Barrowman has revealed that he’s in talks to appear in the next season of Desperate Housewives. At the moment, the show is seemingly centred on Gwen, her fella, and their unborn child.
But then that’s the gamble that the show has taken, and it surely deserves credit for doing so, rather than condemnation and fan campaigns. I have no issue with those fighting for the return of Ianto, and it’s great to see such lively support of the show, but I sincerely hope their campaign fails, which it surely will. For Torchwood now needs to continue to have the courage of its convictions, and for that to happen, the reset switch simply isn’t an option. Ianto needs to stay dead.
Still, for the BBC’s Mark Thompson, all of this discussion around the show delivers on the gamble to move the show to BBC One in such a different format.
And, as a by-product, it’s done his coffee supplies no harm whatsoever…