The Misuse of Retcon: Its Nothing New
By Reece Morris Jones
They Keep Killing Suzie demonstrated that what Torchwood do affects many others. But we shouldn't be surprised.
When I talk about Torchwood, there comes a certain part in the conversation, once you have gotten past your favourite episodes and characters, that an awkward question arises. Have you seen Children of Earth? Did you see the bit where...? Or how about the end of Season 2? Or Miracle Day, where...hell even talking about the episode of this month, “They Keep Killing Suzie”.
Fact is, from the premier episode of the much beloved show, death and misfortune has been a big part of the show. To speak objectively, it’s also mostly the least they deserve, because Torchwood the team screw up. A lot. Massive amounts, from which the team never seem to learn from. Even when it affects those closest to them. At the same time, it’s part of what makes the show.
Happy Go Lucky?
Now you may think I'm being harsh and in a small way I am. But it stands to reason that when the first episode of the show establishes that everyone’s lack of honesty with each other has resulted in abuse of the alien tech and massive holes in their security, they would learn from that. Instead of doing that, well we get one bumbling mistake after another, to the point where someone who is dead managed to outwit the entire team.
Admittedly it is good that we get to see that the actions of the Torchwood team have consequences and that they have some way to go before they become a fully functioning team. Too many shows gloss over weekly screw-ups its protagonists make. It could be argued that it’s the core concept of Children of Earth, that the team’s carelessness in the past and during the event costs them dearly.
But that someone who has been dead for several month managed to pull of such a labyrinth plot shows just how little the Torchwood team think about things 1
So let’s establish the logic of Suzie's 'I will come back to life and do it by killing Gwen Cooper' plan shall we? First off, she spent a few months dosing a random member of the public with retcon, which has been established before as probably not something you want to sprinkle on your breakfast cereal every day. She used the time to plant hypnotic suggestions for him to start killing people in the same way Suzie was in the first episode. Oh and also start chanting gibberish that would lock down the base when in a certain position. This is bearing in mind that such a violent man doesn't just get arrested by the Police first- it’s not as if he was subtle or anything when it came to killing people.
After that, she bargained on them using the resurrection glove and having someone capable of syncing with it in the same way she could. Which, considering everyone else on the team had no connection at all, was a hell of a hope.
So all of these things came to pass, yet after then Jack doesn't even begin to question Owen when he becomes withdrawn and moody after the events of “Out of Time”. Really?
A Long Potted History
At the same time though, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. It’s been demonstrated in the past the Jack doesn't have much regard to his own safety nor the safety of others, relying instead upon his magical ability to not die. Anyone remembering the events of Miracle Day will remember how much he arsed up just a simple operation with Angelo, without any consideration as to what the trauma of a seeing a loved one would do to him.
Jack's history and style of leadership seems to have come from that both before being given eternal life by Rose Tyler and afterwards. After all, who else would park a spaceship in the air during The Blitz, or decide he can stop an entire alien master plan by himself? Only someone who has such supreme confidence in himself that he literally thinks he cannot fail. Yet he does repeatedly and people die because of it. It seems that just like James Kirk of the recently rebooted Star Trek films, he’s trapped on infinite repeat, happy to make the same mistakes over and over again, even if it is at the cost of other people’s lives.
He’s the ultimate fatalist and self pitying arse, so convinced that bad things will happen to him that he no longer makes the effort to stop them happening. All so he can spend a few decades moping about how bad things always happen to him.
What’s worse is the team sort of pick up from his example. With no real form of leadership from Jack, 2 they sort of just blunder about trying to pick things up as they go. Now whilst the job of weird stuff hunter is hardly likely to come with a company handbook and list of procedures, at least something would be nice, you know? It’s no wonder when the shit hits the fan they buzz about like flies.
Yet, there’s something appealing about the characters and I think despite the screw ups, they are better as a team for them. In the same way that most of the Marvel Comic Book Superheroes are massive screw-ups, the members of Torchwood making mistakes shows us how essentially human they are and just how fallible they are too.
Sure, they messed around with alien tech. But with the exception of Owen (who was pretty much presented as barely tolerable until halfway into season 2), none of them were using it for personal gain. No, it was all to expand humanities knowledge and perhaps benefit it one day, or else just to ease the stresses of working in an environment where your boss tells you day one that the second you start it’s as if you never existed at all.
Most of us have been in high stress environments. Eventually something snaps and you start making mistakes, or lapses, be they in the quality of your work or in the judgements you make. Those judgements can ruin lives, but you very rarely mean them and would do anything to reverse them. It’s all part and parcel of being human.
That’s what Torchwood is. Its human beings, trying to do a task they are poorly equipped for (in this case, protect Cardiff/the Earth) but doing it anyway because no-one else will. We all suffer setbacks in life, but your ability to overcome those obstacles is determined on if you can get back up again and carry on doing it anyway. Torchwood is a team that did that every single time.
Sure, they weren't the most efficient bunch and I can't pretend they weren't anything more than bumbling idiots playing at being heroes from time to time (as Miracle Day pretty aptly shows). But when we are from a nation where David Lister is a cultural icon, where Stephen Fry comes back from 15 years in TV wilderness to have a second wind, it seems apt.
In America, the heroes are the funny guys who are the centre of every party, yet can quite casually pick up a shotgun and blow a foreigners head off. We got a few Welsh people, the rejects no-one else wanted and a man with a fluctuating American accent.
Is there any way that the Torchwood team can be more perfectly suited to be our heroes?
1 Also just how 'TV' the first series was when it came to convoluted plots working.
2 Though many office workers would argue that 'hiding in your office staring at the computer screen' is a management style employed by a great many bosses.
All images used copyright of the BBC