Understanding Slash Through Torchwood

Torchwood logo

I’ve never been a fan of slash or yaoi. I found reading about slash and its practitioners fascinating when I was studying fandom for my masters’ degree, but the material itself never did anything for me. I also keep trying yaoi (I seem to be one of the few general reviewers willing to cover it), but I don’t have an emotional connection to the stories or much personal interest in the genre.

I was very much looking forward to the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood because of how much I liked the Captain Jack character and actor, John Barrowman. After trying the first four episodes, though, I thought it was atrocious. Slow-paced, senseless plot twists, inconsistent characterization… terrible, in short, and very disappointing.

What do these two things have in common? Well…

Jack and Jack kissing

This was one of the hottest things I’ve seen on TV in a long while. It’s from episode 12, in which Jack and an assistant wind up in the 1940s at a dance to see the boys off to war. The other actor is Matt Rippy. Two gorgeous men passionately kissing… hmm, maybe there is something to this guy/guy stuff after all. Only for me, I don’t think the printed page would have the same appeal as moving visuals.

There’s more information on the episode at wikipedia. I tried episode 13, the season finale, because I enjoyed this one so much, but it was more of the previous, with a badly animated giant monster stomping on the city only to be defeated by overloading it with the energy it wanted. Can you say cliché? I miss the spunky, sassy Jack with a sense of life and humor.


  • Craig

    Just to comment on YOUR comment about the man-on-man kissing… all my girlfriends (non Yaoi readers as well) find it arousing, simply because seeing two men being vulnerable with each other is attractive to them. It’s not so much the kissing as it is the letting down of the guard. Ok, it’s probably the kissing too….

  • That’s a good part of it, I think, especially since most of this episode was the two dancing around each other since it wasn’t safe to let anyone know you might be gay in that era. Once they figuratively said “screw that”, it was very powerful.

    Plus, these two actors weren’t playing coy or safe, which I suspect still couldn’t happen on American TV to this extent.

  • TORCHWOOD is an awful show, which seems to have skipped the process of actually writing any episodes, and jumped directly to the slash fanfic. It got a second season on the strength of ratings alone, although rumour has it that the BBC higher-ups were 100% aware of how bad it is, and have made it known that they want to see changes.

  • Phil

    I agree about the early episodes and the final one. The good episodes are 9-12, or you could just avoid anything with the name “Chris Chibnall” attached to it.

  • Maybe I’m coming from the whole Dr. Who fanboy angle here, but I found Torchwood to be quite enjoyable–so much so that I was dying to see the next episodes. There were a lot of really well made episodes (Especially towards the end with episode 10 “Out of Time” and 12, and I also really liked the Toshiko-themed episode “Greeks Bearing Gifts”) and I was sad to see the end of the season. Personally, it ranks up there as a really great companion to Dr. Who that really hit its stride after the “Cyberwoman” episode. Compared to the kid-oriented Sarah Jane Adventures (which ruined Sarah’s character), Torchwood actually delivered in a way a UNIT-themed show probably never could.

  • I thought Sarah Jane Adventures was quite enjoyable, although I thought they hit the “you’re alone and worthless without a family, woman!” button too hard and too frequently.

    I couldn’t even bring myself to watch Cyberwoman, because the costume was clearly designed to be nothing but fan service.

  • Dawn

    Personally I loved Torchwood. It was not without fault, however, if taken as light hearted entertainment (which it was intended to be) it was extremely enjoyable and I too found myself avidly awaiting the next episode. I was also pleasantly surprised by Sarah Jane Adventures which I watched with misgiving, but aside from the sonic lipstick and one very irritating adolescent girl, I think it has good potential. I do enjoy slash/fanfic, but can someone tell me what yaoi is please, I haven’t heard of this

  • “Yaoi” is manga featuring boy/boy love stories. Try Digital Manga or Yaoi Press for examples.

  • I have been thinking about yaoi for a long time. (Like, since it was called slash, and we’d pass around ‘zines in hotel rooms.)
    I think for some women/girls, the appeal is the same as in Japan: it’s a “safe” expression of sexuality. It’s non-threatening to them.

    More than that, though, it doesn’t have the baggage of being either unpleasant extreme of what’s considered hetero sexy: bodice ripper “romance” for women*, porny** for men.
    And it has the added benefit of not being as freighted as girl/girl with the idea of “Two girls for one guy, and I’m I’m tired I can watch!”

    * I call that ladyporn, because it IS porn for women. Nothin’ wrong with that. Some of it’s very good, and a lot of it is dreadful (15- and 16-year-old girls and men in their thirties or older.)
    ** Porny not to be confused with porn. Porny is “bad girl” comics. Porny is when you go, “Why not just do porn?” Porn is porn, porny is when asses and tits are everywhere, but actual sex isn’t.

  • Mike Chary

    I found Torchwood unwatchable, so I didn’t watch it. Though I have skimmed through much of the episodes. The problem, I have with it is that it falls into a foible a lot of British telelvision has from Green Wing to Steptoe and Son to even Doctor Who and Casualty: it’s dark and depressing But in the comedies you have jokes, and in a show like Dr. Who or Spooks you know that the bad guy is going get his in the end. I mean, when Hugh Laurie (before House after Stuart Little) shows up in Spooks, you know M-I6 is about to save the day. (Oddly, Torchwood has inspired the producers of Spooks to make a spin-off. Unfortunately, House makes Hugh Laurie unvavailable, because that’s a show I would watch.)

    Torchwood, well, life just sucks and you’d better get used to the idea. That togethert with the fact that the aim of the show was apparently to set up same sex erotic encounters for the characters (not my specualtion, actual statement by the producer) well, more a conceit than a concept.

  • Dawn

    I admit that I had a slight problem with RTD’s far too obvious gay agenda. Not that I have a problem with homosexuality, but he did rather shove it in our faces. I thought the aim was more towards everyone being bisexual, but it got more homosexual towards the end and the gay kiss in the penultimate episode, whilst nicely done, was totally gratuitous as this kind of thing was illegal in 1941 and the real Jack Harkness’ career would have been destroyed completely if he hadn’t got killed the next day (and who’s to say one of his own men didn’t take him out because of that).

    The dark and depressing, life just sucks so get used to it thing works totally for me. As you point out, in most things you just KNOW the bad guy is going to get his. I like that in Torchwood this is not a given so you’re wondering till the end of the episode does the monster get its arse kicked, or does it feed? There IS the odd joke here and there in Torchwood, but they seem to go for dark and dry humor which I appreciate.

  • Torchwood pushed the homosexual card well before episode 12 with the really great Toshiko-centric episode “Greeks Bearing Gifts.” (Fyi, the model for the alien in that episode reappeared in Sarah Jane Adventures at the beginning.)

    RE: Captain Jack – we knew Captain Jack was omnisexual and would bang anything that moved back when he kissed both Rose and the Doctor in Dr. Who. So it’s not surprising we get a lot more depth from his character in episode 12 when he finds someone only to lose them.

    I’m just saying, though… the show was made as a spin-off of Dr. Who. It’s hard to go into the show expecting it to be the same show as Dr. Who. It had it’s good and bad episodes, some interesting concepts were tossed around. But overall, I loved it for what it was… an extension of the Dr. Who universe.

  • Adam, I expect spinoffs to be similar in tone and appeal — that’s my understanding of why they do spinoffs in the first place, to give the audience something else to watch that they’ll enjoy and follow as they do the first. Torchwood failed miserably at that, turning a devil-may-care con man into a glum “you’ll never understand me” drag.

  • Mike Chary

    Torchwood is supposed to be more adult oriented. It airs in primetime. Dr. Who is a children’s show. Torchwood is not. The difference is, well, remember when Marc Paul Gosslear went to NYPD Blue? If he had been playing Zach from Saved by the Bell, it would still be a spinoff, but not a kid’s show.

    My problem is not the homosexuality. My issue that the sexuality, MOTSS or otherwise, appears to be the goal of the show, and then they don’t even do plots about that, instead they do plots about how much life sucks. I mean, take a couple of the paradigm Dr. Who stories, Tom Baker era: “Pyramids of Mars” and “The Horror of Fang Rock.” They rack up a real body count in both episodes. In HoFR everyone except the Doctor and Leela gets killed. But these episodes have a strong narrative structure. A story. Torchwood lacks that.

    (Btw, wrt, The Sarah Jane Adventures, I also noticed how they harped on her not getting married. I assume it was so those of us who were in love with her as children would think we still had a shot. I know I was heartened :))

  • Dawn

    I did notice the same alien in SJA (makes you wonder if she’d been up to anything with it herself) and am aware that the gay angle was around as far back as Greeks Bearing Gifts. I merely used the kiss in episode 12 as an example. Yes, Captain Jack IS supposed to be omnisexual, so why has he only been seen to have male scenes? I would have expected some male/female sexuality as well and at least one alien. Jack’s character changing the way it has is not totally unexpected. He thrives on risk taking, danger and life threatening situations. This is no longer available to him and I think that after a couple of hundred years or so of living like this, I’D be pretty pissed off about it.

  • Wouldn’t the life-giving kiss be considered male/female?

  • Dawn

    If you mean the kiss Gwen gave at the end, that seemed to me to be more a friend saying goodbye rather than sexually oriented. The only time I recall Jack interacting sexually with a female was the scene where he’s teaching Gwen to use a gun.

  • I would have expected some male/female sexuality as well”

    Jack’s WWII girlfriend turned up in that cockamamie faeiriey story, didn’t she?


  • Sarah

    Johanna, I’ve heard Torchwood is terrible, too, but I must admit that when I saw that clip elsewhere I thought it was very sweet. Not enough to get me to watch it, but enough to get me to wish it didn’t suck as badly as reported. (A show with a “funny” date rapist is a no-go for me.)

    Dawn: considering that TV has been little but heterosexual-heterosexual-heterosexual since its inception, I don’t think you’ll die of having one show with a bisexual character who kisses only guys in one 13(?)-episode season. Unless you’re willing to start yelling about the huge number of shows that have nothing but straight characters cramming heterosexuality down our throats.

    Lea: I find that explanation to be unfortunately somewhat patronizing, implying that readers like the stories because of their own personal inadequacies/immaturities. Maybe it’s true of some 13-year-old girls reading their first tender tale of innocent bishonen finding true love in biology club, but I seriously do not think such people make up the majority of slash or even yaoi readers–adult women with sex lives of their own who happen to like a diverse subgenre for a diverse set of reasons.

  • Dawn

    Sarah, I have no problem at all with the homosexuality, in fact it’s refreshing to see someone having the nerve to portray it so openly. I just wished we’d seen more of the omnisexuality we were promised.

    Matthew, Jack’s former girlfriend did turn up, but as he was pretending to be her lover’s son nothing happened.

  • Jesse McCann

    Dawn, there was a sexy m/f scene when Jack was teaching Gwen how to shoot.

    Count me as one of the Torchwood fans. =o)

  • Allow me to gawk for a moment. That is beautiful. And I do not like yaoi at all. But that is just lovely.

  • Sally

    I have to disagree with the statements that “Torchwood is terrible” and that it “sucks”. While there have been some less than stellar episodes, there have also been some which are absolutely stand-out and on a par with the best that any other show has to offer. In particular, episode 12 “Captain Jack Harkness” is just superb. You’re missing a great deal if you decide to write this show off without even having watched it.

  • Jez

    “I miss the spunky, sassy Jack with a sense of life and humor” – clearly having not seen the whole series you’re missing out on the Jack/Ianto banter that picks up on this.

    Yes, it had a few lame duck episodes but so did big shows like Buffy and Star Trek – I wouldn’t write off the entire series because of it, although the unfortunate trend in today’s culture, especially in the US is to cancel any TV show that doesn’t fit to the crime/medical genre or take a massive audience from ep 1 (Look at Firefly).

    As for the lack of m/f action, clearly this is just Jack’s character and I think part of the subtext of that is that he is still enamoured (if not in love) with Rose and therefore not after another woman. It also balances out the m/f of Owen/Any Breathing Female on the show!

  • Dawn

    Point taken. You could well be right about Jack and Rose, I hadn’t thought about that. However, given Owen’s basic character, does the female in question actually have to be breathing and would he notice either way?

  • Jez

    “given Owen’s basic character, does the female in question actually have to be breathing and would he notice either way?”

    True, very true. He is a bit of a rat, isn’t he? Unfortunately as a closet owen fan I can totally see why the girls fall for it.

  • Dawn

    For about 90% of the series I considered Owen to be a slimy little creep (I usually like the ‘bad boy’ type, but I draw the line at him), but I will allow that he had a couple of damn good scenes in Countrycide. The bit where he had Gwen up against the tree was a total turn on (and BTW, does anyone else get the impression that Gwen likes it a bit rough?) and from there a change to calm, dispassionate doctor when the object of his former ardor got shot. This was the one episode where I actually appreciated him.

  • Jasmine

    I agree completely with Dawn’s opinion of Owen, although I felt a little guilty at finding him sexy in ‘Countrycide’. The first five or so minutes of that episode was wonderfull, then it deteriorated until it hit the ulimate low of slow-mo shot gun firing. I didn’t like Jack so much when he appeared in Doctor Who (must learn not to make snap judgements), although in retrospect the ‘What Not to Wear’ bit in Bad Wolf was pure genius on the part of the creators.
    On another note, I read a LOT of slash fanfic, but have not yet come up with a reason better than ‘it is really, really sexy’ as to why I do. I can understand why people don’t like it, but in the case of Torchwood there is no problem with the distortion of canon as the characters are, or have been, in homosexual relationships.
    Oh, and my reaction to episode 12; PHWOAR! I know that isn’t very articulate, so I apologise ;)

  • Dawn

    I confess that Countrycide still remains my favorite episode.
    I quite liked Jack in Doctor Who and yes, the ‘what not to wear’ bit was a stroke of genius, but I much preferred him in Torchwood.
    I also read quite a lot of slash fic. You are right, there is certainly a very sexy element to it. My reaction matched yours in episode 12, however, it was spoiled slightly for me by not being able to get away from the fact that they couldn’t possibly have got away with that in 1941, they would have been lynched and it was also still illegal.

  • Katherine

    To you Dawn I just thought I’d point out that they probably wouldn’t have been lynched; as Wiki put it “In truth, sharing a gay kiss in 1941 would have resulted in Captain Jack being stripped of his rank of captain and maybe even expulsion from the Royal Air Force.” And in the background during their dancing and kissing everyone was staring horrified (but the musicians kept playing which made me giggle). Personally tho, I had no real problems suspending my disbelief, it was just beautiful to watch.

  • Dawn

    It WAS beautiful to watch and they put the emotion across so well. However, I still reckon one of Capt Jack’s own men shot him down.

  • Alex

    Personally I love Torchwood and I don’t care about the sex to me the sexual realationships between characters are really good (except for Jack and Gwen I don’t like her much at all!!!) so I think its great. I thought the Jack/Jack scene was amazing, emotional, sweet and Jack/Ianto was suprisingly great as well!

  • Petra

    I’m not gonna get into the whole “is torchwood good or not” thing, since I’ve only watched one epi, but I thought I’d add my two cents to the slash/yaoi thing.
    I read slash because frankly, in at least 80% of the cases the male characters in the shows I watch/or books I read both outnumbers and outclass the ladies. I think writers in general are better at (or just chose to) writing male heroes/leads than female.
    And also, it’s hot! ;)

  • Michael

    I have to laugh whenever I see comments from people who say that the showing of an gay kiss on TV is cramming homosexuality down their throats. What a joke. Every single day we have heterosexuality crammed down our throats with kissing, simulated sex, partial nudity, etc. on television every single day. One show comes along and portrays what I consider “normal” for a few seconds and people freak out like it’s happening all over the place. Grow up. There are other people of different persuasions and it’s time for the world to just get used to it.

  • Rose

    Now, I am a TW fan, but I thought I’d add my opinion anyway.

    How is a few gay kisses “cramming homosexuality down our throats?”

    People seem to forget that both Owen and Gwen are straight. One same sex kiss each means very little. I’m straight, but I’ve snogged girls before.

    I’ve noticed people who don’t like TW often seem to have an issue with the sexuality in it.

    It irks me. If you have a dislike for any show, it shouldn’t be about something so petty.

  • little Alex

    Dawn: I think you’re just noticing same sex scenes more because there’s so little of it usually.

    If we really get down to it, TW is about equal at showing hetero scenes and same-sex scenes. In fact, I’d say it showed more heterosexuality than homosexuality, as we have yet to see any same sex couple in bed together, iirc (despite the rather remarkable kisses), whereas we’ve seen quite a number of hetero bed/sex scenes.

  • Dawn

    You are right little Alex and I will reiterate that I DO NOT, in fact, have ANY kind of problem with homosexuality. It was only the ONE SCENE out of the whole series that didn’t sit quite right and that was only due to it being nitpickingly unrealistic rather than the content.

    FWIW, I have seen all of it twice, received the series 1 dvd box set for Xmas and am quite dizzy with anticipation of series 2

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