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Pillar of Fire: Televisionary Talks to "Torchwood" Executive Producer Julie Gardner (Part Two)

And just like that, after five incredible nights, Torchwood: Children of Earth is over.

But before we put Torchwood: Children of Earth to bed, I did promise that I would share Part Two of my interview with Torchwood and Doctor Who executive producer Julie Gardner from last week.

You had the chance to read the first part of my interview with Julie Gardner about Torchwood: Children of Earth, but now that the five-episode arc has ended, we can get to the more spoilery parts of my Q&A with Gardner, in which she talks about the mini-series' ambiguous ending, Ianto Jones, the theme of motherhood and family, and The 456, among other things.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't yet seen the final installments of Torchwood: Children of Earth, don't read any further. But for those of you who have seen the ending and want to know just what the writers and producers were thinking about certain elements, read on.

Televisionary: There was a lot of public outcry in the UK about the decision to kill off Ianto in Day Four of Torchwood: Children of Earth. What is your take on the reaction--some of which was rather mean-spirited--and why was it necessary for the story for Ianto to die?

Julie Gardner: I think story-wise, I'd reflect on two things. I think the first that is that Torchwood is a series where it is repeated that people die young, that it's very much built into the DNA of the show, that it is a dangerous job and the characters are placed in life-threatening positions. And in a show where the world is in jeopardy and there's a big global threat of huge proportions, there has to be some sacrifice, there has to be a cost to that. It's not credible that our entire team would come out of that unscathed. It simply doesn't make sense.

And then you start to look at, well, how and who. Within the story, it's a story about the sins of the past, it's the story that examines what cost one child's life [has], it's a story that looks at to some extent the darker decisions that Captain Jack may have made, and he's the character that has to suffer. It's an examination of Captain Jack, how to push that character to be the ultimate tragic hero. He has to pay the ultimate price.

So I think Day Four, as painful as it is for me... As an executive producer, Gareth David-Lloyd is the most delightful, professional, versatile actor in the world to work with. I absolutely adore him and that character that he created in Ianto is charming and lovable and heroic and real and ordinary; he's a great character for an audience to identify with. As heartbreaking as it is to kill him off, it is absolutely, unequivocally in my mind, the right thing to do for the story. For the story we're telling, that sacrifice actually motivates the last episode. Torchwood has to be defeated at the end of Episode Four. It has to be as low and outlawed and hopeless as they possibly can be, so that they can rise again.

Televisionary: And when we start Children of Earth, we find them at a pretty low point but by the time the fifth episode ends, we actually see the team completely broken, separated, and hopefully we'll see them come back together in the future.

Gardner: Yes.

Televisionary: Was there a specific decision made not to show The 456 up close but to withhold that sight? Is it that what's imagined is far more terrible than what we can see?

Gardner: I think it came out [of the fact] that we do a lot of tone meetings on Doctor Who and Torchwood. The prosthetics maker, Neill Gorton, who works on both those shows and on The Sarah Jane Adventures, came up with a great design for The 456.

But I think as soon as you are dealing with prosthetics--even with the best prosthetics in the world and the greatest maker--when you are talking about a show that at its heart is looking at something political, something harrowing, something about real politics in the world, psychological terror, and children in danger, I think inevitably you want to go as real as you can.

You start to understand that less is more. It was a very fine prosthetic, but actually it's the reactions of people and it's the fear you bring to it watching that is most powerful. Your imagination is so strong at those points.

Televisionary: One of the most powerful themes throughout the series is that of motherhood. I'm wondering who came up with the idea of juxtaposing the threat against the planet's children against Gwen's pregnancy?

Gardner: It was Russell. The way we storylined was the writers on the five episodes were Russell T. Davies, James Moran, and John Fay and we did days and days of meetings together, myself, the script editors, the producer and I think I remember that was Russell. It's about what's right for that story but it's also what's right for the character of Gwen. All the time you're looking at ways of evolving that character and what's interesting for her, what puts her under more pressure in a story in which children are under threat, it's very interesting that your lead female character is pregnant.

Televisionary: The ending of Torchwood: Children of Earth can be seen as an ending of the series itself but it also leaves the door open for the team to return in the future. Was that an intention story-wise to leave it ambiguous, in case it wasn't recommissioned?

Gardner: Um, it's always a possibility, you never know how your work is going to be received. You never know what is going to be a hit and what isn't; you can't ever judge the audience. I wish we could; we'd all be incredibly wealthy and having a very relaxed time.

I think the end is governed by the tragedy of Steven's death and how the world that slipped into chaos and horror and how Frobisher's story has ended in a very dark way. I think at that point it's very hard to say, oh hurray, here's the surviving team, everything's fine again. It's not possible to do that, I think, at the end of all we've been through and after the death of Ianto. So I think the end for that team is right, it should feel elegiac, it should feel like Captain Jack is going to atone, that he needs time. And of course for Gwen, it's looking at the birth, it's looking at playing out [the fact that] she survived this terrible ordeal and is pregnant and she'll be a mum soon.

[Editor: And if you missed what Gardner told me last week about the possibility of Torchwood returning for a fourth go-around, I've included that below.]

Televisionary: I'm wondering, how likely is it that Torchwood will continue after the five-part transmission of Children of Earth?

Gardner: Um, we're having conversations now. We don't have any firm decision. We don't quite know what we're going to do next. But we're thinking about what could be the next editorial offering, so all I can say at this moment is: hold this space.

Torchwood: Children of Earth will be available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 28th for a suggested retail price of $29.98 on DVD. Or you can pick up a copy in the Televisionary shop for $18.49.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I am consistently appalled and disappointed at the truth revealed in the interviews like this and others I've seen about the writers - they're lazy.

They use death as a cheap shock tactic over and over again, along with the excuse that people die young on the show. Then why exactly should I be invested in a show where I will never see characters I adore evolve? It seems more and more that the writer's laziness is overtaking this show, as they attempt to build it into something infinitely worse - the Jack and Gwen Show - two colourless characters who are at their worst together, and better with the supporting characters around them.

Well, Russel T Davies doesn't want me to watch anymore since I didn't like Ianto's death (see his contemptous EW interview) and this one seals the deal for me.
Tempest said…
I agree that many writers do seem to see death as the new black. "Oh, look, we're going to shock you with a senseless death!" However, I disagree that that's what the writers of Torchwood are doing. (See my reaction to day four.) I'd put their use of death along with Joss Whedon's -- it breaks our hearts, but it makes sense in terms of story -- and often that's what makes it even more unbearable.
Bones said…
I can see how it was necessary to the story for Ianto to die, but it still seemed a rather cheap death. It was not in the least bit heroic. I mean what did Jack expect to happen when they walk into the room and challenge the 456? He didn't even have a plan. He's not The Doctor. The way the writers made it seemed very cheap to me.
lins said…
Even the fantastic performances of Gareth David Lloyd, John Barrowman and Peter Capaldi couldn't save this story. The writing was lazy and Ianto's death was nothing more then a cheap trick to distract viewers from that. What I can't figure out is why they didn't simply dress him in a red shirt on Day 1.

Russell T Davies has said in interviews (afterelton.com) that he decided kill off Ianto on the first day-- in fact it was his first decision. This is not a case of the death being necessary to the story; it was a case of finding a place to put it in a poorly written story.

I cannot understand how Gardner or Davies believes that Ianto's death would drive Jack to sacrifice his grandson-- in fact I think it would drive him to do the complete opposite and that Jack’s action at the end of Day 5 would have been far more believable if Ianto had survived. I also cannot understand how they would think that Jack and Ianto walking into to confront the alien (who has killed with viruses before) with a couple of hand guns and no plan (or a hazmat suit) is even remotely believable.

As far as the “evolution” of Gwen through pregnancy? Please. The writers and producers have shown little interest in “evolving” the character (in spite of how much screen time she had). I watched the first episode of season 1 a few days ago and can see little difference in Gwen at the end of Children of Earth. The character has shown the least amount of emotional growth of any Torchwood character and I don’t think motherhood would change that (and I really have no interest in finding out).

For me, Torchwood’s biggest strengths have always been the characters and interpersonal relationships. I become a regular viewer when I find characters and stories I can identify with. I didn’t like Owen very much in season 1 but I did by the end of season 2—I saw him struggle and grow to become a decent man. Tosh (probably the character I identified with most), the shy quiet nerd who grew through meeting Mary and then losing Tommy. As for Ianto… the episode Cyberwoman--enough said.

Now, the producers have killed of 3/5 of those characters with in the space of 5 episodes. What is the point of forming attachments to a new cast of characters when you know how ultimately disposable they are and that you can't even trust the writers and producers to do a good and thoughtful job of killing them off?

The two that are left are the ones I identify with the least. Jack’s fun but it was his relationship with the others that made him more human and likable. Gwen… well she’s grated on me since the first episode and I continued to watch Torchwood in spite of her—that might have changed if she’s been touched by the tragedy like the others and given a chance to grow (and no, killing Rhys off for 15 minutes at the end of the first season doesn’t count).

Death is part of life. I understand that and accept it. In the case of Stephen, Tosh and Owen their deaths were horrible, heartbreaking and powerful. As sad as what happened to the characters is, it was believable within the context of the Torchwood in the first two seasons. Ianto’s death was not (as fantastic as John Barrowman and Gareth David Lloyd were). Perhaps if it had been I’d be looking forward to a 4th season.


The cynical part of me says the ending on the hill serves 2 purposes. It’ll give Jack a reason to run into the Doctor for the upcoming specials and let the writers say, “oh, it’s been YEARS for Jack we can just have him move on.”
Anonymous said…
Torchwood was once sexy fun, now thanks to Gardner and RTD it's ended a depressing dirge. I think RTD just wanted to do things he couldn't do on Doctor Who - kill children, kill major characters. There was no reason to kill off Ianto and Jack was turned into a neutered idiot.

This was a show I actually spent money on (rare for me), books, magazines & dvds. No more!
Heatherette said…
Wow! I can't believe all of the negative comments. Children of Earth may not have been perfect but it was intelligent, thought-provoking, emotional, and intense...which is more than I can say for most things on television.

I don't think that Ianto's death was lazy storytelling at all and I don't think the story would have had as much of an impact without his death.

And I don't know how anyone could hate Gwen. She is the heart and soul of Torchwood and she certainly has evolved as a character. Remember when she kept her Torchwood life secret from Rhys and was terrified that he would find out or that he would get hurt? Now he not only knows about Torchwood but contributes to the team as well. Gwen now treats him as her equal and is more confident in her own abilities as well.

I truly enjoyed Children of Earth and hope that we'll see more of Torchwood in the future.

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