Espenson also told us she thinks fantasy stories are the best place to explore the kind of themes that happen in grey areas. “It is the perfect genre for messy morality because it has the best shot at some kind of objective distance. If you’re not talking about this country, this time, our selves and our neighbors, but you’re adding in a little padding of a planet or a time traveler or an alternate reality, you can raise the moral issues without everyone feeling like their own personal views are on trial.”
When you’re exploring moral issues as complicated as the ones in Torchwood, you’re going to have to create some dark images. And one of the best ways bring the ramifications of those dark images home to the audience is to make the tragedies personal.
Seeing half-dead bodies inside an oven, and then seeing their ashes expelled into the atmosphere, would have been unnerving. But watching a character you’ve grown to know and respect — a talented, compassionate doctor, unwavering in her commitment to the infirm — burn alive, and realizing that her ashes are rising from the smokestack — well, that’s just horrifying.
Espenson says that Torchwood’s writers use their intuition as a threshold for violent imagery. It’s too dark to show an audience if it’s a story the writers, themselves, wouldn’t want to see — or if the violence is only used to create a sensationalist buzz.
“We do have a point we’re trying to make,” she said. “And that actually turns out to be the best way to entertain. It’s the reason that many songs have lyrics not just pleasant mouth noises. It’s gotta be about something. If you just make elaborate but meaningless violence it might attract buzz — or at least flies — but you won’t hold the viewers’ attentions.”
Arlene Tur as Dr. Vera Juarez
It’s a good point, especially because after last night, Miracle Day has my full attention. I will be haunted by the closing minutes of the episode, for sure, but I don’t feel victimized by it. I feel like now I know what the stakes are in this game Torchwood is playing — and by extension, what the stakes might be if this game were to ever play out in our real universe.
Bringing it back around to ruthless killer JK Rowling: Harry Potter’s godfather, Sirius Black, once told him that the world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters. I suppose if it were, fantasy writers wouldn’t have to murder characters to make their point. I’m a big fan of Good vs. Evil narrative, but I’m also a big fan of what goes on between those two things. Where light and dark meet is where life’s big questions get asked and answered.
In the spirit of full-disclosure, I loved Children of Earth — but I still tear up every time I hear “The Ballad of Ianto Jones.”
Like I said, life is complicated.