Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, June 11, 2007

For Want of a Hero...

I don't know if I've ever revealed this before on the blog, but I'm a huge Doctor Who fan. HUGE fan. Old school, new school. Hartnell to Tennant, I love them all. (For the record, my favorite is Davison. Tall, blond, young, angsty and tetchy. Hmm. I don't have a type at ALL. REALLY.) Anyway, I was talking to Flidget on AIM and came to a joyous realization.

I'm not the only person who HATES Torchwood.

Because I do. I'm sorry. I do.

I don't really hate Torchwood because the characters act like total morons most of the time (seriously, HAL JORDAN could think rings around these people...pun unintended) though that does get on my nerves. I don't really mind that they gave Captain Jack more layers, though most of them seem to be angsty and self-pitying. (Laughed my ass off that he kept the damn hand though. STALKER!)

My problem is that they're all anti-heroes! There isn't a damn hero among them!

I'm not saying every series or show or comic necessarily NEEDS a hero. Many work very well without heroes. But there is a concept that really, firmly, needs a hero to function properly. And that's the anti-hero.

Look, I enjoy anti-heroes. I do. They're very entertaining. I love seeing the conventional ideas of morality and hero-dom turned on their head. I like seeing not necessarily good people do not necessarily good things for greater goals (and sometimes lesser). Mr. Bennet is my favorite Heroes character, after all.

But the thing is. Anti-heroes don't mean anything without a heroic presence to offset them. There needs to be a voice of conventional, approachable, relatable morality to make the counterbalance and contrast mean something. There needs to be a hero.

The hero doesn't necessarily need to be LIKEABLE mind you. He or she can be incredibly annoying in fact. They can be the character that we most want to throttle in the whole bunch. Especially since being the voice of conventional morality tends to come along with some measure of the following traits: arrogance, judgement, uptightness, stubbornness, rose-colored glasses, narrow-focus, and so on and so forth.

But that doesn't make them less vital for their presence. Because without them, the anti-hero's rebellion and unconventionality mean nothing.

Torchwood is full of anti-heroes but there are no heroes to balance them out. Gwen seemed poised to be the moral voice of the show, but she quickly became as self-absorbed and amoral as the rest of them. I'm not saying they're not complex characters, but ultimately they mean nothing to me.

Contrast that with Doctor Who. Depending on his incarnation (though all seem to share the traits in varying amounts) the Doctor is manipulative, machiavellian, dismissive, arrogant, possesed of a god complex like nothing else, tetchy, unfriendly, snappish, and all that. But no matter what, at the core of everything. The Doctor is GOOD. He wants to HELP PEOPLE. He wants to stop people from hurting other people. He wants to make things better. And he does it because that's who he is. No more, no less.

I need that in my fiction. I need that one truly GOOD person to make me care about everyone else. If this one person can care so much about someone so self-centered and goal-oriented, who does vile things sometimes for the wrong reasons while doing yet other things for the right...then I can see why they're worth caring about too.

Also, there's a new level of approachability. Anti-heroes tend, I find, to become attached, attracted to, or otherwise emotionally involved with the heroes. Because truly good people do that. They draw other people in and they make other people want to be good, or resent them for being what they can not. Either way, the reaction to the hero tends to bring a lot more of a sense of humanity to the anti-hero.

Mr. Bennet would not be my favorite character if his daughter Claire didn't exist to show me why.

I admit, I'm one of those people who tend to like heroes anyway, even the obnoxious ones. Scott Summers will always be my favorite X-Men, after all. It is HARD to be a good person. It's HARD to live a moral life, knowing you're going to fall short sometimes. It's HARD to be a flawed person and know you can't ever really be the person you want to be. It's so much easier to just blow it off. To be cool rebel without a cause. To sacrifice morality for expediency. To focus solely on your own interests and goals and say to hell with anyone else.

An anti-hero doesn't have to make the tough decisions, to choose their heart's desire over an innocent child's life, for example. Anti-heroes CAN'T make those tough decisions because once they're faced with them, they can't be anti-heroes anymore. Sure an anti-hero can be forced into a facsimile of this situation. Wherein, he/she'll choose his heart's desire, of course. But something will stop him/her. Something will intervene to keep him/her from going through with it, before the point of no return.

Because otherwise, once that line is crossed, once the anti-hero makes that choice there is no turning back. An anti-hero who chooses to sacrifice their heart's desire for what is right is a hero. A flawed hero, sure, but a HERO. If the opposite choice is made...then you have a villain. There is a point where amorality isn't an option anymore, where you have to choose a side.

Torchwood bothers me because they're all anti-heroes. Not a single one of them has truly been forced to the point of no return. Sure, they've come close. They've done some awful things out of self-interest, but they all manage to skirt the edge and remain not-villainous.

At the same time, there's no real accountability. No sign that any of these characters feel any real sense of guilt and remorse. They're awful people doing awful things and occasionally saving the world if quite by accident most of the time.

I don't care. I simply don't care.

However I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming reunion on Doctor Who. Maybe heroes like the Doctor and Martha can remind me why I liked Captain Jack to begin with. Actually I'm sure they will. Because they're HEROES.


  • At June 11, 2007 7:50 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    You know what I hate? That our cable system doesn't carry BBC America so I've never seen Torchwood. :)

    For the record, until Tennant and Eccleston, Davison was my favorite Doctor as well.

  • At June 11, 2007 8:46 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Eeek! Well, please don't let my rantings color your opinion before you see it. :-) I'm very biased after all. :-)

  • At June 11, 2007 9:31 AM, Blogger Anthony Strand said…

    I'm a huge Doctor Who fan (Troughton's my favorite old-school Doctor), but I haven't been able to bring myself to watch Torchwood. Because it looks like everything you've described it as being.

  • At June 11, 2007 9:32 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I don't know that I'd call Mr. Bennett and anti-hero. Granted, he had to put up with Mrs. Bennett's vapors and swoonings, and Lydia was a pain...wait, this isn't about "Pride & Prejudice"?

    I got nothin'.

  • At June 11, 2007 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Excellent post there Kalinara! Even though I've never yet seen any Dr. Who, Torchwood, or Heroes, I was still able to kind of follow along on general knowledge, heh. I really like your observation that the archetypes work best when they're in kind of a symbiotic relationship.

    I feel almost exactly the same way, except I have a little more hostility towards anti-heroes, unless they're ones that are fun of course. I suppose I'm just more straight-laced and tend to roll my eyes at characters that do too much "I'm alternative and FIGHTING against the SYSTEM!". Although I guess others who like that would roll their eyes at the naivity and rose-colored idealism that gets me stirred up whenever I read it. I'm definitely more of a Superman guy than a Batman guy (although I guess Superman isn't really the best example of your sacrificing hero, at least, not like Scott Summers is).

  • At June 11, 2007 10:03 AM, Blogger Rob S. said…

    Davison was my favorite Doctor, too, until Eccleston.

    I haven't seen Torchwood, so I can't comment on that, but your post made me think of The Sheild, with the anti-est of antiheroes, and how that should would spin completely off-kilter without Claudette.

    Even Dutch, a smart, honest cop, doesn't feel like a hero to me in that show. He's motivated by ego more than a desire to do good. But ambitious as she is, Claudette has the public in her mind at all times.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

  • At June 11, 2007 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Longtime lurker, first time commenter.I really like your blog.
    Loved your post, it was very interesting. I realise that many haven't seen Torchwood and I reference some plot points and characters in my reply, so please don't read this comment if you plan on watching the show and want to be completely unspoiled.Thanks.

    I've been something of a Whovian since I was really little (My Doctor was the 7th:Sylvester McCoy). I remember being overjoyed by the 8th Doctor in the mid-90s and I was very happy to see the revival of the series three years ago.
    Now I liked Captain Jack, I thought that he was a cool companion, unusal and fun; and the pre-air interviews that referred to the series as the darker Angel to Doctor Who's Buffy the Vampire Slayer got me even more excited as I love the Whedonverse.
    I state all of this in order to indicate the level of excitement stirred when I heard that there was going to be a Who spinoff.

    Now I love Doctor Who perhaps a lot. I am certainly very biased, but the tone and feel of the show, even when it goes into darker moments, is that of a fun, mysterious and hopeful show.

    So imagine my disappointment when Torchwood aired. It makes such an effort to be serious and cool and (dare I say it) gritty, and falls flat on it's face
    And for me that is what made the show so painful to watch. I kept on feeling that the show could be much better but it constantly missed the mark.

    The constant plot holes were a constant annoyance. The very large leaps of faith such as accepting Torchwood as the most famous secret organisation in the world. There were no likable characters (I can't tell you how much Gwen started bothering me) other than Jack, who I kind of understood.
    To be fair there were things that I did like such as the Sophie Costello character (she is awesome) and the final moments of the finale. oh and that one time a flying dinosaur ate a Cyberwoman. That was frakkin' awesome.

    And your point about accountability really struck a chord with me. These guys could get away with anything, both externally and internally. The Doctor character (Owen) was essentially date raping people in the pilot episode and in the finale he shot and killed Jack (he had no idea that Jack was all Resurrection man). Gwen as cheating on her boyfriend. Ianto smuggled monsters into the hub. They all were taking stuff home and playing around with it despite that strict rule explicitly telling them not to do that; and continued even after the events of the first episode. My God that pissed me off.
    I think you're right in that an Anti-Hero doesn't work so well without a Hero (or at least a moral centre to whom people can relate) to contrast against.

    I kind of gave up on the show halfway through, despite slight moments of brilliance. But I watched it through to the end of the first series for the sake of completion and I will probably watch the second season if I have the time again for the sake of Whovian completion and any further Doctor Who crossover moments such the thing that occurred in the finale. And hell maybe it will get better. though I must say that at this point I rather doubt it.

    Wow. That was an indulgent long comment (I haven't really talked to anyone about Torchwood since it aired). If you read it to the end then thanks I appreciate it.


  • At June 11, 2007 12:24 PM, Blogger Doc Hall said…

    Oh, no. No, no, no. You are not the only person who hates Torchwood.

    Torchwood wasn't helpped in anyway by the poor writing, or the fact that someone at Autie Beeb was convinced that in order for the show to be "adlut" it required gratuitus amounts of sex.

    I still watched it though. Mostly because it was filmed in Cardiff, and since that's where I live, there's a chance that I might be in one of the crowd scenes. Although I'm no longer sure I want to me.

  • At June 11, 2007 12:41 PM, Blogger Marc Burkhardt said…

    I'm a longtime Who fan as well. Davison is my favorite Doctor, followed closely by Eccleston and Tom Baker.

    (Although, to be honest, I like them all ...)

    I totally agree with your comments re: heroes and anti-heroes, and in fact was going to explore that very same theme regarding the current Marvel Universe (it's all anti-heroes right now ...)

    But, you summed it up better than I could.

  • At June 11, 2007 12:46 PM, Blogger Dorian said…

    *sigh*...once again, I'm the only Doctor Who fan who mostly liked Torchwood...

    I think you're judging the characters far too harshly. They're not anti-heroes, they're just deeply, deeply flawed as people. Most of them, in fact, are defined by the qualities they lack, which is a sort of inverse of the standard method of defining characters for television drama.

    Though there was no excuse for that Cyberwoman episode.

  • At June 11, 2007 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey, that episode had a
    pterodactyl mauling the Cyberwoman.
    So it wasn't a complete failure...

  • At June 11, 2007 4:08 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Sorry, Dorian. :-)

    It's funny though. Most Who-fans I know love Torchwood. So to me, *I'm* the odd one out. :-)

    I don't know that I'm being unfair though. They certainly are deeply flawed people, but people can be deeply flawed and still be heroic.

    Or at the very least come across like they're trying to do good things for good reasons. These characters are all ones I'd probably find fascinating in another setting, with conventional heroes to bounce off of, while here it really doesn't work for me. :-)

  • At June 11, 2007 4:12 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Aww, Sally, my mom's a huge Pride and Prejudice fan too! :-)

    I have to admit, personally, I've never quite had the attention span for Ms. Austen...

  • At June 12, 2007 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hmmm... come to think of it, this would explain why Judd Winick's Outsiders sucks too.

    Other than, you know, it's a book written by Judd Winick.

  • At June 12, 2007 2:55 AM, Blogger Ami Angelwings said…

    I completely agree with you :D

    I think the problem is that anti-heroes become EXTREMELY popular b/c they ARE cool, they get to break the rules and still do good, and often are very attractive. :O

    So fans rally around them. Esp since they have the added appeal of being "not mainstream" and everybody likes to believe that they're the unique person who doesn't like the main hero XD

    The problem is then the anti-hero starts to either usurp the position, or becomes the hero on his own, or like apparently Torchwood, every character is an anti-hero. :\

    Which is when it annoys me. :\ I love the anti-hero as a supporting character or a foil for the hero (or vice versa). One the anti-hero is isolated to capitalize on his/her popularity, things start falling apart for me. :( And they start to get very annoying. :(

  • At June 12, 2007 6:37 AM, Blogger GiantKillerMantis said…

    Dr. Who is an awesome show. The Baker episodes were on the local PBS when i was in Jr High and all those wild stories tickled my imagination so. I almost teared up watching the first episode of the "new school" show, b/c they got it so right after all those years.

    I've only seen one episode of Torchwood. It didn't impress, but i can't judge it by just one. It was something about fairies?

  • At June 12, 2007 10:07 AM, Blogger Dave said…

    I'm afraid the anti-heroism is an integral and unavoidable part of the "Torchwood" concept. The whole idea behind the series is that humanity isn't quite competent to handle the complexities of alien civilizations and their technologies; making most of the protagonists anti-heroes harmonizes nicely with this idea, by emphasizing their human weaknesses.

    My problem with "Torchwood" was that it just wasn't any fun. Dry, black humor would fit wonderfully with the tone of the show, and permit the script-writers to explore the coping strategies -- including heroism -- that the team uses to cope with their job.

  • At June 12, 2007 11:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I watched the first three or four episodes, and while they were okay, good action, good lines, I just never felt motivated to watch the the rest.

    (And the Cyberwoman episode would have been so much better had the Cybewoman not had that ridiculous, stupid design.)

  • At June 14, 2007 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I do like Torchwood--or rather, I like a lot of things about Torchwood, such as Susie, the idea of it, and some of its execution. The rest...fffft. The fairy episode was painful (oh, the poor commenter who ONLY saw that one), the finale was ripped off from Angel, and the members of this supposedly intelligent, awesome sekrit organization were...dumb. I thought Gwen was going to be our "in" but then they distanced the viewer from her almost right away. That kind of sucked. Still, I'll watch next season, because I am a sucker for the Whoniverse.

    I thought the points you made were spot-on, though.


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