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Character Discussion: Jack
by jadesfire2808 (jadesfire)
at November 9th, 2007 (05:09 pm)

The below contains spoilers for all of Torchwood S1 and all 3 seasons of Doctor Who. I've tried to concentrate on Torchwood, but since we learn so much about Jack in Doctor Who, it didn't make sense to ignore that. My other concern was to make we discuss what we see on screen, as much as possible. I have no problem with wild and wacky theories, and have several of my own, but unless it can be supported from canon, it remains speculation. This is very important when it comes to Jack, who has the most convoluted history of anyone in the Whoniverse except for the Doctor.

It's taken me a long time to work out what I wanted to put in this meta. One of the things that makes Jack such an interesting character is that he doesn't have just one side to his personality. He's often described as 'flexible', and I can't think of a more appropriate word. It's not that he's a chameleon – in any given situation, he's still Jack – but like we all do, he responds to different circumstances differently.

This does, however, make him a pain in the neck to write meta for, because there's so much I want to say. In the interests of brevity, and letting other people get a word in edgeways, I've limited myself to just a few points and have somehow managed to keep it under 1500 words. Just. I think it may have ended up less coherent than I intended, but, as miss_zedem can testify, my opinions about Jack tend to involve much more handwaving than this.

Jack is…

…practical but not heartless

For me, one of Jack's outstanding qualities is his pragmatism. He can be ruthless, for sure, but he doesn't choose to be all the time. Ruthlessness also implies that he doesn't care, which he so obviously does. He's practical enough to know that he has to let Jasmine go in 'Small Worlds' but he obviously doesn’t do it lightly, and if he was truly ruthless, there's no way he'd have kept Ianto on.

Being practical, being willing to do what's necessary in difficult circumstances, isn't the same as not caring. It just means that Jack's able to tell the difference between his emotional response and what he should do. When they don't coincide, he does what he has to, not what he feels he has to. When he does allow his feelings to get in the way, that's when he runs into problems. That's what lets Owen get the drop on him in 'End of Days' – if he was as ruthless as he could be, he just would have shot them all before it got that far. Wouldn't he?

What do you think? Is Jack the monster that Ianto accuses him of being?

…flirtatious but not excessively promiscuous

Jack's not a slut. In canon, anyway. He's a flirt. For me, this is very important. He flirts with Gwen, but sends her home to Rhys, every time. His reaction to Estelle and continuing obsession with the Doctor suggests someone who is capable of faithfulness, in some fashion. One thing I always feel it necessary to mention in these types of discussions is that canon is very, very clear about Jack not being from the twentieth century. We can argue as much as we like about exactly when he's from, but it's obvious that things have changed considerably between now and then.

Flirting is Jack's default state, as natural to him as breathing. I don't read that as him falling into bed with everyone who looks at him the right way. He might do, but I can't find evidence for it in canon. The Doctor calls him on his flirting, but that seems to be for its appropriateness (they're usually in the middle of something else when Jack gets distracted) rather than anything else. I don't really want to get into a big discussion about the Doctor's attitude to romance, but given the huge gulf between him and Jack on that front, the Doctor's reactions make complete sense.

The only person we can be (all-but) sure that he slept with is Ianto. There's no direct evidence for anyone else. Yet. I'm not ignoring the flirting with the Ninth Doctor, by the way, but again, in canon, there's no direct evidence that they're sleeping together. But then again, maybe I'm just hopelessly naïve. What do you think?

…resourceful but not superman.

Jack is good at improvising and is definitely technically adept. He rigs the device to get rid of Mary in 'Greeks Bearing Gifts', he learns quickly how to fix Professor Yana's machine in 'Utopia' and he does maintenance on the TARDIS in 'Boom Town'. He helps the Doctor rig the forcefield in 'Parting of the Ways' and sets up all the traps for the Daleks in the same episode. On the other hand, he can't fix his space hopper transporter, which lands him on the slow path to meet up with the Doctor again.

It did strike me that if anything's inconsistent about Jack's characterisation, it's his level of technical expertise. I find it hard to believe that his wristband is more complicated than the TARDIS. When it's convenient for the plot, Jack knows exactly what's going on. When it's not, (eg 'They Keep Killing Suzie'), he doesn't. While this is, of course, inevitable, it's a slight niggle that I keep coming back to.

Am I just being picky?

…a conman, but not a people person

I have a feeling that if anything's going to get me yelled at, it's this point. But when I watch Torchwood, I get the definite feeling that Jack just doesn't 'get' his team. Anyone watching Owen at the beginning of 'Combat' would know that this is a man on the verge of a breakdown. Yet Jack sends him into an enormously stressful situation and seems surprised by the outcome. He constantly exhorts Gwen to return to Rhys, yet does nothing to curb his flirting with her or calling her out at inconvenient hours. He knows something's wrong with Tosh, yet waits until they reach a hostage situation to actually do something. And let's not even start with Ianto and Suzie, shall we?

Being able to read and manipulate people is not the same as being able to relate to them. Especially for someone like Jack, who has to keep people at arm's length to a certain extent because of who and what he is, I can see getting close to people being very difficult. This in turn means that he can't always predict what they're going to do under extreme stress, and it's that kind of oversight that gets him shot.

…heartbroken but not hopeless

I was going to leave my fanfic peeves out of this, but I can't let this one go by, since emo!Jack is one of my pet hates. The problem is, he has so much to be upset about. It actually starts with losing two years of his memories, then progresses through getting left behind on the Game Station and keeps going through a hundred and fifty years of waiting for the Doctor. And that's leaving out everything that happens in Season 1 of Torchwood.

Despite this, I have real difficulty in seeing him as hopeless. Hurt, yes, absolutely, and badly so. Angry. Confused, even. But he tells the Doctor that he lived out the twentieth century waiting for "a version of you that would coincide with me." He tells Gwen that the one thing that would have tempted him was "the right kind of Doctor." He hasn't given up hope, and never does.

I wrote a story where Ianto describes himself as 'bloody but unbowed' (from the poem Invictus by W.E. Henley) but I can't help feeling that the description is more appropriate to Jack. He's not quite the energizer bunny, but he does seem able to keep his sense of humour in the worst circumstances and I can't see him completely going to pieces over, well, anything really. It's not that he doesn't feel things, since we see him grieve for Estelle and the real Jack Harkness, and he obviously cares about his team, but there's not a single example of the world throwing something at him that he can't cope with. It will be interesting to see if the 'lost year' is the exception to this rule.

Over to you!

I have much, much, much more that I could say, but I've found in writing this that I'm better at expressing it in fiction than in meta. So over to you guys. What do you make of Jack? What in the above do you agree or disagree with? Am I reading him right? What do you like to see in stories about Jack and what don't you like to see? (PLEASE keep this general – no naming names or direct insults. General constructive criticism of fanfic clichés that you love or hate is fine; flaming or insulting other people isn't. Thanks.)


Posted by: A lady of no particular repute (rowanberries)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)
Needlessly Messianic

Wow, am I ever late. :)

But I couldn't let this go by without thinking it out for myself, and while I'm doing that, it makes sense to write it down here. I've RP-ed Jack for a while, now. Dear god, checking, it's over two years. And... originally, I didn't even want to. I wasn't even sure I liked him that much, I picked him up as a favour, to maybe play around a bit, then hand him over to someone I though could do a better job.

But then... he went and got layers. Let's go on the flirtiness. I hesitate to apply the term 'slut,' although he'd most likely happily call himself one. He doesn't sell himself short, just because he's willing to have sex with one and all, because the value placed on it is different in his society, and in his own mind. Sex is fun, sex is for sharing and comforting and playing and strengthening relationships, be they romantic or not - although when in contact with people of different times, he clearly knows the difference, and applies that difference. Romance is something else - as someone else mentioned, his capacity for faithfulness is strong, just not technical fidelity - and I believe he is a very loving person, or was before his trust began to be slowly eroded. Because we don't know much about his past, all we really get to hear is the bad stuff, and it's easy to imagine the effects they could have had on him. Torture, betrayal, loss, memory erasure. And that's even before canon gets started.

That actually leads me onto the next point, yay! I was all set to disagree with you on the 'conman but not a people-person' thing, but then I actually read it, and... yeah. I do think that in one sense of 'people-person,' that's what he is, because he likes people, he really does. He's very fundamentally lonely in Torchwood, and that's something he's stuck with, because he's now so unable to relate normally to the team, and by necessity cannot relate to anyone else. He's a man out of time, and seems unusual because he's so drastically out of context practically all the time. The most natural place for him at this point is on the TARDIS, which, tragically, is impossible because he's been written into another season of Torchwood of his new-formed attachments to the gang, and the difficulty in being near the Doctor with his immortality.

Heartless? No, of course not. He's had it broken so much, but if there's one thing he's got, it's heart, because if he didn't, he'd give up, curl up in a corner, or go all out into cruelty. And he is cruel, when he needs to be, and sometimes when he doesn't, driven by anger and misery and bitterness. And that's why I don't like writing or reading Jack too emo. His lightheartedness and humour and exuberance is as much a failsafe as it is a natural part of his character. (Sidenote: The subtlety of Jack mainly drinking water in Torchwood made me oh. So. Happy.) He knows himself well, and he is a dangerous man. He literally can't get help for his anger-management problems, so he's dealing with them himself, and not exactly well, but better than he could have done.

For me, Jack is... well, I'm stupidly maternal about anyone I write for an extended period of time, so I'll be the first to admit my judgement may be off. He's screwed up, and he knows it, and he tries to fight it, and often overshoots. He fundamentally finds life fun, even at the depths of his despair when he wished he could truly have died the first time, and it's the balance between loving life and wondering about death that makes him tick. He's angry and passionate about right and wrong - but he doesn't know where the boundaries are, or even, sometimes, if they exist at all.

He's a silly boy. He's sly in getting what he wants or needs, but most of all he just keeps going, doing the best he can from minute to minute. He just... has it a little more confused than most people. :D

Thanks for this - I enjoyed your post, and reading everyone else's take, and the chance to sort through some of my thoughts will be very helpful.

Posted by: A lady of no particular repute (rowanberries)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)


Sorry for the TL;DR.


*Sneaks off*

Posted by: jadesfire2808 (jadesfire)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 07:58 am (UTC)

Please don't apologise! I had terrible trouble getting what I wrote down to 1500 words, although I also had terrible trouble getting started because, as you say, Jack just has so many layers.

I think you've absolutely hit the nail on the head in emphasising that Jack is different - it's not that he's not human, or that he doesn't feel things the way 20th century humans would, it's just that he applies different values to things.

I often think there's a kind of determined joy at the heart of the character. Despite what he says, he obviously loves living, and loves people (in every sense) and he's always looking, always searching and moving on, for the next experience. One of the great things about writing him is that there's all of this to draw on. All things considered, I thought your post was quite restrained :)

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