Geek Pride: Captain Jack and Ianto

Tony Fyler recalls a fine romance.

Have you ever met someone – maybe someone you work with, or see pretty regularly, and it’s not thunderbolts, not bam, that’s it, you’re in love, but slowly, over time, day in, day out they make you smile, or make you proud to know them, and then one day you find your heart aches if you’re not going to see them? You find you’ve learned the rhythms of your daily interactions with them and those rhythms have gone in so deep that you miss them. And then one day you find yourselves together, and…

Fade in on Jack and Ianto. Slow to germinate, but dependable as the sunrise, they grew from boss and peon to trusted colleagues, to a couple that ripped the heart out of a world of geeks when they were finally parted. Fade out.

There was kerfuffling from sections of the press when Jack and Ianto first got together, lots of deliciously troglodytic nonsense about the ‘gay agenda’ of the show. The irony perhaps being that while Captain Jack actor John Barrowman is not so much gay as GAY!, neither Ianto nor Jack are strictly gay characters – Jack has been shown to be utterly omnisexual, has had at least one child with a woman, and flirted with Martha and Chantho apparently for pleasure rather than with any ulterior motive. Ianto on the other hand would be classed by those who like to box people up as heteroflexible (identifying mostly with heterosexuality, but refusing to pigeonhole himself as exclusively, all the time, never-in-a-million-years-anything-else, straight).

Such kerfuffling also shows a Daily Mailian misunderstanding of the nature of human relationships, focusing purely on the sexual dynamics of the Jack and Ianto relationship, rather than the personal dynamics involved.

Meet Ianto Jones.

Valleys boy made good, Ianto moved to London to work for top secret skullduggery-merchants Torchwood at Canary Wharf, where he had a girlfriend called Lisa Hallett. When his whole life was torn to pieces at the battle of Canary Wharf, Ianto moved back to Cardiff, bringing Lisa with him. Lisa’s situation seemed grim, but Ianto had a plan to help her, perhaps reverse the process using the Torchwood Hub’s power and expertise. That’s Ianto – however cool and calm he appears on the outside, he loves passionately and completely. Despite the unlikelihood of success of his plans, he still kept Lisa secret, waiting for the right moment to help her back to her human life.

Only after the idea of Lisa’s resurrection is proved hopeless, and a period of grieving for her, does Ianto seem to come a little back to life – and it’s Jack who helps him find that spark again.

Meet Captain Jack Harkness. Or who you think is Captain Jack Harkness. The central defining quality of Jack is that there’s more to him than ever meets the eye. Con man, omnisexual, wit, cosmic cowboy with a stride full of sass and a really good coat – yes, all of these things, but so much more. A man changed by love of the Doctor, who holds true to his own understanding of the Time Lord’s creed. A man determined to rebuild Torchwood as a force for good, and yet a man who could walk twelve children to an uncertain alien future. A man who could stay away from his child, could let the fairies take an innocent young girl away from her life and parents. A man crippled by guilt over his brother, with a sledgehammer gap in his memory, and a man who can never, it seems, be permanently killed.

If we’ve learned one thing from 51 years of Doctor Who, it’s that with great age in a changing universe, what becomes most precious to someone is a way to connect, a way to be rooted in the world or the cosmos they inhabit and to understand it, and perhaps most critically, a way to feel it.

Jack has lost more than anyone will know, and by the time he finds himself in the21st century on Earth, he’s also still stranded by an ocean of time from all that was originally familiar to him so very long ago at the beginning of his life. He’s trying to re-shape the failed human experiment that is the original Torchwood in the ethos of a benevolent alien and he himself is no longer sure what he is, how old he will become or what will happen to his line in the sand of alien and temporal incursion. He’s acting more on impulse, waiting for the Doctor to show up, and doing as good a job as he remembers how in the meantime.

Ianto has been around a while by the time Jack really notices him. Always impeccably dressed, always on time, always prepared, he may be the least specialized of the Torchwood team, but there’s still something about him that means Jack lets him in. Perhaps it’s exactly that – he’s always there, always reliable, always ready. When the truth about Lisa emerges, it fills the space where the missing piece of Ianto’s jigsaw has been, and after the events of Cyberwoman, Jack feels more able to relax around Ianto than any of his other team members, with perhaps the exception of Gwen.

Indeed for a while, it’s clear that Jack is searching for someone to ground him in this world, to force him to remember what being human is all about, and while it looks as though it might be Gwen who does that for him, oddly, the more she learns about Torchwood and its work, the more au fait she becomes with it, and somehow, the less technically human. And so it’s Ianto – quiet, dry, always-there Ianto, who gives Jack what he needs at this testing time in his life – a place to be, and a pathway to his humanity. It’s Ianto who’s the companion to Jack’s Doctor.

It’s an odd relationship, certainly – for Ianto, the attraction to Jack is his otherworldliness, his unfathomable mind and nature, while for Jack it’s Ianto’s very humanity, his diligence, his loyalty, that makes him indispensable, that make Jack come to rely on him and need him more than anyone else in this time.

By the time Series Three of Torchwood, Children of Earth rolls around, their relationship has passed many modern milestones – out in public, displaying affection, being classed by their friends and colleagues as ‘a couple’. Even Ianto’s family, once they’ve got over the initial gossip-factor, are welcoming. They’re also working very much more as a couple – retrieving the ‘hitch-hiker’ together, and even in that context, playing the friendly gay couple next door. And when it comes time for Jack to right a wrong he did many years before, it’s Ianto who without hesitation goes to stand with him, because Ianto understands – while they started as a casual connection, when he points out to Jack that people keep calling them a couple, Jack’s response is telling. ‘Well, we are,’ he snaps. And for Ianto, when you’re a couple, you stand together.

That scene has such potential to be magical – lovers standing side by side to save the earth and wipe the record as clean as it can be. But the 456 hasn’t read the script of their life, and callously kills them both, and we, like Jack and Ianto, know only one of them will wake again. The death, the loss of Ianto is the beginning of the end for Jack’s peace of mind and his humanity. It’s interesting to wonder whether, had Ianto still been alive, Jack would have been able to look his grandson in the eye and sacrifice him to get rid of the 456. Or indeed whether he would so badly have needed to.

After the events of Children of Earth, Jack can’t look humans in the eye – parents, children, lovers, friends. He has brought his own humanity crashing down upon himself, and it’s the death of Ianto that makes that happen. When Jack says ‘this planet’s too small’ he seems to mean that it’s too small to lose his guilt, his sorrow, his rage at all the cosmos at the death of this one quiet man. It’s only, ultimately, the Doctor who can give him absolution, permission to move on with his unfeasibly long life, by introducing him to Midshipman Alonso Frame. He’ll never be a replacement Ianto – any more than Vicki is a replacement Susan or Martha a replacement Rose - but it’s only someone who’s lived as long as he has, and lost as much as he has, who can free Jack from his despair and guilt over Ianto. Frame is a first step back towards the light, towards a new life in which Ianto is the beautiful memory he should be, rather than an albatross of love and guilt and pain.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at
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