Opal (shinyopals) wrote in notsobigheaded,
Opal
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notsobigheaded

The different levels of things: why I (mostly!) retcon Jack is the Face of Boe.

Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago when I had no net, I'm just getting around to posting it now.

This sort of post is what happens when I have a couple of weeks off the internet. I get thinking and I get typing. You guys should see the fics I've been writing. Not much good and unfinished but a hell of a lot of stuff! Anyway, to the point of the post: when I first watched Last of the Time Lords the main emotion I came away with was disappointment. Like a lot of people in the fandom, I'd gone in with high expectations (Utopia and The Sound of Drums are two of my all time favourites) and LotTL just seemed to fall short. The strongest emotion I got from the episode was the utter shock and horror of Jack's last minute.

On rewatch I've found the whole episode (and serial) comes together and is a lot better. There are still plot holes you could drive a TARDIS through but I found myself enjoying it more. That and I knew what to expect from Jack and could pretty much continue to retcon it. But I've had time to let it sink in and think about it properly as well as the consequences of it.

And this post is hopefully going to contain coherent ish thoughts on where the revelation feels right and where it feels wrong.

Aesthetically:
Right, first thing I'm going to do is come out and say it: the thought that Jack Harkness ends up looking like the Face of Boe weirds me out on the shallowest level possible. Much like Yoda!Doctor, I like my pretty men to stay fanciable. Some of my gut reaction to the revelation was purely on this level.

The second thing I'm going to say is that there's nothing wrong with that. Sure, if it was the only reason I disliked the idea I'd call myself shallow and get over it, just like I did with both old!Doctor and Yoda!Doctor. The thing is though, Jack was created to be fanciable. I think both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant are hot, in their own way; but John Barrowman is the typically handsome sort. I'm not saying everyone's going to fancy him, I'm just saying he was created to be fanciable, so there's nothing wrong with being rather shocked by the revelation at the end of LotTL.

Character wise:
The point I make here is going to be similar to the point above. We'll start with the fundamental fact that Jack and the FoB seem vastly different people. Now honestly, this isn't the biggest deal in the world: everyone changes as the years go by. But Jack was created as a certain type of person. He's the action hero, the modern (futuristic) Casanova. He's got the mystery of his two missing years and his past with the Time Agency.

The Face of Boe is a character in his own right too. Telepathic, well known, rich and influential. A strange and interesting alien, “text book enigmatic” is the phrase. He's a step-up from the Doctor: even if he took the slow path he's billions of years old and there's not a lot he hasn't seen.

I don't see anything wrong with characters developing and changing and over thousands of years (remember the first time we see the FoB, in terms of history of the universe, is the year 200,000 on Satellite 5) I don't think it's particularly illogical that Jack could change into someone vastly different. The FoB in Gridlock is prepared to sacrifice himself to the city and that's something I could see Jack doing.

The problem with it is there's no way they can show 200,000 years of character development on screen (unless they have *very* long term plans for Torchwood ;-) ) so we're always going to be left with a lot of “since when did Jack say/do this...?” when looking at the FoB. Arguably they shouldn't let not being able to show 200,000 years on screen stop them from doing crazy things but to me this doesn't quite work. The Whoniverse is a small enough place without combining two separate and interesting characters into one. The Face of Boe could have been anything: involved somehow with the Eternals, involved with the Time Lords; or none of the above and stayed something entirely separate in his own right (my preference). Why does he have to be Jack?

Doctor Who as a television show:
I'm torn as to whether this works in this context or not. Shocking revelations seemingly out of nowhere aren't exactly rare in fiction. Plenty of people watching would have gone 'ooh' and then moved on (as opposed to writing long and involved livejournal entries about it!) and in that way it works.

However, it gets eleven out of ten for being gratuitously tacked on. RTD is usually awesome with long term plans and series arcs. Look how well series three came together at the end to reveal Professor Yana as the human Master. And to me it's a real contrast to have something that if it had been a long term plan could have been great being so shoved on at the end. While I would sell my soul instead of undoing Utopia, Jack's presence in series 3 was incredibly pointless (three strong male leads and Martha, someone was bound to suffer) and it felt as though someone said “Shit! He's actually not doing anything, is he? I know, let's chuck in a revelation.”

And this time I'm actually not just speculating. The latest Doctor Who Magazine special (all about season three) contains this in the Last of the Time Lords section: To tie in with Jack's Face of Boe admission, Davies had Boe calling the Doctor “old friend” in the Additional Dialogue Recording for Gridlock. (Page 117, top right column)

While I'm aware that I can't have expected RTD to predict where he'd go with Jack and the FoB in The End of the World, the revelation was very last minute and it shows. To me, it feels like they didn't even spend five minutes thinking it over. Jack's character arc deserves far more thought.

Emotionally:
Now, this is one section where I think it works. Regardless of Jack's answer to the Doctor asking if he wants to die, immortality isn't something to be taken lightly. Whoniverse humans are fantastic and Jack does have plenty to live for. But the thought of him existing, on and on, forever; isn't a happy one. What about in the year 100 trillion? The Doctor said it himself: maybe Jack's out there somewhere. If he is (ignoring FoB for a second) then what happened to him? He could have ended up becoming one of the Toclafane, for a start. The Doctor's only 900 (probably a bit older if you take Classic Who into account but still less than 2000 unless it's been a *long* time since the Time War) and look at his lines from The Lazarus Experiment. For all his jokes about moisturising and for all the fun he has, his life isn't one long party. The prospect of Jack living forever is a horrifying one so him having an end in sight is something I'm very glad about.

On top of that there's what we see of the FoB in the episodes: he gets to see Rose and the Doctor getting to know each other in The End of the World and again in New Earth where he tells the Doctor that thanks to him, he doesn't feel like dying any more. An echo of what happens in Utopia: thanks to the Doctor and what he sees he decides to keep going. Then in Gridlock he gets his end after saving millions of people. He dies with the Doctor and with Martha (who has plenty of opportunity to become a very good friend of his working for Torchwood, even if she doesn't realise at the time). This is the Doctor who runs away from everything and he stays with Jack/FoB. What better way to die than peacefully, surrounded by friends after a long and fantastic life and having just saved a whole city?

Emotionally it's brilliant, I'll give it that

Logically:
My main problem is that, by nature, I'm more logical than emotional. I can tear up during Gridlock but the emotional side of things isn't enough for me to accept it as making sense. I accept a lot in terms of plot holes from Doctor Who but some things are just too much for even me. I don't plan to make this a comprehensive list of all the plot holes (that would take a year) but the major things that stick out to me as being very wrong as as follows:

Firstly there's the ageing thing. So what? When humans reach 200,000 years old they mutate into a giant head in a jar? While I suppose technically it's no more implausible than scorpion!Lazarus being from dormant genes; it doesn't make much sense to me. Yoda!Doctor makes more sense than head-in-a-jar.

Secondly, related to that. So in 198,000 years Jack goes from Jack Harkness to FoB. Then in the next five billion years (to be precise and assuming an American billion that's 4,999,802,000. If it's a British billion – which isn't particularly widely used – then it's even longer) he stays constant? What? Either he ages or he doesn't.

And on the subject of ageing, my third point: According to the Doctor he's a “fact”, a “fixed point in time and space”. Why does he age? Yes, from a TV point of view I could see why they'd want him to: John Barrowman isn't a universal constant and is going to age. But they could just do what everybody else does: pretend. Nobody goes up to the Doctor and says 'you look a bit wrinklier than you did a couple of years ago, mate'. Instead they say 'you haven't changed at all!' and it doesn't matter whether it's true or not because nobody watching seriously expects David Tennant to stop ageing for the role.

Finally:
Doctor: It's not easy just looking at you, Jack, because you're wrong.
Jack: Thanks
Doctor: I can't help it, it's instinct, it's in my gut

Funny how he never said anything like that to the Face of Boe. OK, fair enough, maybe he was being polite but logically you'd expect it to come up. It should have been the first thing the Doctor noticed in The End of the World and even if he didn't walk right up to the FoB and want to know what was going on, it should have come up. Even just the Doctor getting some unexplainable heebie-jeebies

There are, of course, other logical issues with the revelation, but those are the main issues with I have.

In conclusion:
No matter how much I like it emotionally, the logical inconsistencies are more than enough even without my other issues with it. I've pretty much decided to ignore it and I'm hoping it's never mentioned against. Unless in the context of:

Doctor: Are you really the Face of Boe? Really?
Jack: Right, that's it, we've got to get Rose back from the parallel universe right now. She owes me a tenner. She reckoned you weren't *that* gullible.
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Amen. Add in the fact that in "The Long Game" the news reports that the FOB is pregnant. How does a human head (even a mutated one) get pregnant?
This puts an interesting angle on Jack's comments in the opening scene of Torchwood where he muses about having been pregnant!
To be fair though, I took it that the 'news' in 'The Long Game' wasn't necessarily factual i.e. the controller was making sure that only selected news got through and the rest was all just cobbled together to keep the masses watching.
(mind you, i'm still stuck on the 'how the heck can a live head be in a jar???')
hmmm... good point. I do, however, maintain my right to take retcon and forget that little line ever existed at the end of "LOTTL"
I agree with this post, except that my emotional reactions to it were more mixed than yours. While I agree with you about the horror of living forever, my main complaint was that the Doctor didn't know/relate to him as Jack, and somehow that just robbed the meeting of its resonance and made me feel sad for Jack.

although to be fair, I will admit that part of it might be I'm more attached to my version of Jack's eventual death. If I believe this, then I got jossed a week after writing it, damnit! :)
I hated that revelation.

I cared about the FoB. It was a big muppet in a jar, It was a mystery, It was an alien we only saw what? three? times. The Face of Boe was a character all on it's own. I was sad when it sacrificed itself to save the people in gridlock.

To make the FoB Jack is like killing him twice. It's a cheat. It's saying there was no FoB, it was Jack the whole time. So the sorrow I felt for the Face of Boe is now revealed to be feeling for Jack.
I like Jack and I'll be sad when he dies (for the last time). He deserves his own end. I agree that eternal life is a potentially horrific end. I hope Jack gets to die someday, But I want it to be JACK'S death not some bad retro-fit.
Completely agree with you. It's so depressing to think that Jack ends up like, as I saw no similarities between the two personality-wise. And to think of Jack living out all of his years all alone as the last of his kind (mentioned in New Earth) just...saddens me. I think I'll just live in denial about it. xD

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I quite like that theory. I think I believe that on the whole the Doctor is telling the truth about the "you're wrong" thing, but makes you wonder if things would have been different if he hadn't had to regenerate (and therefore had no worries that he'd need to prove himself to Rose) or if Jack hadn't been a potential rival.