Killing a beloved character on a television show is always a dicey proposition when it comes to how fans will react to the death. When that character is not only one of the few prominent gay characters on TV, but is also one of the only ones in a positive same-sex relationship, the risk of a backlash is that much greater.
So when Torchwood‘s Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) unexpectedly perished in the fourth episode of the recent Children of Earth miniseries, the reaction among many gay fans was almost instantaneous — not to mention less than positive. Some felt betrayed that Ianto had died at all, some found his death upsetting because it was seemingly so senseless, while others were simply upset that yet another gay character on television had come to an untimely end.
But Russell T Davies, the man responsible for the death of Jones, felt no remorse over killing off Captain Jack’s lover just as their relationship seemed to be solidifying. Indeed, in interviews given after the series aired in the U.S., Davies suggested fans upset over the death should content themselves watching shows such as Supernatural.
And when some fans started a campaign to bring Ianto back by mailing packets of coffee to BBC Wales, Davies dismissed the effort saying the network had received nine packets of coffee.
AfterElton.com spoke to Davies after Children of Earth aired in the U.K. but before it aired in the U.S. Portions of the interview below ran a week ago, but we’re now publishing the interview in it’s entirety and it gives a fuller picture of how Davies views the issues at hand.
AfterElton.com: Congratulations on the success of the miniseries in the U.K.
Russell T. Davies: It was amazing. It was a very emotional week for all of us. The cast and crew have all been texting and emailing each other. It was a great week. We really enjoyed it.
AE: Are you surprised the miniseries format worked so well?
RTD: I wasn’t surprised, simply because I made the show, so I knew it was good. I had faith and confidence, and frankly, I’ve worked on quite a few hit shows so I know the audience. What attracted me to it was the risk. Because in terms of big fright night science fiction events, it’s an unusual show. I mean its got a great big bisexual lead character. It’s got barmy sequences. It’s got two gay men … It’s got the Welsh, frankly. Which is by no means normal for British drama!
So I was worried its unusual qualities would count against it. In the end I think the reverse happened and all those unusual qualities made it distinctive, made it original, and made it stand out and people had an appetite for.
AE: Are you surprised by the depth of the reaction to Ianto’s death?
RTD: No to be honest. I know fandom very well and I think I know television audiences really well. .. I think my success in my job is that I do know television audiences. … I’m just delighted that the fans are so wrapped in the character to have that reaction. Nothing would have been worse than to have killed him and have no one care. That would have been terrible for Ianto. That would’ve been terrible for Gareth, I think.
And in a very serious way, I think that’s a good thing. I don’t mean to say I take any joy in upsetting the audience. But we’re talking about drama here. Powerful drama isn’t just there to make you smile. It’s much more complicated than that. People would never expect that of theater, they would never expect that of books, but for some reason with television some people expect happy endings. They expect lightness and superficiality. I’ve never thought that. Drama should make people uncomfortable. I’ve always happily done that.
I mean, you’re talking to the man who wrote Queer as Folk, which certainly made a lot of people uncomfortable. And then the next thing I wrote was Bob & Rose which was about a gay man who fell in love with a woman which had a lot of those gay viewers outraged and dismayed and furious and they were all wrong. In both cases I took great pleasure in leading viewers to an area where their comfortable thoughts were challenged.
You know if we were talking about novels or theater you wouldn’t even be discussing whether something was too strong or too controversial.