Four years ago, the BBC decided to capitalize on the immense popularity of the long-running Doctor Who series by creating a spin-off called Torchwood.
Whereas Doctor Who is, apart from the intensity of its stories, safe for the whole family, producers said that Torchwood would be “dark, clever, wild, [and] sexy.” "Doctor Who for adults” is what they called it.
As a colleague wrote at the time, a better word to describe the show is “nihilistic” - it’s a judgment that’s reinforced by the show’s newest character.
While Torchwood is certainly dark, it’s rarely, if ever, been all that “clever,” especially when measured against the standard set by Doctor Who and other science fiction classics.
Instead, the show has substituted transgression for originality. Specifically, sexual transgression. The lead character, Captain Jack Harkness, can best be described as an “omni-sexual.” While the rest of his team, all but one of whom were killed, may not have successfully emulated his alien-fighting skills, they did manage to learn from his sexual example: extramarital affairs, same-sex experimentation were all in a day’s work for the Torchwood team.
For the fourth season, entitled “Miracle Day,” the writers ratcheted up the transgression: The newest character, Oswald Jones, is a pedophile. Yes, you heard me correctly.
Jones, played by actor Bill Pullman, is a convicted pedophile-murderer who is released on a technicality. While he’s far from the first pedophile to be depicted on television, he is undoubtedly the first depicted in a way that prompts the audience to root for him.
John Barrowman, the openly-gay actor who plays Harkness, said: “The interesting thing about [having a pedophile man character] that is that the audience is going to be torn, because they’re going to not like him for what he’s done - but they’re gonna like him.”
Let’s be clear, “liking him,” in the sense that Barrowman means is not the same as being able to see past Jones’ horrible crimes and understand that he is also created in the image of God. It’s not the same as believing that even the worst of sinners can repent and be transformed by the power of God.
It’s saying, “he may be a murderous pedophile but, you know what, he’s cool!” That’s not a matter of grace, that’s indifference. It’s a kind of kind of nihilism, where in the absence of moral truth, the kind that Christianity provided the West, we evaluate things by how this make us feel – in this case, whether they are entertaining.
For people who have come of age when what Freud once called “Totems and Taboo” are increasingly subject to revision, it’s hard to entertain people. As they say “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” So we ratchet up the transgression.
Of course, there are limits: You couldn’t imagine Barrowman substituting “homophobe” for “pedophile” in what he said. After all, some things are beyond the politically correct pale at least.
And, lest we forget, there are people who insist that sex between adults and children can be consensual. Thankfully, public opinion is nowhere near that point. Yet. Because as we’ve seen, yesterday’s unthinkable taboos have a way of becoming today’s “alternative lifestyles.” It is a sad sign that our culture may be dying.