Queer Origins, Deformed Lines: Seeding the Future in Torchwood’s “Children of Earth”

  • Gail Ashton
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Like so many foundational stories with their repressions and complicities, the origins of this essay are at least partially obscured. One of its births lies in the diverse ways in which contemporary sci-fi and fantasy quests reimagine the medieval. I have no intention of exhausting moments I have spoken of elsewhere,2 or, indeed, of avowing them as a truism; nevertheless, the strange and intricate genealogy of latter-day romances sparks many of the lines of enquiry that will track an essay intended as provocation rather than as a final word. My focus is the UK BBC television series Torchwood, specifically its five-installment “Children of Earth” (series 3) sequence. There the immortal, space-time anomaly, Jack Harkness, leads his team against a potential global devastation by the alien “456” that he was complicit in sparking years before. In 1965, on behalf of the British government, Jack secretly handed over eleven orphans (the twelfth escaped) in return for the 456 standing down from war. When the 456 returns and demands 10 percent of the earth’s children, the Torchwood organization—Jack, Gwen Cooper, and Jack’s lover Ianto Jones—becomes the only meaningful resistance to an apocalyptic invasion that classically signals medievalism’s defamiliarized self in our time.3


British Government Founding Father Walk Away Unborn Baby British Prime Minister 
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  1. 2.
    Gail Ashton, Medieval English Romance in Context (London: Continuum, 2010), 131–33 and 143–47.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Umberto Eco, “Dreaming the Middle Ages,” in Travels in Hyperreality: Essays, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986), 72.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Andrew Dix, Brian Jarvis, and Paul Jenner, The Contemporary American Novel in Context (London: Continuum, 2011), 164.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Jose Saldívar, Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), ix.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ed., The Postcolonial Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 3.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See Cohen, Postcolonial Middle Ages, 5–8. Also Patricia Ingham and Michelle Warren eds., Postcolonial Moves: Medieval through Modern (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 49–53.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Judith Halberstam, In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 1.Google Scholar

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© Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline 2012

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  • Gail Ashton

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