The old saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, but by now BBC Wales is probably thinking that a more appropriate comparison would be “Hell hath no fury like an angry fan”. Over the past few weeks their mailboxes have been collecting letters, postcards, and most significantly, coffee packets, from fans around the world, and I expect that last night will increase those numbers.
So why exactly are the BBC enjoying free instant coffee? For that they have creator and writer Russell T. Davies to blame or thank. His five episode season of the sci-fi drama Torchwood wraps up tonight on North American television stations, but for many fans the season, and the show, effectively ended when the much-loved character Ianto Jones breathed his last breath of poison and died in his lover’s arms.
The death of a character is always a difficult blow for fans of a television show, but it has been a particularly difficult couple of years for Torchwood fans. Perhaps drawing from its American science-fiction inspirations, including the Joss Whedon helmed Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Davies has been emulating the Whedon principle of “everyone could die” of late. At the end of last year’s second season, audiences watched as Toshiko Sato and Owen Harper died to save the world. With a cast as small as Torchwood‘s loosing two characters was nearly half the cast in one blow. So when the series returned for a much awaited shortened season, fans were expecting to see the team grow and take on new members while still grieving the losses of their teammates.
The grief is certainly present, especially in one scene where Gwen Cooper says good morning to a photograph of her deceased co-workers, and there is even one potential new team member in Office aide Lois Habiba. What audiences weren’t expecting was yet another death, this time fan favourite Ianto Jones.
Ianto Jones has perhaps come the furthest over the course of the series, beginning as an attractive, but not hugely significant, assistant to the Torchwood team. During the second season, his deadpan sense of humour was showcased, he took on a more active role within the team, and he began a relationship with team leader Captain Jack Harkness. The relationship was very much against the odds, as one of Jack Harkness’ defining qualities is his ability to flirt with both genders in any situation. The third season brought up the problem of Jack’s immortality and the fact that he is doomed to watch everyone he loves die before him, as well as Ianto’s insecurities about his first homosexual relationship. Still the relationship was a hit with fans, who began to ‘ship the pairing as “Janto”.
The abrupt end to Ianto’s life, near the end of the fourth episode, immediately angered fans and sparked a response. Just moments after the death occurred fans began a movement to save Ianto Jones, aided by social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter, and Livejournal. As I mentioned in my article on Torchwood: Children of Earth I was actually spoiled by way of twitter. I was aware that Torchwood was airing in the UK and when “Ianto” popped up as a trending topic I just knew.
Although Ianto’s death is a fresh wound for unspoiled North American viewers, UK fans saw the episodes just over two weeks ago. In that short span of time a campaign has mobilized, with fans setting up the website www.saveiantojones.com, which had already received 38 783 hits as of late Friday night. The website includes suggestions on how to politely express discontent with the plot twist through social networking sites, sending letters, and making donations.
At the forefront of this campaign is “The Great Coffee Protest”. The idea follows in the footsteps of Save Our Show campaigns waged successfully by fans of shows like Roswell, Jericho, and Chuck. Roswell fans sent mini tabasco bottles (the favourite condiment of the show’s alien characters) to the WB en masse in order to get the show renewed for a second season, while Jericho fans sent nuts to CBS “in reference to the shows final episode, in which the main character referenced the Battle of the Bulge when he answered “NUTS” to a request to surrender.” The network reportedly received over 8 million nuts, leading to the CBS president Nina Tassler ordering seven more episodes of the show. Although the show was once again cancelled at the end of these seven episodes, a continuation of the show’s storylines in a comic form has already been announced for later this year. Fans of NBC’s spy dramedy Chuck may well haved saved the show with a “Save Chuck” campaign that utilized social networking sites like Twitter to spread the word. Fans also purchased footlong submarine sandwiches from the series’ sponsor Subway on the air date of the second season finale in the “Finale and Footlong” campaign, and donated money to the American Heart Association in NBC’s name through their “Have a Heart, Renew Chuck” campaign.
Fans of Ianto Jones are seeking similarly positive results by encouraging other fans to send packets of coffee to BBC Wales as a protest against the character’s death. SaveIantoJones also encourages fans to send a complaint via the BBC Website, has a list of petitions to sign protesting the death, and has suggested that fans should send postcards from their hometowns with “Wish you were here coffee boy.” on them. This speaks to the impact that this character has had and also to his international appeal. The Livejournal community for the campaign has set up a thread where posters record what letters or coffee packets they have sent and their location. Replies have indicated that fan responses are coming from not only the UK, but also Canada, Germany, Italy, Romania, Australia, America, Poland, Ireland, Finland, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, and Sweden.
Even if their campaign does not produce the desired results, Save Ianto Jones is making a difference. One fan has begun a justgiving page where fans can donate to the wonderful UK charity Children in Need in honour of Ianto Jones. Fans from any country can donate and paypal accounts are accepted. Fan efforts made the BBC news on Friday, and fans have currently donated over 2700 pounds in Ianto’s name.
Organizers of the campaign have encouraged fans to be respectful and polite in their complaints and to avoid dragging actors John Barrowman (who played Ianto’s lover Captain Jack Harkness), and Gareth David-Lloyd himself, into the middle of it. With the Doctor Who and Torchwood panels at Comic-Con set to occur this weekend, with Russell T. Davies himself on the panel, those behind the campaign are emphasizing respect and asking that anyone attending the panels wear an armband or T-shirt with the website address as a show of support.
Unfortunately creator Russell T. Davies has been nothing but patronizing towards fans (more on that in a future post), calling the campaign “nothing really to be honest” and saying “it’s a few people posting online and getting fans upset.” He’s also ruled out chances of Ianto coming back, telling EW columnist Michael Ausiello that “it would devalue the entire plot if we brought him back.” Still, fans are hoping that money and ratings talk, at least to the network who have power over Davies and Torchwood.
As for the man behind Ianto, actor Gareth David-Lloyd had this to say: “First of all I’d say thank you for watching and supporting the show. It’s partly due to you that Ianto’s been able to grow into the character that he became in the end. Also, trust the writers. I know there have been some negative reactions to the writers and producers but they created Ianto in the first place. You should keep watching, you never know!”