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The TV science-fiction/fantasy series Torchwood has followed a complex trajectory from its beginnings on the niche BBC3 channel, through its promotion to BBC2 and to ‘event television’ on BBC1 and beyond to its most recent incarnation as a cross-production between the BBC and the US network Starz.
Alongside this journey have been my own fan responses to the series; the pull between enjoyment, frustration, and outright disappointment. I have veered from enjoying the first two series’ (despite a range of issues including random characterisation, an often seemingly juvenile pull towards sexual content, and some occasionally ropy dialogue), through to pleasure and a sense of pride at the excellent drama of series three ‘Children of Earth’, and expressing frustration at the missed opportunities offered by the larger international stage of its fourth (and, at the time of writing, final) series ‘Miracle Day’.
Well over a year on from ‘Miracle Day’s finale, however, and Torchwood’s ambivalent status as neither cancelled nor currently on air or in production has given me pause for thought. Elsewhere I have explored how television viewers respond when their beloved shows end, whilst writers such as Lather and Moyer-Guse (2011) have considered how the departure of favoured characters can impact upon viewers. However, these explorations have taken place when shows such as The West Wing or Friends are definitively cancelled and the viewer or fan is relatively certain that it is not returning. The case of Torchwood, however, complicates this. Although there are currently no plans for a new series, both stars such as John Barrowman and creator Russell T. Davies have discussed the possible future of the show. In late 2012 Davies claimed that the ‘series hasn’t been cancelled’ but was, rather, ‘in a nice limbo.’ Barrowman, who plays lead character Captain Jack Harkness, reiterated this point, similarly referring to the show as being ‘in limbo at the moment and beyond my control’, whilst Executive Producer Julie Gardner has been equally tentative.
The range of reasons for this limbo aside (is it due to the under-performance of ‘Miracle Day’? Is the cross-production deal between the BBC and the US network Starz in jeopardy? Is creator Russell T. Davies simply too busy?), what are the implications of television series in limbo for those of us who view or write about them? As I entered the final stages of putting together the edited collection Torchwood Declassified, there was a strange sense of ambiguity about it. Were the contributors, and myself, writing about a dead or dormant text that has concluded all of its storylines and can now be seen to have entered its ‘afterlife’ (Levine and Parks, 2007)? Or would a new series suddenly be announced and force a hasty re-writing of key arguments that have been made in the chapters?
Scholars writing about television have recently called for a move away from TV studies’ seeming ‘preoccupation with examples that are themselves “current”’ (Hastie 2007:79) and to take advantage of the opportunities that looking back at concluded series offer in terms of understanding narrative arcs, production contexts, or audience and fan responses. What falls through the cracks of both positions is the status of a programme like Torchwood which is neither ‘alive’ or in its clearly defined ‘afterlife’; rather, it is dormant, with the potential for a return but without any sense of quite when, or even if, this will happen. What happens to audiences of a series in this period? How do fans endure in their fandom in a period of uncertainty over a show’s future? I suggest that we can view such periods as ‘interim fandom’ when fans assume that their fan object is dormant and must readjust or negotiate this when the object becomes active again. These examples pose challenges to our understandings of texts and textual boundaries and also allow consideration of fan responses (both positive and negative) to the continuation of an assumed dormant textual world. Other examples of dormant, then resurrected, TV shows that would have had interim fans include Doctor Who, The X-Files, Firefly, and Sex and the City, who either continued on television or were reimagined for the cinema after differing periods of absence. Interim fandom thus allows us to consider questions such as: How can we theorise and understand these forms of text? How do we understand fans of ‘returning’ shows when this is via a different medium such as film (or, in the case of Buffy, via comics)? How do the generic differences and audience niches of cult and quality programmes have an impact here?
More specifically for Torchwood, however, its possible resurrection also poses interesting questions for the study of the series. As scholars of its parent show Doctor Who have found, its post-2005 incarnation has allowed for a reinvigoration of analyses and understandings of the programme, in both its classic and contemporary forms. These are all intriguing questions for those interested in analysing the impact of cult series such as Torchwood. At present they cannot be fully answered. When Torchwood eventually either springs back to life, or is taken off its life support entirely, I’ll be revisiting these debates to examine how the series is reimagined, resurrected, and remembered.