Torchwood fandom appears to be reeling after the conclusion of “Children of Earth”, the five-part storyline which made up the series’ third-season. Some viewers appear to appreciate the adultness of the storytelling and the writing quality of these episodes, saying it’s been a definite step-up from earlier seasons. However, many are outraged by the (apparently genuine, not-to-return) death of fan-favorite character Ianto Jones, particularly those involved in one of the primary ships of the series, Jack/Ianto (or “Janto” as it is sometimes known.)
Many Janto fans feel betrayed after being promised more development of the relationship, which had already become canon. They feel that Russel T. Davies has placed shock-value higher than fans’ emotional investment in the series’ characters in pursuing this storyline. I personally stopped watching Torchwood regularly during the second season when it became clear that killing off any of the main characters was going to be fair game–and quite likely to continue. Owen Harper and Toshiko Sato were already main character victims, and with their deaths I also found my interest in watching the series gone. Not to say that I don’t value grittiness in my fictional viewing and reading, and can understand how a character death can sometimes be necessary to move a story along or benefit a piece of fiction artistically. But for many of us who are avid in our fandoms, we become very attached to our characters, favorite relationships, and pairings. Killing off a major character can be a huge risk for TPTB to take, as it can alienate viewers–and not just any viewers but the ones most likely to buy related merchandise for a fandom, attend conventions to see related guests, and generate lots of internet buzz for a show. It can cause them to not just stop watching a show any longer, but it can cause them to lose interest in being any part of a fandom, period.
I’m not sure what the motivation behind killing Ianto could have been (other than shocking the viewer, as already mentioned). A fourth season of the show was questionable at best already. Why kill off a beloved character when there is no need to necessarily close off that door? (An actor wanting to leave a continuing series is one thing, but I’ve heard no mention of Gareth David-Lloyd wanting out.) Now I suspect Torchwood fandom will be wanking for months to come over the events of these episodes. Will the production of fan-fiction now increase, with people writing reaction fics, or AU fics negating the death? Or will fic production (as well as other fannish creativity and support) drop off, with fans now disgusted and lacking inspiration to continue with their storylines? Will the fandom suffer and die instead of thrive in the long run, or will it continue along, perhaps increasing if/when there is a new series produced and new characters introduced to fill the void left now? Only time will tell, but it seems a very risky move for the show to have taken.