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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Cross

Are They an Archivist?: Ianto Jones

Science fiction as a genre is a vast landscape of potential for any characters created and developed over multiple seasons of a television show, a franchise of movies, books and audio dramas, or all of the above. Science fiction is also a genre wherein characters often end up performing dozens of disparate tasks because budgets are usually low and sometimes you need the expertise of ten people smushed into a ball of "miscellaneous" and stuffed into a single character. And sometimes, because the character lacks any formal titles and just kinda does whatever you need them to do, fans of your franchise end up assigning them roles beyond what is featured in the canon.

So let's talk about Ianto Jones.

SPOILERS, by the way, for some Doctor Who and a lot of Torchwood!

Created by Russell T. Davies for the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, Ianto Jones, played by Gareth David-Lloyd, quickly became a fan favorite as the secretive "coffee/tea boy" became a trusted friend and field agent of Torchwood. It didn't hurt that his fledgling relationship with disaster pansexual Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) became a focal point of the show and was cause for massive fan backlash when Ianto was killed off in the mini-series Children of the Earth. I should know, I was there.

It's not hard to see why viewers gravitated towards Ianto during Torchwood's run from 2006-2011 as well as the novels and audio dramas that followed. Ianto was complex but approachable, a silent snarker who slowly came out of his shell and proved himself to be worthy of protecting the earth from alien attacks. Did he make mistakes? All the time. No one in Torchwood was without sin despite the high levels of self righteousness and known hypocrites amongst its members. Looking at you Jack and Gwen (Eve Myles). This was also the height of Davies' writing career with Doctor Who and its many spinoffs and if there was one thing the man was known for it was high drama. Torchwood was a sandbox for Davies' more "adult" storytelling and the themes explored most frequently were morality, existentialism, and sexuality. Ianto Jones, like all members of Torchwood, was not exempt from suffering or flourishing under the writer's pen, but as the character kept surviving and growing from his experiences fans found comfort in his presence.

We can't ignore the fact that, during this time period in television, regardless of the leaps and bounds being made in queer representation, having a bisexual main character in an on-going, more-or-less serious relationship was practically unheard of. And whereas Jack Harkness was all bravado and confidence, Ianto was far more subdued in his approach to being the current boyfriend of a fixed point in time (long story, but go watch the Doctor Who episode "The Parting of Ways"). It was through Ianto that the writers could explore, especially in the books and audio dramas, the younger man's anxieties and doubts about himself and his relationship with Jack.

Let's also take a moment to appreciate that Ianto looks good in a suit.

What? Just because I'm ace doesn't mean I can't appreciate a character's fine silhouette!

"So how does this relate back to the archives?" you ask. Well, when you have a character who is ultimately designed to fill many roles and rises through the ranks, so to speak, there's a lot left unexplored within their own history that allows fans to fill in the gaps. As was the case in my article about Raven Inkwell of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise, Ianto has been assigned multiple roles, including archivist, by the fandom that were never explicitly seen on screen or stated in other canonical media. Unlike Raven Inkwell, there's plenty of material to work with in Ianto's known backstory that it's understandable how those roles were attributed to him.

And while this article isn't really about fanfiction, that's still a valid medium of exploration where any of those roles could be the basis of a story. I see you, fanfic writers. I see you.

So, according to the fandom, what did Ianto do for Torchwood overall prior to becoming a field agent? The Tardis wiki lists his jobs as receptionist, personal assistant, and archivist. Now, given what I already know about the tv series, this is just three different ways of saying Admin. If you go further down to the Duties section of the same wiki, the text notes that he "supports the main team," keeps a journal of day-to-day operations, cleans the team SUV, serves coffee/tea, staffs the Tourist Information Centre that served as a front for the Torchwood Hub, and by his own admission he'd, "clean up their (the team's) questions asked."

Simply put, while the team went out to protect the earth, Ianto did everything else. The archivist role may seem out of place to some, but it's not so far afield when you consider how people view the archival profession. Does a character work with files or records in an official capacity? Well, that probably means they're an archivist, right? Did they put a file into a folder and then put that folder into a filing cabinet? Archivist. Are they the beleaguered admin who does everything without ever being thanked or acknowledged for the overwhelming amount of work they do? Absolutely an archivist!

My point is that it's easier to assign the role than it is to really look into what archivists do. There's also a tendency on the part of those outside of the archival community to assume that being an archivist is a profession anyone can just do on the day without training. See my article on the tv show Hacks! It ultimately undervalues and undercuts the importance of the profession whether or not that was the intended outcome. Great, Ianto is an archivist, but for what reasons have you given him that role in the fandom? In the various media associated with Torchwood, what stood out about Ianto's duties or backstory that was archival or could justify calling him an archivist?

Here are the ways in which Ianto could be interpreted as an archivist:

  1. In the audio story Blind Summit, he worked at the Cardiff Museum before Torchwood discovered him.

  2. Ianto was a junior researcher at Torchwood One according to episodes "Cyberwoman" and "Fragments" as well as the audio stories Uprising and New Girl.

  3. Ianto hid his partially converted Cyberman girlfriend Lisa in Torchwood Three's archive in the episode "Cyberwoman". Spoiler alert: she did not get better and things got way worse.

  4. In the audio story Restricted Items Archive Entries 031-049, Ianto is actually cataloging items recovered by Torchwood for the archive.

Now I know what you're thinking, but that last entry in the list doesn't automatically make Ianto an archivist anymore than me putting a book on a shelf makes me a librarian. If anything, it just proves that Torchwood Three has an archive because they never name it as such in the main series, as far as I know. And within the context of the above mentioned story, Ianto is essentially in exile in the archives, cataloguing items as part of his punishment for letting his ex-girlfriend kill a lot of people and endangering the team. So, yeah, it's not like he's itching to work in the archives.

Even with the vaguely relevant information, there's enough of a foundation that I can understand why Ianto has been given the role of archivist within the fandom. Compared to the other characters in the series, he's the only one performing the tasks necessary for keeping accurate records of Torchwood Three's activities and confiscated alien items. Ianto is a de facto archivist, at best, simply because no one else is available, or willing, to perform the same duties.

But does a de facto archivist mean that the archival profession should embrace Ianto as one of our own? Ianto doesn't have any professional acumen regarding archival theory or practice, nor does he seem to take any more pride in the work he does within Torchwood's archives than his other assigned duties. Does it matter if he likes the work? Does it matter if he lacks the formal education? How much weight should we give the fandom to call Ianto Jones an archivist vs his canonical depiction?

I wish I had definitive answers but I don't. This is an ongoing conversation and one I think the archival profession should have in regards to how we see ourselves depicted in popular culture. We don't have control of our own narratives as working archivists, but we can try to work within that system to educate if we make the effort.

But you came here for Ianto, right? Fair enough. I'll stake the archival claim. Ianto Jones is an archivist. Tell me I'm wrong. Better yet, tell HIM I'm wrong.

I think I've made my point.


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