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article imageBBC receives 500+ complaints over gay sex scene in Torchwood

By Andrew John     Aug 30, 2011 in Entertainment
More than 500 complaints have been received by the BBC about a sex scene between two men in last week’s episode of one of its top-rated sci-fi dramas.
Viewers of Torchwood saw the immortal time agent Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) speaking intimately to an Italian immigrant to New York, Angelo Colasanto (Daniele Favilli), in a flashback to 1927, prior to a sex scene between the two on their hotel room’s bed.
Pink News reports that some viewers have said the scene – in a Torchwood 10-part story called Miracle Day – was “pointless”, not suitable for children and irrelevant to the plot.
British television observes a 9 p.m. “watershed,” after which it is assumed that children won’t be watching and adult content can be shown.
A BBC spokesman is quoted as saying: “We aim to depict sexual relationships in an honest and realistic way. These scenes are not meant to cause offence.”
Captain Jack has been known to be “omnisexual” since his introduction in Doctor Who – of which Torchwood is a spin-off – in 2005.
But the role has always courted controversy, especially from religious viewers who perceive gay sex as immoral.
“Earlier this month,” Pink News reports, “the BBC had to address complaints that the series has too much gay sex.
Too explicit
“The corporation recently admitted cutting out parts of a gay sex scene in the current series.
“Although US audiences saw the raunchy scenes, BBC bosses decided they would be too explicit for a UK audience, even after the watershed.”
Pink News reported then that the BBC’s editorial guidelines say all sexual content should be “editorially justified and treated with appropriate sensitivity”, as well as being realistic.
The statement adds: “Captain Jack Harkness is an established character in the series. The audience over the previous series of Torchwood have known him to be promiscuous and bi-sexual, so we felt the content was justified in terms of the context and characters and would be within the expectations of regular viewers.”
Barrowman’s character describes himself as “omnisexual,” suggesting he will have intimate relations with both men and women and anything else he encounters on the planets he has visited.
The ATV Today website, in an article by Ian Westhead and Dominic Knight, cites the right-wing tabloid the Daily Mail, which reports that up to 500 viewers have complained to the BBC over the scene.
“The total audience of the episode – going by overnight figures – was 3.4 million viewers,” they point out, “so only a fraction of those who watched the episode have complained. Even so, the Daily Mail has made a big deal out of it.
“According to the tabloid newspaper, complaints about the gay sex scene range from those who felt it was ‘pointless’ to others who felt it who were ‘disgusted’ by it. The tired old argument of the scenes being ‘inappropriate’ for younger viewers were also cited despite the fact that Torchwood is a post watershed programme and therefore younger viewers should Not be watching it.”
In a blogged review of the programme on the Independent’s website, Neela Debnath tackles Torchwood’s depiction of sex:
Torchwood is known for its sexual content and its depiction of homosexual and heterosexual relationships. The sex featured in the show has received both criticism and praise over the years. This year the BBC has received complaints over the sexual content of Miracle Day, with some viewers saying that the gay sex scenes were inappropriate.”
Imprisonment or hard labour
She adds that last week’s episode – titled “Immortal Sins” – is “likely to raise far more complaints for being inappropriate. The scenes were more graphic than what audiences may have seen in the previous three series. It was more explicit but it was not gratuitous[:] instead it was integral to the storyline, given that the flashbacks are set in an era where homosexuality could result in imprisonment or hard labour.
“Also, the scenes are important as they illustrate Angelo’s struggle between his sexual desire and his faith as a Catholic man. Moreover, Angelo views their love-making as something special and criticises Jack for cheapening it. The way in which the scenes have been shot takes it away from the gritty world of Torchwood: the screen seems slightly blurred and the lines softened. It is a sensitive exploration of homosexuality and is relevant in the context of the show.”
The red-top tabloid the Daily Star quotes two unnamed “viewers”. One says: “This show is meant to be sci-fi but I had to turn it off as my grandson, an avid fan, was in the room. Leave the gay scenes for programmes more suited to it.”
Another is said to have complained: “I won’t be watching any more episodes of Torchwood. There are too many gay sex scenes.”
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