The Anchorite stemmed from a conversation on the forum about what may be a feature of the Christmas episode of Doctor Who, in which The Doctor faces the idea of old age and death through contact with the character of Wilf Mott, Donna’s granddad. I said I thought the idea of somebody for whom age is not a problem confronting the Human frailty of age was an intriguing concept and that I would like to do a story on that theme before the Christmas episode was broadcast. It became a bit of a challenge.
The problem was, I couldn’t really think of a Doctor Who story to write. But then it occurred to me that Jack is also a young looking hero who has outlived a lot of his friends. The issue has been touched on occasionally on TV. It came out slightly in the episode Out of Time when he conspired in the suicide of a character who felt he had nothing to live for. It was also an issue in Small Worlds when his one time lover, Estelle, died. And again, in Children of Earth, he was known to have outlived his wife and was likely to outlive his daughter, which was a source of bitterness to them.
So the theme that comes from Doctor Who becomes a Torchwood theme. And then I came across an article on Wikipedia about Anchorites. It wasn’t a particularly good article, and it didn’t add anything to the subject that I didn’t already know, but it served as a reminder that this form of religious devotion existed. Putting an Anchorite into a cell directly above a source of rift energy makes for an interesting premis.
I thought a good bit about what living in an enclosed space for an exceptionally long time might mean. The first thing was the long hair and beard. Then his clothes would have rotted away. He would have pretty nasty body odour, possibly skin problems. My original thought was that he wouldn’t have eaten or drank anything for a long time, because the rift sustained him. But I changed that because having somebody on the outside who knew about him could prove a plot device.
All that stuff about Vatican II, the Mass in the vernacular and not having to eat fish on Fridays is, of course, pretty much common knowledge. There are a few traditional Catholics who do still insist on the fish on Fridays and observe fasts and other restrictions. I know a few of them. I know people who think that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket because the Mass is in the vernacular now, girls can be altar servers and women are allowed to be Eucharistic ministers! I know plenty of decent people who manage to be modern Catholics who don’t worry about that sort of thing. At my local church ALL the altar servers are girls and one of the few male Eucharistic minister is gay. Catholicism is a very different thing nowadays that it was when Cenydd decided to seclude himself.
All of those changes passed Cenydd by. When Torchwood took him from his cell he was a real innocent, untouched by our modern, secular world. And that, is the fascination for Jack. He is not sexually attracted to Cenydd, even when he has been cleaned up. I avoided that kind of connotation to their relationship. But what I was aiming for was a unique connection between two men who had lived unnaturally long lives but in polar opposite ways. I wanted Cenydd to understand a little of Jack’s violent world and Jack to understand something of Cenydd’s holy and contemplative life.
Ultimately, Cenydd was going to die, with Jack at his side. In the first draft it all happened quite quickly. I intended for Cenydd to go to the monastery on the Friday afternoon and Jack to go to Wexford with Garrett and Gray. He then came back on Monday to find Cenydd ill. The problem was, that didn’t really establish the relationship between them. So I had Jack spending the weekend with Cenydd while Garrett and Gray went to Wexford without him. He then spent the week visiting Cenydd in the monastery before the deterioration in his health began to manifest. I also thought of drawing out his illness over a week, but having it happen quickly, within the space of a day was crueller in a way. Jack, having found a soul mate in the young monk, loses him too quickly.
Two questions emerged in discussions. Firstly, Jack not telling Cenydd that he is gay. Now, I absolutely agree that Jack is not somebody who feels in any way ashamed of his sexuality. Why would he be? I oppose absolutely any suggestion that homosexuality is wrong, that gay men or women should repent their ways or any such thing. I argue this point all the time with my Catholic friends. But I do think Jack would find it difficult to explain his lifestyle to Cenydd. And in fact, yesterday I found out that one of those Catholic friends, a very nice woman of 78 who has never been married, eats fish on Fridays and would have made a very good nun if she hadn’t spent her life as a primary carer for her father, had no idea that gay men actually had sex. I found this out because she saw a picture on my laptop of John Barrowman and his partner kissing and was astonished by the idea. I pointed out that they were married to each other, so of course they kissed, they slept together, and, of course, had sex, and she actually asked me HOW two men had sex. Frankly, I didn’t think it was up to me to explain how. I told her not to worry about it. And I don’t think Jack, in the presence of somebody like Cenydd, whose awareness of sexuality was so limited, could have explained himself any better. I don’t think it’s about being ashamed of anything. Rather, it’s about understanding that there are some people who are just can’t encompass the idea.
The other question that was raised concerned Jack praying with Cenydd in the last minutes of his life. Some people didn’t think Jack would do that. Others thought he would. But the question they asked was whether Jack had actually been converted and really did believe in the prayers or if he was doing it for Cenydd, out of compassion for him. I’m not going to answer that one. I leave it to the reader to decide which they believe and which they think is the most pleasing answer.
The last scene, with Martha, occurred to me very late in the writing of this story. I wasn’t sure how to end it at all. Then I thought of Jack talking to Martha about his own mortality, wondering if he ever would die, and would it be peaceful. And, of COURSE, if you believe the Face of Boe story, Martha actually did witness Jack’s final death. And it was a peaceful one, though not in bed. And he died selflessly, for the sake of others. And if you believe that there is a place for him in Heaven, one prepared for him by Cenydd, then surely that was enough to get him there at last. But Martha certainly couldn’t tell him.