The Morality of Yvonne Hartman
“I did my duty for Queen and Country”
“Torchwood – Outside the Government, Beyond the Police.” Any viewer of the BBC Television series Torchwood will be familiar with those words. The Torchwood Institute was created by Her Majesty Queen Victoria (Pauline Collins) after her encounter with the Doctor (David Tennant), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), and an alien Werewolf in the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw.
The next time the Doctor encountered Torchwood, the Institute was run by Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman), the head of Torchwood based at Canary Wharf (London) (also known as Torchwood One) the central HQ of Torchwood operations. Yvonne Hartman’s characterisation as the head of Torchwood One is interesting; her character raises questions regarding the morality of the Torchwood Institute itself as well as her own morals as leader of the institute. This article will discuss the effect of Yvonne Hartman on Torchwood One and the Institute and aim to show how Yvonne is a heroine, albeit a problematic one.
As Torchwood appears on the screen during The Army of Ghosts, one fact is apparent – Torchwood is powerful. Torchwood can hack CCTV as it wishes, owns some powerful alien technology, and has a ruthless and strong leader in Yvonne Hartman. A question is raised about the power Yvonne wields; how much power is too much power? How far is Torchwood “beyond the police”?
Yvonne Hartman has the power over life and death, appears to have her own armed defence team, and has the ability to authorise executions without trial. Further to this, Yvonne is over-confident and truculent. The viewer, aware of just how remarkable and powerful the Doctor can be, surely cringes as Yvonne says there is “no point” in the Doctor hiding information from Torchwood. Consequently, the viewer feels a sense of foreboding from the overconfidence of Yvonne; as the proverb goes, pride is before a fall. The tagline for Torchwood, “If it’s alien, it’s ours”, adds to Yvonne’s obnoxiousness as she attempts to steal the TARDIS. Her attitude putting Torchwood before all else rubs off on Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri) as she is hauled away to be converted into a Cyberman protesting: “This is your fault! You and your Torchwood, you’ve killed us all!”. This is a fair observation, after all the invasion of the Cybermen from parallel Earth was encouraged and assisted by Yvonne.
Despite claiming to be a “people-person” to the Doctor and trying to remember the names of all her staff, her actions say a lot about where her priorities truly lie. There is no doubt that Yvonne is a ruthless individual, and not one you would want to cross – her priorities lie firmly with Torchwood and safeguarding her leadership.
In addition to this, another tagline repeated by Yvonne is that of doing her duty for “Queen and Country”.
Yvonne runs Torchwood under the supervision of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, regularly taking tea with her informally to update her on the Institute’s progress (according to Big Finish Productions’ Torchwood: One). This tagline has prompted mixed feelings amongst viewers of Doctor Who and Torchwood. Although Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) arguably removes the ruthlessness of the Torchwood Institute in his leadership of Torchwood Three (Torchwood Cardiff), the Institute is still in the name of Queen and Country. Yvonne reveals to the Doctor and Jackie Tyler that “Torchwood refuses to go metric” – in doing so, Yvonne is revealed to be heavily patriotic, perhaps bordering on patriotic values seen on the far right of British politics.
These potentially problematic statements continue as Yvonne claims the Institute is “for the good of the British Empire”. As Jackie Tyler questions, “There isn’t a British Empire”, Yvonne replies “Not yet!”. Is this a fact that the British empire will return at some point in the future (perhaps a fact confirmed by alien technology or limited time travel ability) or is it a threat? Is Torchwood purely about protecting Britain and planet Earth, or has it got an ulterior motive – that of restoring the British Empire, a symbol of colonialism? If there is one thing we know about Yvonne as a viewer of her activities, it is that she is unpredictable and has her own agenda. Big Finish expands on the real aims and intentions of Torchwood, as we find out that other countries have their own alien-hunting groups that Torchwood directly competes with. So, is this a glorified space-race styled spirit from Yvonne, or is this a toxic, unregulated, and risky operation run by a woman who is overly ambitious?
Whatever the case, the mantra of “Queen and Country” is enough to stop even a Cyber-conversion in its tracks. As the cybermen climb the stairs of Torchwood tower, Yvonne as a partially converted cyberman approaches and destroys them repeating “I did my duty for Queen and Country” as a single tear drops from her metal eye. Her robotically distorted voice shows a deep belief that she is doing the right thing.
Essentially, Yvonne acts as a veteran and martyr in this scene. Torchwood, as an extension of the armed services, is never going to be an easy job. And a viewer can see that, although Yvonne is a problematic character, her strength shines through and is admirable. It may even be argued that without her intervention on the stairwell of Torchwood that the Doctor may not have been successful in restoring order around the world. After all, having pride in Queen and Country (or, King and Country) is something which spurs many people on who serve in the armed or public services and is not necessarily an indicator of those on the far right.
So, Yvonne is a problematic heroine. Viewers are used to categorising characters as good, bad, heroes, or villains. However, the character of Yvonne Hartman really disrupts these binaries. Rather than categorising Yvonne as one would on a trading card with ratings of “darkness” or “heroism”, Yvonne is shown as being neither wholly evil nor wholly good. She is quite clearly a deeply flawed human being but deserves the respect she is given as someone who is devoted to the general public and as a servant of Her Majesty the Queen. This feeling is certainly reinforced through Big Finish and their third volume of Torchwood: One boxset which outlines some of Yvonne’s background and just why she is the way she is.
It is also important to remember that 2005 was nearly twenty years ago and that it was even harder for a woman to be in such an important, decisive role. Perhaps the viewer is subconsciously more critical of Yvonne’s strong positioning on political issues such as the British Empire or her iron-like control of her staff and the risks she asks them to take on a daily basis. Do we criticise her for not taking the Doctor seriously in The Army of Ghosts unfairly? After all, is he just another man who, “exactly as the legends would have it”, comes in and dictates the right way for Yvonne to run Torchwood? How many men has Yvonne had to deal with who had attitudes like that? Of course, these are all hypothetical questions – but surely considering when Yvonne was the leader of Torchwood, they are valid questions.
This is expanded in the official audio series five and series six of Torchwood in Torchwood: Aliens Among Us and Torchwood: God Among Us as a parallel Yvonne Hartman returns to our universe and Torchwood Three under Captain Jack Harkness. Although Yvonne made mistakes and was not always kind, this article has examined why this may be through an examination of the pressures on her from the Government, other alien-hunting organisations, and her own background and circumstances. Perhaps Captain Jack, comfortable in his position as leader of the Torchwood Institute and the remaining branch, Torchwood Three, is uncomfortable with Yvonne’s return not only for moral reasons, but for fear of his own leadership being usurped by a better, stronger, and more convincing leader with less ambiguity surrounding her. After all, Jack is certainly enigmatic at the best of times!
In conclusion, Yvonne Hartman has a deep respect and love for her country, for her Queen, and her duty which is surely admirable. However, the actions of the Torchwood Institute under her leadership (such as the murder of the Sycorax in The Christmas Invasion after receiving orders from Prime Minister Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton)) are often problematic, dangerous, and completed without due and proper care for Torchwood staff. But, in saying this, Yvonne is a character with much pressure on her shoulders and should be considered as a heroine in the Doctor Who universe, excellently performed by Tracy-Ann Oberman, despite her imperfections.
Written by Joshua Nicholson