Of all the Doctor’s companions, Jack probably has the most mysterious and elaborate backstory. But, twelve years after we first met the good Captain, we still don’t know much about his past or future.
‘The Lives of Captain Jack’ from Big Finish aims to shed some light on the immaculate immortal. John Barrowman returns in four new stories with some familiar voices joining the fun. Is it a love-letter to Captain Jack fans or a dodgy text that reveals too much?
The Year After I Died by Guy Adams
Humanity barely survived the Dalek’s assault; all hope is lost. That is, until the Hope Foundation offers mankind a better life. Guy Adams’ opening gambit gives us a very different Jack – angry and confused about his abandonment. Barrowman has no trouble getting back into character, but he really gives Jack some new texture. The fact that this is not Torchwood-era Jack, the one he plays most often, has informed his performance well.
But it’s the ladies who really steal the show. Shvorne Marks does a wonderful job as Silo, a fledgling reporter trying to resurrect journalism. Her habit of whipping out a voice recorder was a clever conceit by Adams for expositing in a very tricky plotline. Meanwhile, Sarah Douglas has a ball as over-the-top supervillain Miss Trear. It’s difficult to play an antagonist this evil without making her enthusiasm attractive (look at Missy!) but Douglas does a great job. With an exciting plot, a confidently-written supporting cast and a deeply disturbing scheme, this is a strong start for the release.
Wednesdays For Beginners by James Goss
Captain Jack Harkness and Jackie Tyler, together at last! It should come as no surprise that the dishy Captain and incorrigible Mrs. Tyler share a rapport that’s almost entirely flirtation. But the two prove an effective duo in monster-hunting and spar off one another in unexpected ways.
Camille Coduri has been popping up all over Big Finish lately. Goss wrote a story featuring Jackie for The Ninth Doctor Chronicles last month and it’s interesting to see how it expands on the same themes. The setting beautifully mirrors Jackie’s loneliness and really helps sell the resolution. Given how often the character was used as mere comic relief on TV, seeing her become the unsung hero of the story was really clever and feels earned.
Meanwhile, Jack gets his first story in a domestic setting and spends most of it baffled. We can probably assume this takes place before Jack meets Gwen, who helped humanise him. So we get a real glimpse of a Jack who’s willing to save people but keeps his distance. With the irrepressible Jackie Tyler around, you can imagine how that goes.
Also, John Barrowman sings in-character as Captain Jack. I’m starting to think James Goss is writing these stories specifically for me.
One Enchanted Evening by James Goss
Midshipman Alonso Frame doesn’t have much luck when it comes to spaceships. They keep crashing under him. Luckily, there’s always a dashing, time-travelling hero around to help out.
Russell Tovey reprises his role as Alonso from ‘Voyage of the Damned‘. You may remember he made a cameo appearance in David Tennant’s final story getting set up on a date with Captain Jack. Set immediately after that scene, their date doesn’t go as either of them hoped.
Goss has clearly had fun writing for Alonso and gives him some of the funniest lines of the story. Though Frame and Jack spend most of story apart, this distance allows for them to develop quite a sweet relationship by phone. Obviously there’s flirting, but the two are able to bond over their recent experiences and it makes for a really moving partnership. When volume two rolls around, I definitely want to see Russell Tovey on the cast list.
Month 25 by Guy Adams
We know so little about Jack that delving into his history is both an exciting and worrying prospect. When we first meet Jack, he’s a former Time Agent who left the organisation after he woke up with two years of his memory erased. That story has never been told until now, as Guy Adams closes out this release.
There was a serious risk that a story like this would reveal too much of Jack’s past. Much like the Doctor, part of the Captain’s appeal is his mystique. Surprisingly, this story actually reveals Jack’s real name and I don’t know how I feel about that. It was probably unavoidable given the setting and it’s not significant in the long run. But it still feels like we’re getting to see a bit too much of Jack. That said, Adams has been careful to lay hints at other dark parts of Jack’s past (and future) .
The story is rich in world-building and gives us a terrific insight into the Time Agency, as well as subtle Torchwood parallels. The callback to ‘Wednesday For Beginners’ was a nice touch to bring the box-set full circle. Meanwhile, Barrowman absolutely nail how you’d expect a young Jack to talk. He even gets in an “Aww, man!” for fans of early-nineties idioms.
‘The Lives of Captain Jack’ is a release positively dripping with fan-service and an absolute joy for any New Who aficionado. The score is sublime, giving the whole thing a very Western feel. This works particularly well in the first story where Jack is the lone hero in a war torn land. Despite my criticisms, the last story is probably my favourite for the amount of world-building it achieves. It proves that Captain Jack stories can work without other established TV characters or concepts
I’d really like for future Captain Jack releases to show us the character in other times and places. We know the basic beats of his timeline and it’s fun to see the “in-between” stuff. But it’s time to take him out of this world. In the meantime, there’s plenty to come from John Barrowman, with a new series of Torchwood specials just round the corner.
Blogtor Rating – 8/10
- The Year After I Died by Guy Adams
Set in the year 200,101, on an Earth ravaged by the Daleks, Jack struggles to save humanity from its oldest enemy.
- Wednesdays For Beginners by James Goss
Jack and Jackie Tyler must unite to rescue the Powell Estate from a force whose name Jackie can never say.
- One Enchanted Evening by James Goss
Captain Jack and Alonso Frame have only just met. But why did the Doctor want them to be together?
- Month 25 by Guy Adams
He’s the young star of the Time Agency, and his whole life is about to fall apart. But that’s not going to stop him winning.
Written By: James Goss, Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock
John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Russell Tovey (Midshipman Alonso Frame), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Vortia Trear), Shvorne Marks (Silo Crook), Scott Haran (Malfi Pryn), Aaron Neil (Gorky Sax), Katy Manning (Mother Nothing), Ellie Heydon (Ginny), Jonny Green (Station Computer), Hannah Barker (Female Passenger), Conor Pelan (Male Passenger), Ellie Welch (Bay Guard), Kristy Philipps (Colby), Joe Wiltshire Smith (Pods), Sakuntala Ramanee (Maglin Shank), Kieran Bew (Krim Pollensa), Alexander Vlahos (The Stranger), Chris Allen (The Council), Christel Dee (The Council), James Goss (The Council)
Producer James Goss
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs