The Lives of Captain Jack (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Lives of Captain Jack (Credit: Big Finish)
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, Christel Dee and James Goss (The Council)
Producer James Goss
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Originally Released June 2017

Captain Jack Harkness has long had something of a split persona – two distinct characters in one. There’s “Doctor Who Jack,” who is sparky and cheeky and fun and whose notorious omnisexual nature never gets further than a ribald anecdote of a flirtatious ‘Hello.’ And then there’s “Torchwood Jack,” tortured and cynical, weighed down by his sins, and known to be found in the company of his butler, trousers around his ankles among the office’s potted plants. The obvious real world answer to that is as clear as the differing audiences between Saturday tea time and post-watershed midweek audiences, but in-universe it would seem that Jack actually feels more comfortable as a sidekick – happiest when the Doctor is around to shoulder the tough decisions and conscious that, when the Doctor is in the room, the world is such an ever slightly kinder place.So a slight question mark over The Lives of Captain Jack as to which Captain Jack, exactly, we were going to get. Ultimately the decision to label this not as a Torchwood release, despite half of it being set during Jack’s Torchwood days, but as being from “the Worlds of Doctor Who” was our clearest signpost.  Even when this boxset sees Jack at some of the lowest ebbs of his life, in the aftermath of sacrificing his own grandson’s life to save the world, or as he crashes out of the Time Agency, it never loses a sense of lightness or optimism. Wonderfully, though, one element of Torchwood present and correct is Jack’s magnificent theme, affectionately known by fans as “Here He Comes in a Ruddy Great Tractor,” and it’s in particularly fine form with the jaunty treatment it gets here.


The Year After I Died

We open in the 200,101ad on an Earth that’s been in a hellish spiral for almost two centuries – first under the blobby heel of the Mighty Jagrafess, then the mad reality of the GameStation and now a desolate wasteland of displaced refugees left by the Daleks’ bombardment. Jack, trapped in this time and place for a year now, isn’t doing much of the rebuilding that the Doctor predicted he would. Instead he’s lost his mojo and has taken to living as a hermit in the wilderness. It takes a visit from plucky young reporter Silo (trying to jump start the journalistic tradition back into life all on her lonesome) to tease out exactly why. It’s a neat idea to give us a Jack that doesn’t yet know that he’s immortal but, having been dead just the once, didn’t like it much and is desperate to avoid repeating the experience. That’s why, initially, he’s prepared to do nothing more than warn Silo away from the Hope Foundation. Promising the starving masses of the Earth new life on her old colonies among the stars Jack can smell when something is too good to be true, but is too risk averse these days to do anything about it. But when Silo ignores his warnings and boards one of the departure ships she finds herself in a living nightmare and before you can say ‘Soylent Green’ realizes that the only asset Earth has left to strip is its people, one organ at a time. But will Jack really not come for her?

The Year After I Died is a pretty light, swift footed story with no real twists or turns, but it’s a nice tale of Jack getting his groove back. It also has the small, sharp slice of satire traditional to these Satellite 5 stories– with the former wealthy elites of the ravaged Earth doing whatever it takes to stay on top, from their ivory tower on the former GameStation. That, as embodied by leader Vortia Trear (former Superman II villain Sarah Douglas on great form), they’re entitled, conceited morons, as inept as they are cruel, rather than dastardly cunning supervillains makes sense. After all these are the people the Daleks allowed to rise to the top in the belief they ran the planet while anyone smart enough to detect the guiding hand of the Emperor would have been done away with. But you are left wondering what the 21st century’s excuse is.


Wednesdays for Beginners

Captain Jack. Jackie Tyler. A match made in Heaven or at very least a nice wine bar. If Wednesdays for Beginners disappoints at all, it’s simply because no meeting between these two giants of 00s Who could live up to the epic hilarity that lives in the fan hivemind. There is a great deal of spark and wit in the banter between two of Doctor Who’s most naturally charismatic performers, but it’s hampered a little by the exact choice of setting. Jackie is in her Love & Monsters phase of feeling somewhat abandoned and forgotten by Rose and the Doctor, while Jack is in the period between the murder/suicide of his old Torchwood team and his recruitment of the new one seen in the Torchwood TV series. It leads to them both being atypically glum in many of the scenes. Placing it pre-2005, with Jackie in full Mama Bear mode over a threat to her young child and not quite grasping alien involvement might have allowed for a little more lightness.In fairness, the setting is in service of the dramatic need to leave the characters different from where we found them. This Jack has had about enough of waiting for the Doctor and is actively staking out (or, as she puts it, “stalking,” though she seems mostly flattered) Jackie in order to force a meeting with him. By the end he’s accepted that what will be will be, and that he needs to rebuild his life in Cardiff until the universe bring the Doctor to him. Jackie’s arc is a bit of re-tread of Love & Monsters, with her ultimately affirming that, abandonment issues or not, the Doctor is under her protection and anyone who tries to come after him and Rose is in for a world of Mama Tyler hurt.The nature of the threat is left quite vague and technobabble heavy, mainly so that Jackie can cut through it all with basic instinct and common sense where Jack’s hard science and experience fails. There’s a lot to enjoy here, most especially the sheer joy of Camille Coduri’s brilliant performance, sounding like she’s never been away, while the counter-intuitive idea of the normally hyper-flirtatious Jack trying to keep an appropriately platonic distance from Rose’s mother (he rarely gets past the barrier of insisting on calling her “Mrs. Tyler”) is surprisingly sweet in execution.It may not live up to its full potential, but it’s still a fine investigation of what makes the two tick.


Some Enchanted Evening

In contrast, the third episode is surprisingly upbeat and humourous considering its placement in the aftermath of Children of Earth. But once you put that incongruity aside, this is a riotous, over the top celebration of Jack at his most flirtatious, cheeky, and preposterous and therefore massive fun. It turns out that the Doctor didn’t arrange a cute meet for his former companion and Alonzo Frame (Russell Tovey), formerly of the Titanic, just so Jack could shag himself happy again but so that the two would be placed to team up to defend the space station from an imminent attack.That attack comes from a giant, carnivorous space beetle called Mother Nothing and her army of killer robots. Mother Nothing is performed as a spectacular grotesque by an almost unrecognizable Katy Manning, plainly having the time of her life in a role that puts subtlety in a cannon and fires it far, far away from the recording studio. She wants the universe’s largest diamond even though, being artificially grown, it’s worthless, simply because it’s so very shiny. Unfortunately, it’s also a vital component in the station’s power generator and removing it will kill hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people so it’s up to Jack and Alonzo to stop her. Plus she keeps shovelling down handfuls of crew and passengers like popcorn, so there’s that too.The action conspires to separate our dynamic duo almost immediately, with Jack taking the fight to Mother Nothing while Alonzo tries to get the escape pods back online and evacuate the survivors. Rather than dulling their interaction, it amplifies it – their constant radio chatter being filled with humour, innuendo and a growing genuine affection. Barrowman and Tovey are both such charismatic leads that they make for a perfect pairing that, whisper it now, effortlessly eclipses Jack and Ianto as a couple. With a climax that involves Jack battling a giant insect as they swing from the world’s hugest glitterball, and an ending that leaves the listener laughing like a drain even as our heroes scream their mutual frustration, Some Enchanted Evening is perhaps the most definitively Captain Jack story in the boxset and almost worth the purchase by itself. Hopefully a sequel pops up sooner rather than later.


Month 25

One of the great unexplored subplots of Doctor Who is the mystery Jack’s missing two years. When we meet him, it’s what defines him – he’s a Time Agent turned con man, working to acquire leverage by any means necessary to force the Time Agency to restore the two year gap in his memory. Yet, short of a brief mention in the Torchwood episode “Adam”, it pretty much never comes up again – a casualty of a character bouncing from one creator to another and back again. Now, at last, the story can be told. Direct from the mind of Russell T Davies himself, and skillfully scripted by Guy Davies, Jack’s backstory here seems to delight in being not at all what you’d expect. Where most fans might have imagined that Jack had had a solid two year span of his life removed to conceal some posting or off the books undercover operation he’d been part of, instead it turns out to be a matter of a day here, a week there, and for reasons a bit more grandiose and villainous than perhaps we’d expected. It’s probably a smart move to avoid retreading a story people have already played over in their minds in favour of something fresher and wilder, but it doesn’t sit particularly well with Jack’s later actions on screen. I’m not really sure what Jack is trying to accomplish in The Empty Child anymore, though Month 25 does sort of make a stab at explaining why Jack later drops the mystery entirely.John Barrowman has tremendous fun as the younger Jack, or rather to give him his real name… well, you’ll just have to listen for yourself if you want the answer to that particular mystery. Even lustier, reckless and self-obsessed than when we first met him on TV he’s riotous company for this play’s hour long duration but would wear a bit thin if you had to deal with him every day (and indeed a recurring element of the play is how everyone in his office hates him). A light, over the top, sauna full of fun rather than a political thriller, Month 25 still manages to fill in a couple of gaps in Jack’s life in entertaining fashion, while providing John Barrowman with a showcase for his acting ability in an unexpected way.



As a pick’n’mix of slices of Jack’s life, this boxset successfully hits on all the different aspects of his surprisingly complicated and evolving character though often in unpredictable or surprising ways. And with its unbending Davies era style cheeky optimism it provides a nice counterpoint to the doom laden, if high quality, Torchwood range. Highly recommended.