The Lives of Captain Jack Review
Gustaff Behr gives his verdict on the Captain Jack audio box set.
In recent years I’ve noticed a trend emerging when it comes to the relationship between what we, the audience, want to see on television and listen to on audio. The formula goes something like this: Fans make a lot of noise about something they desperately want to see (River meets Jack, Jack reunites with the Doctor, Paternoster Gang spin-off, Time War), the newest season of Doctor Who passes on this opportunity, a few months later Big Finish makes said announcement and proceeds to build a successful spin off based on the request. And if anything else, The Lives of Captain Jack is proof that Big Finish is a company by the fans, for the fans and above all else – a company that listens to the fans. It is the second spin-off based on John Barrowman’s beloved character, choosing to dive into the gaps of the good Captain’s life before, between and after meeting the Doctor/joining Torchwood. The series is akin to The Confessions of Dorian Gray, another successful Big Finish series which doesn’t follow any sort if chronological order either, but works as a successful anthology series chronicling the life and times of an enigmatic character.
The Year After I Died
As the title implies, this first episode details what happened to Jack after he was killed on the Game Station by the Daleks. It’s also one of two stories that present us with a very different portrayal of Jack Harkness. It’s not so radical that it alienates listeners, but this first instalment does a fantastic job showcasing a tortured, more morose and careful Jack who is just looking for a quiet life. This Jack Harkness doesn’t yet know he’s immortal. He attributes his survival as an act of god and is now very determined to live no matter what.
Joining Jack is Silo Crook, played by Shvorne Marks, an intrepid, would-be reporter, aptly named as she steals ¼ of the story chasing down a lead and leaving us to wonder ‘where is Jack’. Part of me detests this element of the plot as it means a whole 15-20 minutes of no Jack Harkness, in a series entitled The Lives of Captain Jack, but on the other side of the spectrum, this deviation is necessary in order to introduce us to the real Daleks of the year 200,100 and advance the plot. I won’t spoil who these vile villain(s) are, but I will say that he/she/they are one of those villains that you just can’t wait until they get their comeuppance.
The Year After I Died can almost be seen as a spiritual successor to The Parting of Ways, putting characters in familiar situations and featuring numerous call-backs to the Series 1 finale, but without cheapened either’s value. As far as opening stories go, this is a great instalment.
Rating this story: 8/10
Wednesdays for Beginners
Right now it’s an inescapable problem for Big Finish box sets: the dud episode. Whenever I come across a dud episode, part of me always sours since it feels like I wasted a portion of my money. Bonus points if it’s something I predicted I wouldn’t like in the first place.
Unfortunately Wednesdays for Beginners does little to remedy this, mostly because of the inclusion of Jackie Tyler, a character that divides the fanbase, even in 2017. I’m on the other side of the spectrum, finding the character incredibly annoying and irritating whenever she shows up. And while the chemistry between John Barrowman and Camille Coduri is fantastic in this story, I do have to wonder why it was necessary to use Jackie Tyler of all people.
Perhaps more unfortunately is the fact that you can’t properly appreciate the final episode, Month 25, without listening to Wednesdays for Beginners. The two plots share a common link, which is good news if you love Jackie Tyler, bad news if you don’t.
Much like The Year After I Died, Wednesday for Beginners doesn’t choose to focus on just Jack Harkness. Significant time is spent following Jackie Tyler and getting to know her better and how her daughter flaunting about the universe in the Doctor’s company affects her, both on a psychological and emotional level. For this I have to applaud James Goss as while I’m perhaps too cynical to learn to care about Jackie (even in 2017), less cynical fans will probably find themselves warming up to her. Proper time is also taken to differentiate this Jack Harkness from the version in the first story. Truth be told, this is the closest portrayal of a “normal” Jack Harkness in the box set.
Rating this story: 6/10
One Enchanting Evening
Taking place a few minutes after the Doctor leaves Jack in the bar at the end of The End of Time, you wouldn’t be in the wrong thinking badly of the Tenth Doctor after you hear just how “magical” Jack and Alonso’s evening turned out to be. But then again, if Ten had stuck around, we wouldn’t have gotten this fantastic crossover.
Character wise, One Enchanting Evening is the best story of the box set. It features two fan favourites, both currently in very dark places, who bond over the course of an hour as they work to save a spaceship from being destroyed by a very campy alien menace. But that’s alright. Campy is okay because the real enchantment lies in the interactions between Jack and Alonso. On the surface, the two play it off as being completely fine (Alonso maybe less so), but as the story progresses, the old wounds open up. After the events of Voyage of the Damned, midshipman Frame has lost all confidence. He’s haunted by the Doctor’s heroics and views Jack as the champion he wanted to be aboard the Titanic. Likewise, Jack is still grieving over the loss of his grandchild Steven, hoping to forget everything in a passionate steamy night out.
Due to its doomed by canon status, we, the audience know that this couple do not get together by journey’s end, but that doesn’t change the rollercoaster ride the two take us on. The script is wonderfully witty with lots of banter and innuendos along the way. As mentioned, there isn’t much to say about the set piece villain. As far as Doctor Who adversaries go, they’re pretty generic, but their actions do well to push the heroes to their limits.
Rating this story: 8/10
God bless Big Finish. Back in 2005 (12 freaking years ago), Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat introduced us to Captain Jack Harkness, a conman who used to be a Time Agent, but left because the Agency had stolen 2 years of his life. Ever since then fans have been petitioning to find out what exactly happened to Jack during those two missing years. It’s 2017 and we’re finally getting some answers! Not only that, but we finally learn Jack’s real name.
Month 25 is the final episode of the box set and it is by far the best, perhaps even the best script Guy Adams has ever penned for Big Finish. We’re introduced to [insert Jack Harkness’s real name], a young, cocky, arrogant, self-absorbed Time Agent who is so far removed from the Captain Harkness that we’re used to, that it feels apt for Big Finish to finally reveal Jack Harkness’ true name and treat him as such. If you thought Jack was bad enough before, then you won’t believe the version John Barrowman gets to portrays in this episode. Month 25 does so many things correctly, such as exploring the inner workings of the Time Agency, letting us get to know [insert Jack Harkness’s real name]’s friends and colleges. It’s difficult to decide which [insert Jack Harkness’s real name] is worse at: being an employee or being a friend. The final episode also shows us the repercussions of this and allows us to both criticize [insert Jack Harkness’s real name] for being so selfish, but at the same time allowing us to care what happens to him since we need him to survive this encounter.
Month 25 plays out like a gripping spy thriller. You have all the ingredients present: Conspiracy, betrayal, greed, red herrings, chases, shootouts and even a mystery character, brilliantly portrayed by Alexander Vahos, who is the star of The Confessions of Dorian Gray.
Sakuntala Ramanee plays Maglin Shank, the head of the Time Agency and is a delight to listen to as she finds new and inventive ways to dig down deep and retrieve inner strength necessary to deal with this loose cannon Time Agent’s shenanigans as he investigates a floor that doesn’t exist and funds that are retroactively being stolen from his bank account.
At the same time, Month 25 manages to take home all the gold by also finding a way to be funniest story of the box set with most of wit delivered by [insert Jack Harkness’s real name].
Rating this story: 9/10
I highly recommend checking out The Lives of Captain Jack if you want to know more about Jack’s non-Torchwood, non-companion life. Having lived for so long, getting the chance to build series exploring these parts of Jack’s life must be worth its weight in gold. Let’s hope that this becomes an annual (or even bi-annual) release and that Captain Jack meets a certain Professor of Archaeology along the way.