In The Lives of Captain Jack, we get to see glimpses of what Jack Harkness did after he first died (and even before) and before he joined Torchwood. In this boxset, we have four stories by two great, and very different writers, Guy Adams and James Goss. In four adventures they take us across a small part of Jack’s life, like stepping stones cast into vast tract of time he has lived through. Is it any good? Of course, what else do you expect?! It’s also not what you might expect in some ways, with each tale giving us not only very different parts of Jack’s existence, but also a man in very different emotional states.
Let’s look at the stories one by one…
The Lives of Captain Jack
Guy Adams opens proceedings with The Year After I Died. Set in 200,100, it is one year since Parting of the Waves, and Jack is still trying to come to terms with what happened to him, and how did he survive a Dalek attack. Earth is a wreck, and Jack is trying to keep himself to himself while the Hope Foundation is resettling people to a new world. Enter reporter Silo Crook (wonderful name, wonderful performance from Shvorne Marks (Endeavour)) who wants a story. She also wants help investigating the Hope Foundation. The former Game Station satellite is now Trear Station, named after Vortia Trear, another great performance by Sarah Douglas (Superman, Superman 2). As Jack and Silo investigate the Foundation, Jack realises there are other foes humanity faces than just the Daleks, as the oldest enemy of all rears its ever ugly head.
There are a myriad of great performances in a chilling if downbeat story. Jack dies without yet realising his unique nature, and John Barrowman turns in a suitably introspective performance.
James Goss takes Jack to his time waiting to rejoin the Doctor, when he is keeping an eye on Rose. In Wednesday’s for Beginners, we have what amounts to a two-hander with Camille Coduri back as Jackie Tyler, with half an eye on the dishy new neighbour while she keeps in touch with her daughter as she travels with the Doctor. To make matters more interesting, the Powell Estate is under threat and Jackie and Jack join forces to save the day.
It’s a gloriously mad yet pointed romp, showing Jackie’s values and beliefs (and even some sing-along a Chaz and Dave!) but even with Camille in wonderful form, and great chemistry between the leads it nearly trips over the line into too silly. That may be a matter of taste, but a more serious challenge is the nature of Jackie’s character; while this is an entirely logical part of Jack’s life, the fact is Jackie (and amplified by Camille’s performance) is too interesting and fans want to know as much about her as Jack. Where this might have set out to shine a light on Jack, it’s on Mrs Tyler a lot of the attention focuses. I wonder if there’s a case for a Jackie boxset or at least some Short Trips?
James Goss follows on with the story of how Midshipman Alonso Frame spent his evening with Captain Jack after they were set up by the Tenth Doctor at The end of Time. In One Enchanted Evening, the action continues into a romantic but interrupted encounter and a whole slew of problems to deal with and more twists and turns than even Jack can deal with. At times funny, romantic, tender, pained and gasp out loud, it’s a stunning piece of writing, directing and performance. It’s the best story of the set (as is Guy’s final story) and a tour de force.
It’s perhaps the most balanced of the four, with Jack and Alonso taking turns at centre stage, and the angle on Alonso’s character is well constructed and change from the normal all action hero. There’s a lot more to enjoy, and Katy Manning plays the alien Mother Nothing to the hilt, as only Katy can (and I didn’t spot her voice at the time!).
The accolade of best story of the set goes to Guy Adams for Month 25 (apart from James Goss as noted already) and it’s the story of Javic Piotr Thane, the most noted and outrageous of the Time Agencies many minions. Javic is, of course, the original name of Jack Harkness, and life is great, if only it weren’t for the Stranger, played by Alexander Vlahos. Of course Alex is well known for playing Dorian Gray, and is an inspired piece of casting by Scott. As the story unfolds, Javic learns of gaps in his memory and a conspiracy only he can thwart.
The Time Agency is well realised, and the many characters mesh to produce a complex story with several strong moments it would be churlish to reveal here. Let’s just say we learn a lot about who Jack was, and some of his early life.
This isn’t labelled as volume one, but I see no reason not to have a second set, perhaps a further or many more lives. There’s a lot more to tell us about before Jack joins Torchwood, and before The Empty Child. There’s no sign of anything coming, and plenty more other Torchwood planned, but maybe, just maybe?