Review – The Lives of Captain Jack

Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)

Big Finish legendary writers James Goss & Guy Adams bring 4 brand spanking (and with Jack there would be spanking) new adventures in one set for this Doctor Who & Torchwood favourite character played as always by the wonderful John Barrowman.

The Year After I Died by Guy Adams

As the title might suggest this story is set just after the events of ‘Bad Wolf’. Captain Jack has been abandoned by the Doctor and instead of living the life of a hero he would easily be offered by the people they saved Jack is living alone in the shadows. He would quite happily stay there, unhappy, but when a would-be journalist comes across him by mistake he is drawn into a tale as shadowy as the existence he has been living and once again it would seem that humanity is being enslaved without even knowing it.

For a start it’s quite a nifty idea that after Jack, Rose & the Doctor just saved mankind from being enslaved by people who work behind the scenes; just to turn out to be the Daleks, someone does it all again to them. One evil falls, another rises.

I wont say this is the most original idea. It has elements of episodes of some past Doctor Who episodes, Frankenstein and even an episode of Futurama I can think of to do with ‘Fry’s lower human horn’. There is also a downtrodden PA to the evil rich woman who is using the poor who has an arch that you could fairly easily see coming. All this said though, I don’t mind that. For a start, you mix so many ideas used before; you come up with something new in the end. Also this is our story to reintroduce Jack, to remind us of what he was like in the Doctor Who world as opposed to Torchwood and I feel this set mostly concerns itself with that version of Jack.

What did happen to Jack directly after being left by the Doctor? Of course he is going to be pissed off after being left like that, what got him back on the hero-ish path again? This story definitely answers that. Jack’s return to the light is a little too immediate for me, maybe he could have been just starting to step back into the light at the end of this, but in fairness this matches the lightness of the RTD era this story fits into. None the less a good opener to the boxset.

Wednesdays for Beginners by James Goss

Jackie Tyler is back, but nothing seems quite right. People are disappearing and she has a new stalker. Ok, that bit seems alright as he happens to be a handsome man dressed up like a WW2 fighter pilot and she could get used to a stalker like that. But as more people go missing the ‘stalker’ reveals who he is and the danger Jackie is in.

Anytime they can get Camille Coduri back in Doctor Who is alright with me. A favourite actress of mine since her showing up in films like ‘King Ralph’ & ‘Nuns on the Run’ back in the 90’s. I think Big Finish has used her exceptionally well in this story too. They highlight the loneliness and hopes of a Mother left behind by her child who has grown up and flown the nest. Ok; in this case it’s to go to space, but any parent, especially any single one’s will feel the pull of when someone had dedicated their life to their child and then has to question what they do with their own life once their child is ‘making it’ on their own. This sentimental pull aside; to have Jackie & Jack square off, flirt and just ‘fun’ their way through this adventure is amazing. I could have sworn they have met before, as it seems such an obvious paring; but to have this happen is amazing. I could listen to them play off each other for days. This is after about 10 minutes of Coduri delivering a monologue that feels like a really engaging full scene. A truly great story.

One Enchanted Evening by James Goss

Ok, in the first story I said that it seemed like such a natural place to add a story. In this one we follow on from where Jack was set up by the Doctor with Midshipman Alonso Frame (Russell Tovey) from the Titanic episode and they are on their way to Jack’s bed chamber. This is a place I wasn’t aware I wanted a story, or if I did I would imagine reading it in some fan slash fiction. This story on the other hand gives us the most unexpected action drama set on the second sinking space ship that they find themselves on. On the way back to Jack’s quarters the ship they are on comes under attack and suddenly Jack & Alonso begin to wonder if there is more behind why the Doctor brought them together.

Russel Tovey is such an under-used treasure of an actor. He has such an amazing range between comedy and drama; brilliantly used in shows like Being Human. In Doctor Who on TV he was playing it more straight (no pun intended) but in this one he perfectly plays the knifes edge between comedy and someone who is facing the horror of a second potentially doomed ship and the lives that could be lost. He is someone who is uncertain of himself. Jack is the hero, but he keeps getting separated from him and put in positions where he has to step up and take charge. This gives such pathos to the character and also gives him a lot of scope to be funny, being a little shy to Jack’s in your face advances (not that he is complaining). If Tovey had played it just a little sillier it would have ruined the soufflé, but as it is, it rises nicely.

Month 25 by Guy Adams

Javak Potra Thane (forgive any misspelling), or Captain Jack as he is one day to be known, is a rogue Time Agent who parties too much, goes missing in history to have a party and generally ignores the rules whilst occasionally getting the job done if time permits. One day when a mysterious stranger enters his life he finds out he is missing 2 years of his life and not on a drunken bender as he might hope. He wants to know who took them and why. It just so happens this stranger is someone he has never met, but the one person he feels he can trust.

I have often wanted this part of Jack’s life explored. I love the mystery but all the same, after Jack left Doctor Who for Torchwood they just seemed to forget he was ever in search of those missing two years that seemed like a really strong motivator to him in the original use of his character. Also to have Jack before he was ‘Jack’ is amazing. It seems so in keeping this is the man who would become all the versions of Jack that will follow throughout his ever extended life. There is also a nice bit of crossover between this and one of the earlier stories. Even though having this last isn’t in chronological order to Jack’s life; it technically is the story set latest in time (if I’m following the time line correctly) and if feels right to have this as the last story. It’s also the magic of this set that all these stories stand alone, but together they add to the richness of the ‘Captain Jack’ story.

In Conclusion…

I love this set. After having so much of Torchwood Captain Jack, this feels like the Doctor Who era Jack. Yes, the same person, but there is a lightness, a silliness, that because of Torchwood’s more adult themes is sometimes not as pronounced. It’s a little cheesy, but that’s ok. Cheesy done right can be fun.

Captain Jack is absent from maybe about a quarter of each story. I’m guessing the stories were written like that to make the time in Barrowman’s ever busy schedule. This is even more testament to the writers, actors and director Scott Handcock that the stories don’t feel less for it. The supporting cast is excellent and you care about what is happening to them as much as Jack. It doesn’t hurt that, like in the Churchill boxset releases, they have used some favourite past Who Characters to step into the breach.

Sometimes sets take a while to hit their stride, so it’s a real complement to the Captain Jack range that is comes out so strong and fully formed right out of the gate.

I give this 9/10 lives!

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3 thoughts on “Review – The Lives of Captain Jack

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