Review by Jacob Licklider
The three sets thus far in The Lives of Captain Jack are an interesting experiment as while the Torchwood range is a continuation of that show and that very adult brand; The Lives of Captain Jack is contained with the ‘from the worlds of Doctor Who‘ banner. This means that there isn’t explicit adult content which expands the audience for this release to a much wider range of listeners. The third volume is the first story to be released by Big Finish Productions to feature both Jack Harkness as played by John Barrowman and Alex Kingston’s River Song; bringing together two of the most memorable characters from the revival. This gives fans a story that they have been asking for since both characters made a lasting imprint and Jack was supposed to appear with River in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’.
This three-story set begins with Guy Adams’ ‘Crush‘, presenting a claustrophobic tale of Jack and Jackie Tyler stuck on a bus to a luxury space cruise where people are wall-to-wall and the species on the bus are incredibly socially awkward. There is no conversation in public and etiquette is to look at one’s feet and ignore their surroundings. It’s somebody else’s problem. Setting a story on a crowded bus headed to a vacation spot in an inhospitable environment is already reminiscent of Midnight, however where Midnight is a tense horror story, Crush is a story with a very different plot and tone to set it apart. Adams fills the script with themes on social isolation and a crushing bureaucracy in public transport instead of paranoia and how low humanity will go to survive.
Crush is a murder mystery where people on this bus start dropping dead and only Jack and Jackie are willing to do anything about it. The reveal of the murderer does an excellent job of showing just how the crushing weight of everyday life, especially of
those who go unnoticed, can lead to a real break in a person. These themes are a real highlight buried in what is otherwise a fairly standard murder mystery romp. Camille Coduri is excellent as Jackie Tyler, coming across as equally charming and hilarious with Jack Harkness, and Adams script allows Coduri to really explore a different aspect of her character.
Russell T. Davies’ time on the show only really explored what the parents and families of companions do when the companion is off with the Doctor, and Crush gives Jackie a life. Her life fits well with the themes of the story and it is Jackie who gets to save the day and prove much more capable than Davies ever let her be. She is much more than the comic relief mother, but a full character with her own desires and wants, and her own issues to deal with. Crush overall starts the set on a good footing; though it is dragged down somewhat by being fairly ‘standard’ in its story. 7/10.
‘Mighty and Despair’ is the second story of the set and an outing from Tim Foley, a relatively new writer to Big Finish, but one who has already made his mark with the types of stories he tells. Foley is a writer who has made a mark telling stories with an emotional edge, bringing characters close to a breaking point to discover something about themselves. He is a writer of crucible-like stories where we can get quite a bit of development. Mighty and Despair is no exception to this, exploring what immortality can do to a person, especially when put in a situation with a non-immortal for a long time. This story takes place in the far future, Jack is older and living on a planet where a religious order once meditated on death and the planet itself is stuck in a field where it would take thousands of years to leave.
Jack being stranded and pretending to be content with his life is an excellent start to the story, allowing John Barrowman to give an incredibly tired performance. For much of Mighty and Despair, the story is a three-hander with Jessica Hayles and Joanna Van Kampen playing the exiled vampire queen, Carla, and handmaiden Persis, respectively. Jack as a character is very tetchy around vampires due to the death and destruction they cause through consumption. Yet, throughout the story the three share their cultures and find their own living situation, divulging their own secrets and desires. Persis in the role as the non-immortal is a source of emotional weight for the story with Joanna Van Kampen playing her part excellently. As this is a story that takes place over many years, Persis is the only character who ages, and the fast montage of years going by is used excellently.
Director Scott Handcock excellently uses Richard Fox and Steve Foxon’s sound design for this story excellently, allowing it to build to a catharsis for both Jack and Carla as they try to come to terms with their place in the universe. Like many of Foley’s works for Big Finish, Mighty and Despair leaves the listener with an emotional punch to the gut and the true highlight to the set.
James Goss’s ‘R&J‘ is the story that actually features River meeting Jack and Goss uses this opportunity to have a lot of fun. Kingston and Barrowman have excellent chemistry throughout the story as they meet out of order at several points through their lives; even though they weren’t recording together. This is a story that shows just how good at acting the two are as they make the relationship work. Goss’s script fails on one level, and that’s that it is doing too much for only an hour-long story, with several short sequences of the two characters meeting feeling incredibly disjointed and frenetic. That isn’t to say the story is bad by any means, it’s great and essentially a story all about poking fun at the Doctor and River’s relationship, as well as commenting on River and Jack’s separate arcs as characters on the televised show. There’s plenty of contrast between Moffat and Davies’ takes on the show, and some real fun poked at where fans found uumbrage with things.
This isn’t to say that it is done to insult fans, far from it; it’s acknowledging fans and the listener can laugh along with the performers and with Goss as they have a fun adventure. There are still quiet moments to enjoy between the characters as the script gives them intertwined lives as time travellers. The reason I am being so vague with this episode in particular is that there are plenty of moments that work when discovered unspoiled. Yes this is definitely a story that deserves to be expanded, and Goss, Handcock, Barrowman, and Kingston all agree that Jack and River can still meet again, but one hour simply isn’t enough to explore things. It really would have benefitted from a second disc to really explore the relationship from start to finish, so to speak. 8/10.
Overall, The Lives of Captain Jack Volume Three provides listeners with three stories that do not
disappoint in providing a good time. Like many anthology box sets, there isn’t a connecting
theme, just three authors giving their all to tell good stories that leave the listener satisfied with
what they purchased. 8/10.