John Barrowman has been busy playing his most popular character in audio drama spinoffs of Doctor Who. He’s been in the new season of Torchwood, a number of Torchwood stand-alone stories as well as in solo adventures as Captain Jack in the The Lives of Captain Jack series. We say “series” for the latter, because Big Finish Productions is offering listeners a second box set series – or “seasons” – of adventures, appropriately titled: The Lives of Captain Jack: Volume 2.
Let’s take a look…
“Peace of Mind” by James Goss
The first story is a fun entry into this series. Captain Jack, desperate to be reunited with The Doctor and Rose, finally finds the TARDIS. But there’s a catch – it’s not the 9th Doctor, it’s the 6th Doctor (Colin Baker), badly injured in the middle of a mission to save a world.
What’s a time-traveling con man and ex-time agent to do when the Doctor is incapacitated? Why, put on the Doctor’s multicoloured rodeo-clown jacket and happily bounce off to save the day, of course! What follows is hilarious farce – Barrowman plays Captain Jack pretending to be the gregarious, blustery 6th Doctor, cracking wise and insulting the squares. He even picks up a companion of his own. He makes fun of a character for having a bad guy name – and turns out to be right about him!
There’s just one catch – Captain Jack is not the Doctor. He does things the Doctor would never do. His default action is to pick up the first big gun and blow stuff up. The recuperating Doctor is horrified even as he wonders if Jack is one of his future incarnations. The problem with a con man pretending to be the Doctor is that eventually, things go horribly wrong. Then Jack has to scramble to try to save the day as the ancient evil starts to win, and the Doctor has to step in to lend a hand… by pretending to be Captain Jack.
This story is pure fan fiction fun. If you’ve ever wondered what Captain Jack meeting the 6th Doctor would be like, this answers that question once and for all.
“What Have I Done?” by Guy Adams
The second story is a darker, grimmer story set in the trenches of the First World War. Jack finds himself in the battle of Gallipoli with a wounded and terrified Ottoman soldier (Attila Akinci).
The pace is slower, essentially a two-hander that takes place over the course of one night as Jack tries to take the soldier back to his side to get him medical attention. Jack also has to avoid alien monsters stalking the battlefield in the dark, feeding off the fear and panic of dying soldiers.
The interesting part of this story is that it doesn’t explain that Jack is immortal and unkillable. It stands up as a standalone tale of World War One as much as a Doctor Who spinoff. There’s dramatic irony in the soldier thinking the mysterious man helping him is in as much danger as he is. The soldier doesn’t know that Jack is desperately trying to save just one life on a battlefield where hundreds died to atone for past deeds. Jack is good at battle but less good at keeping people alive, and that is the burden he carries. That adds a layer of poignance to Jack’s story as much as the regret and sadness of the soldier’s own regrets.
Every WWI story is about the futility and monstrousness of war, and writer Guy Adams uses Jack as a conduit to find a new wrinkle.
“Driving Miss Wells” by James Goss
The third story takes place in the 21st Century. Jack takes a supporting role here as Tiffany Wells (Lachele Carl) takes centerstage. Wells appeared as the newsreader seen throughout Russell T. Davies’ run on the show announcing world-ending threats over the Earth while the 9th and 10th Doctors went about saving it.
Constantly covering alien threats on the planet that mysteriously go away has taken its toll on Wells. She quit the news business to write a book declaring that all the alien invasions she reported were elaborate hoaxes. She gets death threats, so her publisher assigns her new driver and bodyguard – a guy named “Jack.”
As Wells goes about her book tour and starts her job at a new cable news network, she notices weird things happening. Flies buzzing, her boss acting suspicious, strange portents abound. Wells tries to investigate while her driver tries to keep her alive.
The story features commentary about fake news and conspiracy theory nuttiness as well as an entertaining look at Jack from the outside. If you know continuity, you’ll know that this story takes place during the time Jack was in Torchwood and he’s undercover.
The three hour-long stories of this boxset are as good as any audio drama you might hear on the BBC. Goss and Adams are two of the best writers in the Big Finish stable. They always find new and interesting things to say beyond fan fiction starring fan favourite characters. Jack Harkness is an interesting character that Goss and Adams can use to push their ideas and themes. If you’re a Captain Jack fan, this is the series made for you.
The Lives of Captain Jack: Volume 2 is available in digital and CD from Big Finish Productions.