Torchwood: The Lives Of Captain Jack boxset review

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Jack Harkness, former Time Agent and friend of the Doctor has a rather complicated timeline; he has travelled with two different incarnations and also on his own, as well as having spent several lifetimes on Earth.

This makes him ripe for further exploration and this box set explores some of the tantalising gaps in Jack’s story. Eschewing his Torchwood connections, Big Finish have a separate, highly recommended range for that, these stories are rooted firmly in more family-friendly Doctor Who mode.

‘The Year After I Died’ tackles Jack’s situation after ‘The Parting of the Ways’, where he was killed by the Daleks and subsequently resurrected by Bad Wolf Rose, before being abandoned above a ravaged Earth.

Unaware of his immortality, Jack thinks he got lucky and is living a quiet life until trouble tracks him down. A wannabe reporter has suspicions about the life-changing offers of the Hope Foundation and they spark his interest too, forcing Jack out of a self-imposed retirement.

Guy Adams’ script, which puts plenty of focus on reporter Silo Crook (Shorn Marks) and Mali Preen (Wizards vs Aliens’ Scott Haran) another hopeful she befriends, considers both desperation and human greed – as the Hope Foundation have precisely none of their titular commodity on offer – and pushes Jack to rediscover his mojo to save the day in triumphant style.

James Goss provides the middle two stories, each of which contains a familiar face. ‘Wednesday for Beginners’, sees Jack installed at number 52 on the Powell Estate, close enough to become mistaken for Jackie Tyler’s stalker!

Fundamentally a two-hander, with a threat which plays truthfully to Jack’s sense of self-importance, the story offers Jackie (Camille Coder) plenty of killer moments, from seeing off aliens with a boiling kettle to organising a street party. There is also a terrific gag at Jack’s expense which connects the name of the enemy to a popular restaurant chain.

Amid all the fun, and it really is joyous at times, it would be easy to make Jackie a figure of ridicule. Yet despite her flights of fancy and lack of extra-terrestrial knowledge, while being utterly bonkers and thrillingly self-absorbed, Jackie is also terribly lonely, missing her daughter. Amid the chatter, she is smart, sassy and surprisingly perceptive about Jack’s predicament.

‘One Enchanted Evening’ picks up where we last saw Jack on screen in Doctor Who, having just introduced himself to the luckless Alonso Frame, Russell Tovey’s Midshipman.

It is a pairing we have been longing to hear, with Tovey’s character making a brilliant, unassuming foil to Barrowman’s energetic Jack, and the story does not disappoint as, naturally, after barely a moment together they come under attack.

The aggressor is Mother Nothing, a creature played to hilariously monstrous effect by none other than Katy Manning, who holds a Gollum-like fascination for the element at the heart of the ship’s drive. While Jack faces down the monster, Alonso is forced to deal with the surviving passengers as he is drafted by the ship’s engineer, the charming if not terribly people-friendly Ginny (Ellie Haydon).

Again Jack is at a crossroads, struggling to resolve his guilt after the harrowing events of Torchwood: Children of Earth (which are alluded to in the broadest terms) and the Goss embroils us in an engaging game of will they, won’t they (survive) with bluff and double bluff. While it is a close call, we are calling it our favourite of the set.

Finally, Guy Adams takes us back before ‘The Empty Child’ to give us Jack as a Time Agent. When first introduced he had gone rogue, distrusting his bosses thanks to an unaccountable two-year gap in his memory. In ‘Month 25’, we hear that discovery made when a stranger, played by Alexander Vlahos (Versailles, The Confessions of Dorian Gary) opens his eyes to both that mystery and the existence of the 113th floor of the Time Agency.

As well as filling in some of the detail and showing us Jack as an unreformed, hedonistic rule-breaker – which is hugely enjoyable – we are also treated to the reveal of Jack’s real name, as supplied by Russell T Davies. To be honest though, it is a little underwhelming and not a patch on the one he has assumed. We don’t imagine it will catch on.

Lee Binding has supplied some superb cover artwork for these stories which deserve a mention, as does the stirring theme supplied by Blair Mowat.

John Barrowman remains irrepressible throughout as Captain Jack and it is great to hear the character taking the lead in stories without the darker hues that tend to naturally colour his Torchwood material.

While this set fills in some of the gaps, there is clearly plenty of potential for more and this box set is surely essential listening for all budding pan-sexual Time Agents, as well as fans of flappy great coats.