The Lives of Captain Jack Volume Two

Posted in Audio by - June 14, 2019
The Lives of Captain Jack Volume Two

Released June 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Fifty-first century Time Agent and con man Jack Harkness has unquestionably led one of the most fascinating lives of anyone with whom the Doctor has ever crossed paths. Traveling alongside the Ninth and Tenth Doctors and leading Torchwood’s Cardiff team in adventures that still continue on audio, John Barrowman has continued to instil infectious charisma, boisterous energy, and genuine emotion to make a man who so lives so precariously close to the edge of being completely over the top instead an utterly relatable and ultimately human figure. Yet as immensely successful and satisfying as these times in Jack’s many lives continue to be, the hints at what else he has been through provide an immense wealth of storytelling potential, and Big Finish continues to explore those hidden crevices with the long-anticipated release of The Lives of Captain Jack Volume Two.

James Goss opens this set in the most unexpected fashion as Jack in ‘Piece of Mind’ finally finds the TARDIS he has been seeking for so long, only for the Sixth Doctor to fall out dying into his arms. Tasked only with the phrase to “Save them,” Jack must don the famed multicoloured coat and assume the Doctor’s identity as the fast return switch takes him to a digital graveyard and the invasion of an artificial intelligence that threatens the long-forgotten identities housed and guarded within its confines. Of course, the Sixth Doctor is not going to succumb to his ultimate regenerative fate in this adventure, and through a quirk in Jack’s existence Jack is able to save this incarnation who is so familiar and yet so distinct from those he has met before, leaving him to heal while forging a link of sorts between them. This, naturally, forms the greatest part of the story as Jack’s more blunt means of action that are at times more violent and at times more romantic are squarely contrasted with the more deliberate and overtly agreeable decisions of the Doctor’s. Jack has never been afraid to voice exactly what is on his mind as he blindly jumps into a situation, and while this does lead to awkward and potentially disastrous situations in some cases, this trait also allows for moments of insightful commentary and incredible breakthroughs that otherwise would simply never have occurred. That Jack at times speaks with the Sixth Doctor’s more loquacious stylings makes these sequences all the more rewarding.

The actual plot with its telegraphed twists isn’t necessarily the most challenging, but it doesn’t need to be because of the immense emotion at its core that serves as a love letter and testament to the character of the Doctor. Even when Jack’s actions make a positive outcome seem all but impossible, the reputation of the Doctor is always at his side, assuring those around him that everything will work out even as he himself loses faith. Fittingly, then, Colin Baker gives a profound performance as his Doctor must watch another man fill his shoes and come to terms with the actions being taken in his name. Jack and he hardly see eye to eye throughout, but the mutual respect that forms is brilliantly realised and aided by a monumental chemistry between the two, and the Doctor’s eventual appearance as none other than a highly Americanised and stereotyped Captain Jack is a moment that will surely last the test of time as one of the most boisterous and memorable ever presented. ‘Piece of Mind’ is predicated upon one of the most audacious ideas Big Finish has presented in some time, and the contrast between the two captivating leads both together and independently makes for an incredible opener to this second set.

Guy Adams takes a much different approach in ‘What Have I Done?’ as Jack finds himself in the trenches of World War I at the Battle of Gallipoli. Wartime settings traditionally provide the impetus for immense character exploration and evocative visuals, and that is certainly the case here. There is a monster, of course, but the fear it comes to represent and feed on while remaining more of a background yet ever-present threat allows the intimacy and depth of what is essentially a two-hander to truly develop in a meaningful fashion. Despite Jack and Ata representing the opposing sides of battle, humanity, compassion, and even kinship are able to win out over the preconceptions of those involved in war, and Jack’s persistent determination to save this man against all odds is established and advanced engagingly thanks to the nuanced and emotional performances from both John Barrowman and Atilla Akinci. Jack understands implicitly what awaits him beyond the end of life, yet just as Ata is afraid to confront that end for the first and only time while coming to terms that it may be necessary, Jack likewise remains afraid of every time he must court death because he never knows when his true end will come, and that very fundamental similarity despite their vast differences allows the relationship and characters to slowly open up as Ata’s trust in Jack slowly grows.

In such an intimate story that sees the characters likewise bond over similarities in their pasts, the sound design comes to life as a third prominent character, never allowing anyone to forget the immense danger and oppression that has hold over every aspect of the setting. This is a remarkably tense affair from beginning to end as Jack does everything in his power to keep Ata alive while slowly approaching Ata’s own people, and the strict delineation of what wartime foes believe to be good and bad ends ‘What Have I Done?’ on a startling and harrowing note that calls the futility of war squarely into question while highlighting Jack’s selfless nature and the remarkable effects he can have on those around him. While one can only imagine the remarkable drama that may have resulted had the roles been reversed with Jack who still holds so many personal secrets relying on a stranger to survive, this is another strong outing for his character in one of the more sombre and yet strangely optimistic roles he has been shown in to this point. This is not a story to listen to on a whim, but its messages and haunting presence will endure far beyond the end of the closing credits.

One of the most important and yet forgotten characters in the long history of Doctor Who is newsreader Trinity Wells who appeared in each of the first four series of the modern show and is the only character to have likewise appeared on both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. In James Goss’s ‘Driving Miss Wells,’ this woman who dutifully reported so many strange alien affairs and impending ends of the world has stopped believing in all of it, but her new chauffeur just may change her mind. While, of course, there is a science fiction plot to be uncovered through Trinity’s remarkable journey here, part of what makes this particular story so impactful is its discussion of the current state of world affairs and the power that the media has to influence perceptions and how events are ultimately remembered. As Trinity points out, organisations and individuals rise and fall, but the media will always remain as a virtually silent and yet all-encompassing source of power, whether that power be used to spread the truth or misinformation that the public at large will readily accept in equal measure.

Jack is thrust more into a supporting role as Trinity joins a new organisation and struggles to come to terms with what she is experiencing with no support from anyone else, but the chemistry between Barrowman and Lachele Carl is instantaneous and effectively helps to develop the characters’ often contrasting states of mind. Carl, in particular, shows a remarkable range of emotion that her brief appearances as a newscaster hardly allowed, and as her experiences both with her mother and at her job suggest that something more nefarious is going on, the nuance she brings to this woman who is far more in control than anyone expects is simply wonderful. Surprisingly, her recent past also casts aspersions on the actions of both UNIT and Torchwood and how the two organisations monitor both Earth and each other so as not to be left behind, and this hinting at a three-pronged approach for defense that involves the media as well satisfyingly develops this world all the more. ‘Driving Miss Wells’ isn’t so much a story about Jack as it is Trinity despite the title of this collection, but even with a rushed and easy resolution the final result is still another strong affair that shows so much of what occurs behind the scenes as alien incursions develop and very nearly succeed on an uncannily frequent basis.

Captain Jack Harkness’s highly stylized bravado and charm are perfect for the televisual and audio mediums alike, and The Lives of Captain Jack Volume Two takes the beloved character into wholly unexpected territory on several occasions to reveal just how disparate this man’s many experiences truly have been. Comedy, gravity, earnestness, intelligence, and fallibility are all covered in equal measure, and John Barrowman once more proves adept at exploring every possible nuance of this man who continues to evolve and become even more well-rounded, confident, and accepting of his own personal strengths and weaknesses. With strong direction, sound design, and supporting performances also filling all three tales and their uniquely impactful narratives, The Lives of Captain Jack certainly appears to have lasting power and will hopefully continue to deliver this quality of entertainment and exploration for some time yet.

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