The Sins of Captain John

Posted in Audio by - January 21, 2020
The Sins of Captain John

Released January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Since his televised debut in ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,’ rogue Time Agent Captain John Hart, former professional and sexual partner of Captain Jack Harkness, has remained one of the more fascinating peripheral characters in the Torchwood universe. Featuring a loose morality and an undisputed self-serving nature that at times outshines a genuine desire to do good, this is a character about which no assumptions can be made at any given time as he provides an exaggerated yet often aligning parallel to Torchwood’s de facto lead. Now returning to Big Finish in a starring role, James Marsters looks to further delve into this manic and chaotic life in David Llewellyn’s four-story The Sins of Captain John.

‘The Restored’ finds John in Restoration England searching for a pair of gauntlets that purportedly give their users control over life and death, a familiar technology for Torchwood fans that grounds this larger-than-life character in more established continuity even when separated from the official organization. However, when the severed head of Oliver Cromwell begins offering ominous warnings and the dead begin walking the streets, it’s clear that something much more serious than the typical intrigue within the Tower of London has arrived to wreak havoc on the land. John easily inveigles his way into this royal setting with bravado, charm, and knowledge that highlights his genuine competency as a Time Agent, and his very open and often physical means of interacting to achieve his ultimate goals naturally lead to plenty of humorous and awkward situations that perfectly highlight just who this man is without simply painting him as a caricature. Yet while Laura Doddington as the Duchess of Winchester and Wilf Scolding as King Charles II provide wonderful voices to bring the heightened realism of this stately environment to life, Serin Ibrahim as Mohisha Varma becomes a standout character who John quite rightly points out would be perfect companion material were he the type of man to travel with a partner. Strong-willed, confident, and unwilling to take any nonsense, Varma often helps to ground these increasingly bizarre events, and the strong chemistry amongst all of the leads creates an absorbing environment and tale that sadly comes to an end and resolves all too quickly and neatly with little to no exploration of the monumental fallout of the dead coming to life once more as John leaves Earth with the gauntlets in hand.

As John tracks down the gauntlets’ inventor who is serving time for necromancy aboard a wooden space prison in ‘Escape from Nebazz,’ he soon finds himself facing a most unexpected attack. This is a story that uses the unique properties of its fairly claustrophobic setting to good effect, and a general sense of bleak helplessness pervades this prison that contrasts nicely to the optimism initially resulting from the latest experiment on an inmate. Indeed, Kathryn Drysdale gives an incredible performance as Dr Magpie who unabashedly carries with her regrets about her past actions but who maintains a sense of unbridled enthusiasm about the universe’s potential wonders she may yet uncover, and in many ways she becomes the protagonist of this story as she far exceeds the typical mad scientist stereotype. As presented, the realization of the research into a means of amplifying an individual’s intelligence is quite effective, but the unintended consequences with roots so very far in the past that quickly spiral out of control create a unique problem that poses a tremendous threat that could reach far beyond just this locale. Connor Calland provides an effective voice as this threat seeks to see the light of day once again even if the script doesn’t quite allow enough time for this aspect to truly develop, and Marsters once more proves to be a perfect vehicle through which to explore this mania as John’s uninhibited personality shines through with himself always at the forefront of his thoughts. This is another episode that breezes by fairly innocuously, but it’s also one that doesn’t quite deliver as much as the preceding tale. Still, the arrival of John Barrowman’s Captain Harkness to join the ensuing adventures heralds a dynamic instalment to follow now that John has so capably reintroduced himself to audiences in a solo capacity.

Stranded on a barren and lifeless desert world that could not sustain a human colony, Captains Jack and John surprisingly come upon what can only be described as utopia in ‘Peach Blossom Heights.’ Featuring pleasant weather and congenial people with no hint of strife, this locale is perfect in every way, and particularly for the more fleshly instincts of these leads. As these two soon discover, the citizens of this locale have never heard of nor experienced sex, and Jack and John eagerly take it upon themselves to educate anyone who will listen. As knowledge and experience of this act quickly spread throughout the citizenry, the majority of this part of John’s story humorously cut- as he describes- because of letters stemming from previous audio adventures, it soon becomes quite clear that there could be a population explosion in short order. However, when even the idea of babies is met with cluelessness, it’s clear that something much stranger is occurring here, and it’s the promise of a trip to the coast on a world with no coast that leads to the truth at the heart of paradise and just what individual thinking can reap as its reward. Barrowman and Marsters share an immense chemistry throughout these zany proceedings that emphasizes both characters’ lustful relationship and outlook on life as well as their genuine sense to be good, even if John does need more prodding to put into action the latter. With plenty of humour all the way through the setup and investigation that leads to a surprising subversion of expectations, ‘Peach Blossom Heights’ is sure to be remembered despite its rather light plot overall.

‘Dark Purposes’ closes this set out with Captain John arriving at the funeral of one of galaxy’s richest men. Without a will to abide by, his heirs quickly put into motion both shared and disparate plans to secure and divide the fortune as they see fit, and John and his gauntlets quickly become integral to a web of deceit, murder, and necromancy. With a relatively small cast and the lead intimately involved in what would otherwise seem be an intriguing murder mystery while events that John is not involved in are likewise shown in whole, this is the most straightforward story of the set. While everyone involved in bringing to life the selfish and self-serving exploits of the Vargoshes and relations does so with dynamic and charismatic ease, the characters unfortunately just do not have the time to develop into anything more than plot devices designed to showcase once again just how easily John can entangle himself in any scheme no matter how seemingly ludicrous. Naturally, he loses control of the narrative as the gauntlets once again reveal a hidden and frightening truth and as he later proves a bit too quick to trust, but Marsters once more gives his enthusiastic all to brilliantly highlight the fluid morality and deviancy of John which helps to elevate this more traditional romp that dmphasizes comedy over the darker themes and actions at its heart. While it’s unfortunate that the finale of The Sins of Captain John is arguably the weakest of the set, and despite the repetitive breaking of the fourth wall not really adding much besides occasional humour throughout, it’s clear that this rogue Time Agent is perfectly capable of anchoring a story of any format in any setting, and hopefully future series will follow that likewise allow shifts in tone to truly allow Marsters to flex his acting skills while exploring the still-hidden aspects of his beloved character.

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