Big Finish Review: Torchwood - The Death of Captain Jack
Big Finish are expanding their Torchwood range with a whole host of upcoming monthly releases. Following on from last month's conclusion to 'series 5' Aliens Among Us, the next story focuses on John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness and his old nemesis James Master's Captain John Hart.
The Death of Captain Jack, written by David Llewellyn and directed by Scott Handcock, is available to download at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st May.
Here's the synopsis...
Captain Jack is finally dying, and it's time for his oldest friend to visit his deathbed. King John has come to tell him a story. The story of the life he should have had.
It's the story of Alexander the Great, sinking ships, falling empires, robot dinosaurs, and alien invasions. It's a story of love, royal weddings, murder, mass murder, genocide, and very tight trousers.
It's the story of the life of Captain John and it's the story of Torchwood. Be careful what you wish for.
James Masters is a delight in this 'alternate history of Torchwood' tale, which sees Captain John swap places with Jack and change history. The story is framed around John visiting a dying Jack as an old man, which is an intriguing hook in itself given Jack's immortality and ultimate (presumed) fate as the Face of Boe.
Events then jump back prior to Jack's encounter with the Doctor as time agents Jack and John leap through history saving historical figures. Imagine Doctor Who but with the hero stealing historical artefacts and having sex with everyone he saves and you'll get the idea. Torchwood was always looking to be the more 'adult' Doctor Who but adult doesn't always mean add lots of sex and there was something a little tasteless about the the captains having orgies with Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great and Christopher Marlowe. While the message of open sexuality was clear, it felt lost between the moral ambiguity and sex noises that dominated the first act.
Fortunately things get really interesting as the story heads to Victorian England and John saves the life of Queen Victoria (played brilliantly by Rowena Cooper - though it might have been nice to have Pauline Collins for continuity's sake). The moment he seduces the mourning Queen and convinces her to marry him, you know things are going to go very wrong and the tales goes from intriguing to a bonkers alternate history as John proceeds to reimagine everything we've ever known in his own light. The arrival of Jack (post encounter with the Doctor and with immortality to boot) to stop him takes a surprise turn as John has him imprisoned in Flat Holm (a nice call back to season two's Adrfit) and steal his powers of immortality.
There are so many moments that make this story a blast, from John's attempt to expand the British Empire, using a death ray against New York to his attempts to lament Victoria's passing as she dies in a violent coughing fit on her bed. James Masters is clearly having a lot of fun (there's more than enough of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Spike in his sass and delight in cruelty). David Llewellyn fills his script with perverse, twisted and very funny moments - think of Doctor Who's Turn Left through the eyes of a psychopath - that build and build as John tells the story of the alternate twentieth century through to 'present day'.
'King' John's bellyaching laughter at the 'Roswell incident' as he reveals that he planted two dwarves in alien costumes in an alien ship and dropped them from orbit was genuinely hilarious, in a very darkly comic way. His treatment of Ianto and Gwen was also dark, cruel and bemusing, particularly the offhand way he dismisses Gwen's death at his hands to a grieving Rhys. And there was a delightful whistle stop your through the events of Children of Earth (John makes the easy choice when selecting 10% of the Earth's child population) while knowingly acknowledging that Miracle Day was all something we'd rather forget.
The conclusion is swiftly executed and as simple as it was, it was also very effective - having Jack's death erase the destruction to the universe John had caused and restore the fixed point in time.
The Death of Captain Jack is an over-the-top, perverse and very fun take on the whole alternate reality storyline, with James Masters an absolute blast as the ruthless, audacious and hilarious Captain John Hart. It's not subtle, but the magic of John and Jack together was never going to be anything other than an over the top, entertaining adventure where anything goes...
This release packs in a whole host of trailers for the upcoming Torchwood monthly releases from Big Finish, packed with plenty of atmosphere, including the upcoming April release of Believe, which stars all five of the original season two cast.
Finally there is a great five minute discussion with James Master' as he talks about getting into Doctor Who, chatting to Russell T Davies about joining the show before taking on the role of Captain John Hart in Torchwood, his love for the character and enthusiasm about returning to the role in this latest release.