Since his introduction in 2005's "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" two-parter, the character of Captain Jack Harkness became a staple in Doctor Who's history, both in the main show as well as outside of it thanks to spin-off series Torchwood. This was a character that still had an enduring fanbase, a rich and complicated history and was what made John Barrowman a TV superstar. Even though Russell T. Davies created the character, it was Barrowman who gave the character the life, energy and personality that has made him so iconic to begin with. Even then, the time-travelling immortal has had gaps in his life that were teased but never fully explained or delved into, until now that is. The Lives of Captain Jack chronicles key events in Captain Jack's life before, during and after meeting the Doctor and joining Torchwood.
The first story, “The Year After I Died” shows what happened to Jack after he had been exterminated by the Daleks on the Game Station in “The Parting of the Ways”, and this story does a great job at showing Jack at his most vulnerable. We see him completely conflicted as he wants to have adventure yet is suffering from the trauma of being killed and is wanting to get the most out of his second chance at life. This does feel like a natural successor to the 2005 Series 1 finale with numerous callbacks and characters placed in situations all too familiar, and Jack is helped by a solid supporting cast, particularly by Shvorne Marks as Silo Crook. The second story, “Wednesdays for Beginners”, shows Jack teaming up with Jackie Tyler of all people for one adventure whilst Rose is travelling with the Tenth Doctor, and this is probably the weakest of the four stories. While Barrowman and Camille Coduri have a great dynamic, the story and threat feels a tad unremarkable and at times comes dangerously close to delving into “Love and Monsters” territory.
Things pick up though in “An Enchanted Evening”, the third story which shows Jack and Alonso Frame just minutes after their flirtatious first meeting at the conclusion of “The End of Time”. This is a very fun, campy and touching adventure about two fan-favourites bonding over the course of an hour whilst trying to save a spaceship from an invading menace. Russell Tovey is still great as Alonso Frame, his chemistry with Barrowman is believable and we see Frame regaining his confidence after losing it in “Voyage of the Damned”. When Jack was introduced, both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt hinted at Jack's service with the Time Agency and that two years of his life there was stolen from him. Ever since then we never really knew the full details behind that and why he left the Agency, but the fourth and final story, “Month 25” finally explains a lot of that hidden backstory as well as Jack's real name. This is the highlight of the boxset, playing out almost like an espionage spy thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep us engaged, showing us how the Time Agency is not all what it seems to be and adds a great deal to Jack's character without completely ruining the mystery and intrigue.
The writing by Guy Adams and James Goss is superb and they completely understand the character of Jack Harkness and his lore, whilst John Barrrowman once again excels in his performance as the titular character. His personality shines through, he perfectly captures all the various emotions he goes through and it's really evident in just how much he loves and invests in the character of Jack. It's clear that Big Finish are true fans that listens to the audience and gives us what we have been wanting for ages and furthermore delivering on the goods. This is an essential listen for any die-hard Whovian, and provides greater insight into the time-travelling, flirtatious, energetic, immortal, former Time Agent himself.
THE LIVES OF CAPTAIN JACK / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / WRITERS: GUY ADAMS, JAMES GOSS / STARRING: JOHN BARROWMAN, RUSSELL TOVEY, CAMILLE CODURI, SARAH DOUGLAS, SHVORNE MARKS, SCOTT HARAN, AARON NEIL / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW