‘The Lives Of Captain Jack: Volume Two’ reviewed

❉ Colin Baker is a remarkably good sport when it comes to John Barrowman poking fun at his Doctor.

When last we heard John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, in Big Finish Productions’ recent Torchwood audio drama The Green Life, he teamed up with one of Doctor Who’s most beloved past companions, Jo Grant. Not known as a poster child for restraint, Barrowman has tightened his embrace of Doctor Who’s “classic series” by playing opposite one of the past Doctors in the form of Colin Baker. Baker only appears in one story in the newly released The Lives Of Captain Jack Volume Two, Piece Of Mind by James Goss, but the story offers good reason in itself to buy the set.

While the stories that follow Piece Of Mind are not quite as exciting, both have elements to recommend them. What Have I Done? by Guy Adams fills in one of the many blanks in Jack’s 20th century life between the Doctor Who episode The Parting of the Ways and the debut episode of Torchwood. Set during World War One around the battle of Gallipoli, Jack encounters both a fearsome monster and a troubled spirit in the form of an enemy soldier. Effectively a two-hander, the play uses the human catastrophe of the so-called “Great War” as the springboard for a meditation on bravery and fear.

Barrowman and Attila Akinci as the soldier Ata play off of each other extremely well, the latter torn between his distrust of Jack and a profound lack of concern about his own survival. What’s most striking about the story, though, is how much more comfortable Barrowman is with the audio medium. Where his initial radio appearance as Jack in the 2008 Torchwood play Lost Souls felt tentative, his performance in What Have I Done? (and the set in general) feels aligned with the character’s TV incarnation. Under Scott Handcock’s direction both the offhand quips and swagger come across naturally.

Ata: Why did you save me?
Jack: Because you had nice eyes.
Ata: That is not the answer.
Jack: Well, it’s the only one you’re gonna’ get.

In contrast, the set’s closer Driving Miss Wells (another contribution from James Goss) feels a bit forced, which is unfortunate because it has a great premise. On paper, having Lachele Carl reprise the role of newscaster Trinity Wells was an ideal way to explore how the alien invasions and other catastrophic events that occurred with great regularity in the latter-00s impacted the news media in the Doctor Who universe. However, in practice the narrative rambles, and Jack’s role in it takes too long to come into focus. The end result touches on some interesting ideas and is generally entertaining but not completely satisfying.

As for the collection’s opener, Piece of Mind is a bit too broad to be a great parody but is undeniably fun. Barrowman clearly relishes the chance to have Jack in the place of the Doctor, and Colin Baker is a remarkably good sport when it comes to poking fun at his incarnation of the Doctor. What’s particularly nice is that Jack and the Doctor are faced with a dilemma that feels worthy of bringing them together, ensuring that the story stands up as more than just fan service. If Big Finish’s mixing of elements between the 20th and 21st century iterations of Doctor Who has been something of a mixed bag to date, Piece of Mind shows that the effort remains very worthwhile.

❉ ‘The Lives Of Captain Jack: Volume Two’ was released in June 2019. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until August 31st 2019, and on general sale after this date.

 Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture,  Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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