Doctor Who #751: Captain Jack Harkness

"It's not my name. It's his. I took his. But I didn't realize he was ... so hot!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.1 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Captain Jack meets the real Captain Jack in 1941.

REVIEW: Originally played on the same night as the series finale, this episode can afford to be a slower character piece. Captain Jack is whisked back to his favorite(?) era with Tosh, and the two make a nice duo. It's kind of convenient that she's going to a party and has a dress on and her hair up, much less conspicuous in the era they land in, but she at least struggles with being Japanese. At least Pearl Harbor hasn't happened yet, but her apprehension is grounded in reality. Ultimately, this is more about Jack. When they encounter his namesake, he has to reveal things about himself to Toshiko, though it creates even more "untold history" for the character. It's an origin story of sorts. It's also the story of how foreknowledge can be a burden. Jack stole this man's identity and feels he owes him something, and he knows the real Jack will die tomorrow and takes it upon himself to make sure he does so with no regrets. That means giving him the chance to express his closeted homosexuality. Toshiko as witness to these events brings a sweetness and warmth that makes me long for more Jack-Tosh action.

While Jack is trying to save Jack's soul and his, it's Toshiko who has to actively work to get them both back to the present, which is done by suitably timey-wimey means. Tosh is resourceful, but she gets help from Bilis Manger, the creepy and mysterious caretaker of the dance hall in both time frames. She goes so far as to write a message in blood, which sort of sets us up for a meeting with the Devil in the next episode. Gwen's good at looking for clues, if rather lucky (and also getting help). Meanwhile, Owen is crazed about getting the rift to open to get Jack and his lost love Diane spit back to the present, and his use of Lisa to hurt the interfering Ianto is out of line and puts the two at each others' throats, and even gets to jerky doctor shot. By the coming attractions, it's obvious this Lisa business is mostly a script editor plant to reintroduce the notion of the (loathed) character in time for her appearance in the finale.

So okay, let's talk about the story's many contrivances. Some of them are justified because Manger is obviously helping the Torchwood team open the rift, albeit with a crucial part of the equation missing. But this whole rift manipulator business is suspect to begin with. It's never been mentioned before, but now the team has access to a machine that affects the rift, but which they don't use. Toshiko has apparently been working on rift manipulation equations, but at the same time, the manipulator apparently needs a piece of machinery Manger has, and which Owen spots and recognizes easily. And then there's the contrivance of Jack meeting the real Jack on his last night, but that's the story's hook, so I'll buy it. What is much harder to swallow is that two officers can share a dance and a kiss in front of an entire squadron without repercussion or even reaction. They also don't react to the giant rift hole, and disappear before Real Jack finally fades away. I'll give the production full props for creating a deeply romantic moment between two men, but the mechanics of it do strain suspension of disbelief. (See Theories for how it might all be okay, however.) I can't fault the episode's ambiance, creepy, tense and nostalgic, but on a plot level, it's got more hole than Cardiff's space-time membrane.

THEORIES: What if Bilis (and thus Abaddon) is more in control than anyone believes? Looking ahead to some of its tricks in End of Days, the monstrous entity can call up people who have died to torment the living. We already know Bilis' house is in temporal flux, possibly thanks to the rift manipulator disc hidden in his grandfather clock, and will find out he's an Abaddon worshiper. So if it's entirely convenient the rift would take Jack and Tosh to the day before the real Jack Harkness died, maybe it's because Abaddon wanted it that way. But that the real Jack was at the house where Bilis worked the night before he died is itself an incredible coincidence. What if none of it is real? Jack and Tosh ARE taken back in time, but the house is populated by dead souls brought to life by Abaddon to toy with Jack. If so, it makes sense of the final moments, in which Real Jack would rather snog Our Jack than go sleep with his girlfriend, in which no one bats an eye when men kiss and rifts open, in which Real Jack is the last to disappear in a romantic white glow. It looks like Abaddon's modus operandi, crushing his opponents' spirit by torturing them emotionally.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium or Medium-High
- I can't decide. I like the atmosphere, the characterization, the paradoxes, etc., but I can't abide the plot contrivances.



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