Sunday, 19 April 2015

Captain Jack Harkness written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Ashley Way

This episode in a nutshell: We discover that Captain Jack Harkness is not his real name…and far more besides.

Hunky Harkness: Excuse me whilst I go on a little rant for a moment but why can’t Jack be written this perceptively on a more regular basis? If you tuned in to this episode you would be under the mistaken impression that this shows lead is a thoughtful, gentle, awkward fellow that makes tough decisions of the heart. Anybody who has seen the first season of Torchwood will tell you that this is exception rather than the rule but that doesn’t take anything away from what this episode achieves and that is to make Jack likeable for the first time since the series began. That’s one miracle, the other is that they managed to pull of a gay romance without once ever making it feel sensationalist or gratuitous. Colour me impressed. But more on that later… Jack stole the real Jack Harkness’ name, he knows too much about his future and he doesn’t want to share. Being back in the 1940’s is like a nostalgia trip for him, almost a school reunion! Who was he before he took his false name? Isn’t it wonderful how sexy, flirty, confident Jack Harkness becomes a shy, awkward teenager again when he falls for somebody that he has an emotional connection with. Lets give John Barrowman plenty of credit where it’s due, he makes the scenes between the two Jack’s anguishing. He sends Jack after Nancy to kiss her goodbye, a sweet, selfless gesture despite how it clearly hurts him. A Captain has to explain the risks and tell his men what to expect. Jack was forced to watch his best friend be tortured by the worst creatures imaginable – it is unusual to hear him opening up about his past, he must really care about his the other Jack. The look on his face when Jack tells him he is scared to fight is regret; he has fallen for him now he has admitted how he is really feeling. When they lock fingers and pull apart awkwardly when people walk past it would take the most cynical person not to will them to be brave enough to show their feelings publicly. Jack admits to Tosh that Rose brought him back from death and ever since he feels as though he is alive for a reason and he’s still trying to find out what. The moment Jack finally asks our Jack for his hand on the dance floor and they hold each other, aching to be together with Tosh watching on proudly is one of those winding emotional moments that Torchwood can achieve that no other show can. They look at each other with such longing. I love how Jack has no witty quips, doesn’t pull out a gun once or hurt anybody throughout this episode, he leaves the story a broken man who has lost another love and it’s heartbreaking.

Jack’s Crew: What a fantastic episode this is for Toshiko! After a season of wafting around like a bad smell and not really connecting with the action (except for the uneven Greek Bearing Gifts) we finally get some really interesting material for Tosh. Her Grandfather is 88 today and she’s off to party! Jack grabs her and dances her around the derelict dancehall in an unexpectedly intimate moment. I love how Jack treats this all as a jolly adventure but Tosh is genuinely scared that they will be trapped in the 1940’s and she has a life that she wants to get back to. She awkwardly dances with a squaddie and Jack has to step in to protect her honour. She is terrified of what will happen to her after Pearl Harbour despite Jack’s promises to protect her. It is Tosh that drags Jack back to the 21st Century telling him that they need him. It’s not a pairing I would have thought of but Jack and Tosh have surprising chemistry. The power games between Owen and Ianto are great, at least initially as they give the former a reality check and the latter something to do at last! They insult each others failed romances, Ianto turned to Jack for solace but Owen is still bleeding. Owen describes Ianto’s way as safe and boring. Owen and Gwen only share two lines but they are loaded with tension and regret. You have to cheer when Ianto puts a bullet in Owen’s shoulder, he really is pig headed in this episode. Once we get to Fragments in series two his actions here become much more understandable, not wanting to lose another love.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ll look after you but there’s nothing I can do for him.’
‘It was wartime but it was beautiful.’

The Good Stuff: A temporal shift to the 1940’s, Torchwood has dragged characters from the past to the present effectively and it pulls kicking our regulars into the past with just as much style. ‘Why is George dancing with a Jap?’ – I really liked the inclusion of the bullish, intolerant blond showing that beneath the veneer racism was running rife. Scenes of Gwen hearing the dance music in the deserted dance hall is pure Sapphire and Steel. Who guessed the title was referring to the real Captain Jack Harkness? Bilis Manger was the best villain of the first season (he is great but his competition was a sex alien, fairies, a Cyberwoman, a rapist, Suzie and a bunch of inbred cannibals!), he is effete, delicate and very sinister, his piercing eyes bite right through you. How he appears in both time zones feels as though he is haunting the building. Another moment of unspoken feelings comes when Jack awkwardly handles his trophy girlfriend, you can’t help but feel sorry for Nancy who he doesn’t say I love you to before returning to Jack. Tosh sending the details to help them forward in time, written in her own blood, is a gorgeous idea. White Cliffs of Dover is sung in an air raid shelter as young boys lose their virginity before heading off to war, this episode oozes period atmosphere. I like the gentler moments like Jack looking over at our Jack as he tells Tosh about his death.

The Bad Stuff: What a shame the Ianto/Owen testosterone match grinds up to such hysterical levels, it would have been a flawless episode otherwise.

The Shallow Bit: Ianto looks as handsome as he has ever been in his red wine shit and waistcoat. Matt Rippy manages to be rugged and gentle, he’s absolutely gorgeous. Is this the most anticipated kiss between two men?

Result: Reading my reviews of Random Shoes and Captain Jack Harkness might lead you to believe that I have no issues with the first season of Torchwood. Nothing could be further from the truth but they are two exceptional diamonds amongst a whole heap of rough. It interests me that my three favourite episodes of Torchwood’s first year are all written by women (Ghost Machine is the other one) and Cath Treganna mixes war and romance to shattering effect here. It's dizzyingly effctive. Captain Jack Harkness might dress itself up as a time travel tale but it’s really a tender chance romance between Jack Harkness and the man who stole his name. I'm not keen on gay romances simply for the sake of it (there is nothing wrong with that, it is a purely personal problem I have about being defined by my sexuality, which I hate) but Captain Jack Harkness offers invaluable development to the titular character and great opportunities for the series' lead actor. John Barrowman gives his best performance of the season and shares passionate chemistry with Matt Rippy, their scenes together enchanting. I’m glad we got to see more of Bilis Manger since he is the first Torchwood villain to really impress. The episode looks gorgeous too and even finds the time to perk up forgotten character Toshiko. Rift opening hysterics aside, this is a blisteringly good episode: 9/10

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