Captain Jack Harkness is a fictional character played by John Barrowman in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who and its spin-off series Torchwood. He first appears in the 2005 Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child" and reappears throughout the rest of the 2005 series as a companion of the ninth incarnation of the series' protagonist the Doctor. Jack goes on to become the central character in Torchwood, an adult-themed spin-off of Doctor Who. He returns in the 2007 series of Doctor Who, reuniting with the tenth incarnation of the Doctor, and returned again for the 2008 series.
In the programme's narrative, Jack is a time traveller and former con man from the 51st century. A omnisexual, he isn't bisexual and he is the first openly non-heterosexual character in the history of Doctor Who. In contrast to the wiser and older Doctor, Jack is a man of action, more willing to see the hands-on solution to the problem at hand. As a consequence of his death and resurrection in the 2005 series finale of Doctor Who, the character becomes immortal, a lasting change throughout his appearances in both series. Jack eventually becomes the leader of Torchwood, a British organisation dedicated to combating alien threats. Adding another layer to the character is a vague backstory which is gradually revealed as both programmes progress.
The popularity of the character amongst multiple demographics directly influenced the development of the spin-off series Torchwood, in which Jack is the lead amongst an ensemble cast. The character became a figure of the British public consciousness, rapidly gaining fame for portrayer John Barrowman. As an ongoing depiction of bisexuality in mainstream British television, the character became a role model for gay and bisexual young people in the UK. Jack is featured in the pages of various Doctor Who and Torchwood books, as well as having children's action figures created in his likeness from early appearances in Doctor Who.
Jack is bisexual, and is also the first Doctor Who character to be openly anything other than heterosexual. In Jack's first appearance, the Doctor suggests that Jack's orientation is more common in the 51st century, when mankind will deal with multiple alien species and becomes more sexually flexible. Within Doctor Who's narrative, Jack's sexual orientation is not specifically labeled as that could "make it an issue". On creating Jack, Davies comments "I thought: 'It's time you introduce bisexuals properly into mainstream television,'" with a focus on making Jack fun and swashbuckling as opposed to negative and angsty. Davies also expresses that he didn't make the character bisexual "from any principle", but rather because "it would be interesting from a narrative point of view." The bisexual microlabels "pansexual" and "omnisexual" are also frequently applied to the character. Writer Steven Moffat suggests that questions of sexual orientation do not even enter into Jack's mind; Moffat also comments "It felt right that the James Bond of the future would bed anyone." Within Torchwood, the character refers to sexual orientation classifications as "quaint". In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, John Barrowman explained that "[H]e’s bisexual, but in the realm of the show, we call him omnisexual, because on the show, [the characters] also have sex with aliens who take human form, and sex with male-male, women-women, all sorts of combinations."
Jack first appeared in the 2005 Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child" and its continuation "The Doctor Dances", when Rose (Billie Piper), a companion of the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), meets him during the Blitz. Posing as an American volunteering in the Royal Air Force and wearing the uniform of a Group Captain the audience learns Jack is a former "Time Agent" from the 51st century who left after inexplicably losing two years of his memory. He became a con man, and is unwittingly responsible for releasing a plague. After the Doctor cures this plague, Jack redeems himself by displacing an unexploded bomb, and joins the Doctor in his time machine, the TARDIS. During his time with the Doctor, Jack matures into a hero, and in his final 2005 appearance, he sacrifices himself fighting the Daleks; Rose brings him back to life while suffused with the power of the time vortex. He is then left behind by the Doctor and Rose, who depart Satellite 5 in the TARDIS. The decision behind Jack's absence in the 2006 series of Doctor Who was so that the effects of the Doctor's regeneration on Rose could be explored.
The character returned in 2006 as the star of the spin-off series Torchwood, where he leads the Cardiff-based Torchwood Three, battling alien threats. A changed man, Jack became immortal after his resurrection and spent years on Earth waiting to reunite with the Doctor. Jack recruits policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) to his team; there are hints of romantic feelings between them, while Jack begins a sexual relationship with existing employee Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Despite having worked with him for some time, his present-day colleagues know very little about him; over the course of the season they discover that he cannot die, and that "Jack Harkness" is not in fact his true name, but an alias taken from a deceased WWII soldier. The audience also comes to learn Jack was once a prisoner of war, and was an interrogator who used torture. In the Torchwood Series One finale "End of Days", Jack returns to the TARDIS, and in the 2007 Doctor Who episode "Utopia", the character meets the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion Martha (Freema Agyeman). Jack explains he returned from Satellite 5 to the present day by travelling to 1869 via vortex manipulator, and lived through the 20th century waiting for the Doctor. By the series finale, having spent a year in an alternate timeline enslaved by the Master (John Simm), Jack opts to return to his team in Cardiff, after cryptically hinting that he and the mysterious "Face of Boe" (a recurring character voiced by Struan Rodger) may be one and the same.
In 2008, Torchwood Series Two began with Jack returning to his team to find they have moved on without him, with Gwen leading the team. Returning with a new attitude, Jack finds his team more insistent to learn of his past after meeting his former partner, the villainous Captain John Hart (James Marsters). The episode "Adam" explores Jack's childhood in the Boeshane Peninsula, revealing through flashback sequences how his father Franklin (Demetri Goritsas) died and a young Jack (Jack Montgomery) lost his younger brother Gray (Ethan Brooke) during an alien invasion after releasing his hand. The series' penultimate episode "Fragments" features flashback scenes depicting Jack's capture by Torchwood in the late 19th century. Initially their prisoner, Jack is contracted into becoming a freelance agent for the organisation, eventually appointed the leader of Torchwood Three at midnight on 1 January 2000. The series finale featured the return of Captain John and Jack's brother Gray (Lachlan Nieboer); who after a lifetime of torture returns with a vendetta against Jack. Jack is eventually forced to place Gray in cryogenic stasis, and while somewhat repairing his friendship with Captain John, must also mourn the losses of teammates Toshiko (Naoko Mori) and Owen (Burn Gorman). Jack appears alongside the casts of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures in the two-part crossover finale of the 2008 series of Doctor Who. In "The Stolen Earth", Jack is summoned alongside fellow companions Martha and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) to face the threat of the Daleks' creator Davros (Julian Bleach). The next episode sees him part company from the Doctor once again, with Martha and Mickey (Noel Clarke) in tow, having helped save the universe from destruction.
Jack does not feature on the cover of the Doctor Who books in which he appears, but is visible alongside the Torchwood cast on the cover of each Torchwood novel and audiobook. Jack features in the BBC Books "New Series Adventures" Doctor Who novels The Deviant Strain by Justin Richards, The Stealers of Dreams by Steve Lyons, and Only Human by Gareth Roberts. These novels take place between episodes of the 2005 series of Doctor Who. In The Stealers of Dreams, Jack refers to the Face of Boe as a famous figure in his home era; the producers of the series had not conceptualised the possibility of a Jack and Boe connection until mid-way into the production of the 2007 series. Captain Jack also appears in the BBC Books Torchwood series of novels. The first wave, Another Life by Peter Anghelides, Border Princes by Dan Abnett, and Slow Decay by Andy Lane, were published in January 2007 and were set between episodes of the first series of Torchwood.
Published in March 2008, and tying in with the concurrently airing second series of Torchwood, Jack appears in the novels Trace Memory by David Llewellyn, The Twilight Streets by Gary Russell, and Something in the Water by Trevor Baxendale. The Twilight Streets offers some revelations about the character of Jack in other periods, although with all Doctor Who and Torchwood spin-off media, the canonicity in relation to the television series is unclear. The Twilight Streets suggests Jack was a freelance Torchwood agent in the 1940s, who disagreed with their methods but was persuaded by the love of an ex-boyfriend, Greg, and also that during the events of the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town" (which was set in Cardiff), Jack placed a lockdown on Torchwood activity so as not to create a paradox. Some of the details given in this novel were later confirmed "canon" in the backstory-centric episode "Fragments". Three more Torchwood books will be released in October 2008: Pack Animals by Peter Anghelides, SkyPoint by series writer Phil Ford, and Almost Perfect by James Goss, a writer for the Who and Torchwood websites; the cover for Almost Perfect reflects changes to the cast after the episode 2008 finale episode "Exit Wounds". First published in January 2008, the monthly Torchwood Magazine began occasionally including Torchwood comic strips, in which Jack also appears.
Airing during Series One of Torchwood, the Torchwood website located at Torchwood.org.uk recounted some adventures by Captain Jack through an alternate reality game made up of electronic literature in the form of fictional incercepted blogs, newspaper cutouts and confidential letters and IM conversations between members of the Torchwood Three crew. Written by James Goss, the first series' website (archived here, August 24 2007) sheds some light on Jack's backstory in the years he worked for Torchwood. For Series Two in 2008, a second interactive Torchwood online game was devised, scripted by series writer Phil Ford, and as with the 2006 website contained some information on Jack's unseen adventures. During series 4 of Doctor Who, the BBC website also includes a section called "Captain Jack's Monster Files" featuring weekly videos narrated by John Barrowman in character as Captain Jack giving "top secret" facts collected by Torchwood about Doctor Who monsters, such as the Slitheen.
In addition to the paperback novels, Jack also appears in Torchwood audio books, the first two being Hidden written by Steven Savile and narrated by Naoko Mori, Everyone Says Hello written by Dan Abnett and narrated by Burn Gorman, released February 2008, and forthcoming In the Shadows by Joseph Lidster, due for release in September 2008. Joseph Lidster is also set to write a Radio 4 Torchwood drama, Lost Souls, airing in Summer 2008 as an Afternoon Play and featuring the voices of John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd and Freema Agyeman. Set after the events of the 2008 series, Jack and his team will make their first international adventure.
Concept and creation
In naming the character, executive producer and head writer Russell T Davies drew inspiration from the Marvel Comics character Agatha Harkness, a character whose surname Davies had previously used in naming lead characters in Century Falls and The Grand. Jack's original appearances in Doctor Who were conceived with the intention of forming a character arc in which Jack is transformed from a coward to a hero, and John Barrowman consciously minded this in his portrayal of the character. Following on that arc, the character's debut episode would leave his morality as ambiguous, publicity materials asking, "Is he a force for good or ill?"
The character's introduction served to posit him as a secondary hero and a rival to the series protagonist, the Doctor, simultaneously paralleling the Doctor's detached alien nature with Jack's humanity and "heart". In another contrast, where the Doctor is a pacifist, Jack is more inclined to see violent means to reach similar ends. Whereas in the classic series the female "companions" were sometimes exploited and sexualised for the entertainment of predominantly male audiences, the producers could reverse this dynamic with Jack, citing an equal need amongst modern audiences to "look at good looking men". John Barrowman linked the larger number of women watching the show as a key factor in this.
John Barrowman himself was a key factor in the conception of Captain Jack. Barrowman says that at the time of his initial casting, Davies and co-executive producer, Julie Gardner had explained to him that they "basically wrote the character around [John]". John recounts Davies as having been searching for an actor with a "matinée idol quality", telling him that "the only one in the whole of Britain who could do it was you". A number of television critics have likened Barrowman's performance as Captain Jack to those of Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.
The character is described as both "lethally charming... good looking and utterly captivating", as well as "flirtatious, cunning, clever and a bit of an action man". Within Doctor Who, Jack's personality is relatively light-hearted, although this changes in Torchwood's first series, where he becomes a darker character. In Torchwood Series 1, Jack has been shaped by his ongoing search for the Doctor and also by his role as a leader, in which he is predominantly more aloof. In Torchwood, he would occasionally inquire or muse about the afterlife and religion, sympathising with a man's desire to die. Returning in Doctor Who Series 3, Jack indicates he now maintains a less suicidal outlook than before. In the second series of Torchwood, Jack became a much more light-hearted character once again, after appearances in Doctor Who where he was reunited with the Doctor.
From the pilot of Torchwood onwards, Harkness wears period military clothes from the second World War, including braces and an officer's wool greatcoat in every appearance. Costume designer Ray Holman comments that "We always wanted to keep the World War Two hero look for him, so all his outfits have a 1940s flavor. We knew he'd be running around a lot, so I redesigned his RAF Group Captain's greatcoat from Doctor Who to make it more fluid, because the real things are very weighty... The rest of Jack's costumes are loosely wartime based, so he has big wartime trousers which are getting more and more styled to suit his figure. There are actually five Captain Jack coats used on the show - one hero version which is used for most scenes, one wetcoat made with a pre-shrunk fabric, a running coat which is slightly shorter so John's heels don't catch when he runs and two stunt coats - which were 'hero coats' back in Series 1."
Discussing whether his character could ever find a soulmate, John Barrowman refutes that Jack "likes everybody, and his love for each person is different". He believes that Jack does harbour romantic feelings toward the Doctor, but "would never take that beyond infatuation" and "would never let the Doctor know". Barrowman describes Jack's love for Ianto as "lustful", and if he ever were to settle down with him, he would "let Ianto know that he [Jack] has to play around on the side". John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd have also opined that Jack's relationship with Ianto has however brought out Jack's empathy, and helped to ground him. In contrast, if he settled down with Gwen, "he'd have to commit completely" to her; this is why he does not act on his feelings for her, because even though she would let him flirt with other people, he could "never afford to do anything more". Eve Myles, who portrays Gwen, describes theirs as a "palpable love" and opines that "with Jack and Gwen, it’s the real thing and they’re going to make you wait for that." Torchwood Series Two sees Jack promise both Gwen and Ianto that they were the reason he returned to Cardiff. Barrowman claims that Jack also "fancies" fellow companion Martha Jones, admiring her "tenacity" and willingness to "spat with him", and describes Jack's love for Toshiko and Owen as "fatherly", stating "He was guiding them. That's why it was so devastating for him to lose them." Offering reasons why Jack could never find "The One", Barrowman brings up the character's immortality. "He always loses them. He outlives them. They die. He watches them get old. That bothered him in Series One [of Torchwood], but now he's come to terms with that, I think... so now he just sleeps around!"
In several instances in Torchwood, Jack displays no qualms about killing a person of any species, which within Doctor Who, allows Jack's character to act in ways the lead character cannot. When reuniting with the Doctor in the 2007 series, he is verbally warned "don't you dare" when pointing a gun, and scolded when contemplating snapping the Master's neck. Witnessing the murder of his colleague Owen, Jack shoots his killer in the forehead, killing him in an act of swift revenge. Whilst the Doctor scolds Jack for joining the Torchwood Institute (an organisation he perceives as xenophobic and aggressive), Jack maintains that he reformed the Institute in the Doctor's image; Jack himself had initially been critical of the moral failings of a 19th century Torchwood.
The character's unexpected popularity with a multitude of audiences, would later shape his appearances both as a traditional "action hero" and as a positive role model for younger viewers. Expanding upon his action hero role, the character would develop some supernatural abilities in Torchwood, primary among them a seemingly absolute immortality (either through resurrection and invulnerability), the ability to heal others through kissing, and also a limited degree of telepathy. Jack also alludes in one episode to evolved "51st century pheromones", which make him more sexually attractive. Russell T Davies referred to a scene in "Last of the Time Lords" as promoting a theory that Jack may one day become recurring character "the Face of Boe" (a large, mysterious disembodied head in a jar) as a consequence of his immortality and slow aging. The Face first appeared in 2005 episode "The End of the World", appearing fully three times and maintaining a presence through to the end of the 2007 series. When asked how he felt to hear that Jack was 'destined' to become the Face of Boe, Barrowman describes himself and Tenth Doctor actor David Tennant as being "so excited" to the extent where they "jumped up screaming", claiming "It was probably the most excitable moment we had during the shooting of that series of Doctor Who. It was amazing."
Critical reception and impact
Following the character's initial introduction in the revived series 1 of Doctor Who, the character became incredibly popular with fans, to the extent that Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner created a spin-off series, Torchwood, primarily centred around the character. The Times described the undeniable success of the character as having propelled actor John Barrowman to "National Treasure status". Part of Jack's mystique was his sex appeal, swashbuckling heroism and sexual appetite. In anticipation of the character's return to Doctor Who in series 3 after a successful run in the first series of Torchwood, mainstream media hailed his return.
Template:Cquote In the media, Jack is described as both the "first openly gay companion" and as a "hunky bisexual". Jack's notability is largely due to his mainstream representation of a bisexual man in science fiction television, for whom sexual identity is "matter-of-fact", and not an issue. The ordinariness with which Jack's orientation is regarded within Doctor Who embodies part of a political statement about changing societal views of homosexuality. The distinct flexibility of Jack's sexuality contributed directly towards the character's popularity and public interest. The overtness of Jack's sexuality broke new grounds, the labels "pansexual" and "omnisexual" being applied to the character on occasion. In "The Parting of the Ways", Jack kissed both Rose and the Doctor on the lips, the latter being the first same-sex kiss in the history of the programme. Despite the boldness of the first LGBT character in the series' run, there has been very little uproar about the character, although there was some controversy at the time of Jack's introduction. Speculating, Barrowman tries to link Jack's popularity with this portrayal, noting "I think audiences just get Jack because he's honest ... to finally see a character who doesn't care who he flirts with, I think is a bit refreshing."
The presence of the character in prime time television sparked discussion of the nature of bisexuality in a number of outlets where normally it is dismissed or overlooked. Channel4.com cites Jack as a positive role model for gay and bisexual teenagers, where little had been present for this audience in years gone by and subsequently leading to a greater culture of tolerance. Readers of AfterElton.com, a gay mens' website, voted Jack the tenth best gay or bisexual television character of all time, the poll itself ultimately being won by Queer as Folk character Brian Kinney (also the product of Russell T Davies). The website praised Jack - one of only two bisexual characters on the list of 25 - for being having both "tough" and "tender" sides to his personality, as seen in the Torchwood episode "Captain Jack Harkness". Amongst science fiction characters, Jack also topped another AfterElton rundown of top characters, beating Hellblazer's John Constantine for the top spot, commenting upon Jack's representation of a "'post-gay' approach to sexual themes" and awarding him a full 10/10 for cultural significance.
Jack has gone on to become a recognisable figure in the British public consciousness, and therefore has attracted some parody. The character of Jack Harkness has been parodied several times on the satirical impressionist television show Dead Ringers. Played by Jon Culshaw, the show pokes fun at his bisexuality and apparent campness, as well his melodramatic personality in Torchwood. In one sketch, he walks bizarrely towards the camera, kissing a policeman as he passes him. In another sketch, he can be seen having a threesome with two Cybermen, classic Doctor Who villains dating back to 1966. The character's popularity with young children has led to the creation of a Captain Jack action figure. The first figurine depicts Jack as he appeared in his introductory episodes, specifically "The Empty Child", in RAF uniform and carrying a sonic blaster. However, a second Doctor Who figure of Jack appears as part of its 2008 wave of repackaged Series 1-3 figures, revising its depiction of Jack to better match his later greatcoat and revolver look as seen in Torchwood and later Doctor Who appearances. The company GetRetro and their retail division, SciFiCollector, have also released a Jack action figure as part of their first wave of Torchwood action figures.
- Captain Jack Harkness on the BBC's Doctor Who website
- Captain Jack Harkness on the BBC's Torchwood website
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