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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Captain Jack Harkness”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 11: “Combat”)

Wibbly wobbly, timey whimey. It kinda makes my head want to explode, all this stuff happening simultaneously in the present and in the past. Tosh writes a note in her own blood, and there Gwen is finding it the next moment. Bilis takes a photograph of Jack and Jack and Tosh, and there it is appearing on a computer screen at the Torchwood Hub. I know these things aren’t really happening at the “same time,” but then there’s this to consider: If Jack and Tosh had done a little research on the old dance hall before they went to check out the weird reports about old-fashioned music emanating from it, would they have found that photograph of themselves? Or did it only come into existence in the past after they went back? And how could that be?

It’s conundrums like this that make me love time-travel stories.
“They’re not ghosts,” Jack says once it looks like he and Tosh have traveled back in time. “It’s a simple temporal shift.” Uh-huh: simple. What a life. And, indeed, we do get all sorts of juicy tidbits about Jack and his timey-whimey life in this episode. And I don’t mean just his little story about “the worst possible creatures you can imagine” that he fought as a boy with the friend he convinced to join up. I mean, sure, that’s intriguing, but I’m talking more about the things we learn — or that are hinted at — about Jack the man now.

Like this: he seems kinda excited at the prospect of living through World War II again. Tosh is mad — she has a life back there in 2006 — but for Jack it’s all one big adventure, and this, apparently, was one of the more fun eras… and that first time around was when he was still mortal and could have been killed by a bomb or a bullet or whatever. Maybe it’d be even better now that he knows he can’t be killed. No, wait, this would be his third time around, that we know of (based on knowledge we now have from Season 2 of Torchwood). He was here, as a mortal Time Agent/con artist from the 51st century when he first met the Doctor and Rose during the Blitz, and after Bad Wolf Rose accidentally made him immortal, he traveled back to 19th-century Earth and would have had to live through World War II again (as an immortal) to get himself into position to pick up Torchwood in the early-21st-century. (Unless he somehow traveled off Earth during some of that long stretch of time.) So the Ritz dance hall is at least his third visit to World War II.

Jack’s timeline is another thing that makes my head want to explode.

“Who were you before you took his name?” Tosh asks, when they meet the real American volunteer Captain Jack Harkness (which begs the question: if our Jack chose to assume the identity of an American, does that mean he did not speak with an American accent before that?). We still don’t know the answer to that, except for the very vague references to being a Time Agent. (There’s a bit more coming in Season 2… but not enough.)

Awww, and Jack, for all his cocky bluster, is a romantic. We kinda already knew that, but the way he looks at the real Jack in the cellar bomb shelter: it’s not just about physical attraction — it may not even be about that at all, for all that our Jack comments that he “didn’t realize he was so hot.” It’s about the heroism and the adventure and the tragedy of the real Captain Jack Harkness — you know, the romance. I wonder how much of their dance — or that kiss! — was real, and how much was fantasy. It’s hard to imagine anyone being that bold in 1941, particularly a man who is a leader of other men. If it was all real, did the presence of our Jack change things, maybe even lead to the death of the real Jack? I mean, perhaps seeing this unexpected side of their leader made some young soldier to reconsider his captain’s worthiness as a commanding officer of other men, and did something that led to Jack’s death, or didn’t do something that would have prevented it. Men can be such macho idiots sometimes…

I also can’t help but imagine that our Jack is thinking of himself when he tells the other Jack to kiss his girl good-bye, to “live every night like it’s your last.” Is our Jack thinking about how he said good-bye to Rose, or to the Doctor?

Random thoughts on “Captain Jack Harkness”:

• Vote Saxon!

• Is Owen is a polymath — he’s brilliant at medicine and physics? Or have they all just picked up some Rift physics in the course of their work? (Not that you wouldn’t need to be a genius to “pick up some Rift physics”…)

• Hmmm… that central column of the Rift machine makes me think of the time rotor of the TARDIS console:

• Man, Owen is such an asshole sometimes — most of the time — and then we discover it’s all in aid of Jack. “The Rift took my lover,” he says to Ianto, “and my captain.” Wow. As we’ve seen over, especially, this episode and the last one, Owen is never more a jerk than when he’s hurting. Which, in turn, creates:

• Ianto: no more Mr. Tea Boy!

(next: Episode 13: “End of Days”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • Magess

    Is it me, or did the real Jack Harkness have a whole fricking lot of makeup on?

  • “It’s hard to imagine anyone being that bold in 1941, particularly a man who is a leader of other men.”

    And particularly when male homosexuality was illegal in the UK (which it was until the late 1960s).

  • Katie

    I always wonder if there’s a white board in the writers room where they try to keep Jack’s timeline straight. Or if they just say forget it, it works some how.

    I love this episode, I really do it gives us all these wonderful little moments and hints and that’s so great. I love that Jack’s such closet romantic. I love all the Jack moments but I really love Ianto shooting Owen is one of those fantastic moments that takes a character, takes everything that’s sorta maybe kinda been implied about him and sorta maybe kinda confirming them.

    It never really made sense that Ianto was just the “tea boy”, especially knowing he worked at Torchwood 1 so seeing him shoot Owen (purposefully in the shoulder) tells us quite a bit about him and make us wonder, what exactly did he do at T1?

    This is definitely one of those episodes I can rewatch.

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