James Marsters rules the world – and you get to hear him do it. I’ll just let that sink in a minute while you scramble to buy Big Finish’s latest Torchwood release, The Death of Captain Jack.
The Death of Captain Jack is a story where everything you think you know about Torchwood is turned on its head, as Marsters’ Captain John Hart – rather than John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness – becomes immortal, takes over Torchwood… and pretty much the world. All hail King John!
We are of course delighted to welcome James Marsters back to Torchwood. It’s (as John would probably say) ‘a sheer bloody delight’ to listen to him being super bad for the run-time of the story, but underneath it all, there’s a moral for our age: just because someone’s in charge, you shouldn’t automatically assume they’re on your side.
The Death of Captain Jack is enormous fun. John Hart is a force of joyful deadly chaos, and Marsters is on top form. David Llewellyn’s on great writing form too, giving Hart lots of evil, or careless, or just downright dastardly things to do. Once he becomes king, Hart’s aggressive domestic policy is followed by aggressive foreign policy, and his rule over Torchwood, first at Canary Wharf and later at Cardiff, is absolutely the chaotic whirl of jackanapery you’d expect from his character.
We also get to hear what becomes of series favourites Yvonne Hartman, Ianto, Tosh and Gwen, as the Torchwood history we know unfolds with a John Hart twist; Abaddon, the 456, even the Blessing of “Miracle Day”, it’s all crammed in here, leading up to the death of Captain Jack and the consequences it has. I won’t spoiler it for you, but imagine if, when the aliens come to get us, all that stood between us and them was a force of reckless, ruthless self-interest, like John Hart.
In tone, this is a delicious dark comic romp, a prancing celebration of the non-serious, the anti-worthy and the “frankly who gives a damn about the little people, I’m doing fine”, all of which is fantastic to listen to and rather less fun to be governed by. Of course, if there’s ever to be Torchwood as we know it again, there has to be a moment where the dystopian world of King John has to be set right from our point of view, and you won’t be disappointed by that when it comes, even though you know it has to, that the fun has to end.
There’s an important idea in The Death of Captain Jack: that the people we know, both the ordinary and the heroes, are just a different status quo away from people we don’t like very much, and that so, probably, are we. It all depends on the normalisation of initially outrageous behaviour in order to maintain our own stability within a world gone pear-shaped. Would lovely harmless Sergeant Andy Davidson bazooka a nightclub full of hostages, for instance? Maybe he would if the king gave him a direct order. And if Andy Davidson would kill innocent people if the right authority figure gave the order, what would we do?
The shudder those thoughts induce is why we look forward to the righting of the world, the resurrection of Captain Jack and the defeat of King John, however much fun it’s been to ride along on the dark side of the history mirror. And when the end comes, it brings more than a touch of Sapphire and Steel with it, which can never be a bad thing. If the end feels a little too final for our liking as fans of Captain John, that’s a testament to the character and the way he’s played, and on the other hand, he’s a very good bad guy, getting out of seemingly impossible traps and fates is what the best of them do, so we can still hope for more from James Marsters in future Torchwood audios after this one.
The Death of Captain Jack is a romp into anti-history, down the wrong trouser-leg of time, and the combination of a blow-the-doors-off performance by Marsters, top-drawer writing from David Llewellyn and pacey, joyful direction from Scott Handcock makes it an absolute must-listen.
Torchwood: The Death of Captain Jack is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until May 31st 2018, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.