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No one single character embodied the change from the old series Doctor Who to the new better than Captain Jack. Where other companions had been relatively chaste, unless they fell in love with a Skaronian freedom fighter or something, Jack is rampant and omnivorous in his sexuality. Where other companions basked in the glow of the Doctor’s irascible approval, Jack was someone he actively sought to avoid. Where other companions rush from their dull lives into the Doctor’s wondrous slipstream, Jack already has quite an exciting life going on, thank you very much. And will continue to do so until the end of time, or thereabouts.
Adric 2, he is not. Although he does die. A lot.
Jack Harkness – played by John Barrowman – is a man whose entire existance has been rewired by a chance meeting with his Time Lord friend. Had he never come across the Ninth Doctor in the middle of World War II, with those scary kids walking around asking “are you my mummy?”, he’d still be a rogue time-travelling antiques dealer, his past as a 51st century Time Agent completely forgotten, and he’d probably have come to a nasty end by now
As it is, the Doctor uncovers his heroic side, convincing him to take a more wholesome approach to existence, and his reward for this is immortality. Oh sure, it’s Rose that gives him the gift, after he’s been shot by a dalek. She looks into the Time Vortex, and one of the things she does is to bring him back to life, but in doing so, she accidentally renders him unable to die in the process.
Here’s a potted history of the whole thing:
Or to put it another way, he’s a sinner who is convinced to change his ways by a charismatic leader with unearthly powers, he is then born again, and granted eternal life. It’s a parable!
Then the Doctor and Rose have to leave for a bit, as the Doctor can’t quite deal with what has happeneed to Jack in his name. Then the Doctor changes, rejuvenates, Rose is exiled to a parallel dimension, and Martha arrives. Captain Jack feels abandoned, tested, but he makes a leap into the void, a leap of faith, y’might say, and finds his savior again, after which they are fully reconciled.
In the end, he truly finds himself among the Doctor’s disciples, the shadowy cult known as Torchwood, spreading the word of the Doctor’s teachings, specifically with regard to stroppy aliens and how they are to be dealt with.
Of course, in case you think I’ve gone too far down the religious allegory road, he’s also a shameless tart, which undercuts the holiness rather well:
There’s a final payoff to the story of Captain Jack, a kind of brilliant plot twist which I really do not want to spoil for anyone who has not seen it. In the end he has seen so much he cannot help but become wise and all-knowing, to let his personal charisma go and to become a trusted and beloved elder, a leader in his own right, at peace with who he is.
Which is not something anyone would have ever thought a fly-by-night action flirt like Jack could ever be.
The best line Captain Jack ever has is “I wish I’d never met you Doctor, I was much better off as a coward,” because it’s true, in a sense. But it also comes from a man who no longer believes it. Captain Jack is the person who does the difficult, unpleasant things, because they are the right things to do. The decadent floozy in him hates that he does it, but the hero in him always wins, and that’s why he’s so loveable.
Stop it. Not that kind of lovable.