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There are so many gaps in the life of Captain Jack Harkness that haven't been shown on-screen that it was perhaps inevitable Big Finish would explore them eventually. Hence the box set The Lives of Captain Jack; four stories that take place in four different parts of Jack's timeline. The first in this set, The Year After I Died, takes place a year after Parting of the Ways - the episode that essentially acted as the origin of Captain Jack's immortality.
This Jack (John Barrowman) is a broken and bitter man - little more than a shadow of the hero he was during the Dalek invasion of the Game Station - living on a dangerous Earth wrecked by the Daleks. Jack is hounded by reporter Silo Crook (Shvorne Marks), who is desperate to film a report on either him or the Hope Foundation. When Jack refuses to help find out what the Hope Foundation is up to, Silo sets off herself to discover the truth - and Jack finds himself reluctantly following to save her.
One thing this release does really well is create an effective picture of just how dangerous this world is. You really believe that this Earth is a perilous place to live in, with mutated animals and Dalek weapons left behind by the invasion. There isn't a great deal of time spent here - most of the narrative takes place on the Hope Foundation space port - but what you do hear of the 200,101 world immediately captures your imagination.
What's really going on at the Hope Foundation proves to be just as horrifying as the world that has been left behind by the Daleks. Maybe even more so. The twist of the rich using surgery to take whatever body part they fancy from the poor is a gruesome yet very believable one, something that you could imagine some of these rich people might actually do if given the chance. Poor Malfi (Scott Haran) has his eyeballs taken because they have a nice shade of blue, for instance, leaving him blind for the rest of the adventure. It's neat that 'humanity's oldest enemy' teased in the audio drama's synopsis isn't the Daleks or Cybermen, but the wealthy. A very real threat in the present day just as in the past or in the future.
Unfortunately for a release called 'The Lives of Captain Jack', this Jack takes a lot of getting used to. He bears little resemblance to the Captain Jack from Doctor Who and Torchwood, often giving snarky responses and coming across like a grumpy old man stuck in a young man's body. Whilst it makes sense for his character during the period of his life the audio drama is set in, such a drastic change in character highlights how much of Jack's life between Parting of the Ways and The Year After I Died we still haven't seen or heard yet. It would perhaps have been wiser for Big Finish to have released a prequel box set leading up to this story first, so we could see some development of his character leading up to this change. John Barrowman does a very good job at playing this Jack though, and tries his best to make him sound like the same Jack from Parting of the Ways.
Shvorne Marks as Silo Crook makes for a great companion role for Captain Jack; the character is very endearing, and you feel her frustrations when Jack seems determined he's not a hero. She has quite a heavy focus in this story, often making Jack seem like the supporting role rather than the other way round. I hope in future Shvorne Marks does more Big Finish as she does a very good job here, creating a character who is immediately engaging to listen to.
A great story would be nothing without a great villain, and Sarah Douglas totally owns it as the Hope Foundation's founder Vortia Trear. She is wonderfully cruel, and helps considerably to highlight the story's message about how wealth can corrupt people into turning against those worse off than themselves. That's why I never vote Conservative when there's a General Election - they only ever seem to be in it for themselves, and stuff those who don't have as much money as them.
Overall, The Year After I Died is a strong start for The Lives of Captain Jack box set. The truth behind the Hope Foundation is brilliantly gruesome, with a villain who you just love to hate. Shvorne Marks simply has to do more Big Finish as she is superb as Silo Crook, and John Barrowman does his best to sell Captain Jack as the same man we saw in The Parting of the Ways. Unfortunately Jack's change in character whilst making sense within the narrative feels way too jarring, and needed a prequel box set to properly sell it.