Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/31/18 3:38 pm
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In The Death of Captain Jack, the opening story of 2018’s run of Torchwood stories, Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) is finally dying, and Captain John Hart (James Marsters) has come to gloat about it. Jack and John have had a long history together, but something is different. John has stolen Jack’s life, in more ways than one. He’s got everything he wants and everything he needs. But there is one thing he can’t stop, no matter what he does. Jack Harkness is finally dying, and there’s nothing that John Hart can do to stop it. The Death of Captain Jack is a bit too much of an over-the-top story to really be effective. James Marsters is a delight in his return to Torchwood, and the story certainly has some interesting beats, but, and I can’t believe I’m writing this about a Torchwood story with Captains Jack and Hart, but it’s just too much at times. David Llewellyn leans a little too hard into the over-sexed, hyper-insane aspects of Jack and John’s characters and their relationship, and the story lacks any real substance. I can appreciate the beats that Llewellyn was trying to show with the story, that a truly hedonistic, uncaring John Hart would quite literally destroy the universe, but it felt like the story tried far too hard to be as outrageous as possible, and kind of lost itself in the shuffle.
The cast of The Death of Captain Jack is perhaps the largest of the regular releases to date, with fifteen credited actors joining the cast. It’s filled with cameos from people like Eve Myles, Tom Price, Samuel Barnett, Kai Owen, and Rowena Cooper, and also features new cast members as historical figures, like Rick Yale as Christopher Marlowe, Aly Cruickshank as Alexander the Great, and Marilyn Le Conte as Catherine the Great. But perhaps the most notable cast member is James Marsters, returning to the role as Captain John Hart for the first time in many years. Marsters is a delight throughout as Hart, taking Llewellyn’s rather insane script and meeting it head-on, and delivering a rather engaging performance as Hart. Marsters is asked to do a lot of rather insane things throughout the story; his character smothers Queen Victoria, happily gives away 10% of the world population to the 456, kills Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams, and turns Ianto Jones into a sex slave. But through it all, Marsters really just leans into it so well. He manages to hold his own in the craziest of scenes, and does a really great job. But it’s the final moments of the story that I felt stood out the most, as Marsters gives a more interesting performance. It mixes fear into his normally cocky performance, and it helps subvert expectations. John Hart has never been a character to experience true fear, and it’s moments like this where Marsters shines, as the character’s helplessness is truly interesting to hear him convey.
David Llewellyn is tasked with bringing Captain John Hart back into the Torchwood fold with this story. Unfortunately, his efforts fall flat, by and large, as the story he crafts is just too much, leaning far too hard into trying to be as insane and messed up as possible, while forgetting to have anything of substance in the plot until the final moments of the story. Overall, I did find that Llewellyn’s story had some funny beats throughout. I liked the references to the third and fourth series of the Torchwood TV series, with John Hart meeting the 456 and happily giving them 10% of the Earth’s population of children, or how Miracle Day is basically hand-waved away. There are also some genuinely funny moments throughout, like Jack and John shagging their way through history, with Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, and Christopher Marlowe as part of their conquests, or how John Hart, annoyed that Victoria won’t just die already, orders his staff to turn around and smothers her with a pillow. But these scenes start to become far too much quickly, as Llewellyn has a rotating door of cameos come in and get murdered by John Hart. Gwen is seemingly thrown out of a car and then run over, Rhys is shot in the face after coming to find out what happened to Gwen, Yvonne is blown up on a whim, and so on. Even stuff like Ianto getting turned into a sex slave of Hart’s, or his marrying Victoria to become Ruler of the Planet, and so on. It just reads like a series of escalations and wild and crazy antics that just go on and on and on. Which is fine, but they aren’t paired with anything of substance. The main plot of the story can be boiled down to this: when Hart stole Jack’s life, including his immortality, Jack was no longer a fixed point in time. As he started dying, the universe started dying with him, blinking out of existence as things closed in on Hart. But this plot isn’t given much attention throughout; it’s relegated to the last five minutes of the story, and maybe a few little references early on in the story to Hart messing up the timelines by stealing things. But the story just devotes so much time to the hedonistic nature of John Hart, which is interesting enough, that it forgets it has to tell a story beyond just John Hart shagging and murdering his way through history. This would’ve been a great story to be a two-parter, showing Hart messing around with the universe, and coming to Jack at the end of the first part, with the second part focused on fixing the universe. But instead, it’s a one-hour story that devotes five minutes to its main plot, and it suffers for it.
The behind-the-scenes content for this release is pretty typically Torchwood. I was pleased to hear that Blair Mowat seems to have added some new compositions to their repertoire. Perhaps it has to do with the time-jumping of the story, but there seemed to be several new, yet familiar compositions. Jack’s theme can be heard with a Victorian remix at times during the Queen Victoria scenes, and there seems to be a new piece that one can call Hart’s theme mixed in throughout. The music for Torchwood at Big Finish has largely remained static since The Conspiracy, so it’s nice to hear some small changes being brought in. I hope this indicates that there’s going to be more new compositions, and that it wasn’t just a one-off. The behind-the-scenes interviews aren’t really interviews, in the traditional sense. It’s mostly just James Marsters talking about his involvement with Torchwood over the years, and how he came to be cast as John Hart originally, and what the show means to him. It’s fluffy, and insubstantial, but it’s a little bonus thing, and Marsters has great energy throughout the story.
Overall, The Death of Captain Jack is a story with a great cast, especially in leading actor James Marsters, but one that lacks a really substantial plot. Marsters does his best with some insane dialogue, and comes out on top, delivering an energetic, comedic performance, as well as delivering a rather interesting performance at the end of the story. However, David Llewellyn’s script, despite some rather funny moments and an interesting ending, foregoes the plot of the story in favor of showing John Hart shagging his way through history and murdering the beloved members of Torchwood. The story lacks substance until the very end of the audio and, despite some funny beats, isn’t well suited to an hour-long story, especially one that doesn’t really make any hints towards its conclusion throughout the story. It’s an ending that comes out of left field, and it just furthers the fact that, despite the great acting and some genuinely hilarious moments, the story is severely lacking, and it’s just not an engaging plot.