Doctor Who completely forgot its greatest Captain Jack mystery – one that could have been used very effectively when he met the Thirteenth Doctor.
Doctor Who forgot its greatest Captain Jack mystery. In 2005, Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who relaunch introduced viewers to Captain Jack Harkness – a former Time Agent turned conman who briefly became the Doctor’s companion. Played by John Barrowman, Captain Jack became a firm fan favorite, going on to star in his own spinoff series Torchwood. However, despite this popularity, Doctor Who left one key Captain Jack mystery unsolved.
Captain Jack returned in Doctor Who season 12’s “Fugitive of the Judoon” and the 2021 Holiday Special, “Revolution of the Daleks.” That’s likely to be his last appearance, however, as the last two years have seen Barrowman become embroiled in controversy due to accounts of his behind-the-scenes conduct. The actor has essentially been blacklisted by the BBC, and even tie-in audio-books and comics featuring Captain Jack have been canceled. And that means one mystery – which, oddly, even Doctor Who‘s writers seem to have forgotten – will likely never be resolved.
In the 2005 episode “The Doctor Dances,” Captain Jack explained why he left the Time Agency. It seems he learned they had erased two years of his memories of him, a violation of his consciousness of him that Captain Jack took very seriously; the episode even implied he was working to get his memories of him back. But Doctor Who season 1 failed to follow through on this arc, instead rightly focusing on the build-up to the Doctor’s impending confrontation with the Daleks. Torchwood revealed some of Captain Jack’s past in the Time Agency, but never picked up on the forgotten two years. And, remarkably, even spin-offs and tie-ins by companies like Big Finish have failed to explore Captain Jack’s missing two years.
This oversight is particularly remarkable given Captain Jack’s role in “Revolution of the Daleks.” There, Captain Jack broke Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor out of a Judoon prison and helped her against a group of Daleks threatening Earth. The Doctor had just learned the secret of the Timeless Child-that she was not a Time Lord at all, but she rather she was the Timeless Child, a being who potentially predated the universe and whose memories had been erased. The script could potentially have drawn interesting thematic parallels between the Doctor and Captain Jack, with both now understanding what it’s like to have their minds tampered with. But Captain Jack’s missing two years were forgotten, and so the parallels – which ironically became even more striking in Doctor Who season 13’s Division plot – were never drawn.
This, of course, is the problem with Doctor Who‘s complex continuity; the Doctor’s adventures have been told for nearly 60 years now, and it’s so easy to forget a minor detail. In this case, that detail offered tremendous story potential; Torchwood could have told a story in which Captain Jack learned what secrets had been taken from him, Big Finish could have explored the missing two years in detail, and the Doctor Who 2021 Holiday Special could have used Captain Jack as a lens to explore the Doctor’s own trauma. But the idea was forgotten, and it is unlikely to be picked up again in the future of Doctor Who.
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