"The Empty Child", the ninth episode of the new 'Doctor Who' series, introduces us to one of the most interesting characters to not only appear in the "Whoniverse", but in all of sci-fi Television: Captain Jack Harkness.
On paper, Captain Jack might seem like a stock character. He's a charming swindler from the 51st Century, a former "Time Agent" who's way with words (not to mention his way with women... and men) has helped him to escape several near-death experiences in the past. His former employers wiped out two years of his memory and it scares him as to what he might have done during that period. So he's turned against the Time Agents and gone rogue, supporting himself as a con man with a bit o' thieving on the side.
Reduced to its basics like that, there's really nothing about Jack Harkness we haven't seen before.
The wisecracking adventurer? O'Neill (NOT McNeil - thanks, WSN!) in 'Stargate SG-1'.
The time-traveling trickster? Berlinghoff Rasmussen in an episode of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'.
The man who fears the lost memories of his past? Michael Alden of 'Coronet Blue'.
There's an added twist to his character to which I alluded above: Captain Jack Harkness is bisexual, flirting with both Rose and the Doctor as well as with Davitch Pavale and Lynda with a Y on the Gamestation, and with Algy during the London Blitz of 1941.
But even that isn't what sets him above many others in the registrar of TV sci-fi characters. In fact, it shouldn't matter at all. At one point the Doctor points out to Rose that Jack is from the 51st Century, when the human race is well out into Space and meeting and er.... "meating" alien races (much to Lady Cassandra O'Brien's chagrin). So it would only be natural for Society's perceptions to have expanded and become more enlightened. In such a world, Jack would never feel the need to be choosy about whom he "dances with".
I just hope we don't have to wait that long for it to happen.
So it's all of those qualities in his nature combined that keep Jack from being the dull boy. But still and all, that could be found on the printed page of the script. Everybody - even the characters from 'Homeboys In Outer Space' could look good on paper.
For Jack, what was needed was the right actor who could fulfill all those cliches: someone to breathe life into the role; someone to pick up the ball and run with it; someone who makes the role so much his own that it would inconceivable for anybody else to come along and play it.
Someone like John Barrowman.
I believe that sometimes an actor will be working on a role and must think to himself: "This will the role for which I'll always be remembered."
I like to think that James Cromwell was thinking that as he danced freely and wildly in Farmer Hoggett's living room for "Babe". And the same goes for Jimmy Stewart as he filibustered in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and as he ran down the streets of Bedford Falls in "It's A Wonderful Life".
I think it would apply to John Barrowman as well. That when presented with the opportunity to play Jack, he saw his chance to make his mark in Toobworld. You can practically feel his exuberance flooding his scenes without ever going totally over the top into hamminess.
Not many performers could say that. In sci-fi, Ricardo Montalban in "Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan" is a master at this. John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness can stand in his company.
As a televisiologist intent on the alternate reality of the TV Universe, I shouldn't be even recognizing the actors who bring these roles to life. But I thought Barrowman merited the moment in this spotlight.
And I'm probably not the only one to think so. The two-parter of "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" could have been his only showcase in the series. The story's ending could have gone in a decidedly different direction!
I don't know if Russell T. Davies conceived of the character and then let someone else write the episodes, but he must have known how... fanTASTic Jack was because he remained as the Doctor's latest companion to the end of this series run.
It's possible that Jack may come back in the show. John Barrowman seems to think he will, but Outpost Gallifrey reports that he will not appear at all in the 2006 season of the series.
And you know what? If he does come back, I hope it's for a very short stay.
That's right, I only want him hanging about long enough to launch his own spin-off from the series!
RTD has done an incredible job of reinvigorating 'Doctor Who' so that it's no longer the zipper-up-the-back rubber monster joke it had sadly become, but instead is arguably the most exciting SF program on TV today. But even so, it has the weight of the traditional trappings upon it and there's not much chance to escape considering it's basically regarded as a children's program. (For example - the BBC scotched the original plans for Jack's "costume" (or lack thereof) in "Bad Wolf" and they forced the showrunners to scale back the transformation of Dr. Constantine in "The Empty Child" so as not to scare the wee ones.)
But spinning off Jack Harkness to his own show could free up RTD to tell time travel stories which he could never do on 'Doctor Who'. And Jack Harkness would be the first secondary character from the show who could really make a spin-off series work. (Sorry, K-9 and Sarah Jane Smith!)
So here's a tip of my Toob top hat to Captain Jack Harkness with hopes we might one day see him zipping through the relative dimensions of Time and Space in his own show.
That would be fanTASTic!