Sunday, September 23, 2007

Doctor Who: Captain Jacko is backo

Spoilers for the latest episode of "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I fend off a trademark infringement lawsuit from the New York Posts's headline writers...

One of my biggest pet peeves about spin-offs is how they can deprive the parent show of a great supporting character, while that character has to change significantly to carry his or her own show. I'm not saying the presence of Captain Jack would have solved whatever problems "Doctor Who" seasons two or three had (and he absolutely needed to be gone at the end of two and the start of three for the sake of the "Doctor alone" arc), but I missed the guy and his cheeky, omnisexual enthusiasm. And whatever guy John Barrowman is playing over on "Torchwood," it ain't the Captain Jack who was so much fun as the Doctor and Rose's third banana.

So I was really glad to see him back on the parent show, and without either his "Torchwood" team or the levels of brooding he's forced to display on the spin-off. This was Jack as Jack should be written -- the guy who's perfect at everything, yet somehow you like him for it -- and even when the conversation turned serious, as it did while he was in the radiation room, there was still a lightness to Jack that made it work.

The Doctor's initial disdain for Jack confused me at first. While I understand that he ditches companions all the time, sometimes cruelly, we saw with Sarah Jane's return that he doesn't automatically treat them like the losers he hung out with in elementary school before he blossomed and joined the popular crowd. They did a reasonable job of explaining the reaction, though I couldn't help but wondering why the Doctor wouldn't want an immortal companion, someone he wouldn't feel compelled to dump for fear of losing him to old age or whatever.

In the four episodes of "Torchwood" I've seen (including next week's laughable "Cyberwoman," which we can talk about after it airs), I kept waiting for some explanation of how Jack got back to our present after being stranded on the space station, and I've obviously been curious about his new immortality and the severed hand he seems so attached to. Nice to have that all explained, and in a fashion that didn't just feel like tedious exposition.

And if I've just spent a bunch of paragraphs talking about Jack and not about the return of the Master, it's because, as you know, I came to the show with Davies and Eccleston. I've read up on the history of the franchise just enough to know that the Master is the Doctor's nemesis and all that, but I didn't exactly go "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod itstheMaster!" when his identity was revealed. Martha recognizing the watch as being identical to the one the Doctor used in "Human Nature" was a definite spine-tingler, and I moved to the edge of my seat as I realized the Master was going to strand our heroes at the end of the universe (to be menaced by a bunch of Roger Corman movie extras), but this was the first time in the new series (including the Sarah Jane episode) where I felt like the longtime fans were going to have a vastly different reaction to a show than I was.

Still, Derek Jacobi did a terrific job of playing the transition from doddering old Professor Yana to the Master, so much so that I wish we'd get to see him continue the part in the rest of the season (this was the first of a three-part finale). On the other hand, I like John Simm from "Life on Mars," and he's similar enough physically to David Tennant to create an interesting yin-yang effect going forward.

What did everybody else think? As always, we're only talking about episodes (whether of this show or "Torchwood") that have already aired in the States, so if you've seen the rest of the season, don't start revealing -- or even strongly hinting -- about stuff that's still to come.

32 comments:

Maura said...

They did a reasonable job of explaining the reaction, though I couldn't help but wondering why the Doctor wouldn't want an immortal companion, someone he wouldn't feel compelled to dump for fear of losing him to old age or whatever.

I wondered the same thing Alan. Also, is there something I missed along the way? The Doctor said he ran away from Jack after realizing he was immortal. I know I missed a few episodes here and there when Jack was on, so maybe I'm uninformed. But it felt like something new to me.

This was a really loud episode. I had to turn off the television after it was over for some peace and quiet. And we had to watch it twice because it was so damned confusing. Oh, it sounds like I hated it. I didn't.

I found it interesting that both The Doctor and The Master chose highly intelligent, gentle personas when they became human. Significant?

Dark Tyler said...

Derek Jacobi [...] I wish we'd get to see him continue the part in the rest of the season

You have no idea how much I agree with this.

I loved "Utopia", which made for an unprecedented (in the Tennant seasons) 4 straight perfect episodes. I, too, had seen nothing previous to Eccleston but I was indeed shocked during Yana's realization of his true identity, even though I had it figured out after some point. And it wasn't even because he was the Master (the only thing I know about him is that he used to look like Eric Roberts which, you know, not that scary :P) but because of the mere confirmation of the Face of Boe's final words. The fact that Who is not alone anymore was enough for me to feel a shiver. Awesome stuff.

Oh, one more thing. I may be confused here, but I thought we knew since seasons 1's finale that Jack was immortal...?

Toby said...

"Utopia" did at least satisfy my unhappiness with the morose quality of Jack's character in 'Torchwood' by giving it an explanation.

Jack overshot his goal and ended up in the 19th Centuray and had to endure the long stretch of Time waiting for it to be safe to reunite with his friend The Doctor.

Being a former Time Agent, Jack understood that he couldn't jump into the Doctor's earlier life (lives!) without futzing up the Time/Space continuum - something Billy Shipton was warned about in last week's "Blink".

And it looks like he understood what an aberration he's become with his immortality. So that at least gives the difference in his character over in 'Torchwood' a pass - at least for now.

It's just a shame we couldn't get the complete run of 'Torchwood' broadcast before 'Doctor Who' returned, so that one could have flowed into the other. Oh well.

Jacobi was brilliant, and even though this time round was my second chance to watch it, I still had goose-bumps watching Professor Yana grapple with his inner drums throughout the episode, especially when talking about the watch.

There's always been a playful sense about his acting - that "TMI" response he had for his assistant's revelation about her inner milk showed that.

And like you, I thought we lost Jacobi too soon in the role of the Master - only five minutes! But it was enough to show what a change there was between the two characterizations - two distinct personalities sharing one body.

Actually it had always been my hope to see 'Doctor Who' return to the world of Ancient Rome so that Derek Jacobi could reprise the role of the elderly Claudius, now that he was old enough to do so with little makeup enhancement.

Ah well, we still got to see him in the series!

Toby said...

One other point, for those who have no prior experience with the Master from the earlier series -

Among the voices echoing in Professor Yana's mind as the power of the watch became stronger was a line of dialogue spoken by the late Roger Delgado and the sinister laugh of Anthony Ainsley, both of whom played the earlier incarnations of the Master.

Steve Pick said...

Isn't it interesting that for those of us who watched "I Claudius," Derek Jacobi can never be seen without reference to it. He limped just a little bit as Yana, I noticed.

My wife and a friend of mine never saw the show, so when I referenced it, they didn't know the feeling I am talking about. But, while Jacobi is an amazing actor in any role, he did such a job creating Claudius that I look for tidbits of it every time I see him. (Like the punchline to his part in Kenneth Branagh's movie many years ago, when he stuttered.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

"Utopia" did at least satisfy my unhappiness with the morose quality of Jack's character in 'Torchwood' by giving it an explanation.

True, they explained it in a way that made sense, but not in a way that explained why any writer would take a look at this wonderful character and decide to fundamentally alter the things that people liked about him in the first place. Jack's demeanor in "Torchwood" is now logical, but it's still stupid.

Nicole said...

I don't think it's been mentioned yet, but I found there was an interesting parallel between Professor's Yana treatment of his assistant and Ten's treatment of Martha. And the obvious crushes both have on them. I found this to be a similarity between them which gets creepy once it's confirmed he is the Master.

As for knowing that Yana was the Master, it didn't absolutely happen for me until the watch reappeared. I had been spoiled that John Simm was to be in Who and probably was the Master, so Jacobi's character didn't tip me off at first. It also helps that you can't get much better of an actor than Derek Jacobi. [although I am not sure that I agree with his stance on Shakespeare].

J said...

First: Best use of the word "blogging," ever.

It's amazing how little there is to Utopia. The Doctor helps fix a big rocket by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. It's the first of a three-parter, and really does work as an Act One. Lots and lots of set-up.

And it works because (1) there's a natural tension between The Doctor and Captain Jack. It's in the titles, and Cp'n threatens Doc's role as sole authority figure.

Barrowman's good with the Tom Cruise charm thing, so as long as he's totally casual about everything he's fine. (He even runs funny. Walks fine, runs funny.) Tennant's reaction to him, though, his mix of admiration and a sort of fear. (The reading of "There's something wrong about you, Jack" was perfect.)

(2) Jacobi. The pathos. It's a throwaway role, an asterisk, and while Davies treats it as such Jacobi brings so much pathos, then ferocity... Let's all close our eyes and wish as hard as we can that we're in a parallel world where The Master didn't turn into a wacky Thom Yorke lookalike.

(3) The watch, and the way Davies so effectively makes us feel the chore of a season has come together into something important. While it's a convenient device, much of Series Three features aliens hiding in human form, from the blood-sucking shapeshifter in Smith and Jones, the star in 42, both The Family of Blood and The Doctor; the Daleks tried, failed (abysmally). And here, waiting at the end of time, was a malevolent God (to use Davies' version of the Time Lord), who'd forgotten he was anything but.

Other good things: The "chan" "tho" conversation between Martha and Chantho was a great little moment. There were people running around a rock quarry, and really, there's nothing more Doctor Who than people running around a rock quarry. And it's nice to know Martha's getting as vocally frustrated with Rose Tyler mentions as I am ("Oh, she's blonde! That's explains everything!")

[On re-watching this, I noticed a sort-of plothole (a hiccup, really) concerning one of the more casual, surprising revelations from the last episode. Someone remind me when we get there.]

jim treacher said...

The Doctor thinks Jack's very existence is a mistake. Could that be some sort of...? Nahhhhhh, it wouldn't be like Davies to use gay metaphor on Doctor Who. [COUGH COUGH COUGH]

jim treacher said...

P.S. Remember the Face of Boe's last words to the Doctor?

You
Are
Not
Alone

J said...

I wouldn't think there's any sexual prejudice in The Doctor; he's asexual, if anything, and I don't think Davies is going to give his hero that sort of stupid prejudice.

The YANA thing was pretty heavy-handedly spelled out by alternating Yana's screen name with shots of Boe saying those words. Without acronyms and anagrams, Davies wouldn't have a show.

DonBoy said...

"Martha Jones" is an anagram for "A Master, John!" Which I suppose she could have said to the Doctor as a warning, if he were still the guy from a couple of weeks ago. (See, those internet anagram generators are good for something.)

a said...

j,
Not prejudice, metaphor.

anon said...

The Face of Boe: Worst hint giver ever.

Anon

Karen said...

whatever guy John Barrowman is playing over on "Torchwood," it ain't the Captain Jack who was so much fun as the Doctor and Rose's third banana.

Well, amen to that, Alan. I have been so unimpressed with the three Torchwood episodes I've seen so far, and yesterday's made me actually say out loud, "Did I not realize before that John Barrowman can't act?"

I didn't realize that Utopia was the beginning of a THREE-parter. Creeminy. Kind of cold, so soon after a 2-parter. But that might be why I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I mean, I got wonderful little frissons from Martha's recognition of the watch, and from the connection of Yana's name with the Face of Boe's words. Those were wicked cool. But, as you say, it felt like a lot of build-up.

And add my voice to the chorus of those who regret the loss of Derek Jacobi after a single episode. I'm sorry he had to regenerate--and I'm not sure I get why he did have to. I mean, John Smith and the Doctor looked alike, didn't they? Is it that the Master had aged in all his time as Yana, while the Doctor was only John SMith for a couple of months? Granted, I've loved John Simm since discovering him in Life on Mars (the second season of which BBC-America better damn quick get on the air), but c'mon: Derek Jacobi!

J said...

Not prejudice, metaphor.

So what's the metaphor?

Dark Tyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dark Tyler said...

Jim, first of all Jack is not gay, he's an omnisexual.

Secondly, there is no basis whatsoever for this to be a metaphor. It would be out of context, and serving no dramatic purpose at all.

Nicole said...

I am watching the Family Guy Star Wars episode, which is pretty funny, especially when they go to Hyperspace and run into the old Tom Baker intro of Doctor Who. This collision of nerddom may upset the universe.

a said...

Actually, j, I thought the scene could be read as a metaphor for anytime we are confronted by something unexpected and we react with fear and loathing. Then, when we actually think about it, we realize that our reactions are irrational. Works for any number of situations.

Anthony Foglia said...

--- Karen wrote:
And add my voice to the chorus of those who regret the loss of Derek Jacobi after a single episode. I'm sorry he had to regenerate--and I'm not sure I get why he did have to. I mean, John Smith and the Doctor looked alike, didn't they? Is it that the Master had aged in all his time as Yana, while the Doctor was only John SMith for a couple of months?
--- end of quote ---

It was because he had been shot by his assistant.

Was there an explanation for how Jack was able to hold onto the TARDIS in flight? The Weeping Angels weren't going anywhere at the climax of "Blink." And is the hyperspace, or whatever it is the TARDIS travels through, even remotely safe for humans?

I guess the latter doesn't matter for Jack. But that brings up a question I've had after this and catching up on "Torchwood." Jack isn't just immortal, but he regenerates! That's something that should be noted. I didn't realize till I saw it if Jack would survive the radiation, but just in pile-o'-ash form.

Add me to the list of people who dislike "Torchwood." If "Doctor Who" is for children, "Torchwood" is for 14-year-old boys. Davies obviously thinks "adult" means "sex." And for a "super-secret" organization, they're pretty cavalier about identifying themselves. Have they never heard of cover stories?

I have one other nitpick--why did The Master get mad at Yana's assistant for not freeing him earlier? He would have been trapped in the far future if she had. (More detail after the backstory I've learned from Wikipedia is explained, if it actually is.)

J said...

I thought the scene could be read as a metaphor for anytime we are confronted by something unexpected and we react with fear and loathing. Then, when we actually think about it, we realize that our reactions are irrational. Works for any number of situations.

If you will. I'm really not sure the "any number of situations" aspect of this establishes the scene as a metaphor for understanding rather than a simple depiction of such... and I'm not sure that even happens at all. The relationship between the two men needn't be openly hostile for The Doctor to consider a mortal granted the inability to die, on his watch as it were, in conflict with the natural flow of the universe.

I too think there's something very wrong about Captain Jack. And that something is an awful spin-off called Torchwood.

jim treacher said...

"I wouldn't think there's any sexual prejudice in The Doctor"

I don't either. Metaphor.

jim treacher said...

"Secondly, there is no basis whatsoever for this to be a metaphor. It would be out of context, and serving no dramatic purpose at all."

Yeah, where's the drama in someone who tries to do the right thing, but is considered a pariah for something he can't control, and shouldn't really be expected to?

J said...

"I wouldn't think there's any sexual prejudice in The Doctor"

I don't either. Metaphor.


So he's experiencing metaphorical feelings, instead of his own?

jim treacher said...

"So he's experiencing metaphorical feelings, instead of his own?"

Yes, exactly. Good work.

Anonymous said...

A truly amazing cliff hangers (the best in the series perhaps, both old and new). And like all good cliff hangers, the resolution will disappoint.

This could also be the greatest Dr. Who episode of the Davies era for long time fans. (As opposed to last week's "Blink", which was tailor made for someone completely unfamiliar with the show). The "end of the universe" setting was lifted from the books and translated rather well.

Any inclination you had to see more Jacobi as the master will grow intensely over the next two episodes. Without going into details: its all down hill from here. To paraphrase what Lawrence Miles (one of the best Dr. Who authors) said: we are now entering the self-parody phase of the Davies era.

Jo said...

John Barrowman explained the change in Capt Jack from Dr Who to Torchwood in an interview a while back. He said, in Dr Who, the Doctor is in charge, the buck stops with him, and Jack is, as Alan said, the third banana (which made me laugh out loud when I read it) and can allow himself to be more relaxed and insouciant. But over at Torchwood HE's in charge, the buck stops with him, he's responsible for his team and all the stuff, so he plays him more aloof, distant, and brooding. And as for them giving a good explanation for why Dr Ten treats Jack so badly when they meet up again in 'Utopia', well no it's NOT a good explanation as far as I'm concerned, and it only gets worse as the story continues. I know it's a potential spoiler, but I wanted to do more than slap Davies a really good back-hander at the way the Doctor treated the Master towards the end of the final episode, while Jack - and Martha - had to just look on. A huge insult to both of them. I'm still grinding my teeth over it and I may just send Russell T. the dentist's bill.

Dark Tyler said...

Yeah, where's the drama in someone who tries to do the right thing, but is considered a pariah for something he can't control, and shouldn't really be expected to?

I didn't say that it's not dramatic, I said that it doesn't serve any dramatic purpose. Different thing. Dallas was full of drama.

Captain Jack is the last person in the history of ever that would make for a good "issue" story, exactly because he was conceived to be shallow in a clean, good fun way.

To suddenly use him metaphorically so that he would raise awareness, would mean that Davies had turned Doctor Who into... Torchwood, actually.

jim treacher said...

"To suddenly use him metaphorically so that he would raise awareness, would mean that Davies had turned Doctor Who into... Torchwood, actually."

There you go.

J said...

I'm really looking forward to the scene where the TARDIS, so convinced something's wrong with Jack it zoomed to the end of time trying to shake him off, comes to the realization that something's only metaphorically wrong with Jack. There's nothing situationally wrong with him at all, and the time machine should have realized that!

Perhaps Jack and ye old police box will wind up handcuffed together, on the run from the law. Or they could start a band! We can all get along, always!

jim treacher said...

Okay.