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.