You can't keep Captain Jack down. And as Doctor Who and Torchwood fans know, that statement is literal: You can't keep Jack down because Jack can't die. Thanks to Rose Tyler dumping the Time Vortex on him in "The Parting of the Ways" back in 2005, Jack is easily one of the most beloved immortals in 21st Century science fiction. This fact is a considerable feat when you consider Jack exists in the same fictional universe as arguably, the most famous sci-fi immortal ever, Doctor Who's titular character, the Time Lord known as "the Doctor."
As one of the most popular Doctor Who companions, John Barrowman's vigorous and buoyant portrayal of Captain Jack Harkness was unforgettable in his seasons with both 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston and 10th Doctor David Tennant. Although the 11th (Matt Smith) and 12th (Peter Capaldi) Doctors didn't cross paths with Jack on screen, fans have hoped that someday he would return. And, in early 2020, in the 13th Doctor episode "Fugitive of the Judoon," we all got our wish: Jack was back! But, crushingly, he didn't get to meet Jodie Whittaker's contemporary version of the beloved Time Lord. Back then, Jack told Team Tardis to warn her about the "the lone Cyberman," but in the end, the Doctor didn't really listen.
All of this led to the Doctor getting thrown into a space prison at the very end of "The Timeless Children." Now, in the upcoming 2021 Doctor Who New Year's Day Special — "Revolution of the Daleks" — it looks like Captain Jack will finally meet the 13th Doctor and bust up some Daleks along the way. Ahead of the special episode, SYFY WIRE caught up with Barrowman to chat about the past, present, and future of all things Captain Jack and Doctor Who. We haven't seen the New Year's Special yet ourselves, so no spoilers ahead!
We talked back in January 2020, and you led me to believe that you had not filmed any scenes with Jodie at that time. Were you fibbing?
I wasn't fibbing. I was blatantly lying to you. Obviously, we'd been filming. I think we filmed a little bit right after. Either that or I knew I'd be filming more. I can't remember the timeframe because it's been so long. Either I had done it already, or I was about to do it. But yes, I knew I was going to be in scenes with Jodie. But, not relative to the episode you were asking about.
Without spoiling the new Doctor Who New Years' Special, "Revolution of the Daleks," give me some adjectives or adverbs to describe what Jack is like in this new episode?
I'm just going to rattle off some words. [Laughs.] Strong. Flirtatious. Exuberant. Excited. Determined. Beloved.
Thank God you said "flirtatious."
Well, Jack wouldn't be Jack if he wasn't being flirtatious. I can't tell you who he's flirting with. But that's Jack, his whole being and essence is to be that way. All the things we'd all be afraid to do now, Jack just does. He's not offensive to anybody. It's not weird. It's just how he is and everyone accepts him for that.
What else can you say about the episode without giving too much away?
The episode itself is epic. I can't tell you how and where he meets 13, but he will meet 13. He will spend time on the TARDIS. There will be some great other interactions with the other companions. Jack likes to sit back and watch how they are working with the Doctor because he has had experience with her — and of course when I say "her," I mean the other incarnations. Jack knows how to react and respond to the Doctor. So, there's an element of guidance when he has a conversation with the companions. He knows how to handle a situation you're in [with the Doctor] and what to do and what to expect.
Right. The roles are reversed. Jack's in the position that Sara Jane might have been in during the 10th Doctor era.
Yes. I mean, I met the TARDIS team before [in "Fugitive of the Judoon"]. And I've known Braders [Bradley Walsh] for a long time, and I met Tosin [Cole] and Madip [Gill] when we did the other episode. And they were kind of blown away by my exuberance in playing Jack. They were like "we have to match your energy!" And I was like "Well yeah!" And they were like, "Why is Jack so excited by this?" And I was like: "Because he like loves frigging blowing up Daleks."
And also, me, as John, as a fan of the show, I love playing in this world. It's something I've dreamed about [but] never thought I would have been part of, and I relish in it when I do it. So I was like: "Step it up, kids! Here we go! Come on the ride with Captain Jack Harkness!"
Talk to me a little bit about how you feel about Jack's legacy
Well, what's really interesting for me, and [what] I love is that whenever there's a survey of who is the most beloved Doctor Who companions, he's always in the top three. And while I'd love to take credit for that, it would be wrong of me. It's also the writers who are involved. Chris Chibnall this time, but also Russell T. Davies, all the Torchwood writers — there are just so many of them. These people got to know me as a person, and then write with that in mind. I think that's why Jack is so likable and so comfortable. There's a lot of me in Jack and there's a lot of Jack in me. And there's no pun intended in that. [Laughs.]
What's the thing you miss the most about conventions right now?
Interaction. I miss meeting people. I never sit behind the tables. I stand out front. I like to interact. I like to hug people. I like to hear their stories. I like to hear how they've been changed by what I do. And that sounds a little egotistical, but I don't mean it that way. I miss the panels, I miss it all. The fan interaction is what I miss the most. I'm so appreciative of what they've done by loving this character.
There's a generational appeal to Jack now. Some people are having kids and they're introducing Jack to those kids, and other incarnations of the Doctor, too. When BBC America reruns these things, and every time a whole new generation watches it and gets grabbed by these characters. And I miss meeting those new fans.
We're not that far off from a 60th Doctor Who anniversary special in 2023. What do you think? Can we lobby for Jack to get in that? Could he finally meet 11 (Matt Smith) and 12 (Peter Capaldi)?
You can lobby all you want! [Laughs.] It's not up to me or to us. It's up to the writers. I would have loved to have been involved in the 50th. I would love to be involved if there is a 60th, and others are all back. It just depends. It seems when they do the big anniversary episode, it's just about the Doctor. Because, when Jack's there — I'll pat myself on the back there — he's a big energy and he can overshadow others. That's the detriment or the bad side of playing Jack. But, I'd love for him to be in the 60th. I'd love for him to be there if it happens.
When it comes to 21st Century sci-fi, Doctor Who had a lot of firsts. Would we be enjoying all the stuff we've got now without Who and Jack?
There's a lot of stuff that we did in Doctor Who — that they continue to do — that changed the face of sci-fi. Especially when it comes to certain representations of heroes; Jack was someone who didn't give a damn what you thought about his sexuality. And now you're just starting to see this with certain DC heroes and Marvel heroes, people that are bi, or gay, or trans heroes. With sci-fi TV, it feels like we did it first in Doctor Who. When Uhura and Kirk kissed in the original Star Trek that was groundbreaking in those days, but we all have our place in history. And I think to do that in Doctor Who, I think we started a wave of a lot of stuff. People can disagree all they want, but I'm saying it.
The Doctor Who New Year's Special, "Revolution of the Daleks" — featuring the return of Captain Jack — will air on BBC America on Jan. 1, 2021.