TV But then, Doctor Who hasn’t really ever had a character like John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness either, at least on television. Freelancers like Glitz and Lytton perhaps, but neither of them burned quite as brightly as Jack or were played by actors who inhabited their character to such a degree that it’s impossible to see were the joins are. Guest judging on So You Think You Can Dance last week, Barrowman’s comments were so constructive he not only made a contestant cry, John Lythgoe and Arlene Philips looked reasonable by comparison, the latter on stage within seconds theatrically giving the broken dancer a hug. The darkness of the later Harkness burned behind John’s eyes that night.
The younger, mortal version of the Captain that appears in The Doctor Dances is already a morally ambiguous figure; a self professed con artist, it’s his carelessness that leads to the whole sorry business and as we discover later he’s even stolen his identity from a dead pilot. He’s raffish and charming and the Doctor makes him a better person, but ultimately he was always going to relapse, become the kind of figure who could sacrifice some children to alien invaders or whatever other nastiness. Yes, the Doctor makes him a better person, but the Doctor isn’t always there keeping him check and is later, once the Captain’s been immortalised, scared of him a little bit. That’s one of conversations missing from Journey’s End, “So Rose, about that time you made me immortal …”
Imagine if the Doctor knew that just before the events of The Doctor Dances, assuming we follow the assumption that there’s a predestination element to time in the Whoniverse and it isn’t just some unfolding text, there were four version of the Captain on the planet at the same time. This one. The Harkness reliving the twentieth century thanks to a dodgy time ring and working for Torchwood. The Harkness who accidentally travelled back in time during the Torchwood episode Captain Jack Harkness and the one biding his time in the vaults of Torchwood Cardiff having been knocking around for a millennia. Never mind volcano day, it's a Sellafield of omni-sexual energy. He’s almost on a par with the Doctor for ramshackle character development and that’s even without the Boe thing.
Or those troubling two years stolen by the time agency. On the dvd commentary, Moffat says he add it in “just for the hell of it”, Davies telling him that he’ll get to it later. Steven chides him for forgetting and we’re still waiting. Perhaps the next Torchwood will have some answers but I doubt it. As Bad Wolf ultimately demonstrates, Russell’s the kind of writer who makes things up as he goes along, whereas Steven’s massive brain is layering in material which seems innocuous at first glance, or a continuity error, but then becomes massively important. We might speculate after the fact that when the Face of Boe offers You Are Not Alone, he’s hazily remembering his time with the Doctor fighting the Master. But we don’t know.
In other words, we’re left to speculate after the fact, attempting to make the stories work. In Moffat’s era, our speculation is an attempt to work out what our leader is thinking. At this point, I’m convinced there are two narratives running side by side in his era and that what we’re seeing is only half the story. At some point we’ll be able to sit and watch the River Song episodes in order from her point of view and a whole different story will emerge. The new enemy is called The Silence. The first episode River appeared in is called The Silence in the Library. This cannot be a coincidence. Or it might. I don’t know. No spoilers please.
Perhaps I’m being unfair about Russell’s planning abilities. Certainly he had clear idea of the arc of this particular Doctor, the emotional peaks and troughs, the despair of Dalek to the elation in the climax of The Doctor Dances. Like Father’s Day, it’s a hankie moment and one of the rare occasions in this first series when a beat is happening completely from the Doctor’s point of view. My suspicion has always been that when the Doctor says, “Just this once, Rose, everybody lives” he’s also talking to us fans (Moffat taking advantage of the companion as audience viewpoint character trope) and all the times we’ve reached the end of story were the timelord has succeeded but has a mass of corpses at his feet.
And there’s one of the best exchanges the franchise has ever produced for some secondary characters. Beautifully played by Richard Wilson and Vilma Hollingbery it’s right up there with anything Robert Holmes and Douglas Adams produced in their prime:
Marvellous.An old lady - Mrs Harcourt - hobbles towards Constantine.
MRS HARCOURTDoctor Constantine.
DR CONSTANTINEMrs Harcourt - how much better you are looking!
MRS HARCOURT(bewildered)My leg's grown back! When I come to the hospital, I had ONE leg.
DR CONSTANTINE(observing this)Well - there is a war on. Is it possible you miscounted?