Everyone’s favourite Time Agent is back and this time with Jackie Tyler and River Song in tow. I missed the first volume on its initial release, I picked up the second volume, which I thought was brilliant. The announcement for Volume 3 came out of the blue, but I loved how the second volume played around with the established Whoniverse with the Sixth Doctor being in it, I was up for more shenanigans with Jackie and River! And what shenanigans they are!
The set opens with the much-anticipated return of Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler in Guy Adam’s opening adventure Crush, which sees Jackie getting to go into space. Jack promises to take her on a trip on a train through space but the duo gets stuck in a train replacement service, crowded in with a group of aliens who don’t look, touch or acknowledge each other.
It was fun to hear Jackie getting to travel into space and experience some of the excitement that her daughter does. But Adams also makes it clear how she isn’t really suited to space travel. The aliens don’t like touching or looking at each other so when people begin to die, Jackie forgets to respect their wishes, holding the hand of a dying alien, because she doesn’t want her to die along, even though the alien-woman doesn’t like it and making a lot of noise. But it isn’t done from a place of selfishness, it’s done because Jackie does care about the people around her. It’s a nice take on the character and adds to the likability of an already enjoyable character. And Coduri handles the material perfectly and she delivers a great speech on what loneliness feels like.
Adams should be praised on that speech and it should go down as one of the greatest speeches in Doctor Who. I related to what she was saying, especially when she talks about people purposely avoiding you as I experienced something similar when my father died. In many ways, this is a story which tackled the same sort of issues as this year’s television story, Can You Hear Me? tried and failed to do, but Crush did it fantastically. As someone who does suffer from mental health issues, this was the way to write a story about isolation and loneliness and really do it well!
If there is one problem with Crush its that the villain is really obvious from the get-go, but I think that’s kind of the point. Paul Clayton’s performance as the underappreciated robot driver was great and Adams makes sure to give us some interesting points from the driver’s point-of-view. He wants to be noticed and he’s willing to kill people to get that attention. But as Jackie tells him, it’ll be the wrong sort of attention. However, there was a side to the robot-driver that was understandable and does slightly play to the more sadistic side of people who work in customer services!
Jack and Jackie make such a great pairing that its surprising the pair never met on television. John Barrowman and Camille Coduri make such a great duo that I’m hoping in the future Big Finish will give us a boxset with just this pair, come on, let’s give Jackie the space-adventures she rightly deserved!
The second story of the set, Mighty and Despair from Tim Foley, sees Jack at some point long after his adventures with the Doctor and Torchwood and he’s living a quiet but content life in a monastery on an alien world. But all this is thrown on its head when a couple of people fleeing an alien war crash land on the planet. Jack is initially hesitant to help and even more hesitant once he realises one of them is a vampire.
Foley makes sure to steer clear of the vampire-clichés as these aren’t the type which like to bite your neck, while they still can, instead, they have no choice but to team up to survive. The opening act is light, keeping the vampire, her servant and Jack separated for the most part, with Jack trying to get an understanding of his new housemates. The second act though is when things begin to get serious, and Foley’s more human-focused-style of writing really comes nicely into play. As Jack and his new friends, celebrate Christmas and his new friends help him to celebrate the Blood Moon festivities, in the whole of one scene we see the three characters grow to become friends, only for it all to slip away as one of them dies.
Jack is immortal and so is his vampire friend. One is still very human and her death really helps to hammer home how being immortal can be both a blessing and a curse and looks at the grieving process when we lose those we love.
Once again, Tim Foley has delivered a great story, that feels very different from the types of stories this range has offered us so far. The quieter and slower pace here might not be to everyone’s taste, giving the action-packed stories that bookend this one, but it isn’t a story to skip over as Foley’s writing yet again triumphs. Somehow he always manages to get to the heart of any character he has to write for, exposing those raw human emotions and sculpting them into something extraordinary!
The set concludes with R&J from James Goss and features a pairing of characters that I’m surprised never happened on screen. Having said that, Jack was supposed to feature in A Good Man Goes To War, so we nearly got him meeting River Song. But R&J more than makes up for us being robbed of their on-screen meeting.
Of course, it all goes down how you’d expect with the pair not really trusting one-another and trying to stop and/or kill one another as they rampage through each other’s timelines and the wider Doctor Who universe. There are plenty of enjoyable moments and references to stories like Boom Town, Day of the Moon, The Pandorica Opens and The Husbands of River Song, as well as asking questions Who-fans have been asking for years, like where was future-Jack during the events of Boom Town?
Because of all this time-travel, thanks to River and Jack never meeting in the right order, this isn’t an episode designed for newcomers to either character, though for long-time fans, Goss does manage to keep control of the different continuity references nicely, making sure that things don’t get too confusing. And he even manages to throw in a storyline that results in River and Jack nearly getting married to defeat the villain of the episode.
If I had one issue with this episode it is that the main villain isn’t entirely clear right until the end and the second-act does seem to forget about the character altogether as Jack and River’s antics continue. This isn’t too much of problem though because it a lot of fun hearing these two characters, but a little more clarity on the villain of the piece throughout would have been nice.
But with cameos from the 9th Doctor, I think voiced by Nicholas Briggs and Jackie Tyler, in amongst all the other references and nods, R&J is everything you could hope from a meeting between this pair. Yet it is so much more than just references and nods, it has a sense of emotion all the way throughout as Jack tries to work out which mutual friend River knows and towards the end, as River knows it isn’t long before she goes off to the Library, she becomes much more sullen. For fans of both River and Jack then this story is an essential listen!
The Lives of Captain Jack: Volume 3 is a really fun set of stories and works as a nice jumping point for the character of Captain Jack if you aren’t entirely familiar with him. Plus with Jackie Tyler and River Song in tow, you really can’t go wrong!