The Importance of Being Harkness

Re-reading through prior posts involving this companion, I see and enjoy the happiness and gratitude at the portrayal of a bi-sexual character in mainstream media. I have to admit I fell instantly in love with Captain Jack and followed him to Torchwood with reckless abandon.

I’d like to take a look at this companion from outside the box AND outside my comfort zone. This blog is a place to start educated debate and illicit discussions on views and ideals. I don’t even want to focus on Captain Jack’s sexuality or his importance in popular culture.

My point in this post is to show that Captain Jack Harkness is the ying to The Doctors yang. He is the necessary roughness, the doer of bad deeds, the man that gets what needs to be done, done. When The Doctor is unable to pull the trigger due to his conscience or the stance of values he must follow. Captain Jack is behind him taking care of business.

In contrast to The Doctor, Harkness is a man of extreme action more than willing to apply a hands on solution to a problem. This is the companion that brings his moral ambiguity to the forefront.

Captain Jack wears the cloak of Byronic heroism, with that ever present glint oozing the fact he will hurt you to protect whats his. Through this he creates a new character archetype, allowing us to embrace the Devil’s Advocate. Captain Jack holds a pivotal place in the change an evolution of modern science fiction heroes.

When The Doctor scolded Jack for joining Torchwood, an organization he views as xenophobic and aggressive, Jack shrugs and explains he is doing what must be done to protect the human population they both care for.

We see this companion evolve from a selfish egotistical prat to one of self-sacrifice. On his journey of discovery he studies the value of life. He looks beyond his narrow view and explores the complexity of negotiating different world views, cultural values, beliefs and moral codes through a framework established by The Doctor.

 

This does not mean that Captain Harkness will not make the hard choices and bring destruction or death to his enemies when needed. It is that spark of darkness encased by the teachings of The Doctor that keeps Captain Jack close to my heart.

 

This companion shows his humanity in every gray decision made, every secret kept and each manipulation. He wields his flaws as effectively as he wields his weapons against all enemies. Like all of us in the Whovian fandom he sets The Doctor as his North Star and futilely attempts to steer that same strict and often angelic course. Most often he fails, like the rest of us, but still uses the principals to navigate the wreckage.

 

Am I grateful Moffat chose to create the first openly non-hetero sexual character in the history of televised Doctor Who? Am I over the moon about the ongoing depiction of bi-sexuality in mainstream TV not too laced with stereotypes? ABSOLUTELY!

I just want to point out that Captain Jack Harkness is not just the sum of his parts; he IS a VICTORY of his parts. He is the culmination of flawed, messy, dark and lovable humanity.

7 comments

  1. I know Jack first appeared in a Moffat-written episode, but wasn’t he created by RTD? I suspect he is, in part because Moffat has made it clear recently on Twitter that he doesn’t care about bi/pansexual visibility.

    I also love Jack for his willingness to do what needs doing, as opposed to the Doctor’s (selfish) moralizing and lack of action. When the world is in danger, the Doctor intones, “There has to be a better solution!” and Jack points a gun at someone or blows some shit up. His methods aren’t always ideal, but he works with what he has, not an ideal. And he doesn’t, like the Doctor, let those around him do the dirty work while he keeps his hands clean. In watching Jack, we see his flaws and brokenness, but we also see the flaws in the way the Doctor handles crises.

    • Kmasca says:

      RTD and Moffat created characters collaboratively. This is fresh in my mind, because I’ve just read RTD’s The Writer’s Tale. RTD created the concepts for characters while he was exec producer, other writers would script episodes, then he would rewrite 30-100% of the submitted screenplay… *except* in the case of Moffat. He didn’t rewrite scripts by Moffat, Chris Chibnall, Matthew Graham or Stephen Greenhorn.

      RTD named Captain Jack, and envisioned him as a fun, angst-free bisexual character. Moffat wrote his storyline for the first series.

  2. I’m very fond of Jack in all his guises!

    I think you have hit the nail on the head about his role in the show – to me coming from the classic show, he follows very much in a long companion tradition of them casting youngish ‘heroic blokes’ who are willing to punch and shoot things so the Doctor can remain (mostly) above violence.

    The trope came about because the Doctor was originally an old man, so that there was effectively a handsome leading man in the ensemble, with the Doctor playing more of a cranky all-knowing mentor figure. But it depended a lot on who was playing the Doctor (and in at least one instance with Tom Baker, who they thought would be playing the Doctor – as with Matt Smith they hadn’t planned on casting such a young actor). These little accidents proved quite successful, as the heroic bloke was good for much more than compensating for a less active Doctor – he allowed the Doctor to preserve moral superiority in the face of danger.

    The ‘heroic bloke’ companion was subverted quite a few times – through casting unheroic, cerebral or cowardly male companions like Adric and Turlough, but also notably through allowing some female companions like Leela and Ace to occupy the same narrative space: specialising in knife throwing and explosives respectively.

    Jack Harkness of course subverts the trope through his sexuality, but is in all other regards the Heroic Bloke who can do the leaping about, shooting and hitting things, allowing the Doctor (no matter his age) to choose to ignore such practical necessities.

  3. James says:

    I think the closest equivalent to Jack in the first run of the show was the Brigadier, particularly in his first few appearances. Thinking about it, the Brigadier’s first action in the programme is to hold the Doctor at gunpoint and throughout Web of Fear, he’s painted as being a possible traitor. There’s always an element of threat to him during the first Pertwee year, climaxing in Inferno, where we have his evil doppelganger – perhaps what he could have developed into had he not met the Doctor. I’ve always thought it was something of a missed opportunity that Dicks and Letts chose to soften the character and turn him into “the Brig”. Had they kept the rather harder-edged characterisation, I think the Pertwee era would have been a lot more interesting, with the possibility of conflict between the two characters.

    I would like to see Jack return to the series at some point and particularly so if we could have a story putting him at odds with the Doctor again.

    • Steven Taylor is even earlier! *grins*

      You have a good point, though. Many of the heroic bloke types of the black and white years are far more submissive to the Doctor than the Brigadier is (though Ian has his moments) and the Brigadier being an expert in his sphere gives that independent streak that Jack also displays.

      I’ve just been relistening to The Dalek’s Masterplan actually and Nicholas Courtney’s character in that, Bret Vyon, is very similar to the early version of the Brigadier – and acts as a companion for a couple of episodes, rather a chummy one with a sharp edge and a tendency to shoot first, ask questions later. I always find myself being a little wistful that he was killed off so early in the story – he likewise has a hint of a 1960′s Jack Harkness about him.

  4. max says:

    This Force of Nature, could only be matched in the same scene as the 9th Doctor, since he clearly outshines every scene he shares with Tennant. (10 and the Tardis run away from him!) I find Jack’s sexuality is almost submerged beneath his other charateristics. While we applaud Moffat and RTD bringing us the great Captain Jack, let us not lose sight that they also brought us the most human representative companion: hero, identity thief, criminal, manipulator, selfish, murderer, immature, creep, sadist, masochist, victim, savior, father, soldier, lover, lonely, devil, misfit, immortal.

    Bloody Torchwood.

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