Captain Jack Harkness was the first LGBTQ character to appear on long-running British sci-fi series Doctor Who, and later starred in spinoff series Torchwood. Earlier this year, he made a surprise return.
Hold on to your telecommunicators, Whovians, because the good captain is finally back – even if just for a one-time engagement. A couple weeks ago, Doctor Who fans got a surprise that absolutely no one saw coming.
Captain Jack Harkness, who is played by Scottish American actor John Barrowman, finally returned, after a ten-year absence from the classic British series. Harkness, the first openly bisexual character on the series — which has been airing off and on since 1963 — first made his appearance in the 2005 episode “The Empty Child,” meeting Christopher Eccleston’s ninth doctor. He was last seen during the 2010 two-part special “The End of Time,” in which we said goodbye to David Tennant’s tenth doctor.
When Barrowman made his debut as the now-iconic captain, he helped begin the process of filling necessary voids in the long running, very white, very straight sci-fi series. Not only did Captain Jack become the first openly LGBTQ character in the franchise, he opened the door to significantly more LGBTQ representation in the series, from the sexually fluid River Song to smaller recurring characters, such as Madame Vastra and her wife and sidekick, Jenny Flint.
On a larger scale, this led to more widespread representation when the good captain received his own spinoff series, Torchwood. Torchwood told the story of a covert government agency based in Cardiff, Wales called the Torchwood Institute, which was led by Captain Jack and focused on stories that, while mostly similar to those of its predecessor, Doctor Who, had more adult themes (that’s the bonus of having a late air time). Amongst the storylines were several featuring more visible LGBTQ representation, such as the ongoing romance between Harkness and fellow agent Ianto Jones, which would carry on until the end of the series in 2011.
Barrowman returned to Doctor Who this year during the episode “Fugitive of the Judoon,” but missed being introduced to Jodie Whittaker’s current iteration of The Doctor. In the episode, Harkness has stolen a spacecraft from the Judoon, and is now being attacked by the rightful owners.
Because of the forcefield on the spacecraft, he is unable to teleport The Doctor, and is only able to bring over her current companions – Graham, Ryan, and Yaz. Through the spurts of flirting which are now just a personality trait for him, Harkness is able to give a warning to the companions for The Doctor to beware of the “Lone Cyberman,” and to “not give it what it wants,” before sending them back and transporting away.
The news of Barrowman’s Harkness making a final return to the series was kept so well under wraps that Barrowman even used his flat that he owns in Cardiff to his advantage. He threw everyone off the scent through the clever ruse of being at his flat for “renovations,” and even went as far as to use the hashtag #flatrenovation on social media to hide his true intentions for being there.
“I felt bad, but I had to think of something to throw people off the path of what I was doing in Cardiff,” Barrowman told RadioTimes. “Because I was being seen all over the place. And people are like ‘Well what are you doing here?’ And I just said, ‘Well, I’m renovating one of the properties that we have.’”
It is currently unknown — even to Barrowman — if this is just a one-off appearance for Harkness or if he will return again, and if so, how often or for how long. Regardless, if you’re like me, this is as good of a sign as any that it is finally time to catch up on the series. Dust off your Converse, Whovians, because it’s time to save the universe.