Captain Jack Harkness: A 51st century guy

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In the Doctor Who series, Captain Jack Harkness is a character that is extremely important. John Barrowman’s character, Captain Jack Harkness, first appeared in the episode “The Empty Child”. The first lines that we hear him say are “Excellent bottom.” and “Sorry, old man. I gotta go meet a girl, but you’ve got an excellent bottom too.”, referring to Rose and Algy’s backsides, respectively. This was the first indicator for me that Jack was not 100% straight like most of the Doctor Who characters that we had been introduced to. In fact, the 9th Doctor and Rose talk about how open he is with flirting with everyone. The 9th Doctor says that because Jack is from the 51st century, he is “more flexible when it comes to dancing”, which I am assuming means sex or something similar.

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One reason why I think that Jack’s character is so important to Doctor Who is because he is one of the few characters that is portrayed as not being heterosexual. There are others throughout the series, but most, with the exception of River Song, do not appear in as many episodes as Jack does. While it is never explicitly said that Jack has a specific label, it is clear that he takes interest in more than just men and women. The LGBTQ community has become more widely accepted, but it is still not portrayed as much in the media. The media does a good job including gay or lesbian characters, but bisexual, pansexual, transgender, and others are not portrayed. In this sense, I feel like the media has failed because it excludes those who may not want to label themselves, do not conform to a specific gender, or have different preferences.

A second reason why I think that Jack’s character is so important is because John Barrowman, who plays Jack, is an openly gay actor. In 2013, California’s Supreme Court had overturned the ban on same sex weddings, and Barrowman was able to marry his partner of 22 years. I think that it’s a great thing that the director and casting crew of Doctor Who chose a person of the LGBTQ community to play a non-heterosexual character. I think that a lot of times the casting of a movie or tv show is done poorly because a heterosexual actor/actress will be cast as a character of the LGBTQ community or maybe vice versa, although I do not know of any examples of that. There are other casting mistakes that the media makes in terms of diversity, such as a Caucasian actor/actress playing a character of another race. Even though I am not a member of the LGBTQ community, it was very refreshing and exciting to see representation. I have many friends that are a part of the LGBTQ community and have often heard that some people say that bisexual people don’t exist or that bisexuality is a phase and other things like that. It’s important that all spectrums are represented because it’s comforting to see something in the media that you identify with.

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Oh Captain, My Captain

I have been a fan of Doctor Who for several years, but haven’t actually seen that many seasons, so being forced to sit down and watch the first season of the rebooted series was really nice, and stirred up a lot of emotions. I’ve never really been a hard-core fan, it was more of a family activity to watch Doctor Who. But I got into it late, during Matt Smith’s run, and have only watched a select few episodes of the seasons before him. I had only seen maybe half of an episode of season 1, so the 9th doctor was fairly new for me. As I went through the season I felt more and more attached to him, and was really sad when he regenerated, though I was also excited to see Tennant as the doctor, because I have often heard that he’s the best.

The character I love the most in the first season is Captain Jack Harkness. Bisexual and pansexual characters are hard to come by in the media even today, and bi/pan men are represented even less. So I was excited about Jack’s character right off the bat. It’s fun to see how smooth he is with everyone he meets, and he is this confident, fun character most of the time. But I also love that he cares so much about people and especially about Rose and later the doctor. He may be a rogue, but he put his life on the line multiple times to right a wrong or to save others.

 

You also get to see just how much he cares in episode 12, “Bad Wolf,” when the doctor and Jack believe that Rose was disintegrated. This was probably the most heart-wrenching scene in the entire season for me. I knew that she wasn’t really dead, because I knew that she was still a companion in the next season, but watching the Doctor shut down because he thinks she’s dead and it’s his fault, and similarly watching Jack scream at the programmers that they killed her and breaking down after several episodes of only really seeing his confident devil-may-care persona, it was just such a moment. I had to pause the episode to take that in while I was watching it.

I’m actually pretty sad and mad that the doctor and Rose left Jack in the last episode of the season, and it’s not addressed after that, as if we’re just supposed to be okay with it. To be fair, I don’t think Rose remembers that she brought him back to life, and the doctor has no idea. So I’m not mad at them. I guess I’m mad at the writers. But I suppose they were setting up for Torchwood, which I’m definitely going to watch. I just wish Jack was in the second season traveling with Rose and the new doctor. I read that he doesn’t return to doctor who until season three, when Martha is the companion. I’m not ready to see the look on his face when he realizes that he won’t see Rose again.

Why Captain Jack Harkness is Such a Big Deal.

The character of Captain Jack Harkness has been a fan favorite since his debut in the episode “The Empty Child”. With his wit and flirty nature, he won the hearts of fans. So much so that he got his own spin off show, “Torchwood” in 2006 and ran until 2011, directed by none other than Russel T. Davies. The show got mixed reviews in the early showings, but soon became a fan favorite and moved up from BBC 3 to BBC 1. Even earning itself a comic series, multiple novels, and two audio dramas. In all of which, the coy captain and his small team of investigators explore and solve cases involving the extraterrestrial and human alike. Unlike Doctor Who, Torchwood is aimed at an older audience. Exploring sexuality and other adult themes throughout the series. Creating a larger audience and giving the writers more freedom.

So why is Jack such a big deal? For one he is one of the only openly LGBT characters on the show. Although we never get a true label it is obvious that Captain Jack Harkness is interested in more than just human women. On more than one occasion we see him flirting with men and women of both the same and a different species. So why do we care? While media is getting better at including gay and lesbian characters, they often times fail to include bisexual and characters that prefer not to be labeled. Therefore, the inclusion of his undefined sexuality is important to those who are questioning their sexuality and to those who already have it all figured out. As a viewer, it was very refreshing to see a character what wasn’t just gay or straight. It is important to represent those who are bisexual and don’t always see characters that they identify with on television. LGBT youth are more likely to be bullied and commit suicide. Representation matters.

 

Diversity in Doctor Who

Since Doctor Who rebooted in 2005 it has made strides in representing diversity on television.  Strides that can’t be said for many other television shows.  We open with episode one, “Rose” set in England, 2005, on a rare scene for television.  Rose is a working class woman who really is working class, not a dramatized version of this.  She lives in a small apartment with her single mother and wakes early every day to clock-in at her job in a department store.  She’s casual, dressing in clothes that certainly aren’t the height of fashion for the time, she isn’t dolled up in makeup only a professional could do, and what’s more; she isn’t the tiny waisted, long-legged pretty girl we’re used to seeing on TV.  Rose sets the pace for the growing diversity we’re about to be treated to in “Doctor Who”.

Not long after we get Captain Jack Harkness, the first openly pansexual in the history of “Doctor Who” who equally and openly shows attraction to men, women, aliens, and the non-gender conforming.  This was a huge leap for sexual and romantic diversity in “Doctor Who”, and one of the very first times queer people could see themselves in a character on television that wasn’t harmful.  

Next comes Martha, the first black companion on “Doctor Who”.  She’s intelligent and able to keep up with the Doctor’s rambling better, perhaps, than most other companions.  For people of colour, Martha is a big deal.  She’s a strong, woman of colour, in a leading role on one of the most popular television shows of all time.  With Martha, the television series continues to push forward for more diversity in their cast.

The next three companions, Donna, Amy, and Clara continue to portray strong female leads with diverse histories and personalities.  Along the way we meet a couple more sexually diverse characters, and characters from all different walks of life.  

Now we come to the most recent companion, Bill, who is both a woman of colour and openly gay.  She is one of the very first leading characters like this on television, a huge influence for women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  We finally have a leading character that many minorities can view themselves in in a positive way.

Soon we’ll be treated with something that came unexpected: a female Doctor.  Jodie Whittaker will soon take on the role of the Doctor and make history as the first female Doctor.  Many people are very excited about this.  We get a leading female, and also confirmation that Gallifreyans, or at least the Doctor, experience gender fluidity, which could be a nod toward the transgender community.

But when it comes to diversity, is it enough?  Though Doctor Who has done a great job positively representing different groups of people, we still are left itching for more.  Several groups who wish to see any kind of representation on television have been left out.  Doctor Who has come a long way, but I believe it can, and should, go much farther.  I hope that as the episodes continue to air we will continue to see a rise in representation in the cast.