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Captain Jack Harkness

Captain Jack Harkness was the twelfth episode in the first series of Torchwood. By returning Jack Harkness to The Blitz during World War II, it allowed for a story that explored the origins of the “Jack Harkness” alias. However, in so doing, it left Jack’s teammates with even less understanding of who he really was.

Harkness introduced the character of Bilis Manger, someone who would play an important role in the series 1 finalé, but who remained a mystery that was never fully unpacked.

It was also one of the episodes that decidedly established Torchwood was indeed in the same universe as Doctor Who, since prominent set decoration established the Harold Saxon political campaign was still ongoing or only recently concluded.

This episode marked the breaking point for Owen Harper after letting Diane Holmes return to her era. Driven wild with pangs to see her again by opening the Cardiff Rift, he instinctively tried to set off Torchwood Three’s rift manipulator, which led to a falling out with Ianto Jones at gunpoint. Despite being shot in the shoulder by Ianto, Owen’s ultimate action is to set off the manipulator. Although his choice rescued his fellow teammates, it set off a chain of chaotic events leading directly into the next episode.


Captain Jack Harkness and Toshiko Sato investigate a report that music from the 1940s has been drifting out of a derelict dance hall called “the Ritz”. They enter the dance hall and are transported back to 20 January 1941 through a temporal shift. The hall is full of people dancing to live music. They go downstairs to return to the present, but cannot resist going back to 1941 once more. When they go downstairs for the second time they do not go back to the present, and they realise they are trapped.

Jack encounters an American captain by the name of Captain Jack Harkness. Torchwood’s Jack quickly invents the name “Captain James Harper”. When Toshiko asks him, “James Harper” admits he used to be a con-man. He took Jack Harkness’s name as a disguise. The real Captain Jack will die the next day in a routine training exercise.

“James Harper” and Toshiko devise a plan to leave the second half of an equation on something that will last through time so back in the present day, Torchwood can find it and combine it with the half they have already. The full equation will let them bring Toshiko and “James Harper” back to the present. Toshiko finds the manager, Bilis Manger, has a Polaroid camera, which has not yet been invented. While taking the photo, Toshiko misses the first part of the equation. When Bilis gets the camera, she must find another way to get this part back to present. She decides to use her own blood and writes the missing bit of the equation on a card. She puts the card inside a can for the Torchwood team. Back in the present day, Ianto and Owen find they cannot get through to Toshiko when they try to call her. They order Gwen to investigate. Just as Gwen hears music drifting from 1941, “James Harper” and Tosiko hear Gwen’s calls drifting the other way. Back at the Hub, Ianto and Owen argue over the best way to bring them back. Ianto realises the real reason why Owen wants to open the rift is to bring back Diane Holmes.

Meanwhile, at the Ritz, Gwen encounters the caretaker called “Bilis Manger.” He opens the hall for her to look around. After Ianto checks with the records, he realises the Bilis Manger of now is the Bilis Manger from 1941 and orders her to withdraw. Outside, Gwen finds the photograph left by Toshiko and notices part is missing. She continues searching.

At the Hub, Owen ignores Ianto’s protests and tries to open the rift with the rift manipulator. Owen finds there is a piece missing and decides to look for it in Bilis’s office.

At the Ritz, Owen finds the missing piece in a grandfather clock. Gwen also finds the card left by Toshiko in 1941 and informs Ianto. She also tells them three of the numbers have been scraped out by someone (most likely Bilis) and reads the message that Toshiko has written below the equation: “Tell my family, I love them.”

Jack and james war stories
Jack and “James” exchange war stories.
While all this is happening, “James Harper” gets to know the real Captain Jack and slowly begins to fall in love with him. “James” and Jack are joined by Jack’s girlfriend, who wishes to be with him. She makes to leave hoping he will follow. When he does not, “James ” insists that Jack kiss her goodbye, hinting at his death tomorrow. Jack takes “James'” advice, but thinks it has made things worse; now she thinks she loves him. On the stairs, Jack and “James” recount their worst war stories. Jack tells how he saw a young boy shot through the eyes. He yelled for his mother as he died. “James” tells how he had to watch his best friend, whom he had persuaded to enlist, tortured by the enemy and killed in front of him.

Later, during a bomb raid, Jack confesses he is scared. They sit down at a table for a private talk. Jack slowly realises “James” knows something bad is going to happen and goes to his girlfriend.

Jack returns later, however, to find “James” on his own and joins him. They hold hands for a few seconds but are interrupted by a couple who want the “lover’s corner”. Jack tells the couple he and “James” were just discussing strategies. Jack turns down “James’s” offer to go somewhere else.

Disheartened, “James” returns to the edge of the dance floor where he is joined by Toshiko. He says tomorrow Jack will lead his men in a routine training exercise to be surprised by the Messerschmitts. Jack kills three of them before dying when his plane bursts into flames. His men all make it back to safety.

Ianto threatens Owen
Ianto tries to stop Owen from opening the Rift.
Back in the present day and at the Hub, Owen and Ianto are still arguing about the rift. When Owen goes into Jack’s safe to retrieve the rift manipulator’s blueprints, Ianto tries to snatch the blueprints. Owen overpowers Ianto and kicks him to the ground before heading towards the rift manipulator. Ianto orders him to stop. He is now pointing a gun at him. After Owen taunts Ianto about his relationship with Jack, Ianto shoots Owen in the shoulder to stop him. He is too late. The manipulator activates. Owen falls unconscious while Ianto screams at him.

Back in 1941, “James” and Toshiko sit at a table. “James” explains someone brought him back to life one day and hints he has not been able to die ever since. “James” apologizes to Toshiko for “dragging” her into “James’s” business. Toshiko replies it was her choice to get involved. “James” promises her he will look after her but breaks down when he realizes that there is nothing that can be done to save Jack.

During the next song, Jack stands at the other side of the dance floor, thinking about what “James” has told him. He takes “James’s” hand and they begin to dance to the slow music. They start to kiss, but are interrupted by the rift bursting open in the doorway. Toshiko rushes to it and pleads with “James” to follow her. James” explains to Jack that it is his duty, unwillingly lets go and heads towards the rift. At the last minute, “James” turns back to kiss Jack passionately before letting him go again. In the rift, “James” turns around to face the real Jack who salutes him before he vanishes.

Back in the present day, Gwen gleefully greets Jack and Toshiko as they leave the Ritz. Jack takes one last look at the dance hall before returning to the Hub.

At the Hub, Owen is performing self-aid on the bullet wound courtesy of Ianto. Ianto says he never meant to kill Owen. He meant to hit his shoulder. He also says there is no sign of Bilis. Toshiko, who is helping Owen, explains what she and Jack saw in 1941, while Owen taunts Ianto about opening the rift not having any immediate side-effects. Owen and Toshiko flirt mildly. Jack walks past them looking down as he enters his office. Toshiko joins him. They toast to the real Captain Jack Harkness.


Captain Jack Harkness
Gwen Cooper
Owen Harper
Toshiko Sato
Ianto Jones