A Love Letter To The Aggressive Queerness Of Captain Jack Harkness
This Doctor Who time agent was truly ahead of his time.
If you’ve never watched Doctor Who before, there’s a chance you won’t know about Captain Jack Harkness. That’s a crying shame. This handsome, time-travelling, alien-fucking, sexual polymath is exactly the queer hero every boy, girl and non-person (we’re talking robots and four-dimensional beings here) needs.
As we’ve talked about before, depictions of queerness on television and film are having a golden era, with shows like Orange is the New Black or Sense8 pushing the boundaries of LGBTQIA representation on our screens. But we’re not in a big gay utopia just yet. Many queer characters leave lots to be desired, and a large number of films or TV shows face stiff (lol) opposition to putting queer characters on screen at all.
This is why it’s nice to take a moment to appreciate the good ones — the truly stellar examples of almost excessively queer characters that teleport out of nowhere and then try to sleep with every single person or thing around them. This is why we need to appreciate Captain Jack Harkness.
A Sexy Polysexual Buffoon
There are two types of people reading this article: Whovians, and the rest of the world. I’m not even going to bother pretending to out-knowledge a Whovian on Doctor Who, as they are a scary and passionate species. So, instead I will explain Captain Jack to the rest of you, people who only have an ordinary amount of sonic screwdrivers in your house.
Captain Jack is an immortal Time Agent/con-man from the 51st century, who became trapped in the 20th century after his time-travel device crapped out due to reasons. While best known for spending a bunch of journeys with the Eccleston- and Tennant-era Doctors, he also starred in his own spinoff called Torchwood.
Jack is an interesting character, with some fairly exciting points of pathos and drama to focus on. He’s an exile from his own time, he’s an immortal unchanging being, he’s a redeemed con-man, he once spent a few hundred years buried alive, and the majority of his friends, families and lovers have died horribly.
But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the fact he’s also an unceasing and unrepentant intergalactic horn-bag. Jack spends the majority of each episode of Doctor Who doing three things: running around with his jacket flapping majestically, dying, and hitting on people.
It would be almost impossible to list everyone he has flirted with (and many have tried) but a good summary would include every incarnation of the Doctor that he’s met, every one of the Doctor’s companions (although you could argue that Donna did all the flirting in her case, she’s such a boss), every one of the Doctor’s companions human partners, and then basically everyone else he meets.
He is refreshingly and ruthlessly open to flirting with everyone and everything — male, female, neither, robot, alien, sentient spaceship. He identifies as ‘omnisexual’ which hey, might one day get to add to the LGBTQIA letters.
His heart and dick are given equal consideration.
This kind of egalitarian queerness is wonderful to watch in itself. Not only is bisexuality and pansexuality pretty rare to find on-screen, it’s rare to see it being treated well. It’s so often seen as something treacherous and untrustworthy. The classic ‘sneaky bi’ trope insists people go out of their way to steal away your heterosexual partners. Or, if it moves past that slinking sex thief representation, the homosexual aspect is always played up, with that person’s relationships with people of the same gender being given far more representation or validity.
Captain Jack is equal and free with his affections, and seeing him flirt, make out and fall in love with both men and women is a burst of minty fresh air. I have to admit that when I was first introduced to him, I worried that his horny queerness was being treated as a joke — and in some cases it definitely was.
I worried that this sexy, polysexual buffoon would fade away as a just another member of the menagerie of the weird and strange things that the Doctor meets. However, not only was Jack a major character in the Doctor Who series, fleshed out and given depth and importance, he was treated seriously enough to be given his own, three series spinoff show.
I now feel that they were able to poke fun at his constant and democratic boner because he was so carefully and respectfully crafted as a character. I also particularly enjoy that, as a queer leading man, he is given a large number of romances, and not just dalliances. His heart and dick are given equal consideration.
A Time Agent Ahead Of His Time
It’s also worth remembering that Jack Harkness’ handsome face first graced our screens in 2005. As always, Jack is slightly out of sync with time, arriving earlier than most well executed bi/poly TV characters. It’s also somewhat strange that Doctor Who was the vessel for this excellent pioneer of sexual diversity.
It’s not as if the show is particularly known for its progressive political agenda. Doctor Who recently came under fire for comments by writer Mark Gatiss, who protested the inclusion of a person of colour being cast as a soldier in Queen Victoria’s army due to its “historical inaccuracy”. It’s fine to have armies of aliens in the Victorian era, but not POC? The show has also been repeatedly questioned about The Doctor himself not being cast as a woman or POC. The Doctor literally turns into a new person via magic or whatever every few years; it seems like they’re a bit overdue to be someone other than a white man.
This is why I’m all the more grateful that, when it comes to representation of sexuality, the show gave us the beautiful gift of Captain Jack. As a bisexual nerd, it’s nice to know that my particular type of sexuality is on the screen being aggressively queer AND an action hero AND a snappy dresser. This means a lot to the young queer boys who got to grow up with a hero that reflects them.
My favourite part of the queerness of Captain Jack is not just what’s seen on screen — although, again, seeing a handsome man strutting around and making out with everyone around him is great — it’s also the aggressiveness of what he, and the show predict for humanity.
Captain Jack isn’t seen as being particularly unique in his sexuality. He only stands out because he’s an exile in the 21st century, where we are still fighting the out-dated prudes and homophobes. In Jack’s native 51st century, human sexuality has advanced to the point where EVERYONE is like him. The show is foretelling a glorious future in space, where everyone is a giant queer horn-bag for everyone else, and I personally can’t wait until we get there.
Patrick Lenton is a writer and author. He tweets at @patricklenton.
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