Captain Jack Harkness – immortal, swaggering, saving the world, wearing the coat…pregnant?
Yep – that’s the premise of this story from Xanna Eve Chown. The idea of a pregnant Jack was mentioned back in earlier Torchwood, and here we get to hear how that went – at least one of the times.
It’s not perhaps the most romantic of scenarios – Jack is acting as surrogate to the ruler of the Yalnix Empire. The Yalnix, as a by-product of a seemingly eternal war with the nameless, and now formless Vad, aren’t able to carry their offspring to full-term, and so use surrogates from other species to take the job of reproduction over that final line. Hence Pregnant Jack. The Yalnix are by no means particularly unkind when it comes to this process though – unlike the Nostrovites, who pulled the same trick on Gwen in Something Borrowed but with significantly less by way of consent. The Yalnix provide a personalised midwife to help the surrogate through the process, and keep both the surrogate and the offspring safe, calm, and most notably alive until the next generation are successfully spawned.
We mentioned that this is Captain Jack Harkness, right?
Running, jumping, falling off buildings, explodey, shooty, laughy Jack Harkness. Captain Jack ‘Keeping The World Safe With Guns And Cheekbones’ Harkness.
He’s a midwife’s nightmare.
In particular, he’s Jonty’s nightmare – Jonty (Aaron Anthony) being the one charged with keeping this swaggering disaster area safe as he decides to work late into his pregnancy, doing his thing, keeping Cardiff and the Earth safe from alien encroachment and gittery. When buildings fall down and things blow up and there’s jumping off roofs involved, Jonty’s like a risk assessor along for the ride, his caution marked out by a particular habit of referring to himself in the third person – ‘Jonty does not like this!’ is heard quiiiite a few times over the course of Expectant.
If it weren’t enough that Jack Harkness has to keep a gestating baby safe inside himself, there is of course the small matter of the Vad, who are really quite keen to get their hands on the next ruler of their mortal enemies the Yalnix. Battlefleets, electric death, you know the drill. Tuesday in Torchwood.
Jack and Jonty’s Pregnant Adventure therefore involves quite a bit of running away, more than an agreeable amount of hiding in sewers (just what you want when you’re in the last stages of a pregnancy), rather more logical hiding out in a health spa, where Jack’s bump is mistaken for a touch of male over-indulgence by Paula, spa-runner and health Nazi, played with a neat ear for snack-abomination and discipline by Catherine Ayers. When things get unexpectedly Day of The Dead in the spa, Jack has no alternative but to call in Ianto to make a rapid getaway, and drive him to the birthing ship, while the next ruler of the Yalnix breaks Jack’s bones from the inside like a turd with a sledgehammer.
It would be cruel and spoilerific to tell you exactly what’s going on, but suffice it to say, it’s a touch more complicated than you might think it is – certainly, Jonty’s eventual explanation of what’s going on is enough to melt one side of your brain, and enough to make Jack’s craving for crisps go off the charts. But, while some listeners might think of this as just ‘Pregnant Jack On A Romp,’ and while there’s cause for questioning some of Jack’s mood swing reactions, from snappy to wailingly humble to petulant and on to weeping as somewhat stereotypical of the pregnancy experience, the point of this story is really very firmly in the background, rather than the foreground. Because this is a story set after the end of Series 2 and the events that cause the deaths of Tosh and Owen, and the…complications with Captain John and Jack’s brother Gray. This is a Jack in need of a reset, a Jack who needs to do something good and to believe in it if he’s to go forward with the whole world-saving schtick. Hence, bringing life into the world, albeit in a surrogate capacity. His mission here – the imperative of safely bringing the next ruler of the Yalnix into being – is actually more important to him than he usually lets on, or than the side effects of his pregnancy allow him frequently to express. This is Jack adding to the sum total of life in the universe – an unusual position for an immortal to be in. It also of course draws us darkly on to the events of Children Of Earth. Knowing what’s to come, we as listeners are extra-invested in hearing Jack’s adventures on the way to such a positive outcome. We want him to have this one, to have this memory, this day of productivity and bounty and above all, kindness. Because the darkness will soon be upon Jack Harkness, and the world, and its children.
As a listen, this story’s got plenty of fun for the would-be rompers, with only occasional moments of quiet and reflection. When they hit though, Xanna Eve Chown makes them really hit, so that the episode doesn’t drift away on a tide of its own froth and the funny reactions of a pregnant man. What you get is all the fun of the running around with a rookie spectator on the life of reckless, immortal Jack Harkness, all the almost-obligatory pregnant man stuff as a leavening agent along the way, and also both Jack’s need to put some good back into the universe as a kind of penance for the events that got his friends killed, and Ianto’s difficult, conflicted reaction to such a demented, extreme course of therapy as the delivery of a child – and one, incidentally, that isn’t his! Without any one of those elements, there’s a danger Expectant would topple into either sentimentality or farce, but with them all in place, the result is a romp with consequences, an emotionally balanced script which delivers drama and comedy and forward motion without ever going too far in any of its directions.
Expectant may be based on a comedic initial premise, but it delivers above that pay grade and adds emotional beats to the story of Jack’s development and the relationship he and Ianto are in the process of forging, en route to Children of Earth. The comedic audience is absolutely served, but there’s enough gravitas here too to make Expectant an easy, satisfying, head-nodding listen. Give it a listen today – and start panting. Tony Fyler