John Barrowman talks Dalek deaths and the future of Captain Jack ahead of his triumphant Doctor Who return

The immortal Time Agent returns in festive special Revolution of the Daleks - and in our Big RT interview, we catch up with John Barrowman to see what's next for the character.

John Barrowman

Captain Jack is back!

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After a long time away from screens and a short cameo earlier this year, John Barrowman’s immortal Time Agent Captain Jack Harkness is returning to the Doctor Who universe for festive special Revolution of the Daleks, taking on the Doctor’s greatest foes in her absence.

But how did Barrowman return, and what’s he been up to over the past few months? To find out we caught up with the erstwhile leader of Torchwood Three himself, taking a trip down Dalek memory lane and speculating on Jack’s Doctor Who future.

In other words, yes, we got to have a chat with John Barrowman. What better early Christmas present could we have hoped for?

Check out our full conversation with him below.

Hi John – Captain Jack Harkness had been away from Doctor Who for a decade, then made a surprise reappearance earlier this year in Fugitive of the Judoon— how did they get you back again?

I am never going to say no to being Captain Jack. I know how popular these specials are at this time of the year, and how much the fans look forward to them. So sit down and prepare –this episode is going to be a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions.

How did you keep it secret?

The ploy was, as it was the first time, when I filmed the cameo in Bristol, that I was re-doing our flat in Cardiff.

So I just continued to say I was there re-modelling my flat. And also I was doing Dancing on Ice at the time. So it all fitted in perfectly. I just wasn’t able to tell anybody! No-one was…I wasn’t able to say anything to anybody, and there was only a couple of people who knew.

John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who series 12 (BBC)
John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who series 12 (BBC)

Can you tell us how much Jack is in the new episode?

No! I can’t tell ya anything! I’m not tellin’ ya nuthin! I’m not gonna spoil it! You’re gonna have to watch it, because it’s absolutely amazing and brilliant, and all you need to know is that Team TARDIS is together, and that’s all I can tell ya.

We did hear that Jack has a bit of a connection with Yaz, played by Mandip Gill?

The one thing is that Jack always seems to be able to pluck out somebody who feels the same way about the Doctor that he does. So I do love that when they write the scenes…without going into too much detail Mandip and I had a wonderful scene that we did together where we express how we both feel.

And Jack’s done this with Martha, Rose… with most everybody who’s been with the Doctor, Jack has expressed it to the Doctor himself. However, it’s just nice to see because people watching it, that expresses how they feel. I can’t tell you what it entails, what it involves. But it’s a lovely scene.

Did you have fun filming together?

The challenge when we filmed it which was really funny was… well there are people spying, and trying to get shots of us during filming. And we were being a little naughty in the sense of, you know, just being silly and being a little loud. Me, loud, no?

And eventually the crew came round and they said ‘You guys have to stop having so much fun because people can hear – and we don’t want them to know that you’re there’.

I will say on that night Mandip was freezing cold, and I held her in my jacket…I put the coat around her and myself. Because it’s obviously the hero coat, so it can wrap around two people. And we stood there, freezing our butts off, filming in Wales. But loving every minute of it.

Captain Jack Harkness
Doctor Who Special 2020 – Revolution Of The Daleks (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: Captain Jack Harkness (JOHN BARROWMAN) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Ben Blackall

Came back for a cameo, now the full episode – could this be just the start of Jack’s return to Doctor Who?

I have no idea, you’ll have to talk to the producers. I’ve always said, if I’m asked I will do it at the drop of a hat – I will happily come back to the TARDIS any time I am asked. Except I’ll be grey-haired now, so we have to work that into the plot, that something happened to Jack’s hair!

Or they’ll dye it – they can sort it out. But I don’t know what the future holds. We have to wait and see.

There are a few characters in Doctor Who’s classic series who are with many different Doctors – could you do Jack doing something like that?

I could see Jack being with many Doctors…I think Jack would love being with many Doctors…Jack would enjoy the experience of having multiple Doctors!

He’s not gender-specific, so he doesn’t care what they look like as long as this is the Doctor and the heart is the Doctor.

That’s the one thing that I will say…let me just think here. With the episode itself, you know that’s how he recognises who [the Doctor] is. That’s all I’ll say.

You’re facing the Daleks again after being killed by them more than once in Doctor Who past – what’s your favourite part about facing off with them?

I think it’s confronting them, and saying things to them like ‘Go ahead – shoot me.’ And winking to whoever may be the Doctor, or someone that I know over in the corner that knows that I’m gonna come back to life. But I let them kill me.

Because the Daleks, that’s the only thing they don’t know about Jack Harkness, they haven’t figured out yet. They’re still a bit stupid to Jack, and I love that.

The Doctor Dances
Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston and John Barrowman in Doctor Who (BBC)

Any fond memories of Daleks from your early Doctor Who days?

I remember the first time working with Billie [Piper], and we were doing one of the Dalek episodes, and we were doing the readt-hrough. And she was like, ‘What’s a dah-lekky?’

And I’m like ‘Billie, it’s a Dalek – it’s the most evil being in the universe that hates us, because we love the Doctor.’ She just says ‘Oh.’ I don’t think she was joking!

When did you first encounter the Daleks outside of the show?

I first remember being aware of them, probably it was, ah… Jon Pertwee, it was either Pertwee, or it was Tom Baker. Because I remember it was Davros. I remember turning on the telly, I was in Glasgow, and literally on the sofa or behind it. I turned on the TV and it was a Dalek episode.

I remember what they looked like, they didn’t look like they look today. But still, the one thing that was frightening is the fact that you know that the Daleks are killers. The Doctor could always talk a villain out of doing the bad things, most of the time. And that’s what the Doctor’s brilliant at.

However, he or she doesn’t do that with the Daleks. The Daleks were I think one of the first ones we saw actually shoot people. And kill them. So that’s what made them the most frightening. They will destroy you. And when we saw them for the first time, that’s why we all s***our pants.

Where have you been spending lockdown?

Right now, I’m sitting in my back yard in Palm Springs. I’ve got the screen down, because the sunshine is too bright, but there’s snow on the mountaintops.

This whole lockdown period has been the longest I’ve ever been at home in one place. I loved it for the first couple of months, and then I’d had enough of rearranging cupboards.

John Barrowman DOI (Getty)

Did you find yourself doing anything different or unusual in lockdown…something you wouldn’t have seen yourself doing?

My husband Scott and I started doing puzzles. I know that seems really trite, but I would never have sat down and done a puzzle before. And I cook an awful lot now.

I have to say there’s nothing really bizarre…I’d say puzzles or cooking, that was it! And then also we had a quiz week, where we did a Zoom quiz night with friends and family in the UK and stuff, and I did that once a week for the last seven months.

I must say this. I did find it difficult, because also people that I knew and talked to stopped kind of communicating and conversing with me. I don’t know why it all happened.

Do you do well on your own, or prefer being in a big group?

I’m OK on my own for a certain period. But then I do prefer the company of others. I say this meaning it respectfully, I’m a very tactile, touchy-feely person. I like to hug people. I like to have a laugh, and so I need human interaction.

I’m sick of it now. I want everybody to be healthy, I want everybody to get better, I want it to be gone, I want vaccines. Whatever we have to do to get back to normal…I just ask everybody, as Captain Jack Harkness, please do what we can for humanity. Because Jack would do it, and the Doctor would do it, so why can’t everybody else?

In lockdown, you took part in online watchalongs of old Doctor Who and Torchwood episodes, the latter organised by RadioTimes.com. Was it good to connect with fans in that way?

Normally, I do a lot of conventions, and I’m very in touch with fans, so I found connecting digitally really quite emotional. I shed a tear! Sitting in my living room feeling isolated and alone, but knowing we were all there together, felt very Doctor Who-esque.

To know that we were all watching one person, to help all of us through that emotional moment, it was really a great and lovely thing.

Will you be coming together with family this Christmas?

My husband and I will be here with the dogs. My mum and dad live down the street – we’ll have a two-week quarantine, we’ll test twice, and then we’ll get them into our bubble.

It’ll be a small Christmas, but I started decorating early to make all of December festive and wonderful. Wait till you see my TARDIS-decorated tree…

A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Radio Times double Christmas issue.

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Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks comes to BBC One at 6.45pm on New Year’s Day. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.