Never a publication to shrink from topical controversies, the Radio Times has been quizzing John Barrowman about why Jack Harkness never got around to assassinating Adolf Hitler.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers about the outcome of World War II.
As Barrowman himself says, ‘Handsome’ Captain Jack Harkness is ‘swash-buckling hero’ whose immortality meant he ‘could sacrifice himself for the good and the sake of others and then return to continue to do good.’ When his vortex manipulator brought him back to 1869, he likely arrived with substantial foreknowledge of the history of the future. This raises complex ethical questions about when he chose to intervene in history’s great crimes and tragedies and when he didn’t. In 1888, for instance, did he do nothing to save the 11 women murdered by Jack the Ripper? Where was he when the doomed were standing in line for the Hindenburg in 1937? In 1991, did he even try to reach Television Centre in time to prevent the commissioning of Noel’s House Party?
Of almost as great import is the question of Jack’s seeming failure to kill Adolf Hitler and thereby prevent, or at least hasten the end of, World War II. Was it because Jack feared the sweeping and unknowable consequences of making such a radical alteration to the timeline? Was it a choice born of the shared faith that knew, too, that out of the Daleks’ evil, ‘must come something good’? Or is the life of Adolf Hitler one of the ‘fixed points’ that the Doctor invokes when he’s forbidden to interfere or can’t be ars*d?
No, Barrowman’s answer is more profound:
The thing that made Torchwood and Captain Jack such a great character – and the stories of Russell [T Davies], in particular – was the fact that they mimicked what happened in the real world. [Jack killing Hitler] wouldn’t have made sense because if he would have gone and killed Hitler, history wouldn’t have been the same as what we were living today… Jack couldn’t kill Hitler because Hitler was always going to survive up to a point and do the damage that he did. If he’d have killed Hitler, we couldn’t have written those stories that mimicked actual history.
So, there we have it. Jack chose not to extinguish one of the most evil men of the 20th Century for fear of creating a greater evil: unacceptable and irreversible damage to that most pristine and seamless of texts, the continuity of Doctor Who, itself.