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Doctor Who: Captain Jack’s Return & Season 12 Future Explained

Caution: Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who's "Fugitive of the Judoon"

Doctor Who season 12 continued its impressive streak of twists and turns with the long-awaited return of Captain Jack Harkness. On paper, "Fugitive of the Judoon" looked to be a classic but run-of-the-mill Earth invasion story - the Judoon begin bothering the Doctor's favorite race and it's up to Jodie Whittaker to sweep in and send the aliens packing in time for a new adventure next week. While the episode certainly had that, season 12's fifth offering might just have been one of the most important episodes of Doctor Who in recent memory.

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This is largely because another version of the Doctor has been introduced, played by Jo Martin. In a massive moment, it transpired that the target of the Judoon platoon near the moon was Ruth, a tour guide from Gloucester. Rather than simply wanting to know more about the local cathedral, however, the Judoon were hunting Ruth because she was actually another regeneration of the Doctor under the influence of a Time Lord chameleon arch. Which regeneration Ruth is, whether she's an alternate universe Doctor and exactly who was hunting for her all remains a big fat mystery.

Delving into such big lore threatened to overshadow the glorious return of John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness. Introduced in the first season of Doctor Who's modern revival, Captain Jack was a Time Agent who befriended the Doctor, became immortal and protected Earth as the leader of Torchwood before turning into the Face of Boe many years into the future. Aside from all of the questions surrounding the Ruth Doctor, there's much to analyze regarding Captain Jack's return and the ominous message he left for his eternal ally.

When Captain Jack Last Appeared In Doctor Who

As Captain Jack Harkness, John Barrowman made sporadic appearances throughout the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant eras of Doctor Who, usually arriving just in time for a season finale. Barrowman's last proper episode was "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End," in which the Tenth Doctor teamed up with all his old friends to thwart the Daleks' plan to relocate the Earth. From his Torchwood base, Harkness located his Time Lord pal, blew up the Dalek that technically killed the Tenth Doctor and then helped restore the Earth to a normal state.

However, Captain Jack would make a brief cameo in Tennant's final adventure, "The End of Time." As the Tenth Doctor embarks on his pre-regeneration goodbye world tour, he arrives in a bar to bid one last farewell to Harkness, setting him up with another lone captain in the form of Alonso from "Voyage of the Damned."

While that 2010 episode proved to be Barrowman's final Doctor Who appearance for a decade, it wasn't the conclusion of Captain Jack's story. The fourth season of the Torchwood spinoff series aired in 2011, the last episode of which ended up being the series finale, marking Barrowman's most recent on-screen, in-universe performance as Captain Jack Harkness. Torchwood ended with the eponymous team remaining officially disbanded, albeit still working to save the Earth, and Jack's immortality returned after a short vacation during the "Miracle Day" phenomenon.

Captain Jack In Doctor Who Season 12

In "Fugitive of the Judoon," Captain Jack attempts to bring the Doctor to him using the cheap and nasty time travel tech the character is known for. Thanks to the Judoon's enforcement field, however, Jack only succeeds in transporting each of the Doctor's companions to his side instead. It isn't immediately clear where in the Doctor Who timeline this Jack comes from, but it makes sense to assume season 12's version of the character is chronologically the latest (Face of Boe aside). Jack's knowledge of the Doctor confirms he must be familiar with Tennant, and if he knew about this oncoming threat to the universe during a previous encounter, Jack surely would've given the Doctor this heads-up message already. Clearly, the Face of Boe only had time for one foreboding warning before dying. It's therefore reasonable to assume this is a contemporary Captain Jack.

When and where Jack currently finds himself is a different question altogether. The former Time Agent is somewhere in the near future, since he has advanced knowledge of events to come and is trying to warn the Doctor not to do something that could have an adverse affect in his own time. As for the where, Jack has stolen a ship of unknown origin but can't stay there for long before being kicked off by those pesky nanogenes, but Barrowman's "I'm going to see her again" promise to the Doctor immediately sets up his return later in season 12 where, hopefully, he can explain a little more about what in Rassilon's name is going on.

Who Is Chasing Captain Jack? What Is He Doing?

While Captain Jack's return is exciting enough, his presence evidently has massive long-term implications for Doctor Who season 12. Firstly, Jack and the Doctor's companions are under constant attack from unknown pursuers through space. These assailants may not be of import, and could simply be the disgruntled previous owners of the vessel Jack has forcibly liberated, but the attack might also play into the message Jack has for the Thirteenth Doctor.

Harkness' main goal in summoning the Doctor (or her companions, as it turns out) is to warn her of the "Lone Cyberman." According to Jack, the Cybermen are in ruins during his time thanks to the efforts of the Alliance, who sent a "thing" through space and time, effectively wiping out the Cybermen. Jack claims that the future destruction of the Cybermen won't come to pass if the Doctor gives the Lone Cyberman what it wants, and she must resist doing so at all costs. If the ship attacking Jack isn't the stolen vessel's rightful owners, it could be Cyberman remnants or other enemies of the Alliance.

Reading between the lines, it seems that sometime in the future, various races and groups come together to put an end to the Cybermen. Jack Harkness appears to be part of this alliance, but the Doctor likely isn't, because Jack would've then known about the Doctor having a female regeneration. By sending something through space and time, the Alliance succeed in destroying the Cybermen, but there's a catch... the Doctor has to make a certain choice in order for this future to happen, and Jack is now trying to ensure she takes the correct course by warning his friend ahead of time.

What Is The Lone Cyberman?

First a child who is timeless, and now a Cyberman that's alone - the mysteries of Jodie Whittaker's Doctor are stacking up rapidly. Jack only reveals that the Lone Cyberman will approach the Doctor and ask something of her; if she relents, the species survives, if she refuses, the Alliance can win. If the Doctor's decision in the past can affect something that already happened in Jack's timeline, Doctor Who's Lone Cyberman could have been sent back - perhaps the "thing" Harkness claimed the Alliance used to achieve victory. It's possible that, in order to destroy the Cybermen, the Alliance found some kind of progenitor or leader and displaced them in time to end the entire race. By pleading to the Doctor's better nature (the Fourth Doctor refused to wipe out the Daleks, remember), perhaps the Lone Cyberman hopes to be returned to their own timeline and thus the species would be restored.

Alternatively, perhaps the Cybermen sent one of their own kind back in time themselves before being destroyed - a last resort to avoid extinction. The Cybermen have never completely mastered the art of time travel, so it makes sense that, in their dying moments, they could only choose a lone soldier to send back. Having managed to do so, the Cyberman would logically then target the one life form it knows can manipulate the future like no other: the Doctor. In this scenario, the Lone Cyberman might threaten or blackmail the Doctor, rather than appealing to her morality, possibly threatening to convert a companion, forcing the Doctor to choose between her friends and the future. Given that the Doctor's last companion, Pearl Mackie's Bill Potts, was converted into a Cyberman, it's unlikely Ryan, Yaz or Graham will share the same fate, but the lingering grief of Bill's conversion could sway the Doctor's decision to protect her friends... even if it costs the entire universe.

Doctor Who season 12 continues with "Praxeus" February 2nd on BBC and BBC America.