I’ll admit, some of the members of this list of sci-fi scoundrels aren’t characters I’m super familiar with. However, for number five, I get back into some familiar territory. I may be a comparatively late-comer to the wonderful world of Doctor Who, but ever since a friend of mine introduced me to it six years ago, I’ve been a big fan. Now, one could probably make a pretty strong case for the Doctor himself being a scoundrel, but for my money, if you want a fun scoundrel in the Doctor Who-niverse, there’s only one man you need to look at—spoiler alert—the Face of Boe himself, Captain Jack Harkness.
From the moment we first meet Jack in the first modern season, he’s all scoundrel. He’s hanging out in London during the Blitz in his cloaked spaceship, enjoying a drink and waiting for some temporal salvage to crash so he can make some money off it. While the Doctor is off wandering the streets of London searching for Rose, she’s hanging out with Jack Harkness, and even in the middle of a war zone, the omnisexual ladies man couldn’t help but spend time flirting with a pretty lady. Of course, Jack’s salvage scam was far from simple—nothing ever is when the Doctor gets involved. The piece of space junk he was going to collect was actually a Chula ambulance filled with restorative nanogenes. Having never encountered humans before, the nanogenes believed a deceased child’s gas mask was his face and imprinted that, and the child’s desire to find his mother, on all the people they healed. Jack was initially reluctant to try and fix the problem he caused, but in the end, like any good scoundrel, he manned up and used his ship’s stasis field system to keep a bomb from hitting the site until the Doctor could fix everything and was going to sacrifice himself in the process. Never one to leave a good man behind, the Doctor transported the TARDIS inside Jack’s ship and saved him before the bomb could go off, preserving history and saving Jack at the same time. Jack traveled space with the Doctor and Rose, flirting with both of them quite a bit, until the trio were abducted and sent to the Game Station. There, they were separated and Jack awoke on the set of a makeover show hosted by two dangers robots. When they revealed their plans to kill him, Jack improvised and created a pretty impressive gun out of their defabricator (a device that literally removed fabric from its target). The Doctor managed to escape a futuristic version of Big Brother and found himself on the Game Station with Jack and the two headed off to save Rose from The Weakest Link, hosted by a slightly warmer and kinder robot version of the real world host Anne Robinson. Rose was voted the weakest link before Jack and the Doctor could save her, and she was seemingly killed, though in reality the games transported the losing contestants someplace far worse, the Dalek fleet. Seeing his friend seemingly killed, Jack planned to get revenge but the Doctor calmed him down long enough to enact a real plan, taking over the Game Station to find the TARDIS. On board the TARDIS, the Doctor learned that the losers weren’t dead and locks on to the transmit signal and learned of the existence of the massive Dalek fleet. The Doctor and Jack rescue Rose from the Dalek fleet and decide to make a stand on Satellite 5, home of the Game Station. Jack led the group of satellite technicians in a valiant fight against the Daleks, but even he knew that there was no chance of him surviving this, and he went down fighting the Daleks. However, even Captain Jack Harkness can be wrong sometimes, and he was surprised to learn he was resurrected by Rose when she became Bad Wolf after looking into the TARDIS’s time vortex. Rose wanted to just set everything right after the Dalek attack, but instead she accidentally made Jack functionally immortal. He may still age, but he does so very slowly and can heal from just about anything after only a few minutes. Jack’s immortality also turned him into a fixed point in time, which the Doctor did not like dealing with because it messes up the TARDIS’s navigation, and the Doctor left him on Satellite 5 rather than take him back to Earth with Rose.
However, Jack is nothing if not resourceful and used his vortex manipulator (the device that he used as a Time Agent to go back in time to preserve the time line) to jump back to Cardiff knowing that the Doctor tended to refuel that TARDIS using the active time rift there. Unfortunately for Jack, time travel with a vortex manipulator isn’t quite as reliable as time travel with a TARDIS and he overshot the 20th Century by a couple hundred years, landing back on Earth in 1869. Of course, missing the mark that badly doesn’t matter much for a man who’s functionally immortal so Jack decided to bide his time and live in Cardiff until the Doctor showed up again. That didn’t mean Jack’s adventuring was on hold, though. In 1899, Jack drew the attention of Torchwood, who wanted to know why he couldn’t die and how he was related to the Doctor. At this point, Torchwood still considered the Doctor an enemy, but Jack convinced the Torchwood agents that the Doctor was a hero and would save the Earth many times in the future. Torchwood accepted his statements about the Doctor but only let him go if he promised to bring in an alien criminal. Jack was under the impression that the alien was only to be incarcerated but when he brought it back to Torchwood’s base of operations, the alien was killed right in front of him. Jack despised Torchwood’s methods and left, only to return to work for them after he learned of a prophecy that said the Doctor would return to Cardiff 100 years later. Jack knew when and where the Doctor would return but figured he may as well do something useful with his time and started working with Torchwood with the idea of making it a better place over the next 100 years. Jack worked off and on with Torchwood throughout the 20th Century, though he did take some time away from Torchwood to fight in World War I. During his years with Torchwood, he would have many flings and relationships with a wide variety of Torchwood agents and other people brought into the Torchwood fold in some manner. Working for Torchwood was not without its tragedies. Jack spent most of his years working for Torchwood Three and one of his co-workers, Alex Hopkins, suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before the end of 1999 and killed all the members of Torchwood Three except Jack. Alex killed himself in front of Jack, and left Jack largely alone in the world once again.
Jack rebuilt Torchwood Three and was on scene during the Canary Wharf incident, when the Daleks returned to Earth and fought Cybermen from an alternate reality that had begun merging with Earth because of Torchwood One’s meddling. Exploiting dimensional barriers to create unlimited power weakened those barriers and allowed the alternate world controlled by Cybermen to merge with our reality. Jack had hoped to find the Doctor and reconnect with him following Canary Wharf in 2007, but he never found the Doctor and continued working with Torchwood, without the management of the destroyed Torchwood One to force him into morally questionable situations. Jack hoped working with Torchwood would lead to crossing paths with the Doctor again. Jack would finally reunite with the Doctor in 2008, though it wasn’t a version of the Doctor he recognized. Jack jumped aboard the TARDIS while it refueled in Cardiff only to rematerialize with it in the year 100,000,000,000,000 at the end of the universe. Though his reunion with the Doctor was awkward due to the fact that the Doctor he knew was gone and that the Doctor had left him on Satellite 5, the reunion was a happy one since Jack also learned that Rose hadn’t died during the Canary Wharf incident, though she was trapped in an alternate dimension. At the end of the universe, Jack, along with the Doctor and Martha Jones, aided Professor Yana in repairing the spaceship he built to send the last humans in the universe to Utopia. However, the kindly old professor was not at all what he seemed. Professor Yana gave into his compulsion to open his fob watch and doing so reawakened his Time Lord side and the Master had returned. The Master stole the TARDIS and returned to Earth, leaving Martha, Jack and the Doctor stranded at the end of the universe. Mercifully, Jack still had his old Time Agency vortex manipulator with him, and with some modifications, the Doctor used it to transport all three back to Earth in 2008 where they learned the Master had become the Prime Minister. The three were arrested by British forces and taken to the Valiant, but Jack slipped Martha his vortex manipulator, so she could escape. Jack remained aboard the Valiant for a year, being tortured by the British authorities. With Martha’s help, the Doctor and Jack took control of the Valiant and Jack destroyed the Master’s paradox machine. Time reverted one year, and with the Master dead, the year 2008 turned back to normal. The Doctor offered to end Jack’s exile on Earth, but Jack remained loyal to his Torchwood compatriots and stayed on Earth to keep fighting the good fight. Jack was still part of Torchwood when the Daleks transported Earth to the Medusa Cascade and was one of the allies that Harriet Jones contacted via the sub-wave network to assist the Doctor in his fight against the Daleks. Jack arrived at the Doctor’s side just as he was shot by a Dalek and then surrendered himself to the Daleks as part of the Doctor’s plan. The Supreme Dalek believed he destroyed the TARDIS and in his rage, Jack tried to kill him only to be killed by the Daleks. Of course, Jack didn’t die and snuck into the Crucible to meet with other allies of the Doctor. Jack tried to use the warp star to bluff the Daleks into backing down but instead, he was transported to Davros’ chamber to witness the end of everything. There, however, Donna Noble was able to disable the Daleks and Jack successfully destroyed the Supreme Dalek. Crisis successfully averted, Jack once again returned to Earth and soon faced his biggest challenge since joining Torchwood.
An alien race known as the 456, whom Jack had previous encounters with in his Torchwood days, returned to Earth searching for more human subjects to create drugs from. Jack was part of the Torchwood group that negotiated the original deal with 456 and was marked for death by the British government. Jack tried to force the 456’s hand, but they resisted and released a virus that killed many people, including one of Jack’s longtime Torchwood allies. Blaming himself for his friend’s death, Jack turned himself over to the British government and the 456 began rounding up millions of Earth children from their medical experiments. One of the children captured by the 456 was Jack’s own grandson and to defeat the 456, Jack had to channel a reconstitution wave through one child and the only child that could channel the energy was his own grandson. Making a terrible choice, Jack sacrificed his grandson to save the children of Earth but at the cost of his relationship with his daughter. Jack was declared dead by the British government following the 456’s invasion and Jack spent his days trying to rid himself of his guilt related to his involvement in all the death and destruction the 456 caused. Shortly after his failure at Torchwood, Jack also bid farewell to the Doctor.
Jack eventually returned to Earth and helped defend it and Torchwood during the Miracle Day event. Torchwood’s existence was released to the world and people were now somewhat immortal, just like Jack. However, Jack found out that his functional immortality was gone and he was just like the rest of the humans. He could survive fatal injuries, but he was unable to heal quickly. This led Jack and Torchwood into conflict with a shadowy cabal of ex-CIA officials and PhiCorp. Jack began piecing together the events surrounding Miracle Day and started tracking down a phenomenon called the Blessing that was tied to Miracle Day. Eventually, the Blessing was discovered to be a part of the Earth’s morphic field which had been changed when it was fed Jack’s immortal blood. However, now that Jack was mortal, feeding it his blood would change everything on Earth back to the way it was before Miracle Day. Jack Harkness seemingly sacrificed himself to end the Miracle and return the Earth back to normal, but only time will tell if Captain Jack remains dead.
Jack’s attitude is classic scoundrel. He’s a charming con man who, when we first meet him, really has no interest in anything but himself. However, like most characters that spend time with the Doctor, he grew to become a good man who still didn’t always follow the rules, but when he broke the rules, it was usually to do the right thing. Even more amazingly, Jack was willing to sacrifice a lot, including his own grandson, to do the right thing and atone for his mistakes. That action cut him to the core, but he did it because it was right and it was the only way to save the rest of Earth’s children. Like a few other scoundrels, Jack is also a ladies’ man, except that doesn’t really cover it since he’s omnisexual. Jack doesn’t let labels like gender or species define who he’s attracted to and that’s pretty impressive. Like Captain Kirk, Jack banged a pretty impressive swath across the galaxy but his flirty nature only added to his charm. I’ll admit, I haven’t touched on the actors that play the scoundrels a lot, but with Jack, I think I have to. John Barrowman just brought so much joy to the character that Jack was just plain fun to watch. I don’t know if any other actor could have played Jack Harkness as well as John Barrowman did. There’s definitely a bit of real-life Barrowman in Jack, and that’s fine with me. I think that’s what makes him so authentic. He just makes you want to like him and that’s what you want him to be a good person, even if he is a bit of a scoundrel.