Big BIG FINISH Week: CALL ME JACKS Review

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Tony salutes the Supreme Commander.


They say you should never meet your heroes.

Perhaps they should more accurately say that your heroes should never tell you the absolute truth.

Call Me Jacks is one of a series of feature interviews from Big Finish with important figures from the geek world, standing alongside Tom Baker At 80 and This Is Colin Baker. Like both of those interviews, this exploration of the life and work of Jacqueline Pearce is probably not what you were expecting, and probably not as entirely focused or full as you’d like. But it certainly has the ring of truth about it, as Pearce talks to Nick Briggs about her childhood, her young life, her various marriages, her work on Blake’s 7, and her adventures after ruling the Federation.

Oddly then, whereas both the Bakers admit to their follies and foibles, their irascibilities and tantrums, and come out seeming more avuncular than they have been at various points in their respective careers, there’s something about Call Me Jacks that runs the risk of you liking its subject less the more you learn.

Why that might be so is a mystery at first. Certainly, Pearce is hugely open about her life, from the deeply odd attachment her father felt to her, and early abandonment by her birth mother, resentment by the woman who acted as her stepmother, and a first breakdown in her youth, through years of what she describes as frigidity to love and drug-fuelled orgasms with a mostly-gay man in New York, to years spent living in other people’s flats and basements, bizarre marriages and love affairs, meditation, therapy, adventures in Africa, crushing poverty, cancer, devastating depression, and now in her later years a resurgence playing mostly audio roles (and indeed mostly for Big Finish). It’s all here, and this is by no means a release for younger ears (except of course younger ears would lap it up!). The character that emerges from Briggs’ gentle questioning is perhaps most kindly defined as ‘everyone’s favourite disaster,’ someone who had, as Anthony Hopkins apparently described her, ‘the potential to be the best actress of a generation,’ but who, through abandonment, grief, and early weirdness in her life, was ‘fucked in the head, darling,’ to the point at which she was rarely able to capitalise on that talent – and even when she did, on Blake’s 7, she gained a reputation for difficulty, awkwardness and a degree of stand-offishness.

The thing is, while you can catch the sense that there are perfectly good reasons why Pearce has been the way she has, and indeed is the way she is, what comes across is a picture of an actress always led entirely by her heart, irrespective of what might, at any point, have been good sense or good for her career or self. So what you’re left with is a picture, not so much of Jacks, Uncovered, as of Jacks And I, a kind of Withnailian, loveable disaster area into whose life one does not wander without being prepared to give a lot, though the rewards of knowing her are also undoubtedly manifold – again, being led by the heart, she’s entirely disarming about practically everything, and would undoubtedly be there for her friends if ever she should be needed. This sense of being loveably exhausting is accentuated by a laugh that frequently feels like a duty, like it’s the right thing to do to laugh at herself, and at those things in her life that have caused her pain. Pearce seems to have reached a point in that life of being perhaps freer than ever before to find those things actually funny, or to have enough perspective on them to recount them honestly, including their effect on her, but the flippancy with which she describes some of the hardships feels practiced, learned through experience.

This is by no means to suggest that Call Me Jacks is a drag to listen to – in fact it’s anything but. Pearce gives freely of herself and her life, including some details you might not have counted on getting, like the frigidity, the drug-fuelled orgasms with the mostly-gay man or indeed the masturbation anecdote from location shooting on Blake’s 7. There’s plenty of genuine fun, and plenty of genuine fondness in Pearce’s recollections, especially of her friends, both in the business and outside it. And there’s absolutely no denying that Pearce’s has been a life interestingly lived, so the running time of the interview flies by as you learn things you never knew about everyone’s favourite supreme commander.

Get Call Me Jacks, by all means, but be warned – it’s funny, but heartbreaking by turns, honest, but practiced, and if, these days, there appears to be a cry in her voice, be prepared to find out at least something about how it got there.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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