Unless you’re the sort of person who really rabidly hates Doctor Who and anyone and everything associated with it, it’s hard not to like John Barrowman. Even when Torchwood’s being crap, he usually comes out of it better than those around him. His rise, therefore, from “bloke who used to co-host Live & Kicking and does musicals” to bona fide Saturday night light-entertainment grannie fave – by way of a certain show about a time-travelling alien in a blue box – should come as no real surprise. Fair play to him, frankly.
But just because somebody’s a thoroughly nice bloke – and, by all accounts, a total nerd himself who collects toys and proclaims “Terror of the Autons” his favourite Who story – it doesn’t mean their autobiography is necessarily a hugely exciting prospect. And so it proves with Barrowman. The problem, really, is that he currently occupies a curious position between How Do You Solve a Joseph On Ice-type sludge-fests and cult icon status – and the only way any book about him can be truly interesting to geeks like us is if it dwells on the latter. Sadly, it doesn’t.
Oh, there are tidbits about Who – the opening chapter details his reaction to getting the part of Captain Jack back in 2004 – and he naturally gives a decent amount of space to Torchwood, given that it’s a show basically built around him. But in the main, this is a glossy and frivolous look at his life and career as a whole – and in terms of time, only a small percentage of that has been spent fighting aliens in Cardiff. Now, if you happen to be a Who fan who’s also in love with musical theatre (and hey, I know of at least one), then this might still work for you. But otherwise, you’re going to be skipping through the pages at a rate of knots waiting for Russell T Davies to show up.
Not that you couldn’t skim through quickly if you were actually paying attention, either. It’s incredibly breezy – written in a cheery, conversational way which is fine for the odd anecdote, but which quickly grates over more than a handful of the large-typed pages (and you really wish he’d give the footnotes a rest after the first page or so). It’s not particularly well-structured, either – his long-term partner is mentioned simply as “Scott” in the first chapter before being introduced in full detail some time later, and indeed many of the footnotes exist to say “Hold onto that thought, I’ll tell this story properly in a bit”. It’s almost as if somebody plonked Barrowman in front of a tape recorder for a few hours and then simply transcribed the lot.
But where the book really falls down is that despite the promise of revelations galore, there’s actually very little of genuine intrigue to have happened to him. His life hasn’t been particularly tinged with tragedy, he’s been happily settled down with the love of his life for years, and even his coming-out was met with a “Well, we’d kind of guessed” from both his family and the woman he was seeing at the time. Now, I’m obviously not lamenting the fact that he’s had a happy and successful life – but it simply doesn’t make for either inspirational or titillating reading. And if you’re the sort of person who reads glossy celeb memoirs (which, er, I’m not), you generally expect at least one of the two.
The Who fan who sticks with the book is at least rewarded with numerous examples of Barrowman’s glowing love for the series, and indeed his generally geeky nature (there’s a Matrix reference, among other things, chucked in there). But to be honest, all that’s the sort of thing you could probably get from a magazine interview – you don’t need to pick it out from among luvvie tales about musicals you’ve never heard of.
That said, it almost becomes worth its cover price alone (and nearly earned an extra star from me) for the mental image granted by the passage “Evie [Myles] opened the door in a thong and bra”. So there’s that, at least.