Demons of the PunjabBookmark and Share

Monday, 12 November 2018 - Reviewed by Simon Moore
Demons Of The Punjab: The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Hasna (Shaheen Khan), Umbreen (Amita Suman), Ryan (Tosin Cole) (Credit: BBC Studios (Ben Blackall))
Writer: Vinay Patel Director: Jamie Childs
 
Starring Jodie Whittaker (as The Doctor), Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill
 
A BBC Studios Production for BBC One
First broadcast Sunday 11 November on BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes

Broadcast at a time when some within the British National media were busy accusing the television series of a significant ratings drop due to its viewers ‘branding the show as being too PC’, Vinay Patel’s “Demons Of The Punjab” has most assuredly provided conclusive proof that the show’s critics are wrong with a decidedly moving mixture of Mankind’s darkest past and extra-terrestrial visitations. Indeed, it is hard to recall the science fiction programme providing such an emotional rollercoaster of a ride since Tom MacRae’s “The Girl Who Waited” first aired way back in September 2011, as “Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s hidden history” and Jodie Whittaker’s marvellous take on the travelling Time Lord “discovers demons haunting the land.”

 

Admittedly, those expecting a purely historical tale were probably quickly disappointed with the arguably all-too quick appearance of a pair of multi-eyed vampiric assassins and more teleporting than even Transporter Chief Montgomery Scott could have stomached. Yet such fantasy-based intrusions upon this tale’s real life events doesn't detract too much from a central plot which seemingly shares a great deal in common with the religious zeal and prejudicial persecution experienced by William Hartnell’s incarnation during “The Massacre Of St Bartholomew's Eve”.

 

Disappointingly however, as with so many stories penned during the ‘Nu Who’ era, this story’s telling does suffer with an over-abundance of the Gallifreyan’s sonic screwdriver. Whether used to track down this episode’s formidably-fanged alien interlopers, enable the Doctor to provide the viewer with all the information they could possibly ever want regarding the creatures’ craft within seconds, or simply helping her instantly rewire several conveniently-placed teleportation devices located throughout the nearby woodland, Whittaker’s repeated use of the audible probe makes one worryingly wonder just how the titular character has ever survived without it.

 

Fortunately though, even such an over-reliance upon a singular prop fails to dilute the impact of this tear-jerker’s heart-rending conclusion, which not only provides plenty of poignant personality to Yaz and her immediate family, but also reveals this adventure’s monster to actually be that of Prem’s murderous brother Manish; a truly arrogant, self-righteous bigot whose skewed beliefs for a separately partitioned Pakistan leads him to both cold-bloodedly murder a hapless Holy Man and stand idly by as his unarmed older brother is mercilessly gunned down for simply marrying a Muslim.





Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #1 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 7 November 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Thirteenth Doctor #1 - Cover A - Babs Tarr (Credit: Titan )

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colorist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

38 Pages

Published by Titan Comics 7th November 2018

 

 

 

After Titan's long build up, their new Thirteenth Doctor ongoing comic book series has finally, officially, begun.  They of course teased the series with the rather lame "Road to the Thirteenth Doctor" 3-issue mini-series, which each had a random adventure of the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors (respectively), and then had a short comic printed in the back of each that actually fulfilled the "Road to..." premise in the least interesting way possible. This tease basically amounted to each of these Doctors seeing a crazy swirling beam of light and a hand reaching out (though I guess technically the Eleventh Doctor missed it entirely).  This mini-series was then followed up by this issue's immediate predecessor, "The Many Lives of Doctor Who," or Issue 0 of this series. That book at least felt like a real build up to this new Doctor.  All her previous lives and adventures have lead her to this moment, and she will now become this new Doctor, the first female incarnation.  

 

***While there isn't a ton of plot and is really just the start to a story, this Review DOES contain SPOILERS of the First Issue, Reader Beware....***

 

This first issue picks up on the Hand coming out of a beam of light thread, and does so surprisingly early.  I figured that wouldn't really come into play for this new comic book line until an issue or two in...but they get cracking right away on that.  It involves a couple of thieves who are traveling through time, stealing art and artifacts, and then giving this stuff to some devious alien being in exchange for some kind of medication for the girl.  

The Doctor and her crew are exploring the wonders and beauty of the universe when they see the beam of light and the Hand coming through.  While the Doctor remembers seeing this before, she finally has a moment to deal with it, so they travel through time and space following the signal of this strange thing's origin, and she is able to stabilize the temporal anomaly just long enough for her friends to pull the hand through. They get the male thief coming out the other end...but before they can ask him too many questions about what exactly is going on...they are quickly surrounded by armed guards! Classic Doctor Who cliffhanger.

It's a promising start to the series.  The writing is fun, they've captured this new TV team's voices pretty perfectly, which is impressive considering how little their still is to go on (even with some advanced knowledge and previews of the show, there is a maximum of 10 episodes that have been produced so far...and I highly doubt Titan was given full access to all 10. At any rate, like usual, Titan has managed to capture the spirit of whatever Doctor, Companions, and era that they attempt to adapt for the page. So far, there isn't a ton of story explored yet to delve into, but with some snappy dialogue and great art, I look forward to seeing how the team behind this series adds to the Thirteenth Doctor's story. 





The Tsuranga ConundrumBookmark and Share

Monday, 5 November 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
 The Tsuranga Conundrum - Jodie Whittaker / Suzanne Packer (Credit: BBC Studios)
Writer:  Chris Chibnall
Director: Jennifer Perrott
Series Producer: Nikki Wilson
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens

Starring Jodie Whittaker. Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Suzanne Packer and Jack Shalloo

A BBC Studios Production for BBC One

First broadcast Sunday 4 November on BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes

Warning: this review contains spoilers from the outset   

 

Treated as a traditional 'base under siege' story this may seem a little disappointing, but taken as a deliberate attempt to do something different with the well-established template, it comes into focus as an intriguing and largely successful entry into the emerging Chibnall oeuvre. Perhaps the biggest divergence lies in the form of the singular Pting threat, created by Tim Price in a 'writers' room' session. Where usually one might expect uncanny robots, or even oversized insect-like creatures in the style of the Wirrn (not something that would work particularly well so soon after last week's giant spiderfest), here we instead get a toothy yet cutesy miniature troll or gremlin who drifts away at the end, blissed out after a hearty meal. It's a tonal shift that questions our expectations about the appearance of monstrosity -- something that 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' failed to do, with its generic depiction of the Stenza as a terrifying, blue-skinned warrior race. However, constituting a "chalice"-level threat -- this story borrows its take on futuristic language as absurdist from the Russell T Davies playbook -- there can be no doubting the danger posed by the Pting.

And if this threat is unconventional, so too is the Doctor's ultimate solution, something which the dialogue rams home for long-term and new viewers alike: "funny, I'm normally the one defusing the bomb". Add to this an extremely unusual opening, where the thirteenth Doctor proves to be fallible against a sonic mine, and this proves to be a story repeatedly taking the less trammelled path rather than pursuing well-worn story beats, even down to the sonic screwdriver being (temporarily) incapacitated. Pleasingly, a cliched 'awww, you named him after us' moment once Yoss has given birth is also thoroughly undermined, and the otherness of 67th century male pregnancy is re-asserted, up to a point, in the face of pure 'relatability'. At the same time, the episode features plenty of predictable corridor action and presumably redressed/re-lit sets, allowing the Tsuranga to take on a greater scale than the budget might otherwise have allowed for. Traditional production techniques underpin the less trad storytelling.

Doctor Who has always drawn inspiration from the real world around it, and this tale is no different on that score. One strand of Chibnall's world-building concerns the Tsuranga's automated systems and how its passengers will be treated if they declare the Pting presence. This very much felt like a comment on today's 'smart' computer systems, along with algorithms that reult in experiences of 'computer says no', and operating systems that pester their users for updates and upgrades. The Tsuranga's automatic set of decisions -- "who designed that?" -- creates an ever more restricted set of possibilities for the Doctor, making this not just a 'base under siege' variant but also a kind of 'base (remotely) attacking itself' story, as well as supplyng the raw material for Chibnall's eventual twist and the Doctor's puzzle-solving (something that felt slightly under-motivated by Durkas's brief mention of energy).  

The very final sequence reminded me slightly of 'Gridlock', whilst the playfulness surrounding a male pregnancy aboard the Tsuranga offered more of the (retro) 'public service Who' that previous weeks have delivered via inclusions of dyspraxia, cancer, and, of course, a critique of racism. This week's family entertainment talking point revolved around issues of reproduction, and one can imagine conversations productively being sparked about how men could have babies, and for that matter, what not taking "precautions" might mean. This re-gendering of pregnancy continues Chris Chibnall's interest in not just riffing on the RTD era's investment in emotional realism, but also in returning to a re-tooled sense of how Doctor Who can remain distinctive -- as vibrant SF spectacle with an educative mission statement for its much younger viewers. Likewise, the Doctor's homily about imagination, and her delight in response to the anti-matter drive as a scientific achievement, add to the educational balance sheet via a smart sense of Doctor-ish passion. Jodie Whittaker gets most of the best lines, and doesn't waste a single one, as her depiction of the ages-old Time Lord continues to impress.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: Durkas Cicero (Ben Bailey-smith), Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer) (Credit: BBC Studios (Ben Blackall))But if some of this makes 'The Tsuranga Conundrum' sound overly worthy, it's just as well as to recall that the episode works effectively in a series of other ways. The 'conundrum' of the title ostensibly refers to the problem of how to defeat the Pting, given that it can't be killed or even touched, and will eventually eat its way through the entire spacecraft that the Doctor, her friends, and assorted patients are all trapped on (the script makes a suitably big show of denying the Doctor her TARDIS, along with any teleport or life pods). There is another conundrum on show, however -- how can the story combine 'base under siege' tension with character asides and moments of personal development that might seem better suited to the 'slow(er)' TV drama of something like Broadchurch? This is a tricky balancing act, and I sometimes wanted more of a sense of the alien creature's approach or deadly progress to keep tension levels up via an extra Pting cutaway. On the whole, though, character beats and the main plot are interwoven via different protagonists' skills (such as neuro-piloting) that need to be used, along with the occasional bit of misdirection (I was convinced that Ronan, Eve Cicero's android consort, would come into play as a non-organic character who could handle the Pting and thus sacrifice himself).

Sometimes Doctor Who offers a warm glow of familiarity for long-term fans, and sometimes it chooses to unfold in less predictable ways. I didn't feel that 'The Tsuranga Conundrum' was 'bad' Who for an instant, but it was very deliberately and knowingly different Doctor Who -- hardly surprising for a new showrunner's opening season, I would argue. Will Whittaker's Doctor continue to display fallibility rather than ever-present, superheroic and legendary brilliance? (Her initial modesty over the Book of Celebrants giving way to an irrepressible boastfulness was another lovely Doctor-ish moment among an episode jam-packed with them, Hamilton fandom included).  

This year looks set to carry on inspiring audience debate via thoughtful portrayals of cultural identity and history; we have the Indian Partition and 'The Witchfinders' to come, along with what will no doubt be a broadly satirical commentary on "the galaxy's biggest retailer" (warehouses the size of a planet?). But whether it is tackling a surprisingly cute alien or a sometimes inhospitable hospital ship, Doctor Who is surely in the rudest of health right now.       





The Invasion - Original Television SoundtrackBookmark and Share

Friday, 2 November 2018 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
The Invasion - Original Television Soundtrack (Credit: Silva Screen )
The Invasion - Original Television Soundtrack
Music by Don Harper and Brian Hodgson
Released by Silva Screen 2018
Purchase from Amazon UK
50 years ago (to this very day!) UK viewers were introduced to The Invasion on television featuring an evocative score by Australian composer Don Harper. 25 years ago the music tapes were provided to Mark Ayres for conservation and restoration. And this year that score has been released for us all to enjoy for the story's golden anniversary, thanks to Silva Screen!

The UNIT of this story reflects an organisation steeped in covert observation and infiltration, and Harper's score does much to evoke the "spy era" of the 1960s. If Derrick Sherwin had continued a little longer as producer, and director Douglas Camfield helmed the Spearhead From Space and again employed Harper, perhaps the look and feel of the UNIT "family" would have been much different? (his final two UNIT endeavours Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds Of Doom with Geoffrey Burgon also conjure up more mystery than the "friendly" Simpson-helmed stories). Some of those early elements do crop up in later adventures (such as Mike Yates at Global Chemicals in The Green Death and Harry at Think Tank in Robot), but in general its a much watered down version of UNIT who become more 'protect and defend' as the organisation developed under Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.

What's quite surprising is how little music Harper actually composed for the story. In the sleeve notes Ayres notes how only some eleven minutes featured in total across the eight episods, but this is down to how memorable his themes are, especially in the early episodes as the mystery is set up. This CD also presents a number of additional cues/stings that were composed for the story but were not ultimately used.

The rest of The Invasion (and the CD) features additional electronic music composed by Brian Hodgson, which mainly accompanied International Electromatics scenes and the latter episodes as the Cybermen plans come to fruition, plus some incidental 'muzak' from Radiophonic Workshop stalwart John Baker.

This is the first time the full, original score has been released on audio; a few tracks were included on disc two of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection, and many of the cues were reworked by Harper himself and released on an album New Decades (later included on a compilation of Harper's music released by Dual Planet in 2014, Cold Worlds).

However, the question is whether it is worth buying this new release if you have the others already? Well, as mentioned the latter album was a re-working of the orginal themes rather than hearing them as originally recorded, plus you get all the previouly unheard cues and the additional electronic elements from Hodgson, remastered under the ever-efficient hand of Mark Ayres.

All-in-all, I feel this is a worthy addition to the ever-growing collection of Doctor Who music that is now available from Silva Screen and, perhaps, a glimpse into what UNIT might have been like had it been more of a investigative organisation to what ultimately developed in the 1970s (or the eighties depending upon the dating protocol!)

 

(1968 ... 1993 ... 2018 .... so what's next for The Invasion in 2043?!!!)





Arachnids in the UKBookmark and Share

Monday, 29 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
 Arachnids In The UK: Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) (Credit: BBC Studios (Ben Blackall))
Writers: Chris Chibnall
Director: Sallie Aprahamian
Executive Producers: Matt Strevens and Chris Chibnall

Starring Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Chris Noth

A BBC Studios production for BBC One

First UK broadcast Sunday 27 October on BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes

SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD - READER BEWARE

 

The Doctor gets her friends back home to Sheffield, as promised, but finds it a bit difficult to say goodbye right away.  She joins Yaz and Ryan for tea, as Graham heads home to face the emptiness of his home without Grace, and while at Yaz's flat...they run into a new problem (I know...shocking), this time it is big spiders.  Events lead the TARDIS team to a yet to be opened hotel owned by a miserable American businessman played by Law & Order's Chris Noth, and there they find that the big spiders are numerous and some are even larger than a human being. 

As a simple monster of the week, it's a fairly enjoyable episode. The spiders are big and scary, but they aren't defeated with the most interesting of  climaxes. The businessman who longs to be President is a pretty generic baddie, but Noth does play him with plenty of gusto.  As I've come to expect, I think our new TARDIS team is quite enjoyable to watch.  We get a bit more depth for Yaz this week, a little bit of character building for Ryan, and some really lovely character stuff for Graham. 

Really, what I am enjoying about this season hasn't been so much the plots or the villains (other than last week's Rosa), but I've been far more interested in the character stuff with all of our new leads.  Whitaker really works as The Doctor, she plays the part in her own way but still owns the room like all her predecessors.  And her new Team TARDIS is a good group, and I'm enjoying getting to know them each week.  This episode sufficiently builds up their characters just enough to make you believe them when they tell the Doctor they'd like to continue traveling through time and space with her. 

Chibnall has been writing almost all of the episodes of the season so far, co-writing last week's with Malorie Blackman.  I'm assuming much of the episode was written by her, and he punched it up for his long term season plans or something.  But at any rate, he has had been a credited writer on everything this season, and while his stories aren't blowing me away with their originality, his character stuff has been top notch.  I'm enjoying his stuff, and while I am looking forward to seeing some episodes written by other writers (which will have to wait until after next week it seems), I think he has done a good job of reinventing the show over the first half of his first series as showrunner. 

This is a fairly generic Monster of the Week which has just enough character stuff to keep me interested.  It isn't perfectly executed, but I am finding myself loving the new cast enough that I like spending an hour with them each week. 





Torchwood One: Machines (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 26 October 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood One: Machine (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Matt Fitton, Gareth David-Lloyd, Tim Foley
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Featuring: Tracy-Ann Oberman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Jane Asher, Adjoa Andoh, Daniel Anthony, Paterson Joseph, Nicholas Pegg
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 3 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - July 2018
Order from Amazon UK

From 3D printers to 4D cinemas, from smartphones to smart houses, from HDMI to AI, the march of technological progress hastens by the day, presenting us inferior mortal beings with quite the existential dilemma all the while – give it another ten years and the human workforce might just find itself rendered obsolete. Admittedly long-running fans of Doctor Who’s longest-running spin-off, Torchwood, might justifiably expect the eponymous covert agency to remain steadfastly unfazed by such developments; surely after tackling extraterrestrial deities, zealous religious cults with aspirations to intergalactic stardom and even the odd “Cyberwoman” (good times!), humanity’s increasingly intertwined flirtation with artificial ‘life-forms’ would scarcely offer cause for concern?

Well, they’re not entirely wrong – Big Finish’s latest foray into the organization’s past confirms that its London-based branch had no qualms about embracing this new era of mechanical innovation. Yet as just about any Gothic writer from Mary Shelly to Charlie Brooker will attest, that leap of faith can – and indeed does – soon prove deadly if the individuals responsible fail to understand its implications before leaving the ground. Indeed, as evidenced by the two century-spanning gap between Frankenstein’s publication and Black Mirror’s launch, there’s been no shortage of literary or screen contemplations on the man-machine dynamic over the years, so ever since its inception, Torchwood One: Machines faces such a considerable uphill battle to distinguish itself from the pack.

While the Thirteenth Doctor sprints brazenly into the technological future with her Sheffield steel-clad sonic screwdriver in hand, then, let’s see whether Yvonne Hartman and company’s Earth-bound exploits warrant as much global attention as Season Eleven has received to date, or whether this ever-compelling Torchwood saga will soon join cassette players and dial-up internet connections as yet another relic of the past…

“The Law Machines”:

“Yvonne Hartman is dead? But she was required.” “Oh yes, by so many…”

Had you asked Torchwood devotees which classic or modern Who antagonists they’d love to see the agency – in any of its endless guises – battle upon the show’s 2015 revival at Big Finish, chances are that WOTAN wouldn’t have come anywhere near the top of the list compared to Sontarans, the Master or proper Cybermen.  That said, Doctor Who’s HAL-9000 precursor proves an ideal narrative fit for Machines’ first instalment, the formless AI entity’s defeat in 1966’s “The War Machines” leaving its hardware susceptible to Hartman’s goals as she introduces a wave of seemingly hacking-immune robo-cops onto the streets at the Mayor of London’s cost-driven request. How could anything possibly go amiss?

Laden with explosive setpieces across England’s capital and more quips about London life than commuters could imagine (look out for Hartman’s especially seething one-liner on the hindrance that empty Oyster cards pose in a hurry), “Law Machines” barely lets up for a second, introducing new players by the half dozen only to off plenty of them with scarce remorse over the course of its running time. Unfortunately, taking such a whirlwind structural approach does arguably limit scribe Matt Fitton’s capacity for intricate character arcs somewhat; Daniel Anthony’s intriguing tech whiz-turned-WOTAN disciple Julian, for instance, only receives scarce airtime to convey his basic plot purpose, despite the Sarah Jane Adventures star’s admirable efforts to imbue him with simultaneously endearing innocence and underlying sinister malice along the way, while the deliciously corrupt Mayor barely gets time to register either.

What “Law” perhaps lacks in sophisticated characterisation, though, the opener more than compensates for with a sense of scale often absent from the franchise’s TV or audio outings. Whereas we only caught glimpses of how Miracle Day’s titular phenomenon affected the planet Earth at large via brief fictional news footage, Hartman, Ianto Jones and their comrades bear direct witness to WOTAN’s heartless rampage across London, the carnage unleashed by their hubris brought home as the sound design team depict shootouts, resultant demises and other terrors with brutal realism – no wonder Fitton peppers in the aforementioned moments of satirical wit to keep his script from feeling too morose. Nevertheless, his efforts (alongside everyone else working behind-the-scenes) to showcase the franchise’s grimmer tone certainly pay off in full force, hopefully encouraging more writers to follow his lead with mature contributions of their own going forward.

“Blind Summit”:

“Ianto Jones, my name is Yvonne Hartman – and I work for an organisation called Torchwood.”

If there’s one area wherein Big Finish truly excel, it’s filling those niggling continuity gaps which Doctor Who and its various spin-offs never found time to properly address on-screen: just ask the Time War’s participants, the Committee, the Valeyard, Coal Hill Academy’s alumni network or Paul McGann for ample evidence. Sometimes these middle man storylines focus on long-awaited plot threads like those above, other times – as in the case of “Blind Summit” – the writer involved crafts connective tissue that catches us off guard, further enriching underappreciated constructs even when it appeared as if their journey had already played out in its entirety. This time around it’s the turn of Ianto Jones to plummet through the ringer yet again in a tale which (barring one or two modern interludes) occurs long before the days of WOTAN’s resurgence, instead chronicling his first meetings with Yvonne Hartman and the morally overwhelming transformation that these soon triggered.

As if to answer the cries of anyone like yours truly for meatier character drama after “Law Machines”, Gareth David-Lloyd – back on dual writing / performing duties after his stellar debut with The Last Beacon in April – delves deeper than ever before into Ianto’s psyche with a minimalistic yet extremely powerful script, unfolding hitherto unseen layers in the Torchwood Three agent’s past. Remember the strained father-son dynamic teased in Children of Earth? That’s explored in harrowing fashion, along with his consequential yearning for greater professional fulfilment and reckless willingness to thrust himself into unknown territory so as to achieve this goal, all of which the newfound writer handles with the utmost touching sincerity even as the threat of a deadly drug-testing company escalates over the piece’s second half.

Better yet, David-Lloyd’s contributions clearly didn’t diminish in the slightest upon departing his office and entering the recording studio, his sizzling chemistry with Tracy-Ann Oberman proving equally potent whether they’re deciphering each other’s secrets over coffee, on the run from alien onslaughts or coming to terms with the personal demons that will ultimately define their partnership in the years ahead – for better or for worse. We’ll keep our take on Machines spoiler-lite as always to preserve your listening experience, but suffice to say that even the most hardcore Torchwood devotees won’t predict every emotional twist that “Summit” has up its spacious sleeve, not least thanks to David-Lloyd’s stirring performance as a far more vulnerable incarnation of his yet-to-be world-wearied butler. Never mind the 21st century as a whole – when it comes to re-visiting past Ianto-focused stories, “Summit” might well represent the moment where “everything changes” for your perspective.

“9 to 5”:

“See you in the morning!” “Sure, 9am – like clockwork…”

Whilst robotics and pharmaceuticals mark some of the more tangible technical developments for society in recent years, there’s another aspect of mechanical ‘progress’ which has increasingly come to dominate the headlines of late – that of the corporate machine and its oft-exploited human cogs. One only need gaze at recent reports surrounding video gaming behemoth Rockstar North’s supposed enforcement of 100 hour weekly work cycles in order to wonder whether the situation’s getting out of hand in some circles, with the banking / legal sectors particularly notorious in this regard too, hence why the matter’s rife for contemplation in Machines’ aptly-titled final instalment, “9 to 5”.

Returning us to the ‘present day’ (as much as is possible for a miniseries set years before the events of Torchwood Seasons One-Six), Tim Foley’s pertinent denouement depicts Hartman and Jones’ not-so-coincidental run-in with a temp-reliant firm that takes the term “worker drones” to rather horrific new levels. At first glance, those of us who’ve been around the block several times with the sci-fi genre might fret that we’ve seen it all before: secret agents recruit insider employee to unravel a mystery, employee gets in over her head then office-wide chaos ensues. But Niky Wardley’s dramatically charged performance as the manipulated employee in question, Stacey, easily keeps the format fresh enough to avoid fatigue, her relatable curiosity begetting her initial naivety such that we’re just as fascinated as her to discover the truth behind his latest temp employer’s true machinations (in every sense of the word), even in spite of the growing tension surrounding her fate as a result.

That’s not to say “9 to 5” instantly courts consideration for the Big Finish Hall of Fame, however – as well as mostly conforming to the familiar story beats discussed above, Foley (perhaps at the studio’s behest) seems all too keen to tie together Machines’ various disparate plot strands as rapidly as possible come the third act, when in reality we’d have preferred a standalone affair which took its time in bringing events to a conclusion. Luckily the way in which he wraps up proceedings does still successfully deliver an inevitable yet undeniably impactful gut-punch that’s sure to stay with listeners long after the credits, but with Foley set to pen half of the War Master’s third boxset next year as well as further scripts for Torchwood: God Among Us, there’s still plenty of room for this promising writer to develop his skills ever further in the next 12 months.

The Verdict:

As ever, exactly whether Machines lies up your alley will depend on the extent to which you’re intrigued by the notion of exploring non-Cardiff Torchwood branches, particularly given the riskier investment of £20-25 rather than the £8-10 required for standalone monthly releases. Persevere through the mindless – albeit breathless entertaining – action of the London department’s clash with WOTAN, however, and listeners will reach two undoubtedly thought-provoking Gothic thrillers which intelligently investigate humanity’s obsession with technology to both hilarious and moving effect, echoing shows like Black Mirror but with Yvonne’s self-assured complacency adding a snarky, bitter-tongued edge in trademark Torchwood style. Sure, this latest boxset probably won’t garner awards come year’s end as this reviewer hopes Aliens Among Us Part 3 or Believe will, yet not every release needs to; with such remarkable consistency throughout the range’s 2018 output, what matters most is that there’s never been a better time for newcomers to hop aboard the show’s bandwagon.

Next Time on Torchwood – In the absence of any further news on her prequel outings’ longevity, Yvonne ‘returns’ via her Pete’s World counterpart this month for God Among Us Part 1, wherein she’ll need to promptly dust herself down after almost being crushed in Season Five if Torchwood Three is to stand any chance of overcoming the titular immortal being presently besieging Cardiff. Look out for our verdict on Part 1 in the coming days, as well as our ongoing coverage of Torchwood in all of its forms as the monthly range returns (alongside Parts 2-3 and presumably other boxsets) next Spring…