Torchwood: Forgotten LivesBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood - Forgotten Lives (Credit: Big Finish)
Torchwood: Forgotten Lives
Written by Emma Reeves
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper); Kai Owen (Rhys Williams); Philip Bond (Griffith); Valmai Jones (Elenudd); Sean Carlsen (Gary) and Emma Reeves (Ceri / Nurse Bevan)
Released by Big Finish Productions - November 2015​​​​

If confining the events of last month’s Torchwood: Fall to Earth to a single setting in the form of a crashing spaceship seemed like a bold move on the part of writer James Goss, then his successor Emma Reeves’ decision to have the majority of her first Torchwood audio drama, Forgotten Lives, take place within the grounds of a residence for the elderly might suggest to some that she’s bordering on insanity. There’s most certainly method to Reeves’ madness, though, since in removing the show’s most compelling two lead characters from their isolation in the Welsh countryside and having them venture into the Bryn Offa Nursing Home, she effectively ensures from the outset that listeners can expect a yarn quite unlike anything they’ve heard or witnessed in the series’ history.

In case any of our readers hadn’t already heard or gleaned the information from the cover art, the beloved duo in question comprises of Eve Myles and Kai Owen, returning to voice Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams respectively as the ever-ambitious couple attempt with great difficulty to balance their increasingly strained relationship with their child Anwen alongside their efforts to seclude themselves from the rest of the world after the events of Miracle Day, only to be drawn into a new mission after Myles’ justifiably distrusting character receives a mysterious phone call relating to a figure who claims to herald from her not-so-distant past. Sure, this could be construed as a less explosive means by which to thrust the pair back into action than was the case when governmental forces destroyed their household in Season Four, but given the lack of critical acclaim with which that run was met by overall, perhaps that’s for the best.

Regardless, like Barrowman and David-Lloyd before them (and like Tracy-Anne Oberman in this month’s Torchwood release, One Rule, one would hope), neither Myles nor Owen appears to have any problem reviving the humility, the unyielding internal conflicts between duty and family, the dark yet somehow heart-warming humour and the universally empathetic yet oh-so-inherently Welsh romantic bond which made their constructs such an instantaneous hit with fans from the get-go in the original TV show. What’s more, whereas Barrowman’s Jack Harkness didn’t offer much in the way of surprises in The Conspiracy – one of the only minor faults with what’s still probably the range’s finest outing to date – Emma Reeves pays just as much attention as Goss to portraying both Gwen and Rhys in a wholly different light, partially by having them interact with Anwen – in a range of rather unique ways, we might add – on occasion and partially by exploring their relationship with Jack from an unprecedented angle that casts a refreshing new light on the extent to which the latter went to in the early years of the show in manipulating his friends to step once more unto the breach regardless of the danger involved with doing so.

This noteworthy emphasis from Reeves on leaving a substantial impact upon the show’s characters extends also to the potential bearing the events of Forgotten Lives may have on Torchwood’s future at Big Finish; although after last month’s seemingly narratively inconsequential Fall to Earth, there’ll most likely be those starting to wonder whether the studio will employ a similar tactic to Steven Moffat in terms of plot arcs, structuring their seasons in such a manner that their major revelations only come into play during the penultimate or final instalments, yet quite to the contrary, any fans who elect to skip past this one for whatever reason might well come to quickly regret the move given how significantly the far-from-isolated tale presented here appears to overhaul the playing field for subsequent releases in the range. At the same time, the argument could be made that Reeves’ storyline quickly becomes so constrained by the need to further Season One’s overall arc that it’ll neither satisfy as a standalone listening experience or indeed be remembered for its own merits rather than as a cog in an admittedly increasingly promising machine. With any luck this flaw should be remedied with our trip back to 2005 in the Oberman-led One Rule, but it’s still a great shame that Forgotten Lives’ ambition in terms of taking Torchwood in a new direction not only for now but forevermore is as much a detrimental factor as it is a USP, even if the final few minutes are absolutely guaranteed to leave fans the world over absolutely chomping at the bit to see what’s next for Gwen in February’s More than Us.

Let’s not get too bogged down with the release’s negative aspects, though, since as well as boasting the returns of Torchwood’s two most dedicated members, this largely accomplished third release moreover sports one hell of a fine supporting cast ensemble. From Philip Bond’s simultaneously charismatic and mournful take on enigmatic pensioner Mr Griffith to Sean Carlsen’s frantic yet believable portrayal as Gary, Bryn Offa’s head caretaker, to Emma Reeve’s own unexpected but similarly memorable cameos as both female resident Ceri and Nurse Bevan, each and every vocal contributor excels in reminding us that while two-hand dramas like Fall to Earth can represent a welcome treat from time to time, Big Finish’s real talents tend to lie in utilizing the traditional full-cast audio drama format of their releases to their immense advantage, with each character receiving their own tangible arc whilst not impeaching on Gwen and Rhys’ remarkably substantial individual development to any detrimental extent.

As we reach the halfway point of Big Finish’s first season of Torchwood adventures, then, where do the studio currently stand in terms of the success with which they’ve resurrected the famed Doctor Who spin-off? Well, if The Conspiracy, Fall to Earth and now Forgotten Lives are indicative of the attention to detail that James Goss and company are aiming to continually pay in terms of offering the show’s leads new and occasionally audacious territory to explore, hunting down a wide array of supporting players who are more than capable of matching the series’ central cast for charm and memorability and devising progressive storylines which move the programme’s mythology as far from the detrimental constraints of the Miracle arc as humanly possible, then the light at the end of the tunnel which emerged four years after the series’ cancellation with the announcement of its audio revival should only grow brighter in the months ahead. That said, whilst the latter release’s commitment to furthering the overarching plot of Season One marks a refreshing departure from most audio series’ tendencies to hold back on substantial developments until their concluding chapters, it’s difficult not to hope that should Reeves be invited back for next year’s March-August run, she’s afforded the opportunity to leave her mark on Torchwood history not by producing an arc-dependent script but instead a captivating standalone effort in its own right, since despite its unique setting, Forgotten Lives ultimately feels too tied to both the show’s past and future to be regarded as anything but an above-average piece of connective tissue at best.