Torchwood: Aliens Among Us - Part 3Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 February 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood: Aliens Among Us Part 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Tim Foley, Joseph Lidster, Helen Goldwyn, James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Alexandria Riley (Ng), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Samantha Béart (Orr), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Tom Price (Sgt. Andy Davidson), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda), Ramon Tikaram (Colin Colchester-Price), Terrence Hardiman (Escape), Sanee Raval (Xander), Kezrena James (Serena), Laura Dalgleish (Newsreader), Kerry Joy Stewart (Waitress), Garnon Davies (Rory), Joseph Tweedale (Assassin), Richard Elfyn (Inspector Bernstein), Aly Cruickshank (God Botherer), Marilyn Le Conte (Sue), Rick Yale (Darren), Luke Williams (Hywel), Charlotte O’Leary (News Reporter).

Released By Big Finish Productions - February 2018​
Order from Amazon UK

If there’s one crime of which reviewers can’t possibly accuse Big Finish’s first full season of Torchwood missions, it’s conforming to fans’ expectations.

Few would’ve blamed the studio for playing their cards safe with Aliens Among Us, particularly considering how straying from the beaten track to Stateside waters terminated the mature Doctor Who spin-off’s televised tenure. Yet rather than erasing Miracle Day from canon and resurrecting past teammates like Ianto and Toshiko for the sake of restoring the show’s original status quo, producer James Goss and his intrepid team of scribes have boldly committed to a new team, an embattled new incarnation of Cardiff ruled by alien mobsters and numerous emotionally devastating twists with series-altering ramifications.

What’s more, with Part 3 – comprising the final four instalments of Season Five – Goss and company don’t so much rein in their lofty ambitions as raise the benchmark ever further, delivering a truly memorable quartet of similarly pivotal adventures which, short of any major retcons next time around, promise to redefine Torchwood Three’s future for the better. The team’s eternal leader Captain Jack Harkness opened every episode of the show’s first few TV runs with the assertion that “the 21st century is where everything changes” and, judging by the events of this captivating boxset, perhaps he was referring to February 2018…

“Poker Face”:

Prepare for a disorientating dive into the deep end of recent Torchwood mythology with this fast-paced mid-season premiere as the Red Skies plot arc developed over the course of Season Five comes to a head. With the terrorist group seemingly plotting a number of violent attacks across the city so as to rid Cardiff of its extraterrestrial immigrants, it’s up to Jack, Gwen, Orr and Mr. Colchester to fend off these plots or at least minimize their blast radius before it’s too late. The only problem? They’re a team divided thanks to Jack’s recent sinister activities, not to mention the return of one Yvonne Hartman in the Hub’s vaults.

Indeed, that reports of Ms. Hartman’s demise in“Doomsday” were seemingly exaggerated comes as a welcome surprise by the end of “Poker Face”, since MVP Tracy-Ann Oberman’s presence injects the episode with as much grim humour and ruthless energy as it does unpredictability surrounding the nature of Yvonne’s survival. Better yet, whereas Torchwood often left its titular organisation’s long-running history shrouded in ambiguity on-screen, Oberman and John Barrowman’s electrifying rapport as their righteous commanders-in-chief vie for supremacy also allows for new insight into their shared history and the secret agency’s various teams interacted prior to the Battle of Canary Wharf.

It’s testament to playwright Tim Foley’s focused script that its headline act doesn’t overshadow the fascinating internal conflicts rife amongst the team in the wake of Part 2’s “The Empty Hand” either; quite to the contrary, just as much of its running time is dedicated to exploring whether the ends justify the means when it comes to Jack’s alignment with Red Skies to save Cardiff. Can the team possibly move forward knowing that its leader would willingly fuel hate crime and risk thousands of lives to best Ro-Jedda’s Sorvix hordes? As with much of Part 3 and of Aliens Among Us as a whole, the answer may shock listeners just as it did this reviewer, not least given its profound implications for what comes next.  

“Tagged”:

A real Orr de force, this one – pun fully intended. Clearly Goss well understands the need for series plot arcs to take a backseat, since here he tasks Joseph Lidster with tackling an issue largely separated from Ro-Jedda’s mayoral scheming but no less potent as a source of narrative inspiration: social media. Predictably letting Orr loose online to solve the mystery of fate-bearing cards spreading across the city isn’t the wisest of ideas but doing so affords Samantha Béart the rare opportunity to showcase her actorial mettle as the character is tested to her limits by the raw vitriol, prejudice and hatred that she must channel to discover why otherwise innocuous civilians are taking lives without almost any remorse.

As always, that’s not the only problem facing Torchwood Three in this instance – still reeling from the – spoilerific but suffice to say monumental – cliffhanger left by “Poker Face”, they’re dealing with a volatile new status quo which again forces each team member to consider the lengths to which they’re willing to go to keep Cardiff from tearing itself apart. Such quandaries only work in Paul Clayton’s favour as Colchester, whose increasingly close friendship with Orr makes the experience of watching her endure immense psychological pain to crack the case that much more harrowing – and thus dramatically satisfying – as a result.

Great performances usually necessitate a great script to provide worthy dialogue, though. Let’s give credit where credit’s due to Lidster, then, without whom “Tagged” might lack the emotional poignancy found in Serena’s topical plight as a sexually abused police officer, or the cathartic moments of levity granted by Gwen and Sergeant Andy Davidson’s bemusement at events on the streets, or the harrowing final scene which casts one of Torchwood’s most loyal stalwarts in a chillingly unsettling light. From his TV contribution to the franchise with 2008’s “A Day in the Death” to today, Torchwood remains safe whenever it lies in Lidster’s capable hands.  

“Escape Room”:

Yet what of Helen Goldwyn, whose only contribution to the range until now has been a cameo in last year’s throwback boxset Torchwood One: Before the Fall? Like Lidster, Goldwyn aims to explore another renowned facet of modern-day society, specifically the puzzle-based communal pastime which gives “Escape Room” its name. The difference here lies in said setting’s acting as a metaphorical springboard for this relative newcomer to examine the states of the Cooper and Colchester-Price families, with both relationships coming under greater strain as Alexandria Riley's Ng strives to keep her possession of Gwen’s body a closely-guarded secret.

This approach in turn once again allows Clayton, Riley, Kai Owen and Ramon Tikaram as Colin Colchester-Price to take advantage of their increased airtime and remind fans why the series remains at its best when challenging and evolving its relationships rather than always pitting characters against Earth-threatening challenges. Over the course of the hour each player of this explosive game-turned-death trap must test their loyalties against their desire for self-preservation, with no-one’s fate guaranteed and Goldwyn’s intelligent integration of red herrings here and there ensuring the lister remains either at the edge of their seat or fascinated to discover how the true last-minute twists will affect future episodes.

Perhaps the only noteworthy shortcoming which this reviewer could detect in “Escape Room” connects more-so to its context within the grander scheme of Aliens Among Us than its compelling semi-standalone tale. Steering clear of spoiler territory, the knowledge of Ng’s true identity as well as the overall Sorvix / Red Skies arc taking priority in Season Five’s final outing mean that a couple of seemingly irreversible watershed moments aren’t explored in as substantial depth going forward as one might hope, serving as devices to push said arcs towards their climax more than anything else. While that seems something of a missed opportunity, though, as a standalone piece Goldwyn’s Torchwood debut provides an utterly gripping hour of tension and emotionally wrought drama which no fan will soon forget.

“Herald of the Dawn”:

Among the most heinous clichés in the marketing book is proclaiming that a TV drama’s protagonists will “never be the same again” once the credits have rolled on its latest season finale. Too often we’re promised as much only to discover that the supposedly groundbreaking changes instigated by that show’s writing team are nothing of the sort or will inevitably be retconned come the next season premiere, for fear of the brand losing followers by axing key characters, leaving plot threads hanging or delivering near-impossible cliffhangers to resolve.

That’s not remotely the case with “Herald of the Dawn”, however. As well as reintroducing Jonny Green’s increasingly besieged ex-journalist Tyler Steele and Jack – who’s absent for much of this boxset with good reason – into the fray, James Goss’ magnificent season capper places myriad other responsibilities on its plate, from resolving Ng’s arc to revealing the rationale behind Bilis Manger’s mysterious Part 2 appearance to confirming that Ro-Jedda and her Sorvix clan aren’t going anywhere either. If manipulating so many pivotal chess pieces at once seemed an impossible task, then Goss makes the endeavour look enviably simple, both providing satisfying closure on many fronts and revealing that other elements are but the tip of the iceberg in a far more audacious multi-season game-plan.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly – as if there were ever any doubt, Goss and director Scott Handcock confirm their intentions for more regular Torchwood chapters beyond Aliens Among Us in the accompanying behind-the-scenes tracks, although to think otherwise would’ve been ridiculous after the infuriatingly tantalising note on which “Herald” concludes. It’s not often that this reviewer finds himself completely breathless at the end of a Big Finish production, but I’ll gladly confess to yelling in exasperation at the top of my voice in a crowded Tottenham Court Road tube station as the series’ iconic theme tune kicked in to signal Season Five’s end credits. How we’ll endure such an unbearable wait between now and Season Six given the colossal cliffhanger left here – and a particularly poignant coda by Russell T. Davies leaving a Torchwood icon’s future uncertain – is beyond yours truly.

That’s a sure-fire sign of a tremendously successful season finale, though, and a wholehearted reaffirmation of Torchwood’s undoubtedly prosperous future at Big Finish. Between the studio’s half-year runs of monthly adventures situated in Torchwood Three’s past (our reviews of which will resume in March with The Death of Captain Jack), their delightful Torchwood One boxsets with Oberman at their firm helm and April’s long-awaited team-up boxset Torchwood Believe set to reunite the show’s original cast, this once-tarnished brand couldn’t lie in safer hands today, hence why this reviewer can’t wait to see what Goss and company have next up their sleeves.





Torchwood: The Culling #3Bookmark and Share

Friday, 22 December 2017 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Torchwood #3 - Cover A (Credit: Titan )
Writers: John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman 
Artist: Neil Edwards
Publisher: Titan Comics 
FC - 32pp
On sale: December 20, 2017 

In this third issue of the Culling miniseries, Jack, Gwen, Shelley, and the Pilot, crashland in a cabin surrounded by dying Earth - courtesy of Sladen, who happens to kill whatever she touches. Unable to go outside without being instantly aged, the Torchwood team divides their time between formulating a plan and observing the possible benefits of having sex to keep warm. The banter is of the dull and obvious variety Torchwood, the television series, was always best at. If there were a cheeky charm to characters within Doctor Who having blunt discussions about sex, it wore off a long time ago.

 The centerpiece of the issue is Captain Jack testing his regenerative abilities by stepping into the dying path left behind by Sladen. He is instantly aged while simultaneously being connected with the Vervoids tool of destruction somehow.

This alerts Sladen not only to Torchwood’s survival of the crash but also her relation to Captain Jack. In a classic Torchwood scene of unwarranted emotion erupting from a character we hardly know, Sladen vows to kill Jack and Docilis. This promises an epic, but empty, confrontation to come.

The Culling is a big story with a small scope stretched across too many issues. Instead of taking advantage of the format to burrow into these characters, finding out how all of this is affecting them, what failure would mean to them personally, why they will push so hard to succeed, the focus is on humor that doesn’t land and spectacle that fails to propel the story forward.

Torchwood #3 knows its audience. The television series had a specific if uneven, voice that never wavered. That voice has carried over to the limited comic book series seamlessly. For a fan, it must feel like diving right back into this unique corner of the Doctor Who universe. To non-fans, it most likely feels like more of the same.

 




Torchwood #2Bookmark and Share

Friday, 8 December 2017 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Torchwood #2 (Credit: Titan)
The Culling Part 2 (of 4) 
Writers: John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman 
Artist: Neil Edwards 
Publisher: Titan Comics 
FC - 32pp
 On sale: November 22, 2017

Torchwood has always struggled with a consistent tone. It’s adult, dark, violent, and sexual, but at the same time it’s a spinoff of Doctor Who, humorous and fairly immature. The characters are bursting with emotion and conflict, while somehow lacking genuine drama. The stakes are constantly high, without anyone being in actual peril. Children of Earth Aside, the quality of Torchwood is all over the place.

 

That troublesome tone is only present in Torchwood #2 in very small doses. There’s still a lot going on, without communicating a great deal of danger. Captain Jack and Gwen have a clone daughter running around in the ice, killing everything she touches, and this is a big deal because the Vervoids are planning a culling. While that is certainly very threatening, the drama of it doesn’t come through.

 

To be fair, this is the second part of a miniseries. The authors, John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman, are building a story, providing details when the audience needs it, rather than giving you all the goods up front only to burn out by the end. The entire story can not be judged by a single chapter.

 

What is remarkable is the authenticity of voice coming through the characters. Captain Jack reads like Captain Jack, Gwen is Gwen, and the same goes for Captain John Hart. Possibly unfamiliar characters like Shelley, Dana, James Sterling, and Gilly fit snuggly into the Torchwood comic book mold. A lot of that credit must go to Mr. Barrowman’s history with Torchwood and the excellent talent of Carole E. Barrowman. If nothing else, this feels like proper Torchwood, imperfections and all.

 




Torchwood One: Before the FallBookmark and Share

Thursday, 9 November 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Torchwood One: Before the Fall (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Scott Handcock
Script Editor: Scott Handcock
Featuring: Tracy-Ann ObermanGareth David-Lloyd
Big Finish
First Released: Tuesday 31st January 2017

With every new Big Finish boxset, there’s the same question as to just what format the narrative will take. Some sets tell one complete story across all their discs, others contain an episode series of separate tales, and some lie somewhere in between, with individual episodes but a story arc running through them. Sometimes huge arcs will even stretch over multiple boxsets. But the one thing you can be sure of is that the official description never seems to quite match the reality (I don’t think anyone would say Doom Coalition felt like one sixteen part story, for instance).

Before the Fall tells two parallel tales of Torchwood One’s newest recruit, Rachel Allan (a name quite distracting if you’re in Ireland, where there’s a celebrity chef called Rachel Allen), and queen bee Yvonne Hartman, and the balance between them – one rising as the other falls. But each of the three installments also tells its own story of this new Torchwood team as the arc elements percolate in the background. It creates a great window into an alternative version of Torchwood and a team we’ve never gotten to see on TV. Introduced in Joseph Lidster’s brilliant opener New Girl through the eyes of eponymous recruit Rachel they’re an appropriately motley crew.

Yvonne is of course, front and centre and perfectly captured again by Lidster as in his earlier One Rule as a splendid mix of intelligence, charm, ruthlessness and menace, and vulnerability. Meanwhile, while we were actively given the impression on TV that Ianto was a low-level drone at Canary Wharf, here he’s promoted to being Yvonne’s right-hand man – an improbability that can be excused for the strong role it gives him in the drama. Nicely, though there’s a callback to his later persona when he audibly bristles at being asked to lower himself to fetching coffee by the head of HR. Alongside these returning favourites, we get that gossipy HR expert Pippa, professional heavies Dean and Kieran and scientific advisor Thomas. Thomas is probably the breakout star here. Effectively a cross between the Third Doctor and Gene Hunt from Life on Mars he’s an unreconstructed sweary, politically incorrect Northern curmudgeon with little respect for authority but given a lot of latitude because, frankly, he’s brilliant. There’s a particularly neat bit of homage in his relationship with his new assistant Rachel – when she blunders into his lab, messing things up, he’s only short of calling her a ‘ham-fisted bun vendor’ and she quickly becomes the Jo to his Doctor. Rachel herself cuts such a sweet, insecure figure that one of New Girl’s great achievements is how it manages to completely wrong-foot the listener – lots of references to the speed of promotion at Torchwood being the result of a high mortality rate and to Yvonne’s very final way of dealing with betrayal or incompetence makes it seem we’re getting a swift encapsulation of how Torchwood can eat up and destroy the unwary. But the final sting sends us in a surprising and intriguing new direction instead.

The following two-thirds of the set sees Rachel finding her feet as the improbable new leader of Torchwood One, and establishing the tenor of her reign, while a fugitive Yvonne, wanted for treason and murder, tries to keep one step ahead of her own agents. Through the Ruins sees the latter at her lowest ebb, couch surfing and calling in every favour she can to try and figure out what’s really going on and how she was framed. Meanwhile, on the Torchwood One team-building Away Day exercise, the sunny, cheerful Rachel has everyone messing about building highly unstable alien weapons in what’s clearly a thinly disguised cull of the slow, the dim and the unlucky. Caught between the two is Ianto. Now romantically involved with Rachel (the Jones boy sure can pick them) but secretly helping Yvonne evade capture, he can all too easily believe almost anything of Yvonne and the evidence seems conclusive, yet he can’t shake the sense that she didn’t actually do this particular horrible thing.

By the concluding Uprising, the stakes have been raised and the fightback begun. With a massive alien fleet about to enter Earth’s atmosphere and lay waste to all, the possibilities as to why it’s all happening are kept convincingly multiple choice until late in the day. Is Rachel a traitor in league with the aliens, or is she just incompetent? The ultimate answer to why Rachel has been making the decisions she has turns out to be very Torchwood – simultaneously grand and tragic, yet kind of petty and pathetic and all too human at the same time. If the essence of Torchwood, as a series, is deeply damaged people trying to rise to challenges that they’re not actually quite up to, then Before the Fall is a fine continuation of that tradition. Yvonne’s ultimate turning of the table on her adversary, meanwhile, is also very Torchwood in its way. Cynical and twisted, but nothing so straightforward as revenge.

Of the mirroring plot strands, Yvonne’s escapades are by far the more successful. Three parts Jason Bourne to one part Mean Girl, she crisscrosses London, getting in car chases and gunfights, while pressing her contracts and hunting leads, all while severely irked that thanks to all this she hasn’t had her hair blown out in days. It also underlines that she’s probably the only unambiguously hyper-competent Torchwood agent we’ve ever had. Rachel’s rapid transformation from naïve newbie to chirpy autocrat is a great deal less successful. We’re regularly told the secret of her success is that she’s a “people person,” adept at making everyone feel she’s their best friend and earning their loyalty. Yet with the entire boxset taking place over the course of a single month, it strains belief that she can command such good faith from her team of agents even as her decisions very, very quickly become hugely suspect.

So, Before the Fall, despite the three episodes, is very much a game of two halves. It’s at its strongest during the initial setup and introductions and New Girl, on its own strengths, is one of the finest hours of Torchwood Big Finish have yet produced. But, despite some nice character work and one or two killer twists, the resulting battle for control of Torchwood all too often feels contrived and just a bit silly. The result overall is a boxset that includes some great stuff but, as a whole proves rather average. However, perhaps its legacy will be this fully fleshed out Torchwood One team. They’re an engaging bunch, and practically worth the price of admission all by themselves. Return visits to Canary Wharf to spend more time with them would be extremely welcome.



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Torchwood: Aliens Among Us - Part 2Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 October 2017 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Aliens Among Us - Part 2 (Credit: Big Finish)Written By: Christopher Cooper, Mac Rogers, Janine H Jones, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Alexandria Riley (Ng), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Sam Béart (Orr), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Tom Price (Sgt. Andy Davidson), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Murray Melvin (Bilis Manger), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda), Ramon Tikaram (Colin Colchester-Price), Ewan Bailey (Duncan), Kerry Joy Stewart (Maddy), Diveen Henry (Sandra), Ellie Heydon (Andrea), Marilyn Le Conte (Patricia), Luke Rhodri (Rowan), Charlotte O'Leary (Poppy), Sacha Dhawan (Hasan), Sarah Annis (P.C. Nicki Owen), Rick Yale (Lorry Driver), Laura Dalgleish (Newsreader), Kristy Phillips (Stacey), Aly Cruickshank (Student), Richard Elfyn (Takeaway Man), Sanee Raval (Xander)

​Released by Big Finish Productions - October 2017

After an eclectic opening boxset pitting its titular team of ‘secret’ agents up against sentient hotels, vengeful brides, increasingly destructive terrorist cells and an extraterrestrial gangster newly appointed as Cardiff’s mayor, what could Big Finish possibly have up its sleeve next for their self-proclaimed fifth season of Torchwood? That’s a fair question, and with Aliens Among Us – Part 2 comes the adrenaline-fuelled, alien STD-carrying answer.

“Love Rat”:

If James Goss’ brilliantly-named sophomore instalment of Season Five, “Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy”, didn’t seem enough like a quintessential Torchwood outing, then “Love Rat” more than fits the bill. From its unashamedly risqué opening moments, involving Captain Jack’s not-so-romantic run-in with an unknown courter, to its hilariously absurd consequences witnessed throughout the hour, “Love Rat” is about as adult, gag-ridden and downright ridiculous as the show’s ever been under Big Finish’s stewardship.

As one would expect at this point, though, the play’s ever-delightfully energetic cast take the increasingly bonkers events depicted here in their stride, with John Barrowman naturally relishing the opportunity to transform Jack into the ultimate sexual provocateur for one hour only, while Eve Myles’ bemused Gwen and Jonny Green’s stern yet susceptible PR agent Tyler both suffer the consequences with gut-wrenchingly comedic results.

Those hoping for scribe Chris Cooper to push on with Season Five’s underlying secret invasion plot arc might need to take a chill pill here, since barring a cameo or two from Rachel Atkins’ still gloriously malevolent arch-foe Ro-Jedda, there’s little in the way of narrative substance or deep thematic exploration to be found amidst all the coital antics. But even so, complaining seems churlish when, by letting its hair down for once, one of Doctor Who’s darkest offshoots to date offers up such a constantly entertaining hour as this.

“A Kill to a View”:

That said, anyone concerned that Torchwood’s latest run might follow the traditional US TV model – and indeed arguably Miracle Day’s approach – of marginalising any major plot arcs until its final instalment, especially as we reach its halfway point, can breathe easy as they stick on Aliens Among Us’ sixth chapter. As teased by his familiar silhouette gracing Part 2’s cover, Season One antagonist Bilis Manger has returned to wreak havoc upon the lives of the Torchwood team, his intentions no less sinister than before.

Murray Melvin, true to form, once again injects this mysterious adversary with all the understated menace and enigmatic omniscience for which fans knew and loved him back in 2007. It’s thanks to his accomplished performance that as Bilis adopts the role of a kindly Caretaker at the tower block where Mr. Colchester and his partner have coincidentally moved in of late, listeners can’t help but perch themselves at the edge of their seat in nervous anticipation of the turbulent conflict and inevitable tragedies to come.

Placing Colchester centre-stage doesn’t do “Kill” any harm either, affording Paul Clayton’s constantly courageous yet endearingly vulnerable – and, thanks to his rather unique work-life balance, multi-faceted – civil servant with some much-needed development, as he realises to a harrowing extent the devastating personal consequences which come with taking the deadliest career path available to Welsh job-seekers. How this compelling character arc will resolve itself by season’s end remains to be seen, but we’re just as curious to see this develop as we are to discover what ominous teases of another old foe’s arrival portend for the second half of Season Five.

“Zero Hour”:

And what of Ro-Jedda’s doubtless sinister machinations behind-the-scenes? Evidently unwilling to allow Aliens Among Us to lose the gratifying plot momentum gained by Episode 6, Janine H. Jones dives headfirst into this mystery via a topical tale of exploitable employees forced to work inhumane hours just to earn a living. Enter Tyler Steele, whose work at the mayor’s office – and intrigue at noticing the peculiar habits of a delivery worker – sets him on a collision course with the unsettling truths behind Cardiff’s otherwise welcome upsurge in employment rates.

Just as Green’s undeniably flawed wannabe journalist served as our entryway back into the covert, casualty-laden world of Torchwood in the season premiere, “Changes Everything”, so too does “Zero Hour” offer listeners the opportunity to experience the latest weekly threat to the Welsh capital’s fragile sanctity from the perspective of a relative outsider, as Tyler soon finds himself in treacherous waters with little-to-no help available from Gwen while she tackles toddler troubles or Jack while he investigates matters further afield. Thus we’re afforded a far deeper insight into a morally complex rogue who’ll cross almost any line to survive, yet shows visible dismay at witnessing his city on the brink of societal collapse.

Meanwhile Gwen’s familial woes at home highlight another ongoing character arc which could so easily get forgotten amidst all of Part 2’s other hi-jinks – namely her possession by a still ambiguous alien entity driving Mrs. and Mr. Cooper further apart by the day. No doubt tensions will come to a head in the final four episodes of Season Five due for release next February, but it’s rather frustrating how frequently such a pivotal journey for one of the show’s longest standing protagonists ends up side-lined so as to allow other plot threads to breathe. At this rate, the true feisty heroine whom Myles usually portrays to great effect might not re-surface for most of the run, a crying shame given how Aliens Among Us supposedly marks Torchwood’s triumphant full-scale comeback.

“The Empty Hand”:

Last but by no means least, Aliens’ second mid-season finale takes the underlying political messages seeded within the previous seven episodes and amplifies them tenfold, namely by bringing ideas such as #BlackLivesMatter and hate crime to the fore as Sergeant Andy Davidson appears to gun down an innocuous immigrant worker in cold blood. As ever in a series whose mother show straddles the line between sci-fi and fantasy, there’s far more than meets the eye in this instance, but the increasingly relevant issues at hand lend “The Empty Hand” a greater sense of moral gravitas than most Torchwood romps can muster.

Writer Tim Foley admirably never trivialises his weighty subject matter, allowing his characters to discuss the implications of Andy’s actions at length and affording Tom Price’s oft-befuddled police officer a long overdue extra layer of moral nuance in the process. Thankfully, though, he’s similarly aware that such intricate discussion points can scarcely receive closure over the course of a single one-hour drama, his focus primarily on how the Torchwood team’s struggle to resolve what soon becomes a citywide crisis feeds into Ro-Jedda’s long-term game-plan, and – after a belated intervention from the eternal Time Agent – the lengths to which Jack will go to protect humanity at all costs.

Any fan will attest that the latter thematic strand has often proved a narrative goldmine for the series, particularly as Children of Earth drove the man who’d bested gas-mask zombies, Daleks and the son of Satan himself to take the life of his own grandson in the process. Similar to how that fateful decision carried major ramifications for Jack’s role in Miracle Day, so too do the actions taken here by the once and future Face of Boe indicate that life at the Hub might never truly be the same again. Of course, anyone who’s finished the boxset will know a further crucial reason why Part 3 promises to potentially uproot our understanding of Torchwood’s past, presence and future, and anyone who hasn’t will need to pick Part 2 up to discover as much for themselves.

Speaking of which, in case it’s not already glaringly obvious by now, Aliens Among Us is fast shaping up as one of Torchwood’s finest hours to date, making the series a must-listen for any devotees who’ve longed for the show’s return to TV. It’s safe to say that Season Five has a hell of a lot of dangling plot threads to tie up in Part 3, from Gwen and Rhys’ fractured relationship to Ro-Jedda’s endgame to that plot twist awaiting listeners at the end of “Empty Hand”, but based on the opening two-thirds of Season Five, finding out how events reach their climax will doubtless prove one of the biggest early highlights of next year. February 2018 is apparently where everything changes, and we’re certainly ready.



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Torchwood: Aliens Among Us - Part 1Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 22 August 2017 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Aliens Among Us - Part 1 (Credit: Big Finish)Written By: James Goss, Juno Dawson, AK Benedict
Directed By: Scott Handcock

​Lead Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Tom Price (Sgt Andy Davidson), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Alexandria Riley (Ng), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), and Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper)

Supporting Cast: Stephen Critchlow (The Mayor), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda), Ruth Lloyd (Vorsun), Sophie Colquhoun (Madrigal), Rhian Marston-Jones (Quenel), Lu Corfield (Brongwyn), Rhys Whomsley (Osian), Sharon Morgan (Mary Cooper), David Sibley (Vincent Parry), Sam Béart (Catrin Parry), Anthony Boyle (Hotel Manager), Sam Jones (Toobert Jailert), Wilf Scolding (Personal Trainer)

​Released by Big Finish Productions - August 2017

In receiving the licensed green light to revive Doctor Who’s first full-fledged TV spin-off show, Torchwood, as an ongoing series of audio dramas in May 2015, Big Finish set themselves arguably their most daunting challenge since embarking upon a mission to do likewise for Who back in 1999. Like its mother show in the 1970s, the four season-strong, adult-geared BBC sci-fi drama had reached the height of its televisual powers by 2009, producing an award-winning miniseries in Children of Earth which suggested its writers had finally perfected their efforts to blend universe expansion with compelling, mature storylines capable of attracting newcomers alongside ever-devoted followers of the Doctor.

Just as the arrival of iconic figures like Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and John Nathan-Turner bred behind-the-scenes troubles which ultimately sealed Who’s 19-year hiatus, however, so too did Torchwood’s golden age of on-screen success reach a swift, turbulent crescendo just moments after its apex. The Starz-produced fourth season Miracle Day lacked the narrative momentum, multi-faceted supporting characters or overall British charm which had reaped Children of Earth such universal acclaim two years beforehand, once again prompting a previously beloved sci-fi saga to enter an indefinite purgatorial state, particularly as its showrunner Russell T Davies faced heartbreaking personal struggles not long after the run’s Summer 2011 broadcast.

But between their sensational opening trio of monthly runs featuring beloved characters like Gwen Cooper, Toshiko Sato, Ianto Jones and of course the indomitable Captain Jack Harkness (if you’ve yet to try The Conspiracy, Uncanny Valley, Zone 10, Broken or Corpse Day, then head to Big Finish’s website when you’re done here and remedy that error), the tremendous The Torchwood Archive serving as both a fitting series coda and 10th anniversary special, and box-sets like Before the Fall offering profound insights into the titular secret agency’s mysterious past, Big Finish have more than confirmed their status as the brand’s perfect gatekeepers for the foreseeable future. Next up on their agenda, then? Continuing the story where Miracle Day left off, albeit making a few welcome course corrections en route to ensure that Season Five doesn’t trigger another near-death experience for Torchwood.

Even with the support of the mighty Russell behind them, can the studio pull off such a Herculean feat, no longer simply hopping between eras of the show for standalone romps but instead conveying a whole new arc over the course of 12 episodes and three box-sets? Let’s begin the quest to find out with Aliens Among Us – Part 1, evaluating each of the four hour-long instalments in detail before ascertaining whether James Goss and company should ever have bothered embarking upon this audacious campaign…

Changes Everything:

“Torchwood is dead.”

There’s an unmistakable sense of irony about wright James Goss’ decision to invert the title of Torchwood’s pilot episode in naming Season Five’s opener. While the Cardiff of “Changes Everything” has undergone no shortage of transformations, between mass immigration, mass homelessness and mass alien infiltration, while Jack and Gwen were fighting to end the Miracle in the US of A, this compelling first chapter largely works to re-establish much of the show’s pre-Miracle Day status quo, from the shattered but still intact Hub to the team’s iconic SUV to Jack and Gwen back in business at Torchwood Three’s helm.

Much of the real change, then, comes with Goss’ introduction of two deliciously morally and psychologically complex new – potential in one case – recruits to the team this time around. Enter the irritable but courageous civil servant Mr. Colchester and the intrepid but concerningly ruthless ex-paparazzi Tyler Steele, the former of whom comes off as initially closed-minded yet has plenty more to him than meets the eye and the latter - brought brilliantly to life as an unashamedly slimy rogue by Jonny Green - bound to rile most listeners with his self-serving rationale as much as he does the rest of the team. For reasons that will become obvious by the end of the hour, Russell’s influence upon the characterisation of these two new players is as clear as daylight, lending them the same dramatically layered but equally realistic personalities that one would expect of any of the Doctor’s 2005-2009 companions or indeed any employee at Torchwood until the Miracle.

It’s thanks to this pair of ever-evolving characters largely taking centre-stage – especially in Tyler’s case – here that a somewhat necessarily by-the-books set-up storyline revealing the existence of an unseen alien community pulling the strings in Cardiff remains thoroughly engaging to sit through, though that’s not to say the plot doesn’t pack any dramatic heft in its own right. Much as we’ve encountered plenty such shady organisations such as those behind Season Four’s Miracle or indeed the Committee at the heart of Big Finish’s Torchwood monthly range to date, that the latest foes to emerge from the Rift provoke racist sentiments and terror attacks across Wales’ capital city gives “Changes” a disturbingly relevant edge, the depiction of bombings taking countless lives sure to unsettle anyone following today’s headlines but all the more relevant a subject matter for the show to tackle.

As with most season premieres aiming to kick-start a season-spanning arc, the extra narrative legwork “Changes” must perform ultimately robs the opening outing of the chance to become a stellar standalone outing, but even so, by injecting the show with a fresh, volatile new team dynamic at Torchwood Three and harrowing poignancy via its topical real-world ties, Goss sets Aliens Among Us off on a promising trajectory indeed.

Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy:

“Right then, let’s go to a hen night.”

Has any episode title ever served to summarised the core tenants of Torchwood as a work of mature yet oft-hilarious drama than the epithet Goss attributes to Season Five’s sophomore outing? Probably not, but thankfully the man responsible for helming the brand at Big Finish doesn’t get complacent off the back of this unparalleled achievement, instead finding time to devise a largely isolated storyline which dedicates almost an hour’s worth of time to developing bothEve Myles’ Gwen and Paul Clayton’s Colchester, not to mention exploring the fascinating interplay between these two world-wearied soldiers as they march into one of their most unlikely – not to mention hugely comedic – missions yet.

Laden with outrageous set-pieces – from absurd hostage situations to drunken car chases – and unsubtle but warranted politico-religious commentary, Goss’ script follows these veteran crime-fighters in their efforts to determine how young Madrigal’s upcoming wedding nuptials are connected to the still-mysterious powers manipulating Cardiff for their own ends, only for their investigation to result in the increasingly inebriated Maddie causing them no shortage of explosive grief throughout the night. One does admittedly get the sense as “Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy” progresses that Goss thought this delightfully disbelief-uprooting premise was entertaining enough to fuel an entire hour of audio drama, since the second act of proceedings feels rather padded, throwing in convoluted further plot developments and additional characters who don’t add a great deal to proceedings beyond further exposition surrounding the nature of Madrigal’s betrothal.

All the same, with Myles and Clayton on top form as they explore how their respective characters deal with leading lives of near-total dishonesty when balancing work with family ties, with Sophie Colquhoun’s Madrigal serving up a veritable array of painfully chuckle-worthy one-liners with each successive pint consumed, and with Goss even finding time to resolve loose plot threads from Titan Comics’ Torchwood strip by revealing the fate of the Ice Maiden’s crew, “Gravy” achieves more than enough in its running time – and builds more than enough intrigue for what’s to come – to stave off any occasional sense of plot tedium. Most importantly of all, that Episode 2 gave yours truly the joy of writing out its pitch-perfect title in full for this review is reason enough for its existence.

Orr:

“Who knew there was an alien black market right in the middle of Cardiff city centre?”

Clearly not content with allowing Goss to expand Torchwood’s core roster with Colchester and Tyler, Juno Dawson adds another player into the mix with Orr, a third RTD-endorsed recruit whose alien heritage affords her some, well, alluring abilities that play glorious havoc with each member of the team here. “Orr” once again marks a near-complete tonal departure from its immediate predecessor, returning to explore the haunting implications of extremist fanatics for a Cardiff already at economic war with itself, while also throwing in aspects of romance and series-changing tragedy for good measure along the way.

As one might well imagine, handling such a delicate balancing act – and having to carry the burden of progressing Aliens Among Us’ overall arc in a far more substantial manner than “Gravy” with the full-scale arrival of the season’s core antagonist – would prove a challenging at best prospect for even the most accomplished of scribes. Sure enough, what with tackling weighty concepts like housing shortages, illegal commercial transactions hidden in plain sight and shapeshifts forced to cater for their onlookers’ sexual fantasies, Dawson can’t quite avoid imbuing “Orr” with a lingering sense of tonal discontinuity at times, struggling to decide whether to focus on the hearty laughs Orr’s powers inspire, the aforementioned topicality of her plot or indeed setting up a twist set to inextricably alter Aliens Among Us’ trajectory for the next nine episodes.

Thank goodness, then, that the merits of those individual plot and character threads are strong enough to leave the listener suitably chortled, emotionally wrought and ultimately captivated to discover what lies around the corner as soon as the show’s iconic end credits sting kicks in. As shown by her sublime Torchwood one-off outing The Dollhouse back in April, when left to her own devices Dawson’s got more than enough comedic and dramatic chops to pull off a standalone storyline for the range, but even if “Orr” can’t quite match that entertaining Charlie’s Angels-riffing adventure’s lofty heights, as a penultimate instalment for Part 1 it’s got more than enough to keep fans and newcomers alike engaged.

Superiority Complex:

“All life is equal – animal, mechanical and everything in-between.”

Those wanting Part 1’s concluding instalment to serve as a gripping mid-season finale which leaves one desperate to hear the next four episodes might need to restrain those expectations somewhat. Much as “Superiority Complex” affords the whole team plenty to do as they infiltrate a prospering alien hotel to determine the source of recent on-site murders, with John Barrowman clearly relishing Jack’s newfound role as a typically flirtatious barman and Orr’s abilities granting her unprecedented access to employees’ psyches, it’s certainly not concerned with resolving or substantially progressing many plot threads established so far, barring a last-minute cliffhanger which promises dire straits for Torchwood Three come October’s Part 2.

With that disclaimer out of the way, though, listeners can focus on simply enjoying the sheer lunacy of the team’s present situation, one member hiding a particularly juicy secret as she spars wits with disgruntled guests and Orr’s encounters with the hotel’s true management proving both ridiculous and tangible given the current exponential growth of artificial intelligence. Between uniting Jack with a British monarch in The Victorian Age and transforming Cardiff into a disease-ridden warzone in Outbreak, AK Benedict  is no stranger to devising logic-eschewing premises anyway, but “Complex” tests the extent to which your disbelief can be suspended like never before, an experiment which if nothing else ensures an unpredictable listening experience presumably akin to watching an episode of the original TV series while under the influence of narcotic substances.

Better yet, come Episode 4’s credits we’re left with the unmistakable, gratifying sense of a truly reinvigorated Torchwood, one packing a familiar status quo but with revitalising new elements in the form of the team’s latest recruits, and the fresh, unstable dynamic between protagonists old and new ensuring that both the standalone and arc-orientated instalments compel. If Goss and company could work to justify Kai Owen and Tom Price’s top billings as Rhys and Andy – neither of whom get much in the way of dramatic meat until “Superiority” – next time around, and develop the elusive Ro-Jedda as a multi-dimensional antagonist for Jack et al to battle, then Part 2 could take the show to Children of Earth-rivalling heights once more, but for now, the show’s well and truly back on form, and long may it reign as such at Big Finish.



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Released 31 Oct 2017
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Torchwood - Aliens Among Us: 1: Part 1