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.






Torchwood: Corpse Day (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 14 June 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Corpse Day (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by James Goss

Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Tom Price (Andy Davidson), Hannah Maddox (Angela), Alex Tregear (Jan), Nigel Betts (Glynn), Oliver Mason (Sonny), Rhian Blundell (Marta), Aly Cruickshank (Desk Sergeant), Charlotte O’Leary (Waitress) 

Big Finish Productions - Released May 2017

 

Corpse Day has been one of the most anticipated Torchwood releases so far this year (at least until the news of Aliens Among Us) as it finally sees the return the last of the original UK television characters make a welcome return in the form of Burn Gorman reprising the role of Dr Owen Harper. It can hardly have passed notice that the main reason for it taking so long for Big Finish to complete the set of the original cast is that Gorman has been seen in many other television series including Game of Thrones and The Man in the High Castle to name but two. It is perhaps a shame that this story only sees him teamed up with Big Finish regular Tom Price as PC Andy Davidson as it would have nice to hear him reunited with Tosh or Gwen. Admittedly Price probably has more availability when he’s not reporting for Inside Out West Midlands. However, this story makes a virtue of the fact that its main characters never interacted during the TV series from Owen’s initial greeting of Andy as “PC Not Gwen” to allowing them to develop a rapport over the course of this story. Both have drawn the short straw of being selected for “Corpse Day”, an annual event where Torchwood and the Cardiff police team up to solve cold cases which usually ends in failure and the mystery being inexplicably blamed on the rift. This year however is different as Andy has provided a genuine mystery for Owen to do “the whole Torchwood” on involving missing girls and culminating in some very disturbing revelations.

The irony of this story’s title is further amplified by the fact that these events are set in the aftermath of Owen’s “death” in the TV episodeReset as he is given the opportunity to meditate on life and death. Much credit should also go to composer Blair Mowat for using an excellent arrangement of incidental themes from the TV series which very much convey the feel of episodes from 2008. Gorman has stepped effortlessly back into the role as if he only left the series last year as opposed to nine years ago and hopefully his busy schedule will allow him to return again soon.

Corpse Day is available now from Big Finish and on general release from July 31st 2017






Torchwood: The Dollhouse (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 22 May 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Dollhouse (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast: Laila Pyne (Marlow Sweet), Kelly-Anne Lyons (Charley Du Bujeau), Ajjaz Awad (Gabi Martinez), Stuart Milligan (Don Donohue), Eve Webster (Valerie Fox), David Menkin (Brad), 
Guy Adams (Mr Beamish)

Big Finish Productions - Released April 2017

“Once upon a time there were three very different little girls who came to the attention of the British Empire…

A secluded mansion in LA is the last outpost of the British Empire and the first line of defence against extra-terrestrial threat on the West Coast of the United States, Torchwood!”

 

Big Finish continue to expand the horizons of the Torchwood universe with their second release in this new run of adventures which for the first time features a cast of entirely new characters with no direct connection to the television series. Set in Los Angeles of the late 1970s, this story is an obvious homage to Charlie’s Angels, with the scene set by the deliberately cheesy opening narrated by Mr Beamish, played with a delightful British charm by Guy Adams.

 Laila Pyne, Kelly-Anne Lyons, and Ajjaz Awad are Marlow, Charley and Gabi, the three plucky agents recruited by the mysterious Mr Beamish, a Torchwood representative who takes the “Charlie” role as a disembodied voice issuing instructions presumably from the UK. This small cast story finds our heroines on the trail of some missing girls whose disappearances seem to be linked to alien activity. There is some fun to be had at the TV series’ expense with a knowing reference to “sex aliens” and fans of other genre shows will also be amused by a reference to El Chupacabra. Before long the investigation brings the girls into contact with slimy agent Don Donohue, played with the just the right amount of creepiness by Stuart Milligan. The small cast are also ably supported by Eve Webster as Valerie, who gets to be more than just the standard victim character andDavid Menkin as Brad.

Whilst there are plenty of standard tropes reminiscent of 1970s adventure series, Juno Dawson’s script also manages to pack in a few nice suprises and proves to be a worthy addition to the list of strong writers who have contributed to the Torchwood audios and it is pleasing to learn that she will be contributing an episode to the upcoming Aliens Among Us series set in the aftermath of Miracle Day.

Overall, this is well directed by Lisa Bowerman with some great 1970s style music from Blair Mowat which is blended well with familiar themes from previous releases. Given that this story ends with something of a watershed moment for its protagonists, it will be interesting to see if there are any plans for them to return or whether this will tie into the long-term storylines of the audio series. On the strength of this release, Torchwood Los Angeles has a lot of untapped potential.

 

The Dollhouse is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 30th June 2017






Torchwood: Visiting Hours (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Written by David Llewellyn
Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: 
Kai Owen (Rhys), Nerys Hughes (Brenda Williams), Karl Theobald (Mr Tate), Ryan Sampson (Mr Nichols), Ruth Lloyd (Nurse Brown), Stephen Critchlow (Dr Fletcher)

Big Finish Productions - Released March 2017
 

Eighteen months since the first Torchwood audio was released by Big Finish, which started a continuous run of twelve monthly releases followed by three special releases which has seen this fledgling range go from strength to strength, the monthly series returns with the first of six new releases which promise to continue their successful expansion of the Torchwood universe.

Visiting Hours finds Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) visiting his mother Brenda in hospital where she is recovering from a routine hip operation. Brenda is once again played by the wonderful Nerys Hughes who previously appeared in the television episode Something Borrowed. There is a great chemistry between mother and son and when strange things start to occur, it is Rhys who is forced to take the lead without being able to ask for help from his wife Gwen. Both characters are a joy to listen to, especially when they find themselves in danger and Brenda starts swearing like a trooper!

The two main characters are ably supported by the small supporting cast including Stephen Critchlow as the mysterious Dr Fletcher, and Karl Theobald and Ryan Sampson as henchmen Tate and Nichols. The story reaches a sinister conclusion with the appearance of the robotic cleaners who reminded this reviewer of being scared by Paradise Towers. The almost too neat ending suggests that we may not have heard the last of Fletcher and his cronies.

Overall, this is an enjoyable start to the new series of adventures from veteran Torchwood writer David Llewellyn. On this form, the series looks set to continue as one of the most consistently strong ranges produced by Big Finish. Next month the series heads stateside as we meet an all new cast of characters in The Dollhouse.

 

Visiting Hours is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 31st May 2017.





Torchwood: Made You Look (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 August 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood: Made You Look (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Cast: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Matthew Gravelle (Darkness), Marilyn Le Conte (Mrs Rhodes),
Ross Ford (James)
Produced By: James Goss
Script Edited By: Steve Tribe

Released By Big Finish Productions – August 2016

Back on October 22nd, 2006, when Torchwood made its momentous televised debut via BBC Two’s airwaves, the show carried one hell of a tagline: “the twenty-first century is when everything changes”; indeed, some members of the fan-base would undoubtedly argue that “everything changed” for them on that precise date with the series’ arrival. For a second, though, it seemed as if February 13th, 2016 would prove just as pivotal a moment, if not infinitely more-so, as Eve Myles posted the following words on Twitter not long after recording her second Torchwood audio, MoreThanThis, for Big Finish:

“Thank you. Massive goodbye GC.”

Considering that the studio’s official licensed continuation of the ever-acclaimed Doctor Who spin-off programme had barely gotten underway, having produced just five one-hour dramas as of this February and with plenty of time still to go until its ownership of the licence terminated in 2025, the revelation that easily one of the show’s most dedicated stalwarts, the woman responsible for bringing the immortal Gwen Cooper to life on screen, seemingly wouldn’t be returning for more recordings predictably sent shockwaves through the fan-base at the time.

Thankfully everything didn’t change in this instance, since the cunning minds at Big Finish evidently convinced Ms. Myles to rethink her future with the range, prompting her to sign on for not only this month’s Season Two finale, Made You Look, but additionally a fully-fledged ensemble box-set, Torchwood: Outbreak, due to unite her with John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd for a pre-Children of Earth mission this November. Unfortunately, however, the former of these two new entries doesn’t exactly justify her decision to reprise the role for more outings, instead offering up a predictable one-off horror storyline which suffers from an overwhelming lack of both compelling secondary performances and, worse still, any real sense of the fear factor writer Guy Adams clearly wanted to evoke.

In fairness, the first few minutes of this flawed standalone chapter do a fine job of convincing regular listeners that all’s well here, with Adams crafting an atmospheric, horror-esque opening as Gwen arrives at the near-deserted seaside town of Talmouth to investigate the mass disappearances of its residents, only to find herself subsequently stalked by a seemingly omnipresent extra-terrestrial creature which can turn our most basic sense of sight against her, slaying her where she stands if she takes but three looks at its visage. It’s a quintessential Torchwood premise to be sure, one which wouldn’t have felt at all out of place had it formed the set-up for an episode of the original TV show either on BBC One or BBC Two.

Yet had Made You Look been transmitted on the small screen, its critics would almost certainly have called it out for coming up severely lacking from a structural perspective, with the whole narrative simply centring on Gwen’s encounters with town’s two survivors and above all the so-called ‘Darkness’ tracking her every step. In theory, there would be nothing wrong with such a basic approach if Adams made this race for Gwen’s life a thrilling, oft-terrifying rollercoaster ride packed with cinematic chills to send shivers up the spine, but herein lies the real problem, since barring a somewhat Hitchcockian seagull attack and one or two haunting hallucinatory sequences, virtually none of the chase set-pieces contained within the hour manage to ramp up the fear factor in the slightest, instead deploying clichéd tropes of the genre such as ghostly mists, mysteriously re-animated fairground rides and the like as if we’ve never seen them before on screen or heard them re-enacted in audio form. If anything, rather than having trouble getting to sleep after hearing the final track, listeners will be in danger of dropping off before the third act even kicks off as a result of the astounding lack of narrative innovation here, with the only truly effective moment coming in the form of a pleasingly ambiguous epilogue that for once leaves our heroine’s fate– and that of the oft-forgotten Committee, absence for the third time running here – wholly up in the air.

This almost complete absence of the injection of any real tension on Adams’ part isn’t helped at all by the similarly lacklustre performances given this time around by Myles’ esteemed co-stars. Ross Ford charms somewhat as the paranoid but innocently endearing homeless youngster James, yet not so much that he can make anywhere near a noteworthy impact in his minimal airtime, while Marilyn Le Conte renders her blind hotel manager Mrs Rhodes as every bit as comedic and quirky as the script aims for her to be, only to fail to tug at the heartstrings in her fleeting moments of peril and thus limit our sympathy towards her character. Most notable of all, though, is Matthew Gravelle’s brave but ultimately flat turn as the Darkness – the Broadchurch thespian attempts to channel the understated, sinister malice of recent TV villains like Toby Jones’ Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice or Lars Mikkelsen’s Charles Augustus Mangnussen in Sherlock Season Three, yet ends up robbing the piece’s antagonist of any genuine sense of threat in the process. Whilst there’s certainly something to be said for trying to avoid a farcical, pantomime-style turn as Gwen’s latest foil - especially when the manner in which the Darkness approaches pursuing its prey feeds into a topical message on Adams’ part regarding how the world’s bullies manipulate their victims despite having no real power of their own - given how wanting Made You Look’s supposedly unsettling narrative is for fully-fledged scares, that Gravelle opts to restrain himself in terms of showcasing the potentially terrifying extents of the sinister omnipresence of his character’s voice across Talmouth represents a sizable missed opportunity more than anything else.

As with virtually all of Big Finish’s output, however, Made You Look isn’t completely devoid of genuine merits by any means. Fans of Eve Myles who cried out in sorrow at her aforementioned short-lived departure from the range can at least use her third solo Torchwood audio as evidence of the actress’ talents – not least as she outclasses everyone else in the play by reprising the character’s confident swagger, effortless leadership capabilities and underlying personal vulnerability within moments of her first appearance – and anyone with an ear for accomplished sound design or any devotees of the overall horror genre should well appreciate Scott Handcock’s effective use of seaside sound effects like fairground melodies and arcade game blips to enable the audience to better visualise Adams’ – admittedly uninspired – setting for themselves.

There’s no denying that the range’s lead performances and technical elements have remained top notch throughout its first two runs, in fact, but twelve releases in, there’s no denying how much of a shame it is to see certain members of the revived Torchwood franchise’s writing team struggling to produce narratives which are anywhere near as philosophically rich, atmospheric or generally engaging as the likes of TheConspiracy, UncannyValley, Zone10 or particularly last month’s phenomenal Jack-Ianto team-up Broken. That those four tales were such instant, undisputable hits with fans that put their protagonists to such great use does Made You Look no favours whatsoever, since rather than following suit, Adams has simply endowed Myles and company with a generically clichéd, philosophically shallow and completely arc-light script that, like February’s More Than This before it, rounds off a season’s worth of fine drama in disappointingly low-key fashion. Season Two’s much-anticipated denouement could otherwise have been the moment that everything changed for the range, with Eve Myles’ return representing a triumphant statement of the franchise’s longevity, yet in reality, Outbreak and the show’s well-earned – albeit still to be announced – third season of Big Finish audios will have to aim far higher in order to guarantee that the brand keeps thriving rather than putting the studio’s acquisition of the show’s licence at risk.





Torchwood #1 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 August 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood #1 - Cover A: Tommy Lee Edwards (Credit: Titan)
Script: John Barrowman & Carole Barrowman
Art: Antonio Fusio & Pasquale Qualano
Colours: Marco Kusko
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Amoona Saohin
Designers: Andrew Leung & Rob Farmer
Released by Titan Comics - August 3rd, 2016 

Few could ever accuse Titan Comics of lacking in ambition when it comes to their range of licensed comics set in the Doctor Who universe, especially since until now, that range had comprised of no less than four regular comic strips – featuring the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors on a monthly basis – as well as three mini-series bringing classic Doctors such as Tom Baker and Paul McGann’s into the fray. Yet on the basis of its astoundingly dense, plot thread-laden opening issue, the publishing house’s launch of a strip continuing the escapades of Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and the rest of the Torchwood gang already looks set to represent perhaps their boldest venture yet, one which will surely pay immense dividends in the near future so long as everyone involved keeps their eye on the ball.

Thankfully, the odds of this latest regular series’ writing team losing their way are utterly astronomical, not least as Titan have oh-so-wisely drafted in both Captain Jack Harkness himself, John Barrowman, as well as his sister Carole to take the permanent helm of what they’re bravely branding as the spiritual Season Five of the original TV show. As anyone who read the pair’s 2012 post-Miracle Day novel Exodus Code will know – and speaking of which, those who haven’t could do worse than to pick up a copy, since Issue 1 takes place after the events of that particular storyline and incorporates a few secondary characters from the text too – the siblings Barrowman have a fine handle on what made Torchwood tick on-screen. Whether it’s the endearing dynamics formed between the central team members, the world-threatening but morally ambiguous conflicts thrown at them every week or the underlying efforts by the likes of Chris Chibnall to develop plot arcs beneath the show’s usual procedural narratives, the pair show a promising dedication to keeping such elements alive here, thereby validating the strip’s status as a fully-fledged continuation from the outset.

At the same time, though, as they depict Jack, Gwen and Exodus Code’s Ice Maiden frigate crew beginning to realize that the Earth’s once again about to come under threat from antagonists both extra-terrestrial and worryingly closer to home, the helms can sometimes let their imaginations run almost too wild, to the extent that they end up juggling so many plot elements – including an elderly man spending the final days of his life in a familiarly-named Scottish house, the Iron Maiden’s membership tackling adversarial tentacle-clad creatures in the Otega system and Gwen’s beachside picnic with Rhys getting interrupted by one of the most bizarre invasion fleets in Torchwood’s history – that few readers could be blamed for losing track of what’s occurring from time to time. It’s by no means a crippling issue, particularly as Exodus Code more than confirmed the pair’s capability with regards to allowing seemingly disparate threads of their storyline to coalesce by the time of their narrative’s denouement, yet John and Carole could do worse than to follow a few less plot strands at one time as they begin drafting future issues and story arcs.

That issue of overcrowding extends somewhat to their characterisation as well, with the well-staffed crew of the Iron Maiden – as well as the aforementioned residents of Torchwood House – beefing up the show’s classic ensemble in the absence of the late Owen, Toshiko or Ianto, but at the same time consequently giving off the impression that they’re competing with the series’ returning favourites for ‘screen time’, a crease the writing team must iron out if they’re to develop these Exodus Code returnees in particular as the series progresses. With all of that being said, no-one could possibly accuse John or Carole as struggling to resurrect beloved protagonists like Jack, Gwen and Rhys in printed form – again, as demonstrated in their earlier novelised work, they know better than anyone how vital the rapport of this long-suffering trio of underrated heroes was to the TV drama’s original success, even during the divisive 10-week spanning Miracle Day, as well as how each of them functions, with Jack displaying all of the swashbuckling swagger that John did on-screen, Gwen still capable of standing up to the very fiercest opportunities in an identical vein to the manner in which Eve Myles portrayed her and Kai Owen’s Rhys still as lovably hapless – yet unquestionably loyal – as ever. Indeed, a long running theme of this reviewer’s critiques of Titan’s Doctor Who-centric output has been the strength of the individual writing team’s depiction of each series’ central protagonists, and suffice to say that this USP hasn’t been diminished by the Barrowmans in the slightest in this instance.

Yet if John and Carole take an admirably dedicated approach to portraying the former’s team of undercover agents as authentically as possible here, then the series’ resident artists – Antonio Fusio and Pasquale Qualano as well as resident colourist Marco Lusko – opt for a far more stylised range of accompanying images, preferring to revel in the sheer fantastical lunacy of their scribes’ globe-trotting, alien-encountering set-pieces while rendering many of the locales visited here in bright, bombastic hues that offer up a clear sense of the strip channelling much of the uplifting hope – even in the face of darkest odds – and awe-inspiring wonder at the unknown that made the TV show itself such a joy to watch in the latter stages of the noughties, in spite of all of its minor quirks. Anyone who’s familiar with the similarly eclectic artwork found in Titan’s regular Tenth Doctor comics should have a fair idea of what’s coming their way here, and whilst that far from photorealistic style of drawing won’t necessarily be to everyone’s taste, for the most part it works wonders in terms of bolstering this narratively accomplished freshman instalment.

In fact, aside from the rather off-key note on which Issue 1 leaves its narrative – expect a bonkers cliffhanger to be sure, but not one which succeeds in leaving the audience desperate to learn what happens next in three weeks’ time – only one real point of contention comes to mind here, and in fairness, the sticking point in question has mainly come about due to the marketing campaign more than anything else. When they first announced their Torchwood series, Titan claimed that John and Carole’s storylines would reside in the same continuity as Big Finish’s currently booming wave of audios exploring the titular organization’s past, present and future. Yet considering that the aforementioned series of radio dramas has already revealed the events succeeding Miracle Day to involve the remaining Torchwood members’ hunt for the sinister Committee, the decision here to make no mention whatsoever of either these ambiguous antagonists or to establish when the events of Exodus Code – so far unreferenced by Big Finish – took place in relation to audio dramas like Forgotten Lives or Made You Look – can’t help but seem downright baffling. Most readers won’t give a damn about such trivial matters, of course, but anyone like this reviewer who’s followed both of Torchwood’s recent audio seasons and looked forward to seeing the Committee arc continued – or at least get a mention – while we wait for news on Big Finish’s Season Three might well leave Issue 1 slightly underwhelmed.

That’s but a minor, somewhat nit-picky gripe, though, and one which doesn’t detract from the otherwise well-rounded success of Torchwood Issue 1 in bringing back a hit TV spin-off show’s storylines, its charismatic ensemble of lead characters, its quirky humour and its inspired aesthetic elements in full force. Purist fans who’ve followed every non-televised plotline featuring Cardiff’s most intrepid band of detectives might have wanted John and Carole to at least pay their respects rather than outright ignoring what’s come before in printed and audio form, yet it’s near impossible to pay such insignificant grievances much real heed when the fruits of the pair and their art team’s labours taste so gosh darned delicious so far. John may well be in the process of negotiating the show’s on-screen resurrection with the BBC, but even if those discussions don’t pan out favourably, judging by Big Finish’s stellar recent output and this memorable first issue from Titan, the brand will only continue to thrive regardless for the remainder of its triumphant tenth anniversary year.