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.






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.



Associated Products

Audio
Out 31 December
Torchwood - Aliens Among Us: Part 2



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.