Written by Guy Adams
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Richard Nichols (Roger Pugh), Guy Adams (Coachman), Tom Price (Sergeant Andy)
Released by Big Finish Productions - February 2016
Remember how in 2007, after a spectacular run of episodes featuring delightful trips to Renaissance England, adrenaline-fuelled races against the clock on doomed space freighters and terrifying encounters with the Lonely Assassins of old, Doctor Who’s third season since its 2005 revival unfortunately concluded on something of a sour note with the downright tedious “Last of the Time Lords”, sacrificing much of the brutal realism which made Martha’s one and only string of TARDIS journeys such a hit with fans in favour of having Tennant’s Doctor spend almost an hour looking like The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum before transforming into a cringe-worthy embodiment of Christ the Redeemer himself? If so, then chances are that sitting through the sixth and final chapter of Big Finish’s freshman Torchwood run will induce quite a tangible sense of déjà vu in your mind from the outset.
Going by the name More Than This – for various reasons, the most enticing of which being its investigation of the ways in which humanity copes with grief and finding subsequent hope – Guy Adams’ first contribution to the show’s lore since his well-received 2009 novel The House That Jack Built seems more than a little oddly placed as the conclusion of a run of half of dozen stories that has centred on the machinations of the oft-enigmatic Committee as well as how their increasingly audacious schemes could come to affect the Earth’s sanctity in the days ahead.
Far from bringing this ongoing plot arc the same kind of closure which Roger Pugh (Richard Nichols) – the Cardiff councillor who’s unlucky enough to find himself caught up in Gwen Cooper’s latest excursion as she desperately struggles to convince him of the need for the Hub’s imminent reconstruction – seeks more than a decade on from his spouse’s parting, Adams makes the confounding decision to ignore these pivotal new antagonists entirely here, opting to prioritize Pugh’s danger-ridden journey towards a form of enlightenment rather than developing the brilliantly tense aura of threat which writers like James Goss, Emma Reeves and David Llewellyn have built over the course of the season (think what your reaction would have been if all of those hints of the coming darkness in Season Four had amounted to absolutely nothing, and you’ll no doubt begin to comprehend how infuriating this turn of events is for any dedicated follower of the run).
Now, in fairness, this reviewer has no intention of spending the entirety of this critique lamenting over what could have been, since what this somewhat disappointingly surprising denouement lacks in the closure that anyone who’s tuned in since day one – meaning Torchwood’s debut Big Finish outing, The Conspiracy, not the televised episode of the same name, for those confused – will likely have desired, its cast compensate for with consistently entertaining turns galore. Whether the listener is spending some one-to-one time with Nichols’ Pugh as he recounts the day’s events at his wife’s graveside whilst descending into heart-breaking outbursts of self-pity, or keeping abreast of the latest endeavours of Eve Myles’ ever-endearing Gwen Cooper as she rallies against Cardiff’s more reckless drivers with a hilarious ferocity, or even sympathizing with the constant efforts of Tom Price’s Sergeant Andy to establish more than a professional rapport with Gwen despite the increasingly fleeting nature of their regular encounters, they’re sure to have a whale of a time regardless, something which can’t always be said of Big Finish’s works in those cases where the central cast ensembles’ contributions come off as inconsistent as best.
Nevertheless, that Gwen and Andy merely showcase many of the aspects of their respective personalities which made them such fan favourites in Torchwood’s TV days only reaffirms the startling lack of ambition to be found on this occasion – in contrast to Pugh, who most certainly embarks on a compelling personal journey as he learns more of both the universe and its limits in attempting to counteract several temporal anomalies plaguing Cardiff’s population, neither Myles nor Price receives even the briefest of opportunities to develop their characters in any substantial manner here. Whilst such a shortcoming might well have been forgivable in any other instance, that the former actress recently indicated on Twitter that More Than This would likely mark Gwen’s swansong renders Adams’ bemusing insistence upon simply taking her character through the motions as that much more of a missed opportunity (and, in a similar vein to his omission of the Committee, denies Gwen of any of the closure she rightly deserves). At least Price will have his time to shine in the spotlight with Season Two’s Andy-led third chapter, Ghost Mission, but even so, that’s scarcely a valid excuse for the near-complete lack of attention paid to characterisation outside of Mr Pugh’s this time around.
As crushing as it is for this reviewer to admit, then, far from rounding off what’s otherwise been a sublime comeback for the Torchwood franchise with a satisfying storyline that ties up most of the myriad loose ends left dangling over the course of Season One, Adams’ emotionally charged but often depressingly unaspiring audio drama instead attempts to echo Uncanny Valley’s intricate, understated narrative when in reality its characters would likely have benefitted from being involved in a tale with slightly more scale and ambition than the one we got this month. Ultimately, though, that’s far from the case, and as a direct result, there’s a cruel irony about the title which the playwright selected in this case, as whenever one returns to this underwhelming final play, it’s almost impossible to feel as if they won’t be left longing for More Than This.