Written By: James Goss, Guy Adams, 17011, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Alexandra Riley (Ng), Samantha Béart (Orr), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Tom Price (Sergeant Andy Davidson), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda)
Released by Big Finish Productions - October 2018
Order from Amazon UK
When Big Finish chose “Changes Everything” as the title for the first instalment of Torchwood: Aliens Among Us, that might as well have served as the mission statement for their entire range’s future; after all, the three boxsets comprising the show’s audio-bound fifth season threw an all-manner of game-changing plot curveballs in fans’ directions, from the resurrections of Torchwood Cardiff and one Yvonne Hartman to the ill-timed departure of Gwen Cooper just as hell descended upon her city.
Yet what with full-team release Believe, various boxsets chronicling Torchwood One’s pre-Battle of Canary Wharf endeavours and numerous one-hour solo outings, the studio gleefully delivered so much content in the interim between Aliens and Season Six that the latter’s work seemed cut out for it in terms of recapping past events while pushing the franchise forward. Does this considerable workload prove a cumbersome burden for the ominously-dubbed God Among Us, then, or can its opening salvo overcome such trials to deliver dramatic excellence worthy of Zeus himself?
Alien mayors imprisoned beneath Cardiff Bay, makeshift deities interrupting local funerals and explosive shoot-outs set to the unlikely backdrop of a car park – so far, so Torchwood. As with many US TV season premieres, James Goss finds himself tasked with recapping and developing a host of ongoing plot elements from Season Five in God’s freshman instalment, between Mr. Colchester’s seemingly fatal wounds, Gwen impostor Ng sticking around after her source material’s departure and – lest we forget – the hardly trivial matter of God him- or herself running rampant across the city.
By now, though, we should already know better than to doubt the range producer’s remarkable ability to balance such plot/character arcs with satisfying standalone storylines; indeed, “Future Pain” delivers quite the emotional gut-punch at times for spoilerific reasons, delving into the fallout of “Herald of the Dawn” for certain characters whose losses extend far beyond the physical damage wrought on Cardiff by Orr’s destructive transformation. Seeing the human impact that the terrors faced by Earth’s least covert secret agents have always formed much of the core of Torchwood’s appeal compared to oft-soulless big-budget sci-fi blockbusters, an admirable trait which continues here thanks to Goss’ writing and the understated, grief-ridden performances from John Barrowman, Ramon Tikram as Colin Colchester-Price and particularly Paul Clayton throughout.
Oh, and in case you’d expected Goss to largely maintain the status quo of Aliens Among Us given its myriad hanging plot threads this time around, rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth…
“The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood”:
Another noteworthy aspect of Torchwood’s infrastructure (both on TV and now in audio form) which often sets it apart from the genre crowd lies in its willingness to investigate heavy socio-political topics such as humanity’s increasingly disturbing instincts for self-preservation, Government accountability (or lack thereof) and, in the case of the Main Range’s recent Toshiko-led outing Instant Karma, even the rise of far-right activism. That Guy Adams similarly refuses to pull its punches on its chosen topical subject matter should thus come as no surprise, although the extent to which “The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood” interrogates the dangers of social media conspiracy theories might well split audiences more than they’d usually expect from a Big Finish production.
Who better to head up Adams’ politically turbulent script, then, than perhaps Aliens’ most controversial character, Torchwood candidate turned journalist turned alien conspirator Tyler Steele? Practically any actor would salivate at the prospect of deconstructing the YouTube v-log phenomenon, so it’s little wonder that Jonny Green completely embraces Tyler’s ruthless quest to investigate Brett Hayden’s video-streamed anti-Torchwood campaign, not to mention the disconcerting worldviews which he spouts to huge audiences every day. The search for answers predictably yields disturbing results at times which force listeners on all sides to consider how their seemingly trivial actions online can send unintentional ripples across society. Indeed, Green cunningly highlights this through Steele’s disgust at Hayden’s activities and also his paradoxical fervour at manipulating Hayden in much the same way as the blogger guides his audiences, with
Despite delving so far into the limitless rabbit hole of moral ambiguity that we commonly know as the World Wide Web, Adams inevitably has to draw the line somewhere – few Torchwood fans would likely share this reviewer’s rabid enthusiasm to see an entire season dedicated to Jack, Tyler et al finding their places in a digital age where covert military missions or terrorist attacks are regularly “leaked” for the sake of Likes and Follows. It’s for that reason “The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood” understandably stops short of truly contemplating Tyler’s culpability in the harrowing events that unfold or whether simply defaming ‘alternative’ political activists solves the problem, and for this reason that the play struggles to attain masterpiece status. Nevertheless, whereas certain thematically-shallow Torchwood romps can come and go with minimal impact, this one – along with another unsettling Tyler outing which we’ll discuss in our Part 2 review soon – will undoubtedly stay with listeners long after its final track wraps up.
“See No Evil” and “Night Watch”
In a break from our usual story-by-story review format for these Torchwood boxsets, God Among Us Part 1’s third and fourth episodes actually warrant a joint critique – namely since the two instalments bear such an uncanny resemblance to one another in terms of concepts, themes and character beats. In the case of “See No Evil”, John Dorney enshrouds Cardiff’s citizens in a chaos-inducing state of near-universal blindness, prompting the only (broadly) unaffected members of the team to hunt down the source of and cure for this rather inconvenient affliction. Meanwhile in the case of “Night Watch”, Tim Foley enshrouds almost all of Cardiff’s citizens in a state of near-universal slumber, prompting the only unaffected members of the team to hunt down…wait a minute. Was it just us or did that last sentence evoke some serious déjà vu?
Doctor Who fans who’ve followed the modern revival’s production may recall that Steven Moffat once juggled the ordering of Series Six (2011) to avoid its Spring-aired first half featuring too many horror-esque chamber pieces, hence Mark Gatiss’ “Night Terrors” airing as Episode 9 rather than in its original intended Episode 6 slot. Well, as much as Torchwood has barely put a foot wrong since coming under Big Finish’s confident stewardship, a similar level of structural consideration might’ve benefitted God Among Us’ opening boxset. Upon reaching the halfway point of “Night Watch” with its semi-philosophical exploration of humanity’s physical limits and how crises can lay our brutal nature bare for all to see, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether Foley was aware that his predecessor’s script covered much the same territory, or alternatively why the pair didn’t devise a more direct two-parter where either the citywide black-out or slumber party remained the solitary threat.
At least the boxset’s second half does its job of raising substantial intrigue for future instalments: both “Evil” and “Watch” continually subvert our expectations of twists delivered in the Aliens Among Us saga, call Jack in particular to task for some questionable – if spontaneous – romantic decisions made in recent weeks with hilarious reactions from Barrowman, and most importantly offer a fascinating insight into the warped benevolence of Season Six’s titular God ready for her schemes to play out in Part 2 and beyond. Sure, their uncanny tonal resemblance tragically robs much of the set’s momentum, but combine their potent revelations with the brilliant “Future Pain” and provocative “Man Who Destroyed Torchwood” and you’ve got a promising start to God Among Us which will certainly entice fans back for more.
Next Time on Torchwood – Familiar faces predict (or perhaps engineer) the end of the world, Tyler takes to the streets with heart-wrenching consequences and we see Yvonne Hartman like never before in God Among Us Part 2. What’s more, the Main Range kicks off its bombastic run of Doctor Who villain crossovers in style, namely by transporting aspiring thespian Gwen Cooper to a now-decrepit scientific institution called Fetch Priory – what could possibly go wrong…?