Talked about Big Finish’s Torchwood series in a previous post. Review, let’s go!
Flight 405 by Lou Morgan
Yvonne and Andy are recruited by Norton Folgate to solve a problem sixty years in the making. If Flight 405 isn’t brought down safely, it could be humanity’s final destination. Having made half a dozen Torchwood appearances already, Norton’s surprise appearance was a nice twist and the first time the character is given enough breathing room to develop. The character has always been duplicitous, something that Samuel Barnett plays with impish charm, so adding someone to the Torchwood team whose intentions are obscure proves inticing. Yvonne’s methods are motivated by noble goals; not necessarily true of Norton.
The plot is competent but the stakes feel a bit low since we learn very little about the alien artefact that’s causing the problem and what it might do. We’re just told it’d be world-ending but not how or why. There’s no ticking clock and none of the characters seem to find much urgency in the situation. Not even Andy, who’s the perfect character to send into a panic. But it does set up more plot threads to explore later, including a big callback to the monthly range, which make it an essential listen.
‘Flight 405’ clocks in at 44 minutes, shorter than the usual hour mark. As well as the usual post-episode interviews, the remaining time is filled with a mock-podcast written by James Goss. Jeff and Niamh, hosts of ‘Cardiff Unknown’, go on a whistle-stop tour of strange happenings in Cardiff. Some of which we’ve seen in Torchwood past and some possible hints for the future. With cameos from familiar voices, this neatly solves a problem I had with series five by recalling the major plot points of the previous volume without disrupting the story at hand. Handily, it’s available to download for free from the Big Finish website.
Hostile Environment by Ash Darby
Torchwood’s sometimes-ally and former PR manager to an alien invasion, Tyler Steele, has fallen on hard times. Ash Darby’s debut story throws us right into things with Tyler begging on the streets of Cardiff with Kirsty. When a well-meaning passerby tags them on a homeless app, the pair soon find themselves being hunted by drones of drugs and death.
This is the first Torchwood story I’ve heard that opens with a warning of the adult content the range tackles. While this is featured prominently on the website, it’s not hard to see why they felt it was important to lead with it this time around. More than just the usual sex and swearing, ‘Hostile Environment’ goes to some really dark places. Tyler was always written as an unlikable tosser but Darby’s script doesn’t allow for even a moment of schadenfreude. The character is brought low and not even Torchwood is interested. Almost an hour of relentless misery for Tyler becomes almost too much to bear before the resolution really starts to gain momentum. And I mean momentum because it’s over almost as quickly as it begins. While it’d be tempting to say the story could have spent less time on Tyler’s torment and more on the villain’s motivation, I’m inclined to think that Darby had a larger point to make. Spending time on Tyler overcoming the drones might have lessened the hopelessness of his situation and failed to accurately reflect the real-world plight of the homeless.
After all that, the story ends on bitingly cynical note that perfectly suits Tyler as a character. Between this and ‘The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood’ in the previous release, it’s clear that the creative team are having some of the most fun with Tyler-focused stories. Jonny Green gets to absolutely shine in this episode and, while Tyler’s role in Torchwood is yet to be cemented, the character is absurdly captivating on his own so long may that continue.
Another Man’s Shoes by Tim Foley
The Torchwood team awake one morning to find everything really has changed. Andy and Yvonne have swapped bodies on crucial days for them both. Norton takes on Tyler and half of Cardiff’s male population. While Jack must keep Colin clueless while Mr Colchester orchestrates their day from afar.
Bit strange to think that it’s taken Torchwood this long to do a body-swap episode. Even the parent show pulled that trick pretty early. And just as David Tennant and Billie Piper had fun camping it up as Zoë Wanamaker, the whole Torchwood cast has a ball in this story. However, just as ‘New Earth’ used the idea to give Cassandra a new perspective, this is far more than just a romp (literally in Norton/Tyler’s case). In fact, this is the episode that advances the character and story arcs the most so far in this series. Yvonne and Andy’s relationship becomes more defined but also more complicated. Norton gets some much-needed development though it’s perhaps a shame that Samuel Barnett doesn’t get to perform these excellent scenes himself. While the Colchester plot explores how St John is coping with his recent resurrection, it highlights how little the series is doing to advance Captain Jack. Though at least the main character’s role in the team is clarified nicely by Yvonne in this episode.
It even addresses Ng’s place in the Torchwood team, something that I’ve been wanting them to confront all series. Which, in itself, dives deeper into the recurring role that Jacqueline King plays. A seemingly hackneyed idea which is used to great effect in building up to the finale of this release.
Eye of the Storm by David Llewellyn
The final episode of volume two starts with a rarity for audio Torchwood – a mission! An honest to God (heh) mission to deal with something alien. An abandoned Sorvix power station threatens to destroy the city and the team mount a plan to neutralise it. But things go awry as the Committee’s machinations in the Torchwood team come into sharp relief. As this volume has featured a fair amount of shuffling in the team, it’s nice to finally see everyone working together. John Barrowman, in particular, gets some great moments with the rest of the cast. Meanwhile Paul Clayton and Alexandria Riley pull at the heartstrings during some very tense moments.
Needless to say, leading into the final volume of this series means the plot threads in the last few episodes start to culminate. Betrayals, twists and triple-bluffs are revealed, some of the interpersonal dynamics of the team are resolved while others are blown apart. But the most noticeable thing about the episode is that the action is non-stop. Writer David Llewellyn uses Jacqueline King and David Warner very effectively to break up long scenes. It really makes the action easier to digest when it briefly cuts away to the pair observing events like Gods playing cosmic bingo. This could easily come off as jarring or kill the pace but the performances blend seamlessly.
In fact, credit must be given to Scott Handcock for his direction in this episode in particular. From the behind-the-scenes interviews, it becomes clear that most of the cast recorded their lines separately. For a breakneck script with loads of things going on at once, it takes a very skilled director to keep everything feeling consistent. Even more so when you’re directing individual actors days or weeks apart in the same scenes. Handcock acquits himself wonderfully. With a sprawling, international cast, Scott has risen to what must have been a daunting directorial task.
It was probably inevitable that, on the same day I posted my series five retrospective, Torchwood answers most of the nitpicks I had. That’s what I get for being impatient, I suppose. All the plot threads I thought Big Finish had forgotten get resolved to some extent or another. Volume Two integrates them very well into the plot with an excellent variety of stories. There’s never a point when the plot halts unnaturally to address something which happened ten episodes ago. The only slight disappointment I had was how ‘Flight 405’ felt like it was cut short, especially given the things it sets up play a key role in Norton’s story arc. I also felt the absence of Orr but, having now learnt my lesson, I’m sure this will be worth the wait when they reappear later on. Odd that nobody but Ng seems to have noticed though.
Five volumes in, the cast and crew have become comfortable in their roles and work together wonderfully. Stories like ‘Another Man’s Shoes’ and ‘Eye of the Storm’ could only have come together as well as they do with the actors and director in sync. At the same time, Big Finish uses this range to give new writing talent a chance to shine. ‘Hostile Environment’ by Ash Darby is the best example of that in this release, with a story that pulls no punches and is mostly unconcerned with the series lore. To that end, I think getting the input of a wider range of creatives at this point would be a good way to prevent stagnation setting in. Maybe asking new writers in this and the monthly range to contribute ideas for long-running story arcs.
I really love how the Torchwood range has evolved to its present state after a tumultuous life on TV and audio. But it has to be ready to change. For now, at least, Torchwood is alive and well in the safe hands of Big Finish.