There are aliens among us, but Torchwood is ready…ish.
Ending its television run back in 2011 after its fourth series ‘Miracle Day’, Torchwood entered a strange limbo. Though the BBC teased us with the occasional radio play or tie-in novel, no details were forthcoming on the possibility of a fifth series.
Since then, Big Finish has acquired the license and kicked off a run of monthly Torchwood audio stories. The series has generally looked more to the past than future: exploring Torchwood’s role in history and revisiting old characters. A handful of special releases also gave us some more adventures with the Torchwood we met on television.
Aliens Among Us
But there have been hints that the story of Torchwood is not yet finished. An ongoing subplot in several stories saw Gwen and Rhys working to rebuild the now-defunct institute. Even an MIA Captain Jack got in on the act briefly, though he was there more in spirit than body. In ‘Aliens Among Us’, Torchwood finally gets the fifth series it was denied on TV and we get to see what happens next.
Changes Everything by James Goss
Ace reporter Tyler Steele (yes, really) is on the hunt of a conspiracy to target refugees. Instead he finds a Welsh woman with road rage, drones with flamethrowers and a spacetime rift with indigestion. And that’s just the first 15 minutes! It’s fair to say that the fabled fifth series puts its best foot forward. With most of the focus on Tyler, I was expecting him to slot into Gwen’s rookie role from the original show. But the story takes him a different direction. Whereas Gwen came in and helped the team rediscover their humanity, Tyler is a disgraced journalist. His past was not one of trying to help people, he’s in it for the fame and the money. Teaming him up with Jack, who we’ve seen grow from an amoral con artist to world-weary hero, was a great way to establish their contrast. Meanwhile, we meet Mr. Colchester (who we technically first met in ‘The Torchwood Archive‘) with his dry wit. Torchwood has a chequered past with civil servants, but Colchester avoids the bumptious bureaucrat cliché. In fact, he’s quickly become my favourite character!
All this is set against a very timely story about hate crimes and immigration. A homespun terrorist group is emerging and targeted refugee centres. And with Torchwood not around to monitor the rift, who knows what galactic riff-raff have entered Cardiff! It’s a great first outing for this new Torchwood dynamic, capped off with a wonderfully executed twist at the end. One that totally changes how you listen to the other stories.
Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy by James Goss
The Torchwood team attend the hen night from hell. After a mix-up with some man-meat, they end up towing a boozy alien bride-to-be across the city. It must be said that Paul Clayton and Alexandria Riley have some great chemistry and really sell their team dynamic. As a story, it’s reminiscent of Torchwood’s earlier TV outings with an added sense of comedy unique to Big Finish. Goss blends humour and horror in a really entertaining way, each one enhancing the other at just the right moments. Remarkably, it avoids ever becoming farcical, which it so easily could have. It’s a chilling romp of a story.
However, this story gets incredibly busy and a lot of stuff has to be told rather than shown. At one point, Gwen is robbing an office with an alien bride while Mr. Colchester catches up on the news. He then has to explain to Gwen (and the audience) things that have happened off-screen. This wouldn’t be a problem except they’re things that tie directly into the overall series arc. I think it may have helped to give Red Doors a figurehead character so we could see these events taking place for ourselves. Nevertheless, it’s a non-stop thriller with the unlikeliest likable antagonist.
Orr by Juno Dawson
Juno Dawson takes over writing duties for the third story of the series. We meet the eponymous Orr, a genetically-engineered sexual psycho-morph. Beings like Orr instinctively shapeshift to best suit whatever the person they’re with desires most. So you can guess what a weird time Orr has with the Captain. When Orr ends up absconding from Sorvix bigwigs, Torchwood steps in to help. But time is short and the whole of Cardiff risks being caught in the crossfire. I can’t go into too much detail on the story without giving the best bits away.
This is an excellent story to both introduce a compelling new character and expand on the series arc. Up to this point, our encounters with the Sorvix have been spoilt brats and their human enablers. Now we see first-hand just how ruthless and calculating they are. Dawson really dives into Orr’s personality and quickly establishes a firm bond with Captain Jack. Meanwhile, Gwen is having a difficult time (again, spoilers!) and we see more of how she’s changed since the TV days. In the midst of this action-packed release, a slower story to deal with the character-driven subplots was a great move.
Superiority Complex by AK Benedict
Having overseen the demolition of a large chunk of Cardiff, the Sorvix open a high-tech, alien-only hotel on the rubble. Naturally, the ousted citizens of Cardiff are none too pleased and a series of murders means that Torchwood isn’t far behind. Benedict has taken the opportunity to really let her imagination run wild with the innards of an alien hotel. It’s the perfect setting for a Torchwood story as our incognito heroes must blend in with the weirdness. The resolution gives Paul Clayton another great moment that delves into Mr. Colchester’s snarky friendship with Jack. Orr and Gwen also share some really great scenes together which strike an impressive balance between comedy and drama. Again, a balance is struck that plays a potentially farcical moment with absolute sincerity.
As with the previous stories, this script makes incisive points about economic disparity and class. But this one probably tackles it head-on, contrasting the opulent smart-hotel with the dispossessed masses divided only by a fence. It’s an interesting subversion when a lot of modern sci-fi depicts humans as the barrier to intergalactic integration. I’m intrigued to see how this theme develops in future episodes!
Series 5: Part 1
Just as Gwen and Rhys rebuilt Torchwood the Institute, Big Finish has rebuilt Torchwood the series. In only four stories, Goss, Dawson and Benedict create a rich set of characters to lead the new team. The friendships, frictions, and dynamics among them develop quickly but naturally. I was pleased to hear that Torchwood is not yet up to its full strength, with an unstable rift to look after, as it makes the whole situation feel more fragile.
The format is an interesting mix of episodic adventures but with a distinct ongoing arc that progresses with each story. In that regard, it’s reminiscent of the Russell T Davies era but with more focus than the monster-of-the-week approach. I think it’s a really nice balance for those who are fans of early Torchwood and those who prefer the later years. That said, it felt like Jack was a bit sidelined in these four stories so I hope he gets a little more focus later on.
As the opening gambit to the continuing adventures of Torchwood, it’s a very strong start! I’m just glad that we only have to wait until October and February to get the next chapters (hey, it’s better than the six years since ‘Miracle Day’!). But from just what we’ve heard so far, fans of Torchwood will agree that this is the treatment it deserves in its fifth series.
Blogtor Rating – 9/10
We do our best to keep these reviews as spoiler-free as possible. But if we want to really dig in to a topic, it helps to be specific. So scroll to the bottom of this page or click here to read our super secret spoiler talk!
This title was released in August 2017. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until October 31st 2017, and on general sale after this date.
Big Finish picks up the events after Miracle Day with Torchwood: Aliens Among Us…
Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper have restarted Torchwood. But it’s in a very different Cardiff. Something terrible’s happened to the city. With every day getting darker, will Torchwood need to adopt a whole new approach?
5.1 Changes Everything by James Goss
Tyler Steele has washed up in Cardiff looking for a fresh start. A disgraced journalist, he’s looking into the Red Doors movement – are they really behind the terrorist attacks on immigrants? Who is stirring up the racism and hatred in the city, and what does outsourcing contractor 3Sol have to do with it? Tyler finds out that Torchwood – a secret organisation that everyone thought long gone – is back in business. Tyler realises that this is the second chance he’s been looking for, and he’ll do anything to be a part of it.
5.2 Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy by James Goss
Has Cardiff really been invaded by aliens? Tyler thinks he’s found a lead – the daughter of the mysterious Ro-Jedda is getting married and has booked a private party. If Torchwood can infiltrate it, there’s a chance they’ll end up closer to the truth. Free bar, canapes, and the chance to find out what’s really going on. What could possibly go wrong? Soon Torchwood are on the run for their lives, and learning more than they ever wanted to about alien life.
5.3 Orr by Juno Dawson
Vincent Parry is the most successful property developer in Cardiff. A while ago he made an agreement with the mysterious Ro-Jedda, and it is an arrangement he has come to bitterly regret. Something has to be done – but it’s going to cost him everything he loves. With time running out for Cardiff, Torchwood encounter an alien who knows them only too well.
5.4 Superiority Complex by AK Benedict
Poverty and homelessness are on the rise in Cardiff. The streets are full of the desperate and the dispossessed. So, of course, it’s the right time to open a 7-star luxury, all-inclusive hotel. And, naturally, the hotel is for aliens only. As the humans stand outside the gates and look hungrily in, there’s one thing that makes them smile. Someone is murdering the guests.
Written By: James Goss, Juno Dawson, AK Benedict
Directed By: Scott Handcock
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)
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)
Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners
Produced by James Goss
Script edited by Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Hey! You made it! Now, as we said before, this section contains spoilers so if you’ve stumbled here by accident, then run!
While the ongoing subplot between Gwen and Alexandria Riley’s character is a dramatic one, the execution left me a little confused. The first episode sets up the reveal that Riley is playing Gwen to be a surprise. And it is. Mainly because, other than being Welsh, Riley sounds nothing like Eve Myles. This has nothing to do with Riley’s performance, she’s a fine actor and does a terrific job. But nobody could mistake the two for one another in voice.
Since Riley’s on the cover art, mimicking Gwen’s stance, I assumed that she looked and sounded different. But had somehow hypnotised those around her not to notice. Since Not-Gwen and Jack don’t come face-to-face with until the final story, I was under the impression she was avoiding him as he could see through the ruse. But later scenes make it clear that Not-Gwen is inhabiting Gwen’s body, and Jack sees nothing amiss when they meet up over cherry bakewells. So why is the voice different?
It’s an exciting subplot and I can’t wait to find out how this happened and where it’s going. Especially in light of Mary being killed by her daughter’s hand. But, having heard Eve Myles play Gwen for years, the change is a bit distracting and the story seems to have no interest in reconciling it. Though, with eight more episodes to go, there’s probably more to it.