Murray Melvin returns as the sinister Bilis Manger in ‘Deadbeat Escape’.
When Bilis Manger made a shock reappearance in the ongoing Torchwood series ‘Aliens Among Us‘, we knew Big Finish wouldn’t let a villain with that much potential go to waste. Sure enough, the Torchwood monthly range concludes its fourth series with Murray Melvin and a hotel that runs like clockwork in ‘Deadbeat Escape’.
Melvin and Manger
Whilst Bilis remained something of an enigma on television, Big Finish seems to be taking him in the direction of an trickster. Using elaborate schemes to achieve his ends and hiding it under the persona of an soft-spoken old gentleman. It goes without saying that Murray Melvin is exquisite at playing both sides of the role. Even knowing that Bilis is the villain can’t help you from getting taken in by the affable front and gentle voice, right up until the facade falls away and Melvin gives Manger’s dialogue some real bite.
But we shouldn’t be surprised that such a terrifying performance came from a script by James Goss. A man who I still credit with the most viscerally disturbing listen in Big Finish history when he penned ‘Corpse Day‘ last year. In this story, however, Goss steers clear of the gore and opts for a more character-driven horror. Hywel – the poor sap who stumbles into Manger’s monstrous motel – is tormented by his relationship with his father and finds himself in a place seemingly designed to remind him of it. The script is cleverly designed to wear down on him in precise, regular bursts. Gareth Pierce, with the direction of Scott Handcock, gives a performance that rises and falls almost rhythmically as Hywel tries to fight against what’s happening to him.
Even for a Torchwood monthly range release, the cast is very small. Murray Melvin is more or less running a two-hander with Gareth Pierce. This works really well in scenes together as the bewildered and angry Hywel’s outbursts slide off the unflappable Bilis. But for large sections of the story early on, Hywel is on his own and talking to himself. Even though the cast fill out background roles, the numerous residents of the hotel – which is a major plot detail – doesn’t quite come across.
‘Deadbeat Escape’ is a beautifully performed script with a small but very strong cast. While some elements of the story aren’t realised quite to their full potential, there’s no doubt that this is a unnerving way to close the series. Not to mention a possible lead-in for future stories in this otherworldly setting…
“Welcome to the Traveller’s Halt. You’re in luck – we have one room left. My name is Bilis Manger. Let me show you to your room.”
Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners
Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Murray Melvin (Billis Manger), Gareth Pierce (Hywel Roberts), Cara Chase (Grace). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer James Goss
Script Editor David Llewellyn
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs