The long-awaited fifth series of Torchwood reaches its conclusion in the third installment of ‘Aliens Among Us’.
The story of Torchwood Three’s troublesome resurrection has been a chance for Big Finish to refresh the series for 2017. We’ve had bloodthirsty bridezillas, a ruthless satire of gig economies and the shock reappearance of some old favourites. Moreover, we’ve seen how the people of Cardiff react when aliens arrive without Torchwood to intercede. With a stunning cliffhanger and a dozen plot threads to resolve, can Part Three stick the landing?
Poker Face by Tim Foley
Yvonne Hartman, former head of Torchwood believed dead for a decade, has made a shock return. She’s here to take charge. So she and Jack engage in a series of power plays to win the team to their side. This is a slow opener: heavy on dialogue and taking place entirely within the Hub. The repartee between John Barrowman and Tracy Ann Oberman gets the episode off to a good start. While the scenes between Yvonne and the rest of the cast are a lot more one-sided, they do a great job in showing how manipulative she is. Yvonne strikes up a different rapport with each team member to the point where even the listener is wondering why she’s not in charge. Especially given the revelations that emerge around Jack (thanks to Yvonne’s machinations) which suddenly puts the Captain on the defensive. We don’t often see that side of Jack and how it all wraps up is a bold direction to take the character.
That said, it’s worth listening back to the end of part two – The Empty Hand – to refresh your memory of what’s going on. Picking up straight from the cliffhanger, the aftermath of the Cardiff riots are still being felt. If you haven’t heard part two since October, you may find yourself a little bit lost. An unusually slow opening number but one that uses the time to fully explore the impact on Yvonne’s return on the team. A great kick off a new status quo that runs throughout this release.
The method of Yvonne’s apparent resurrection is something we’ll talk about more in the spoiler section. Suffice to say it’s a neat solution that avoids complications.
Tagged by Joseph Lidster
If you’ve been tagged in something awkward or embarrassing on social media, you’ll know that feeling of exposure. Even if you untag yourself, you don’t know who saw it in the time it was up. You don’t know who who you can trust to keep it secret. Joseph Lidster has taken that feeling and turned it into the impetus of a murder spree. The people of Cardiff are being tagged in cards that reveal their darkest secret while suspicious deaths hint at vigilante justice. The Torchwood team must track down the source before their own secrets come to light. Kezrena James plays Serena, who we follow for a large part of the story, in a stand-out performance. She perfectly captures the anxiety of someone expecting to be caught out. You wholeheartedly believe that this ordinary woman can be driven to her actions by guilt and fear. Lidster has given her strong motivations in a clever commentary on victim blaming. Serena makes for a sympathetic protagonist who’s incredibly engaging to follow through the story.
It’s a very rare script that can give every member of the Torchwood team a vital role in the main plot but Lidster pulls it off with skill. The interactions between Mr. Colchester, Yvonne and Orr, while a bit tangential, use the cards for some terrific character development. Paul Clayton plays Mr. Colchester’s conflicted opinions well and has great chemistry with Sam Béart that really sell his caring attitude towards Orr. Alexandria Riley gets a really meaty role in this story that starts to shows the cracks in her character’s facade.
Plus we finally find out Mr. Colchester’s name, which took me by surprise!
Escape Room by Helen Goldwyn
The penultimate episode is a bit of a side-quest but keeps the pace up going into the finale. The Coopers and the Colchesters check out a new escape room game. But with a religious zealot behind the controls, things soon turn deadly. Helen Goldwyn has latched onto a contemporary phenomena and given it a sci-fi/horror twist. It obviously borrows from the ‘Saw’ franchise but is strong enough in character that it stands on its own merits. While escape rooms are a perfect hook for a horror story, it’s tricky to execute on audio. Inevitably, the script has a lot of people describing what’s in front of them. There are good in-story reasons for this and it’s standard practise in audio. But there were so many instances of it in such short order that it became distracting after a while. However, the escape room perils are mostly downplayed in favour of character moments, which makes for a very compelling listen.
Goldwyn has an excellent grasp on the relationship between the four characters and has split them off to make the most of this. The relationship between Mr. Colchester and Gwen has never really been tested in the same way it has with other characters. So using this scenario to have them talking about one another was a stroke of genius. We also get to see the two Torchwood spouses in comparison and to see Rhys’ early characterisation reflected somewhat in Colin. Ramon Tikaram, making his second appearance as Colin, gets a lot to do in this story and gives the character a lot of heart which made him really endearing.
Also, the Demon Headmaster is the villain. As an out-and-proud ’90s kid, this is literally one of my nightmares.
Herald of the Dawn by James Goss
As the series concludes, Yvonne is cozying up to Ro-Jedda. Tyler and Colchester are scrambling through the bowels of the hub. Gwen and Andy have to chase down religious nuts and charred doggers. Jack and Orr have to choose between their friends and their goals. There’s a lot going on! Despite a lot of disparate plot threads all happening at the same time, it culminates in a glorious denouement with every character being sent into an uncertain future. It’s an exciting, action-packed story that leads to some terrific character interactions, particularly between Jonny Greene and Paul Clayton. We get a sense of Yvonne’s motivations and how Torchwood factors into her own ambitions. Meanwhile, the hints that something big is coming to Cardiff can no longer be ignored. It’s a stunning way to close the series that will have you crying out for the next episode. But that’s also kind of a problem.
I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by how it all concludes. Though we get resolution for the Gwen storyline (discussed in the spoiler section as per), the main Sorvix story reaches its zenith just as the closing notes kick in. This is an event that has been hinted at since midway through volume two and heavily seeded across volume three. So ending with a cliffhanger just as the Big Bad appears and the climax kicks into gear lacks the satisfaction of this long wait. I’m excited to hear what happens next, but the promise of things to come makes this feel like an incomplete story rather than the conclusion of a series.
It’s still a really great script with plenty of tension and a real standout moment for Gwen. While I feel this would have been better as a penultimate episode rather than a finale, it’s an exciting curtain-closer for the series.
Part Three is a thought-provoking release with some intriguing story concepts delivered by superb writers. Now set in the present, the writers have seized the opportunity to integrate a decade’s worth of cultural and technological developments into their plots. Yvonne’s reintroduction was a effective way to shake up the character dynamics without diluting the intricate plot threads the series had been developing. Trouble with the series arc aside, this proves an action-packed volume with a particular focus on character.
For the series overall, this was a very good choice of format. Having the overarching Sorvix plot with individual storylines was an effective way to show that life goes on even if Cardiff is occupied by aliens. Putting Torchwood on the back foot with their resources ramped up the tension and prevented anything being solved with technobabble. Continuing the story of Torchwood while also making some nods to the past, as well as using old characters in a meaningful way rather than simply fanservice, is the perfect balance. The series is in safe hands with James Goss and Big Finish at the helm. Here’s hoping that series six can take the story even further!
If you’re interested in my thoughts on the series including spoilers, click here or scroll to the bottom of the page.
This title was released in February 2018. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until April 30th 2018, 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 a new arrival prove to be the ally Torchwood needs?
5.9 Poker Face by Tim Foley
Torchwood are in trouble. Terrorist attacks are rocking the city. Control of the police has been ceded to Cardiff’s alien masters. And it looks like it’s all been arranged by Captain Jack Harkness. Worse, there’s a dead woman in the cells who says that Torchwood will be hers by dawn.
5.10 Tagged by Joseph Lidster
“I know what you’ve done. I know what you’ll do.” The phrase starts appearing everywhere around Cardiff. On posters. On the internet. It’s just a prank, isn’t it? Only a wave of vigilante crime spreads through the city. People are taking revenge. Suddenly everyone knows what you’ve done. And they know what you’ll do.
5.11 Escape Room by Helen Goldwyn
Gwen Cooper, Rhys Williams, and the Colchester-Prices go to try out an escape room. They’ve heard a lot about them. Especially this one. People keep going into the game and not coming out. But Torchwood will be fine. After all – partners can trust each other. Can’t they?
5.12 Herald of the Dawn by James Goss
It starts normally enough: a car park full of ramblers is incinerated by a thunderbolt. But the next day it’s clear there’s something very wrong. Something’s changed. Something’s coming. It’s the end of the world. And that’s what Torchwood are best at…
Written By: Tim Foley, Joseph Lidster, Helen Goldwyn, James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock
John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Alexandria Riley (Ng), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Samantha Béart (Orr), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Tom Price (Sgt. Andy Davidson), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda), Ramon Tikaram (Colin Colchester-Price), Terrence Hardiman (Escape), Sanee Raval (Xander), Kezrena James (Serena), Laura Dalgleish (Newsreader), Kerry Joy Stewart (Waitress), Garnon Davies (Rory), Joseph Tweedale (Assassin), Richard Elfyn (Inspector Bernstein), Aly Cruickshank (God Botherer), Marilyn Le Conte (Sue), Rick Yale (Darren), Luke Williams (Hywel), Charlotte O’Leary (News Reporter). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Torchwood contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners
Producer James Goss
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
As usual, we keep the main review free of spoilers but occasionally we like to dig in to the plot. So here’s your spoiler warning. There are really two major plot twists to talk about. The first is Yvonne Hartman’s sort-of resurrection. I was a bit uneasy at first with the idea that this is her counterpart from Pete’s World rather than the one we’ve been following. Having it be a parallel Yvonne Hartman essentially makes her an entirely new character. Given she broke free of her Cyberman programming (somehow) in her last TV appearance, I was expecting that to be the hook in bringing Yvonne back. As I said in the review, the one they went with is the simplest explanation with less baggage and is probably the wisest choice. Still, it’s shame not to use the character we’re still following in Torchwood One.
The other spoilery plotline we have to talk about is Gwen and Ng. For all my griping in the earlier reviews, I’m incredibly pleased with how this turned out. Interviews accompanying the stories confirm that this was down to Eve Myles’ availability and I see why they chose this route rather than writing Gwen out. Having spent her monthly range appearances rebuilding Torchwood, it would be out of character for her just to simply quit. This provides Gwen a good reason to leave Torchwood and gives the character closure. We already know that we’ll hear from Gwen again very soon, this proved an effective way to end her story. I hope they keep Alexandria Riley in the cast and let her develop her own character. She’s been doing a fantastic job and I’d like to be able to praise her without risking spoilers!