Torchwood Among Us continues with four episodes as well crafted and beautifully performed as you’d expect, but which draw too deeply from the well of QAnon conspiracy fantasies for inspiration
Torchwood Among Us continues with four new episodes as the splintered remains of the team find themselves in more danger. But by the end, they’ve finally begin to pull themselves back together. That reunion late in the day, however, and there’s a feeling of disconnection for much of the set. A sense that apart from volume one’s Aliens Next Door having to come before Orr’s and Ng’s other appearances, and this volume’s Pariahs needing to be last, you could listen to the stories in any order. That said, the delight in Torchwood getting the band back together is palpable. The individual members’ side quests may feel random at first listen. But they ultimately feed back into Big Finish’s latest doomsday narrative in interesting and surprising ways.
Orr may be a character given to constant reinvention, but their latest form as a flirty, omnisexual, immortal action hints at the ghost of earlier drafts
Another surprise is the compelling new version of Orr that’s now emerging. Their very nature as an empath who adapts physically, psychologically, and sexually to the people around them has made a difficult character to get a handle on. But as of opening story Propaganda, they’ve evolved into a confident, flirty, action hero who seems to love their job. From seducing guards to trying to find just the right shaped hips for a classic air stewardess strut, they’ve fast become a beacon of wit and humour in an often dark series of scenarios. Not long ago, they recovered from God turning them into a bucket of goop. Since then, they’ve also developed a hitherto unhinted at immortality, waking up in various morgues and wrecked airplanes.
It means it’s not terribly hard to guess how Torchwood’s former leader would have figured in earlier drafts of these scripts. There’s a new lightness with Orr, however. They’re unburdened by the increasingly very, very dark grey deeds of Captain Jack in previous Among Us series. So good is Stephanie Béart in fulfilling this role, in fact, that whatever the reasons behind the scenes it’s great to see her moving forward to be a more central member of the cast and team.
A mastermind manipulating their opponents from behind prison cell glass is hardly original, but Yvonne does it oh so well
‘New’ Torchwood is on its ninth boxset. Many of these characters have now been in more episodes than the originals had on television. That brings with it a familiarity; an ability to throw characters into a scenario and see what happens. So in Pariahs, we get Mr. Colchester navigating a city full of would be assassins as he delivers a smug, oily civil servant to give evidence to an inquiry. And it’s exactly as much grumpy fun as you’d expect. The whole thing is peppered with magnificent sentences like “You cut his face off with a toilet!”
Meanwhile, in At Her Majesty’s Pleasure the new Yvonne, refugee from an alternate reality, dominates a prison from behind the glass of solitary confinement, with the voice of a silk wrapped stiletto blade. The game playing prisoner who has everyone else exactly where they want them is undeniably a well worn cliche. There’s certainly little tension to draw from the question of whether Yvonne will win out, and the ending is never in doubt. But Tracy Ann Oberman’s performance is pitched so perfectly, and once more backed by Blair Mowat’s ‘Jaws swimming in prosecco’ theme, that it’s impossible to mind.
Set against her, Andy continues to compete with Ace to be the character who’s personal growth and experience most bounces up and down according to what Big Finish needs for a given story. He’s back in his more gormless form here, simply happy to be invited to play, even as his ex-girlfriend runs rings around him.
Murray Melvin’s Bilis Manger takes one final curtain call as gets back to his roots, and his vendetta to destroy what remains of Torchwood
In contrast, our old friend Gareth David-Lloyd gets to play against type in tense horror drama Cuckoo. He’s reborn as an AI interface refusing to go silently into the night amid the ruins of the Torchwood Hub. Colder and more manipulative than the familiar Ianto Jones, it faces off against none other than Bilis Manger. It’s a conflict seen through the eyes of a trio of hapless urban explorers caught in between.
The late Murray Melvin’s deliciously malevolent villain is a bad, bad man, as always. His appearance for Big Finish have alternated between two essential types. Some cast him as an anti-hero we can’t help rooting for even as he destroys anyone whose continued breathing is an inconvenience to his plans. In others he’s a shadowy bogeyman waiting to drag a doomed protagonist down to hell. Had it been possible to choose a final outing for Melvin, most might have preferred one which centred Bilis at its heart, rather than lurking around the edges of Cuckoo. But then, if had it been possible to choose, most of us would have seen him cutting a scarlet slash across the universe, well, forever. But perhaps it’s appropriate he comes full circle to his earliest appearances. Once more he’s an implacable, mysterious foe, viciously determined to end Torchwood once and for all.
Propaganda crossing a very familiar war zone as a sandbox to play in, populating it with echoes of wild, real world conspiracy fantasies crosses the line into bad taste
For all this, Torchwood Among Us 2 is not without its issues and nor are those issues insignificant. Blogtor Who has been known to wag a finger of caution at the Among Us boxsets before for looking to conspiracy theories for inspiration. It’s a natural temptation for a series based on the premise of a secret government conspiracy to cover up aliens. More than that, where our heroes are the conspiracy. But it’s a temptation to resist, rather than embrace with gusto as this volume does.
Propaganda opens in, well, let’s just call it Ukraine as the inspiration for this former Soviet republic now fighting a proxy Russian invasion isn’t exactly subtle. Its earliest scenes even echo the real world downing of civilian flight MH17 by Russian rebels. An airplane full of aid workers is shot from the sky above the warzone. In this case, though, it’s left ambiguous which side is actually behind the attack. Further scenes feature descriptions of both armies targetting civilian areas with bombs, and executing unarmed non-combatants. There’s even a bizarre anecdote of a woman who’s not even sure which army her dead husband was in. It all leads to Orr looking straight down the figurative lens to give her best impression of Night of the Doctor’s “who can tell the difference any more?” speech.
By itself, that seems like a misguided attempt at ‘torn from the headlines’ relevance. (Albeit one written before the 2022 escalation by the Russians.) But tied to descriptions in the extras of the Ukrainian war as one people are “ignorant” about thanks to a “skewed media narrative,” it’s genuinely, unsettlingly, bizarre.
Pariahs marks more squares off the conspiracy fantasy bingo card, with voting machine manipulation, the Deep State, and bioweapons tied to the pandemic
We return to similar unsteady ground with final story Pariahs. Because that previously mentioned inquiry is into allegations the pandemic was used as an excuse to harvest the DNA of hundreds of millions of people. Allegations which, in the Among Us universe at least, are true. There’s also the reveal of a Deep State conspiracy with voting machine companies to steal elections (the sort of claim that could leave you with a nine figure bill if repeated with a straight face). Then there’s the recurring obsession with 5G masts, and Propaganda’s faked measles outbreaks. At times it feels like we’re only short a fictional President’s son’s laptop to complete out QAnon adjacent bingo cards.
Make no mistake, Torchwood Among Us 2 is superbly scripted, performed, and produced. From the creepy atmospherics of a crumbling Hub below the streets of Cardiff, to the thrills of a prison break scheme, to the distinctly Bondian tones of a cross London chase (even more so since this was recorded), it’s all brilliantly executed. But you do leave it wondering if it really means to say what it actually says. And for some listeners what it says will certainly be a step too far.
Torchwood Among Us 2
Torchwood are on the run. As the world puts itself back together, Torchwood are there to pick up the pieces. And they find something nasty hiding in them.
Orr’s on a mercy mission to a doomed city. Sgt Andy is visiting an old flame in prison. Bilis Manger spends a night in the Torchwood Hub. Mr Colchester has to keep the most hated man in Britain alive for one more day.