Bilis Manger invites himself to dinner in Torchwood: Dead Plates for one of his most slyly entertaining bits of mischief

The Torchwood range from Big Finish continues with Dead Plates, another macabre dance through the most delightful terrors with Bilis Manger. This time the smooth and debonair villain is stalking the streets of 1970s Soho with a deadly need to find a murderer… his own. But this isn’t some quest for vengeance against a murder yet to happen. Oh no, this time Bilis wants to be murdered. But first he has to find just the right person for the job…

Readers have probably grown tired at this stage of Blogtor Who’s regular monthly praise for the consistent quality of the Torchwood range. But, bar the very rare misstep, it really is one of the strongest weapons in the Big Finish arsenal. It reliably turns out ambitious hour long dramas that chill spines, rend hearts, and get laughs. But like a jewel within a jewel, the strand of appearances by Murray Melvin’s deliciously malicious (or possibly maliciously delicious) Bilis Manger is a notable highlight.

Bilis Manger is dead. And he’s less upset about it than you might think

Both Melvin and Manger are on particularly fine form with Dead Plates. Bilis fits neatly into the milieu of this time and place, and the characters who populate it. And writer David Llewellyn evocatively captures this era of Soho here. It’s a place where seediness and glamour walk hand in hand through the streets like besotted lovers. And while names and key details have been changed to protect the (somewhat) innocent, everyone Bilis encounters is a recognizable Soho type; the hard drinking painter, the scandal raking journo, the club owner with rumoured gangland connections, the ingenue actress chasing her first West End break.


The cast of Dead Plates (l-r) Cleo Sylvestre, Rosa Escoda, Murray Melvin ,Tony Turner and Hugh Ross (c) Big Finish Torchwood Bilis Manger
The cast of Dead Plates (l-r) Cleo Sylvestre, Rosa Escoda, Murray Melvin ,Tony Turner and Hugh Ross (c) Big Finish

On this particular night they’re gathered together in the fictional Merry Cassock club (can a Gay Hussar sue for libel?) for a late night dinner and drink. But when the strange, slight, figure of Bilis Manger arrives to inveigle his way into their toast for a free glass of champagne their night takes quite a turn. Within minutes he’s dead, face down on their table. Even more vexingly, he’s also standing in the doorway, peevishly demanding to know who killed him.

That’s a killer hook for a story. Good enough that it results in one of the best deployed F-Bombs in Torchwood history (“What the £^@! is going on?!”) And yet it’s only the start of the fun. As Bilis, sitting at the table, eyes twinkling dangerously in the gloom (and, yes, if it’s possible to hear a pair of eyes twinkling, they’re Murray Melvin’s) he lays out a series of ghoulish stories of murder worthy of a Hammer portmanteau to his, well, let’s not say ‘victims’ just yet. But what’s he really after?

Bilis has often had his favourites, but then cats must sometimes have their favourite mice…

Bilis himself describes Dead Plates as a locked room mystery, albeit one which “plays fast and loose with the conventions.” The same could be said of the conventions of a Bilis Manger play too. There’s frequently a sting in the tail of these stories, where even as chattily open about his evil intent as Bilis tends to be, the final reveal is even more horrifying that he suggested. So much so that even when when he promises “this isn’t some last minute twist,” towards the end of Dead Plates it just makes you even more concerned for the safety of who he’s talking to.

But there’s no point trying to guess who lives, if anyone, and who dies (well, except Bilis, of course.) That’s a secret only Bilis knows. All we can do is sit down and smile with the skill and charm with which he reveals the answer. And hope that we’re one of the lucky ones. After all, we’re the ones he likes, right? That must count for something. Doesn’t it?


Torchwood: Dead Plates. Cover by Sean Longmore (c) Big Finish Productions Murray Melvin Bilis Manger
Torchwood: Dead Plates. Cover by Sean Longmore (c) Big Finish Productions

Torchwood: Dead Plates by David Llewellyn

Bilis Manger has been murdered. And he’s determined to find out who did it. Four people at dinner are the suspects, and they’ve each got murky secrets and at least one skeleton in the closet.

What is really on the menu at one of Soho’s finest restaurants? And will any of the suspects make it out alive?

Torchwood: Dead Plates is now available to own for just £10.99 (collector’s edition CD + download) or £8.99 (digital download only), exclusively from the Big Finish website.


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