Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Aliens Among Us Part 1
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Torchwood has been off the air since Miracle Day back in 2011, the fourth series taking the show from Cardiff to the US but failing to reach the heights of series three's superb Children Of Earth. Six years later, Torchwood has returned to Cardiff for a 'fifth series' on Big Finish. We've had audios based on the show's characters before, but this is the first continuation of the series that began way back in 2006.
The first part of Aliens Among Us AKA 'season five' has been released on digital download and CD boxset exclusively though Big Finish and goes on general release from October 31st.
Here are the synopses for the four episodes that make up the set...
Big Finish picks up the events after Miracle Day with Torchwood: Aliens AmongUs...
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.
All four episodes are directed by Scott Handcock, produced by James Goss
and script edited by Scott Handcock. Original cast members John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams) and Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper) are joined by new principal cast members Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), and Jonny Green (Tyler Steele).
These will contain spoilers for all four episodes so if you haven't listened to them, read on at your own peril or scroll down to my final thoughts...
Torchwood's return is kicked off through the introduction of new character Tyler Steele (Jonny Green), a plucky but arrogant reporter investigating a series of hate crimes in Cardiff and the mysterious red doors painted on the houses of victims, before he encounters fire drones and an explosion at a refugee centre that sends him directly into the path of Torchwood. It's an exciting opening with Gwen rescuing Tyler and racing through the streets of Cardiff, pursued by drones as they make their escape back to the (half) rebuilt Torchwood headquarters.
Changes Everything does a solid job of re-establishing the status quo in the city since the days of series two and three. An alien race known as the Sorvix have entered Cardiff through the void and set up shop, using the untold wealth of their own world to establish a life of luxury even in the midst of a refugee crisis. It's a hot bed of tension and as Tyler continues his investigation into the mystery, the use of real world issues make for an edgy, gritter narrative. It's also the Torchwood we all know and love; death and violence mixed with sex; indeed, Jack's debut in the story involves him hooking up with Tyler in his hotel room after Tyler goes looking for some 'afternoon delight' on his phone! And it's when Jack dies in a horrific explosion saving Tyler that the full scope of what is happening in Cardiff becomes clear.
It has to be noted from the offset that the strongest character of the entire series is Paul Clayton's Mr Colchester, a middle-aged civil servant recruited to the rebuilt Torchwood by Jack and Gwen. His wit and sarcasm are delivered with perfection and his continuous take down of the somewhat narcissistic Tyler are brilliant. He certainly plays with convention too; when Tyler suggests he's an old, homophobic racist, Mr Colchester's dry delivery of "now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to meet my husband, who love shopping...and is also a muslim" is Sharply executed.
Changes Everything reboots Torchwood for the modern era of racism, war on terror and the class conflict between austerity and wealth. This is less a self contained story and more introduction to the wider world. It also has the surprise twist of Jack refusing to let Tyler join the organisation when he lets people die rather than find a peaceful solution to a hostage solution. It's a bold choice to make one of the new leads unlikeable but the series - and Jonny Green - does this well - adding to greater conflict between the core group in the stories to come.
Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy
The second episode feels very season one in tone and keeps things very simple after the explosive drama of Changes Everything. It's as twisted as ever; Tyler, now working for the corrupt mayor's office, asks Gwen to investigate the Sorvix that have infiltrated the city and established a powerbase. It turns out Gwen and Mr Colchester are already on the case, spying on the hen party of the daughter of the powerful, mysterious alien leader Ro-Jedda (Rachel Atkins). This is where the alien threat really becomes manifest in the most shocking way possible, as the ravenous, drunk hends turn on a naked stripper and begin to eat his flesh.
What this episode really does is establish the sort of aliens the Sorvix are; they might have infiltrated Cardiff but they are quite open in their views of humans as a slave race and food source, something that will become more apparent in the final story. It's a more insidious threat and one that Torchwood are the wrong footing with, with a small team and a lack of resources.
Eating naked strippers feels a little sensationalist in the way that sometimes series one of Torchwood was, but the strength of this episode is in the interplay between Gwen and Mr Colchester. She was only there to cap the introductory episode but here we see her struggling to balance her life as a mother and wife with her duties to saving Cardiff. Mr Colchester too seems to have already established a basis for apologising to his husband for being late; I worry for that relationship given the show's tendency to destroy lives previously.
As they struggle to deal with the daughter who has been forced into an arranged marriage to unite two powerful families Romeo and Juliet style, we also get an insight into just how unstable the whole Sorvix society is. Again this story, feels like a continuation of the first, but with a more intimate setting, ending with an intriguing mystery as we learn that something is very wrong with Gwen and her mother has died...
Orr is pure Torchwood, taking a premise only the show could do - the team encountering a shapeshifting alien that changes its form based on the sexual preference of the onlooker while still delivering a surprising heartfelt character study in Captain Jack Harkness. It's also an emotional character journey for Gwen, as she deals with the funeral of her mother who it seems may have been murdered by a bullet aimed for her. Kai Owen finally returns as Rhys to comfort her, but there is a sense that Gwen is already broken.
Tyler and Jack team up to investigate ruthless property tycoon Vincent Parry (David Sibley) who has been trying to meet the demands of Ro-Jedda (a woman who continues to remain a shadowy villain over the course of the box set). When he is executed by masked gunmen, they follow the trail of trophy wife Catrin Parry (Sam Béart) and discover that she is a shapeshifting alien Orr given to Vincent as a 'present' for his co-operation. Her capture leads to the discovery that she has a bomb attached to a collar that will obliterate Cardiff, forcing Jack to take her off to the remote Brecon Beacons to minimise the devastation.
It's in the final act that the episode becomes something rather special. There is an intimate character study of Orr, an alien created to pleasure others and only having found solace in another of her kind many years before. Her efforts to please suggest that she will take the form of Ianto and this haunts Jack even though his name is never mentioned. John Barrowman and Béart play well of each other, providing solace and support to each other as the bomb ticks down to detonation.
The fact that the explosion is a puff of smoke rather than something akin to nuclear devastation seemed cheap at first but the humour shines through and it saves the character of Orr to help the team in the final story. It seems it is Orr and not Tyler that is destined to become part of Torchwood...
It takes the fourth episode to really get the team working together as a unit but its a great episode to end part 1 of Aliens Among Us. With the mayor threatened by the ruthless Ro-Jedda, Tyler uses his hacking skills to uncover an insidious plot of alien murder in an exclusive hotel in Cardiff bay built by the Sorvix as the lap of luxury away from the filth of human existence.
Jack, Gwen and Mr Colchester go undercover with as human slaves / staff while Orr joins them as a guest to learn the secrets behind the murders. Meanwhile, as hate crimes rise again in Cardiff - a call back to the first episode - humans learn of the alien haven and begin to protest outside the hotel. It's an interesting exploration of class society and xenophobia, with humans on the wrong side of the argument. Gwen comments that she's seen abuse for being Welsh and a cop before before but this is something altogether. When she saves the life of a Sorvix aristocrat she is treated with utter disgust and contempt rather than gratitude.
The idea of an intelligent hotel is a great sci-fi idea, designed to meet the needs of its guests by reading its thoughts and then turning against them to create a conflict between aliens and humans. There is a brilliantly absurd moment when Orr's body physiologically changes based on the attraction of those around her and finds a working lift inside her internal organs. There is probably some twisted sexual metaphor about artificial intelligence mixed in there.
Naturally it all turns into a bloodbath as humans and aliens find themselves picked up by fire drones and they are forced to work together. There is a horribly tragic moment where an alien guest Toobert Jailert attempts to shield the human that has been helping the team and they both die in a fiery incineration. Jack dying through electrical surges as he shuts down the hotel's central computer and is then dragged to safety by Mr Colchester is a great moment of bonding between these two characters too.
It leaves the series in an intriguing place. Humans have become more aware of the alien infiltration, Torchwood are aware of the Sorvix's plans and Ro-Jedda has killed the mayor and replaced him, forcing an aghast Tyler to work for her. The mystery of Gwen has deepened too; has she been possessed by some alien presence? It certainly raises expectations for the second of the three Aliens Among Us box sets due for release by Big Finish in October...
Sadly the boxset is sadly lacking any extras featuring the cast and crew. Though we do get a trailer for Torchwood: Aliens Among Us Part 2, which is released by Big Finish this October.
Some Final Thoughts...
Torchwood: Aliens Among Us is a great reintroduction to the series and brings it back to its gritty, violent, sexualised roots in Cardiff. It's tone matches that of its first two seasons, but its confidence and abundance of new characters shows. Tyler is an interesting anti-hero, Orr is a great alien addition and Mr Colchester is just a marvel. Russell T Davies' influence is apparent to, though his involvement is limited. This is the series five I hoped we would get of Torchwood and it certainly delivered on its promise. I'm looking forward to its continuation later this year...