Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Deadbeat Escape

Big Finish wraps up its monthly Torchwood releases with a somewhat different tale, focusing not on the original team but season one villain Billis Manger (Murray Melvin) who recently made a surprise return in volume 2 of Torchwood 'season five' Aliens Amongs Us.

Deadbeat Escape has been written by James Goss and directed by Scott Handcock and is available on the Big Finish site here. It goes on general release on the 31st October 2018. Here is the brief but enticing synopsis...

"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."

The Review...

As myself and Lachlan Haycock have discussed in our reviews of previous monthly Torchwood releases, these stories are a delightful exploration of the characters we loved on screen, giving more insights into their personalities with some intimate but powerful storytelling. The final release this year (thankfully a whole other series in on its way next year) is a slightly different beast, focusing not on the team but mysterious and creepy villain Billis Manger. But that shouldn't put you off listening; while it's not a Torchwood tale in the traditional sense, Deadbeat Escape is a superb addition, packed full of mystery, tension and emotional drama. In fact, it might actually be the best Torchwood release this year (and that's saying something as Big Finish had churned out some corkers in 2018).

Writer James Goss is a regular Torchwood writer (and producer) and delivers one of his most intense scripts yet as director Scott Handcock brings out the mystery, tension and chills over the fifty minute narrative; guest character Hywel Roberts (Gareth Pierce) arrives at a hotel off the beaten track as he battles against a storm-swept night on his way to Cardiff to visit his sick father. Knowing what we know of Billis, there's already something rather unnerving about the whole affair. There are some great comments on Welsh Weather and old fashioned décor but what starts as a stranger in run down hotel soon descends into something much creepier.

Investigating the dripping tap in the next room, Hywel discovers ninety year old Grace (Cara Chase), a 'regular' at the hotel. But it is the discovery that Billis sits in her bed and reads to her night after night that really gets under your skin. There are alarm bells everywhere; Billis being the only person on staff, the importance of Hywel writing the date as he signs in the ticking clock and the constant rain raging outside; this is more than a rundown backwater hotel. Goss invests the time to build the audience's connection to the main character, Hywel telling Billis about his relationship with his father makes your investment in his journey and escape all the stronger.

It's a slow build of a story but an expertly executed one, packed full of atmosphere. It's only when Hywel returns to Grace's room and discovers her passport that the story layers in the supernatural; the old woman is presented as someone suffering from dementia, calling out for her parents (in a truly gut-wrenching scene), it soon transpires that she came to the hotel as a two-year old girl many, many decades ago. It is utterly absorbing and the reveal is incredibly harrowing; the flashback to then guests discovering they have become trapped in the 'deadbeat escape' and screaming in terror as they flee into the rain and age horribly to death certainly sends a shiver down the spine.

With the truth revealed, Deadbeat Escape ups the tension further and Hywel desperately tries to make his escape, culminating in a shocking turn of events for Hywel and a deliciously cruel twist at the end that sees Billis' true machinations revealed.

Deadbeat Escape is a superb addition to the Torchwood monthly range; Goss's script doesn't waste a single moment, unravelling a chilling mystery, delivered with atmospheric tension by Handcock. And the performances are brilliant too. Murray Melvin is delightfully insidious as Billis Manger, Gareth Pierce gives the characters of Hywel Roberts some real emotional gravitas and Cara Chase really makes the audience feel for Grace's tragic life. This is a wonderful Big Finish release that will still linger with me long after it has ended...

Finally there is a short four minute interview with Handcock, Melvin and Pierce at the end, giving a nice little coda into the making of Deadbeat Escape...

Big Finish

Big Finish are the people behind a growing and impressive range of audio adventures including the likes of Doctor Who, Blakes 7 and Jago & Lightfoot.

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