Big Finish Review: Torchwood - God Among Us Vol 1
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Torchwood has had a new lease of life at Big Finish; not only has it delivered some great character-centric stories featuring the original cast (and a terrific season two reunion in Believe), but it has also continued the show beyond the events of season four's Miracle Days, returning to Cardiff with new members of the team for Aliens Among Us, twelve stories told across three volumes.
Aliens Among Us Vol 3 ended with the Sorvix god coming through the rift, Gwen leaving Torchwood, Yvonne Hartman in power and the fate of Mr Colchester at stake. Fortunately the story of Torchwood continues with series six God Among Us, the first of three new volumes making up the show's 'sixth series'. The first four stories making up this set have been written by James Goss, Guy Adams, John Dorney, Tim Foley and directed by Scott Handcock. It is available exclusively at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st December 2018.
Here are the synopses...
When a God comes to Cardiff, the world goes to Hell.
6.1 Future Pain by James Goss
Torchwood pick up the pieces and move on. After all, there’s a whole new set of alien threats to deal with.
While Yvonne Hartman is asserting her authority as the new leader of Torchwood, Jack Harkness is hunting an alien god in the sewers – but what’s he really hiding from?
6.2 The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood by Guy Adams
Brent Hayden. To some he’s the darling of the alt-right, to others he’s a far-left crusader. A lot of people watch his videos, hang off his every word. Crisis actors? Conspiracies? Black Ops? Brent knows you deserve the truth. And Brent’s come to Cardiff, because he’s going to expose Torchwood. Don’t forget to Like and Subscribe.
6.3 See No Evil by John Dorney
Cardiff goes blind.
There’s a hunter out there in the darkness. With no escape, and the screaming getting louder, Jack Harkness and Yvonne Hartman each set out to save the city in their own ways.
6.4 Night Watch by Tim Foley
The Black Sun has come through the Rift. When it visits, sleep comes with it. Orr is the guardian, appointed to watch over the city while it slumbers. What will they find as they wander the streets?
Who are the lost souls, trapped with their demons? Who are the ones fighting even sleep? Who are the broken meeting their dreams?
A warning of spoilers as I delve into each story below...
The opening story of 'series six' picks up days after the events of Herald of Dawn. Gwen has gone and Mr Colchester is dead, alien mayor Ro Jedda has been imprisoned by new Torchwood leader Yvonne Hartman and the Sorvix God has emerged through the rift. It's a huge period of change, which Torchwood has experienced many times before and death is a big part of that. Mr Colchester, sadly, has joined Owen, Toshiko and Ianto in the ranks of the organisation's officers killed in action.
Writer James Goss play's with the audience for much of the story, flashing back to his wedding with Colin, only later revealing that it is being played at his funeral. Paul Clayton's Colchester, even in flashbacks, is a formidable, gruff, straight-talking character, whose dry sense of humour elevates the tale. It's a real celebration of his character and while death is a major part of Torchwood, his demise is a big loss, so soon after Gwen and Rhys (who make a brief but lovely cameo).
Future Pain does a solid job of dealing with the aftermath of Aliens Among Us and setting up the new status quo. Through Yvonne's interactions with the imprisoned Ro Jedda we learn that the Sorvix have fled. There's an intriguing reveal in Alexandria Riley's Ng, now free of her possession of Gwen and working with the equally ruthless Yvonne. The herald of this new god, she joins the Torchwood roster of non-human agents and I'm intrigued to see what she does next, particularly given her role last 'series'.
Talking of non-human characters, this box set wonderful expands the comic nature of Samantha Béart's Orr; her joyous reaction to the funeral - no one has sex on the brain - is hilarious and cringeworthy and I'm looking forward to her continued exploration of humanity as the series progresses. She also plays a big role in taking down the giant alien god attacking the funeral, providing for a dramatic climax; the threat teased at the end of the previous set feels wrapped up a little too quickly here but that's another way in which God Among Us plays with audience expectations. Jack meanwhile feels like a loose cannon, running a rogue operation guns blazing, while Tyler has become a bit of a sad, lonely figure, reduced to telesales.
Future Pain is a strong character-centric opener that does a decent job of developing the next phase of Torchwood's story.
The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood
After the grief and action of the first tale, The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood is a more light-hearted affair, Guy Adams' script adding a good dollop of humour as the story follows guest star Tom Forrister as Brent, a man out to expose Torchwood to the masses. Unfortunately he's deluded and not a good person either (though Forrister imbues a pathetic likeability to him), out to destroy the 'leftists agenda'.
Brent is a man consumed by his quest for the truth, obsessing with YouTube subscribers and utterly deluded; he's moved back in with his mother to focus his energies on outing Torchwood and he's got contacts within the secret organisation ready to whistle blow the whole ghastly truth. Or that's what he assumes. There's a terrific bit of alternate versions playing off each other as Tyler flits between the man eager to help in Brent's mind and the droll character we really know who's seemingly caught between his allegiances to Torchwood and the truth. There's even a great flashback cameo for Mr Colchester, who is less an informant and more a man harassed by Brent when he's out at the supermarket.
It's interesting to see a man more horrible than Tyler; he might proclaim to want only the truth for his followers but there's a healthy dose of bigotry and racism thrown into the mix. At the same time, Brent is a compelling if pathetic character. You genuinely feel for him when he cries in his mother's arms and his versions of reality are hilarious; Orr as a the sexual femme fatale and Captain Jack as a sort of gun toting American cowboy, hunting down enemy number one Brent and shooting everything and everyone in sight.
Given the darker nature of Torchwood, there's also a dark little twist waiting at the end as Tyler uses Brent to remove any credibility behind the recent Sorvix threat and make him a target of the authorities. It's a testament to the rich writing of Guy Adams, Scott Handcock's engaging direction and the earnest, endearing performance of Tom Forrister that you kind of feel sorry for Brent when his world comes crashing down around him in the end.
See No Evil
The third entry in God Among Us Volume 1 has a brilliant premise; the entirety of Cardiff going blind at the same time. Deprived of one of their key senses, the population of the city, the Torchwood team included, find themselves flung into a panic as they are hunted by a monstrous creature that cannot be seen.
It's both a dramatic, city-wide drama full of desperation, panic and death and an intimate exploration of the characters. The pairing of Jack and Colchester's husband Colin offers a more vulnerable side to the main man of Torchwood, connecting in the chaos and exploring grief, while revealing that Jack has somehow lost his immortality. I wasn't so keen on the eventual kiss but I loved the cliffhanger moment that broke it up.
The pairing of Andy and Yvonne - two characters not remotely alike and yet strangely attracted to each other - makes for a very entertaining part of the narrative. While there was plenty of action racing through the streets of Cardiff shooting at the monster in the pitch black, it was the moments where he was able to break through her facade and see her need for human contact that exposed her for more than just the cool, ruthless, resourceful leader she portrays (of course she is all these things too). We got to see both of them at his best - her skills in managing the threat and his good nature - making for an intriguing partnership that I'm excited to see this developed further.
Addes to the rich character moments of John Dorney's script is an alien threat that feels dangerous and terrifying. This story is packed with moments of atmospheric horror and tension, brought to life vividly by Handcock's direction; the woman screaming for the baby and getting consumed in the barrier, the creature with the teeth is latest brought to life by Orr's anxious description and the gruseome sound effects of people being devoured. Along with the subsequent tale, there is a real sense of escalation and horror as the God of the series title begins to make its mark on the city and See No Evil is the strongest of stories because of it.
The final story picks up moments after See No Evil as the city is plunged into a deep sleep and a mysterious black sun orbits the sky. The dread and fear of the previous story takes on another level in Tim Foley's tale as characters are haunted by ghosts and living nightmare.
There's some really heartfelt moments between Colchester and his husband Colin; the realisation that he might be a ghost offers what appears to be a final goodbye between them while also hinting that his return might be something more. Cleverly, the story - and the box set ends - with the tease that Colchester might be back for good, though it might be good not to get your hopes up either. There's plenty of conflict between Ng (now working for Yvonne) and Jack as they deal with the fallout of what she did to Gwen that forced her to leave. There was also plenty of tense drama as Jack and Yvonne attempted to work together to stop the latest threat too.
Like the previous story, there also the deep exploration of character's failings; finally forced into sleep, Yvonne is confronted by a dreamlike spectre of Andy that isn't as nice as his real life counterpart. And in one of the story's more disturbing elements, a broken Tyler finds himself confronted by his sense of failure and loneliness in a drug and sex-fuelled haze. Both story threads go deep into their psyches, offering potential character growth as a result.
Also served well is Orr, who finds herself the unwitting discipline of the Sorvix God that came through the rift. It turns out it wasn't the slug-like creature from Future Pains but Jacqueline King's soft spoken woman who offers Orr the chance for love and glory in exchange hangs for ridding the city of the malevolent spirits that have emerged with the black sun and now haunt people like Tyler. Orr, perhaps more than any other character, is served very well by God Among Us vol 1, culminating in some intriguing possibilities for her ahead.
This release is packed with additional interviews after each tale. What's really interesting about the discussions for Future Pain is how John Barrowman has never met the rest of the new cast, recording his scenes from a booth in Palm Springs. However, for this release, he's actually in the UK for the first time in two years and it's great to see him bounce off the new actors; there's also plenty of filth as they discuss the more adult content recorded between the characters and director Scott Handcock.
Following The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood are fifteen minutes of interview between Handcock and cast members Samantha Béart, Paul Clayton and Jonny Green, reflecting on returning to Torchwood at Big Finish, the critical success of Aliens Among Us, the development of Orr, Mr Colchester's fate, the nature of Tyler and the journey of Tom Forrister guest character Brent. There's plenty of great banter and plenty of filth, which you can only get with Torchwood!
After See No Evil, Handcock interviews Tracy-Ann Obermanand Tom Price about Yvonne's resurrection in Torchwood, the continuing legacy of the series at Big Finish and their thoughts on Yvonne and Andy's future. Finally, the interviews that follow Night Watch feature discussions with Scott Handcock, Samantha Béart, Jonny Green and Alexandria Riley, reflecting on their roles as the newer members of Torchwood and where they would like the characters of Orr, Tyler and Ng to go next.
Some Final Thoughts
Torchwood continues to deliver in its Big Finish home, and Gods Among Us vol 1 continues to play on the strengths of Aliens Among Us. It doesn't quite have the punch of some of 'series 5's' best stories yet but we're only a third of the way through so far. What is clear is that there is a renewed confidence to the storytelling, producer and writer James Goss and director Scott Handcock really fleshing out the newer characters and making them as essential as the original cast.
The nature of loss is keenly felt in all four stories, making for sometime grim listening, but there is also humour, action, horror and drama too. The tease of Colchester's fate, Ng's newfound role and Jack's sense of purpose bubble along nicely, Tyler falls hard and Yvonne and Orr are well served by stories that enrich all the characters. This is a solid continuation of the Torchwood era...