Big Finish Review: Torchwood - God Among Us Volume 2
Big Finish continues its purple patch of Torchwood stories with the second installment of the show’s sixth series, God Among Us. Cardiff is again the centre of a range of otherworldly happenings, and the stakes are high – not only for the fate of the city, but the fate of our characters as well.
Torchwood: God Among Us Part 2 features an ensemble cast including John Barrowman and Tracy-Ann Oberman. The Torchwood series is produced by James Goss with direction by Scott Handcock. God Among Us Part 2 is available from the Big Finish website prior to general release on March 31, 2019.
This review features spoilers, so be sure to listen to the stories before reading on, and catch our take on God Among Us Part 1 here.
Here are the synopses...
Norton Folgate’s come from the 1950s to warn Torchwood it’s the end of the world. He might have a point – there’s an alien god wandering the city, and a sinister force manipulating events behind the scenes. Where are all the homeless people going? And why doesn’t it stop raining?
Flight 405 by Lou Morgan
Flight 405 went missing over 60 years ago, but tonight the plane finally lands. Norton Folgate’s a Torchwood agent from the 1950 and he swears Flight 405 contains the secret to the end of the world, but can Torchwood trust him?
Hostile Environment by Ash Darby
An app's been launched that allows you to tag the homeless. People thinks they're doing a good thing and helping out. It does seem a remarkable success. After all, since it’s launched, there are a lot less homeless people on the streets – so it must be doing some good, mustn’t it?
Another Man's Shoes by Tim Foley
Yvonne wakes up in Andy's body - and both have difficult days ahead of them.
Meanwhile, Norton’s making himself very much at home in Tyler’s body, much to Tyler’s alarm, and Ng is worried she knows what’s going on.
Someone's playing a terrible trick on Torchwood. But who will win?
Eye of the Storm by David Llewellyn
An alien power station is sending out waves of lethal energy, people are turning to stone and the water levels are rising.
As Torchwood set out on a desperate mission, God takes tea with someone who has been playing a very long game.
Has the time come for Norton Folgate to save the world?
God Among Us 1 ended with Orr being killed, Mr Colchester seemingly coming back from the dead, and God revealing her identity (and that’s only the end of part one!). Volume two begins with an abbreviated wrap-up of these revelations: Mr Colchester – it seems benevolently – has indeed been resurrected and Jack quickly agrees to step back from his romantic liaison with Colin. The two share a touching moment over the nature of being resurrected before the main story ensues.
Mr Colchester was not the only one to make a surprise appearance at the end of the first volume. Norton Folgate, the 1950s Torchwood agent who previously featured prominently in Ghost Mission, Outbreak and Goodbye Piccadilly, is back, knocking on Sergeant Andy’s front door with Yvonne Hartman by his side to announce that “it’s time to save the world”. Norton is more camp, up-beat and fabulous than ever (if that were possible).
Their mission is to retrieve an alien artefact (essentially a MacGuffin) from a ‘ghost flight’, specifically Flight 405 from London to Cardiff that never arrived at its destination, instead being trapped in the Rift for over sixty years, still flying around in the air. Norton, Andy and Yvonne are beamed up to the plane, where there are some nice moments of horror as they witness corpses phase between life and death, from human to skeleton and back again. Worse still, garbled voices they hear from the cockpit radio turn out to be their own from the future – begging for help, fearing they will be stuck up there forever – which makes for some more great shock horror.
Writer Lou Morgan takes the chance to interrogate Andy and Yvonne’s relationship, questioning if it is “a thing” for them both and why it exists. It is certainly not the romantic pairing you would expect, but it works to show a different side to the head of Torchwood and to give Tom Price more to work with as Andy (or as Yvonne calls him, Andrew) than a slightly despondent police sergeant occasionally helping Torchwood out.
The story is self-contained and expedient, the tone equal parts dark (with the quasi-dead skeletons) and light (with all the ‘cockpit’ innuendo), although the episode does contribute to overarching series threads. Norton, for starters, is here to stay because, he says, the world is still ending and he has a job to do. It is constantly raining – always, heavily and in the background – which sets up a plot thread for the rest of the set.
Jacqueline King’s God also shows up, drinking tea and eating biscuits in the plane’s cargo hold, giving some mysterious advice to Norton. Finally, the Committee (David Warner) reappears, apparently working with Yvonne – a plot thread that unexpectedly comes back into play after a few years of absence in the Torchwood range. It will be interesting to see how these multiple threads and characters come together through the rest of God Among Us.
Hostile Environment is a truly hard-hitting episode that pulls no punches. It is one of the darkest episodes to go out under the Torchwood name, even warranting a warning from the director at the start about the episode’s adult content.
Failed Torchwood member Tyler has fallen to a new low, homeless and begging for money from strangers on the streets. He has no friends until he meets a woman named Kirsty who is also on the streets, although their continued interaction is more of necessity than anything else. The crux of the story is their attempts to evade being tagged by passers-by with a new homeless person tracking app on their phones, which sends a drone to their location to administer drugs as part of a clinical trial.
Writer Ash Darby puts Tyler through the wringer. Previous hook-ups are rejecting his pleas for shelter at their homes. He is prohibited from using the public toilets at a shopping centre. And in moments that make your skin crawl, he is made to perform sexual acts on a stranger to get money so he can buy food. These scenes, and others, make for a highly unpleasant – yet riveting – acting and listening experience, let alone for the characters in-universe.
Something fascinating happens to the character of Tyler here. He travels from being unlikeable and selfish prior to this episode to someone more empathetic and understanding of the plight of those doing it tough in Cardiff. Yet his character arc circles around to where it began after he is eventually taken in by Captain Jack and given a home in the cells in the Torchwood base. Given the chance to help others from his newfound position of relative comfort and capability, he succumbs to selfishness once more and refuses to consider those beneath him to be worthy of his help – or, indeed, of being acknowledged at all.
Hostile Environment gets to the nitty-gritty of what it takes to survive on the streets. There are plenty of depressing moments, including when Kirsty learns of a potentially cancerous lump on her body. The episode is not afraid of highlighting society’s chosen ignorance when it comes to the plight of homelessness and the invisibility it lends those who are reaching out for help.
Another Man's Shoes
Another Man’s Shoes is a riot. Ostensibly a chance to delve into particular character pairings and reveal inner secrets about each other – which this certainly is – this story is also a whole lot of fun. Whereas episode six was dark and intense, episode seven switches tone entirely to a character-comedy piece centred around the classic sci-fi drama trope, body-swapping.
Andy, Yvonne and Norton continue to be well-served in God Among Us 2. They continue to receive fascinating character development in episode three, along with Tyler. Of course, no single day at Torchwood is simple, and they all struggle to be someone other than themselves, getting into all sorts of trouble.
While Andy attempts to lead the organisation, Yvonne attends a performance review in Andy’s place. Apart from further insights into their private life, this pairing in particular learns a lot about each other. Tyler-in-Norton pursues Norton-in-Tyler on the latter’s frantic sexual escapades across Cardiff, which gives Tyler (the real one) a chance for humbling character development as he is the one reigning in the over-the-top Norton. Meanwhile, Jack tries to give Colin a birthday to remember in Mr Colchester’s place, which is also a good moment for Jack to have to recognise the intense bond Mr Colchester and Colin share.
What is clear is that all cast and crew involved have highly enjoyed themselves – one can imagine them sending each other up in studio. At the same time, this must be a nice change (and challenge) for the actors creatively too, in trying out new character habits and speech patterns that remain true to both the mind inside the body and its original inhabitant.
All in all, this is a fast-paced and often hilarious exploration of team member dynamics, with a whiff of something other-worldly that leads into the second mid-series finale in the next episode.
Eye of the Storm
In the finale, the whole team assembles for a good old group mission to investigate an underwater power station threatening Cardiff. It is fun to hear everyone in the one scene (even if it is clear from the recording process that they are not all in the single studio location). The first half of the story is a traditional Torchwood episode with mysterious deaths, an abandoned base and a problem to solve. However, God and the Committee complicate matters, as befitting of a boxset finale.
In a twist, we have it confirmed that both Norton and Yvonne have gone rogue and are working to the whims of the Committee. Norton sabotages the mission to safely control the energy levels in the case, and has Jack consume it all in a fatal dose. The climactic moment is when the exploding power station sends a tsunami rocketing towards the city. This is a moment of genuine terror for all involved, as it would be deadly for all of Cardiff, Penarth and surrounds.
This episode is full of subterfuge, back-stabbing and revelations, and the Committee comes back into play in a big way, even fooling God. This was an unexpected turn of events prior to listening to the set, and one wonders where it will lead. The fate and allegiance of multiple Torchwood members are in doubt (including Norton, Yvonne and Tyler). It is indeed a shame about the four-month wait for the next volume!
This is certainly the best episode of the four in terms of its score – the music is by turns climactic, heroic and emotional here, whereas in the previous stories fulfilled more of a functional role. Apart from that, Orr is conspicuous in her absence from these stories, and Ng is yet to receive an episode focusing solely on her, eight episodes after she appeared at the end of Herald of the Dawn. Nonetheless, with Eye of the Storm David Llewellyn paints a bleak picture for the future of Torchwood and installs high dramatic stakes for volume three.
This release includes the Torchwood minisode Cardiff Unknown, a 25-minute podcast “dedicated to the unknown, the spooky, the unexplained” in Cardiff. Written by James Goss, it acts as a promotional piece for the series, but also provides an incomplete summary of the events of Aliens Among Us and God Among Us so far, and, perhaps, offers hints at events to occur in volume three and beyond. Replete with cringy humour, clunky co-host banter and intentionally B-grade podcast music, Cardiff Unknown is a fun little side-story for the Torchwood range.
Around half an hour of cast and crew interviews spread across the four discs. Highlights include the banter between producer James Goss and director Scott Handcock, and the actors, notably Samuel Barnett and Tom Price – who can never be trusted to give a straight answer. For the disc one interview, James Goss and Scott Handcock explain the rationale behind Cardiff Unknown and the interesting recording technique of being taken on the streets of Cardiff as if it were a real podcast.
The fascinating real-life inspiration for episode two is mentioned, with the producer and director recounting the actual homeless person tagging scheme that was introduced in London during the 2018 blizzards. Disc three features more actor shenanigans as they revel in their newfound characterisations (if only for a single recording), and episode four’s interviews show Goss and Handcock’s gratitude for having such a large cast to play with in this series.
Some Final Thoughts...
Ash Darby and Lou Morgan do admirably with their first contributions to the Torchwood range, Tim Foley again proves a reliable and fantastic regular contributor, and David Llewellyn wraps up the set with a big, climactic and revelatory story.
The part of Torchwood that has mattered most to viewers of the televised show and listeners of these audio dramas, has always been the characters (like any good drama). Big Finish continues to serve this new line-up of characters very well, offering exceptional, hard-hitting and humorous drama with high stakes not only for the fate of the world at large, but importantly for the individuals caught in the middle of it all.