Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Believe

Big Finish continues to build on their Torchwood range this year; last month not only saw the release of The Last Beacon with Gareth David-Lloyd and Burn Gorman (you can read my review here), but the big anticipated reunion of the five original cast members John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato).

Believe is a three-part story has been written by Guy Adams and directed by Scott Handcock. It is available to download on the Big Finish website here and goes on general release on the 30th June 2018.

Here is the synopsis for Believe.

The Church of the Outsiders believe that mankind is about to evolve, to reach out into the stars. Owen Harper believes that Torchwood has to do whatever it takes to stop them.

The Review...

2018 is shaping up to be a great year for Torchwood at Big Finish. We've already had the superb conclusion to 'season five' in Aliens Among Us this February and two great monthly range releases in The Death of Captain Jack and The Last Beacon. And Believe is a particularly special release as it reunites the core original cast back together in a three-part episode set during the latter half of season two.

Back in my interview with director Scott Handcock in January, he discussed Believe as being a sort of Children of Earth for the original team and while I don't think it necessarily reaches those loft heights, there is something really special in play, Guy Adams delivering a story that has plenty of fantastic narrative twists and turns, some huge moral dramas, thrilling action and some decent roles for all five main actors to get their teeth into. It also does what Torchwood does best; tell a story where the line between good and evil is blurred, where the heroes are flawed and where the villains are not always what you think.

Given its placement in late season two (Owen is suffering from the effects of his undead resurrection) it gives the team their first big multi-episode arc within the chronology of the series. And for Owen, the plot is driven his need to lead the team in a mission investigate a mysterious cult-like religious organization where the members are seeking to break free of Earth and become 'homo-celestials' among the stars. Naturally there is a sinister edge too, with the chilling opening recording of Lloyd Meredith's Davey Russell as he sets himself on fire in a message to the world, while praising the glory of Captain Jack Harkness.

It's a shocking but intriguing hook, which leads to each team member going on their own side mission - all except Captain Jack, whose own experiences of living among the starts creates conflict and has him sit out of the mission until part three (I presume partly driven by US-based John Barrowman's availability). With Owen in mission control, Gwen is sent to locate the church leader Val's daughter Andromeda (Lois Meleri Jones), who is on the run, Tosh to gain evidence of corruption from the organisation's seedy financial officer Frank Layton (Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill in a very different role to Rory Williams), while Ianto infiltrates the church itself.

The first half of part one focuses on the team briefing, which was a great way to reignite the dynamic between the characters (and the actors), with Burn Gorman shining as the foul-mouthed, blunt Owen who doesn't hold back. Gwen's story delivers plenty of action as she locates Andromeda and is hunted down by the Borg-like cult members who have decided to evolve beyond humanity with cybernetic implants. Director Scott Handcock really captures the thrill car chase through the streets of Cardiff, giving Believe an almost cinematic feel at times.

But the most intriguing storyline is Tosh's attempts to connect with the vile Frank Layton; Darvill really plays up the smug superiority of the character, a dynamic contrast to Naoko Mori's vulnerable Tosh. The most shocking moments are scenes where she returns home with him and Owen on comms tries to force her to sleep with Frank just to get the information they need. It's uncomfortable viewing and even though she doesn't (thankfully) go through the act, this storyline really pushes her to her limits.

There is a great double cliffhanger to part one, with a vengeful Frank ready to shoot and kill Tosh while Gwen and Andromeda's lives hang in the balance. But this is where the story really starts to play with the audience and I loved that neither moments were visited until half way through part two, the script and direction deftly changing direction and focusing on Ianto's infiltration of the church. The moral ambiguity keeps the listener hooked, Mali Harries arrogant Val Ross coming across as a ruthless leader and potential nefarious villain, why Ianto's co-pilot Erin Rhian Blundell offers a very human face to the organisation.

The stakes are certainly upped over the remainder of the episode as Ianto's investigation sees him captured by the cybernetic members known as Greys; the story making excellent use of the audio setting to suggest that he is being cut and hacked and fused with implants, creating images of visceral horror in the listener's mind. There is also plenty of emotional drama for Tosh and Owen as he kills Frank and they are forced to flee the police while dealing with the fallout of the acts he tried to force her to commit in the name of the job. The reveal that Andromeda is in fact the villain makes for a great twist in Gwen's story while Jack turning up at the church, on the enemy's side, delivers another fantastic cliffhanger.

Part three turns the story on its head again, with flashbacks to Jack's past actions revealing his own secret infiltration in opposition to the rest of the team. Val is revealed as a narcissistic fraud and the stakes rise higher in a dramatic showdown in the hub as Andromeda and her grey allies attempt to open the rift. While this 'end of the world' threat is certainly an exciting listen, it is the emotional fall out that is the most fascinating aspect of Believe, particularly among the team itself.

Believe is a fantastic Torchwood story; Guy Adam's script showcases the original team at their very best (or worst), offers plenty of narrative twists and turns and plenty of moral drama. The reunion of the original cast paid off; Believe may be the best Big Finish release of the year so far.

The Extras...

Not too much this time, but we do get a great 10 minute with the cast of Torchwood, reunited together for Big Finish. There is a great rapport and fondness for the making of these stories, the fans and each other. It is a delight to listen to, and shows that these actors are still as fond of the show and their co-stars, after all these years.

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