Big Finish Review: Torchwood - Dead Man's Switch
Torchwood season one villain Bilis Manger (Murray Melvin) is back in the latest monthly release from Big Finish. Last seen in 2018's dark and disturbing Deadbeat Escape (check out our review here), this time he's back in modern day Cardiff to wreak havoc on three unsuspecting victims.
Dead Man's Switch has been written by David Llewellyn and directed by Scott Handcock. It is available to purchase on the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 31st January 2020. Here's the synopsis.
A devious antiques dealer, a property developer and a heartbroken hairdresser. Three strangers sit on a train that's going nowhere.
They are joined by a mysterious figure.
Bilis Manger wants to tell them how they died.
Potential spoilers as I discuss this latest release...
As a regular commuter on the Bargoed train between Cardiff and Heath High Level, there was something deeply disturbing about hearing my stop come up in a horror story about three local commuters trapped on a train in pure darkness with no memory of how they got there and only the insidious, soft spoken Bilis Manger for company. But while my familiarity with local Cardiff landmarks added a strange familiarity, you don't need that to be unsettled by this creepy, dramatic tale.
While it doesn't quite have the atmospheric chills of last year's Deadbeat Escape, Dead Man's Switch is still another little treat from Big Finish. Murray Melvin is brilliant once again, playing a kindly old man with a dark and dangerous agenda beneath his smiles and softly spoken words. As the driving force behind this story, he encourages each member of the group to recall their last memories, and in doing so the dreaded realisation that their fate which led them to the train.
Each flashback is well executed, the three actors each offering distinctly mesmerising and very real stories with Manger pulling the strings every time. Maxine Evans is an arrogant, antiques-dealing Rowena, whose purchase of a haunted mirror offers plenty of chills. Shadowy figures caught in the mirror's reflection and strange sounds offers the most atmospheric tale of the three. Timothy Blore's cocaine-taking, naccistic Piers is a real piece if work and the unfolding tale of terror offers plenty of satisfaction for the listener, though not for him.
The real standout however, is Mali Ann Rhys as Zoe, a young woman from a struggling working class background, who struggles with the loss of her daughter and finds herself encountering Manger in a rundown housing block haunted by strange sounds and disturbing secret in an abandoned flat. The mundane nature of her life and Rhys's earnest performance create an incredibly endearing character.
There are nice flashbacks to old TV and Big Finish Torchwood villains as the truth behind Manger's plans are revealed and a delightfully dark ending that suits the character of Bilis Manger perfectly. As with Deadbeat Escape, if you're looking for happy endings, you're in the wrong place. Thought this ending is more satisfying than most.
Director Scott Handcock chats with the cast of Dead Man's Switch. Murray Melvin and Handcock discuss the influence of the Amicus Films with Peter Cushing, while Melvin and Maxine Evans compare notes on filming season one of Torchwood (Evans played one of the cannibals in infamous episode Countrycide). The twelve minutes offer a nice coda from all involved as they chat about their appreciation for working on this tale and Big Finish.