Big Finish Review: Torchwood - God Among Us Vol 3
The culmination of the God Among Us series has arrived, bringing with it, Cardiff in ruins and the end of the world – again – as John Barrowman leads an ensemble cast against the villainous Committee.
Produced by James Goss and directed by Scott Handcock, Torchwood – God Among Us 3 is available from the Big Finish website prior to general release on August 31st 2019. Be sure to catch up with the God Among Us story by reading The Digital Fix’s reviews of part 1 and part 2 prior to continuing. Read the synopsis below:
In times of disaster people turn to God. But what if they no longer believe in themselves?
Cardiff is recovering from a catastrophe. Torchwood find themselves up against the Disaster Recovery Committee – instead of putting the city back on its feet, it seems to be preparing for something worse. There’s a conspiracy to be exposed, a mythical monster becomes real, fights are breaking out over drinking water, and Jack Harkness is getting ready for the end of the world.
A Mother’s Son by Alexandria Riley
Cardiff has suffered a catastrophic flood. Dozens are still missing. Survivors fill camps across the city. An inquiry has been set up to find out what happened.
Bethan’s come to the city looking for answers. Her son is among the missing, and no-one seems to want to help her find him. It’s starting to look like there’s a cover-up. What is Torchwood? Can it really be behind it?
ScrapeJane by Robin Bell
ScrapeJane is a myth. A monster made up by an urban explorer. A monster that’s caught on. A monster with forums, with merch, with a book deal. A monster that people have started to believe in.
A monster that’s started killing.
Day Zero by Tim Foley
They’ve been warning about it for ages. Poisonous mould in the water supply. But it’s finally got out of hand. It’s day zero – the day Cardiff runs out of drinking water.
As people start fighting over the last remaining supplies, the Disaster Recovery Committee takes drastic action. Because there’s one place that still has clean water. And Torchwood will do anything to stop them from getting it.
Thoughts and Prayers by James Goss
Cardiff lies broken. Torchwood’s leaders are either arrested or dead. In a storage unit something forgotten has been reborn. And underneath the city, a terrible impossibility has been built.
The streets are filled with the prayers of the desperate. Because everyone knows - The end of the world is nigh.
Torchwood occupies a very particular space within the scope of science fiction/drama television. Although the show has dealt with phenomena that threaten the whole of humanity such as during Children of Earth, Torchwood has mostly retained its focus on the city of the Cardiff. That means any end-of-the-world plots are Cardiff-centric, as shown throughout Aliens Among Us and God Among Us. In God Among Us 3, the result is high-quality drama and vivid characters, but with added alien elements.
A Mother's Son
A Mother’s Son is an intimate, down-to-the-ground tale that highlights a large-scale disaster’s impact on individuals, and brings things down even further to focus on a single mother’s trauma and grief for her son lost in the city-wide flood that formed the climax of God Among Us 2. Bethan, voiced by Mina Anwar, pulls no punches as the mother whose world has been upended by the flood and takes it upon herself to uncover the resultant cover-up.
Torchwood has often straddled the line between human drama and alien-of-the-week science-fiction, and in this episode leans heavily into the former, with the alien elements barely registering in the plot. Torchwood team members are not the ones who drive the story here – rather, it is Bethan’s insistence to reveal the post-flood cover-up by the city council inquiry that propels listeners onto the next scene. She becomes one of the most memorable guest characters in the series for a while.
Writer Alexandria Riley, who of course also plays Ng, invests high emotion and humanity into the character of Bethan, who is the episode’s real protagonist. Riley’s writing debut for the series furthers key plot strands from the previous instalment while also introducing a hard-hitting humanity to Cardiff. One does wonder, however, why Cardiff has become so isolated and devoid of external assistance from the UK Government or world organisations. This slight falter in the logic of the story world, however, is only a minor comment on the episode’s quality.
A Mother’s Son is a touching and real exploration of not only grief but the lengths one will go to as a result, in addition to portraying the inhumanity and apathy of committees when put up against severe human trauma.
In ScrapeJane, the secret of the tsunami cover-up has become public knowledge, and Torchwood is outed as the culprit. However, instead of going down the more predictable route of seeing team members cope without access to the Hub and planning to restore their name, Robin Bell (who unfortunately passed away prior to the set’s release) has offered up a self-contained story with only passing references to the series arc.
Mr Colchester and Ng, who did not appear in A Mother’s Son, take the lead in their investigation into an urban myth turned real, as reports surface of a sewer-dwelling monster terrorising the urban environment. With an evocative background mythos and an upsetting sound design, the ScrapeJane creature is wholly unsettling and gruesome – well deserving to act as a Torchwood monster.
Mr Colchester’s acerbic wit and disrespect for fads and the self-obsessions of modern society continue to characterise him as one of the most distinct Torchwood members. Actor Paul Clayton is given a wide range to play, however, with warm moments of tender domesticity with partner Colin, and a vulnerability beneath the coarse exterior showing when he comes to terms with his still-recent resurrection and the consequences of his lover’s intense emotional bond for him.
Ng, too, is given a number of action scenes and emotional beats as the mythology of ScrapeJane brings into question Ng’s own identity and faith in herself and her God. The quiet moments between Colchester and Colin provide a nice counterpoint to the harsher elements of the plot, as is the comedic rapport between the two (“What happened to our no-guns-in-the-bedroom policy?”). Mix in quantum physics, podcasters and Strictly jokes, and the episode is high-intensity and rich in character development.
Day Zero by Tim Foley
Episode 11 of God Among Us veers back into city-wide crisis mode by having Cardiff running out of drinking water. Following two character-centric episodes, Day Zero is plot- and arc-heavy, and hits close to home thematically when it comes to use of physical force by police, riot control and the deaths of innocents. The talented Tim Foley, it seems, has become as intrinsic to the Torchwood writing team as producer James Goss.
The story is full of fractious character dynamics, most prominently between Sergeant Andy and Yvonne. Their romantic relationship has grown rockier, with Andy riling at Yvonne for causing the tsunami and driving Torchwood into the ground. He in fact becomes the antagonist, taking an iron fist to dissent as the Director of the Disaster Recovery Committee. This version of Andy, dubbed ‘evil Andy’ in the extras, is a far cry from the character as originally introduced.
It is great to see Colin be given more a more important role in the plot coordinating a refugee camp, upgrading from doddering husband to de-facto Torchwood member. Orr also features as a source for clean water and is thankfully given more to achieve as a character after barely appearing in the previous two episodes.
After the fall of Torchwood (a recurring feature in the timeline of the organisation!), Colchester and Ng continue to act like the most Torchwood-like of all remaining members by investigating the poisonous mould in the water and trying to minimise disruption to society. They prove the most ‘stable’ elements of the team as well, as the fortitude of the others disintegrates around them.
The episode features a highly emotional ending and a rather perplexing lead-in to the finale, which has multiple story threads to clarify if the series is to come to a satisfying end.
Thoughts and Prayers
Showrunner James Goss’ finale episode would look impressive on screen (with a decent budget), explosions and stunning visuals filling the audio landscape. The story is suitably big and dangerous for all involved, with more than one expectation subversion about the fate of certain characters.
Each main character is given something significant to contribute, from Orr to Colin to the Mr Colchester and Ng pairing. Bu the one with the biggest development would be Yvonne, whose former manipulative and secretive ways have been replaced by an altruism and genuine regret for her recent failures. This shift affirms the character work in these stories as the strongest and most rewarding element.
The end-of-the-world, sky-on-fire, panic-on-the-streets trope of this episode feels like very familiar ground, similar to multiple previous series finale episodes including last series’ Herald of the Dawn. Not much exists to distinguish Thoughts and Prayers from that episode with its tone and stakes. What makes it stand out is the work done with the people in the story, and the journeys they go on.
James Goss appears to wrap up the long-running Committee plot, with the destruction of their home planet Erebus. Although it remains to be seen if the race of planet-dominators is indeed finished. Considering the arc began in 2015, it seems like a good time to tie it up, give finality to the stories that preceded these, and now branch off into new territory.
Each episode has interviews attached to the end of the disc, allowing listeners to dip behind the scenes for 10 minutes and hear from cast and crew about the recording process.
To begin with, first-time Torchwood writer Alexandria Riley reveals the emotional crux of the characters that drew her to writing A Mother’s Son, and the Colchester-Price relationship is highlighted as an affirming example of a same-sex relationship in drama. A range of smaller, fun anecdotes follow, including Paul Clayton and Alexandria Riley’s collective relief at holding onto continuing roles within the series, Colin Colchester-Price’s ‘badassery’ and Tom Price’s joy at playing ‘evil Andy’.
The God Among Us saga wraps up twelve episodes with a mostly satisfying ending. Overall the set attempts a mix of standalone elements with a series arc and mostly achieves that goal, despite the end feeling similar to previous series finales. Nevertheless, the newest iteration of Torchwood continues to prove highly popular, deservingly so given the quality writing of main and guest characters, which is the best part of the series. The team will surely return, although in what guise remains to be seen.